Diet culture is the widely held notion that physical appearance and body form are more important than health, psychological, and overall well-being. It is the belief that regulating your body, particularly your food (by restricting what and how much you consume) is acceptable.
Diet culture also normalises categorising meals as good or evil, as well as viewing food as a transaction—something you either earn or don’t deserve based on how you’ve eaten and worked out. Not only is food branded, but individuals may also be classified as good or evil for eating certain items.
People who have been socialised to accept diet culture as a normal way of life may have a negative self-image, engage in negative self-talk on a regular basis, and feel that being slim makes a person superior than someone who is not.
Diet Culture and Eating Disorders
One element that contributes to disordered eating behaviours is diet culture. This is usually caused by a lack of nutrition attention when prioritising low-calorie meals. It can also have an impact on how someone perceives exercise, because it can be regarded as a method to work off so-called bad meals or as a way to earn food.
Food is more than just fuel
The belief that food is only fuel that must be earned is a poisonous one that can lead to disordered eating and eating disorders. Food is so much more than just nourishment. It is an important social and cultural aspect of our existence. Focusing just on food as fuel—or good vs. bad—keeps you from appreciating and loving food as a deeper and more important aspect of your life.
This effect is frequently observed following a major holiday, when commercials and publications promote detoxes or cleanses to “reset” or purge your body of “poor” eating choices. Not only are these methods incorrect and sometimes hazardous, but they also promote the notion that eating must have a cost.
Furthermore, not all physically useful dietary components offer fuel. Food contains minerals, phytochemicals, water, antioxidants, and other important elements that contribute to a healthy body but give little in the way of real fuel.
While the components of meals that provide us with energy—carbohydrates, fats, and proteins—are important, they represent just a small portion of the overall picture of nutrition.
Avoiding nutrient-dense meals in favour of low-calorie foods, or reducing your food intake so that you do not get the right quantity of nutrients for optimal functioning, leads you to lose out on significant benefits that food has to give.
Diet Culture as a Dangerous Obsession
Labeling oneself as good or evil depending on the things you consume can exacerbate disordered eating behaviours and lead to a serious eating disorder.
Trying to consume only excellent food, as noble as it seems, might be considered an eating condition known as orthorexia.
Orthorexia is seen as an extreme kind of clean eating—an obsessive concentration on what the individual perceives to be the proper healthy diet. This fixation interferes with daily living in a variety of ways, including social, emotional, and other factors.
Orthorexia is characterised by the following characteristics: • a restricted diet • eating rituals • avoidance of items not deemed “good” or “healthy”
Diet culture promotes avoiding foods or restricting one’s diet, which adds to orthorexia. Avoiding gluten when you do not have an intolerance or allergy, extreme veganism, severe low-fat or low-carbohydrate diets, detoxes, cleanses, and avoiding any GMOs or non-organic foods are some examples. 5
While some of these methods have value, they can become an eating disorder if they become an unhealthy preoccupation with links to how you see yourself.
Orthorexia can develop to anorexia nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorders, including body dysmorphic disorder. 6 Eating disorders can be caused directly by poor body image as a result of diet culture and the promotion of thinness.
Body Image and Diet Culture
Diet culture belief systems equate thinness with health, sending the notion that body shapes outside of a restricted range are harmful. While reducing weight might be a healthy option in certain cases, the techniques utilised to achieve weight reduction are not necessarily healthy.
Celebrity weight reduction tales are frequently glamorised in the media and on social media without examining whether the methods employed were healthy or sustainable. This technique instils in people the notion that thinness and the pursuit of weight loss is the road to acceptance, happiness, and health.
Bodies that deviate from the slim, accepted standard might be perfectly healthy. Appearance does not offer a complete picture of a person’s health. Regardless of body size, a poor diet and lack of activity raise health risks.
How to Overcome Diet Culture
While completely avoiding diet culture is hard owing to its pervasiveness in all parts of society, there are methods to minimise your exposure to it while still advocating against it.
Some forms of media should be avoided
Avoid any social media, forums, online communities, or programming that makes you feel insufficient in your current state. Media use has been proven to enhance sentiments of low self-esteem, which is a common feature of diet culture.
Exercise Body Neutrality
Body neutrality is the notion that you should focus on what your body can accomplish right now, rather than what you want it to look like in the future. It takes your attention off attempting to modify or control your appearance. Instead, it adjusts your mentality to be indifferent about your appearance and focused on the things you can achieve today.
Body neutrality can assist you in moving away from diet culture and food labelling and toward appreciating your body as it is today.
Educate Yourself About Health Issues
Reading and educating yourself on the concept of holistic health may help you acquire a better understanding of how focusing exclusively on thinness and food restriction may be harmful to your health. It also helps you understand the many methods to stay healthy, such as different body types and dietary routines.
Diet culture might feel like an inevitable pressure that everyone must deal with. It is critical to understand that dieting is not the only method to achieve health, and that being slim does not inevitably imply being healthy. Speak with a trained health care professional if you are struggling with disordered eating, an eating disorder, or are worried about your health, body image, or eating habits.