Jan 21, 2021

The Toxicity of Diet Culture — And How to Escape It

The word “diet” refers to the total amount of food consumed by a specific organism, but these days it also refers to a restrictive meal plan that’s adopted for its promise of effective weight management. Often, these restrictive diets are terrible for our bodies and deplete us of nutrients we need to function, but they're still promoted because of society's obsession with thinness and weight loss – which we know is unfortunately still a prime-time goal for many.

This unhealthy practice is at the center of diet culture. It contributes to toxic notions, such as peoples’ fixation on weight instead of how they feel, what movement they enjoy, and living life to the fullest, as well as the common mindset that there are “good” and “bad” food, or even worse — "good" and "bad" bodies. Health isn’t measured by weight, but by multiple factors that lend to physical and mental wellbeing.

But even with this knowledge base, the shift in understanding the dangers of a weight-loss-centric approach to wellness isn’t quite there yet. Sara Kass, one of our contributors here at Clarity Fitness, writes that many people find it hard to detach themselves from diet culture — and that's understandable. We've all grown up around media and consumerist practices that portray the body in a specific, often unrealistic, way. Be that as it may, people of all sizes deserve the freedom to break free from diet culture and its unhealthy tenets. And here are four ways you can do that:

1. Don’t Believe Everything On Social Media

In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in wellness influencers who promote unhealthy diets centered on weight loss. Dr. Leilani Carver-Madalon, a professor at Maryville University’s online masters in communication program, highlights how so many people follow these influencers and trust their recommendations — even though they may not be based in science (as in the case of AI influencers like Lil Miquela), or are lacking in terms of transparency. This is usually regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which requires influencers to disclose whether they are being paid to promote a product or practice. “Yet, there is little to no enforcement from the FTC regarding failure to disclose,” Carver-Madalon points out in an interview with Forbes. In fact, some big time influencers choose to partner with companies that profit off of diet culture (detox teas, Weight Watchers, supplements, etc.) without being forthright about that connection. Instances like this only serve to worsen the state of diet culture as the lack of regulation creates an avenue for deceptive advertisement.

2. Don’t Rely Solely On Diets

You can’t stake your health on food intake. Different people walk different roads to health and, in all cases, that road doesn't require reshaping your body to fit society's mold of “perfection”. Matheson et al., researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina, published a study that showed lifestyle habits were a bigger contributor to health than weight loss. This means “quick fix” diets won’t make you “healthy”. On the contrary, these are often misleading and unreliable - even dangerous! Moreover, strict diet plans can take a toll on you, as they are often designed to make you feel bad for eating, and especially eating what you enjoy. This mindset is detrimental to your emotional and mental health and relationship to the food you eat. Take steps toward letting go of the idea that you need to restrict yourself from eating, even when society is telling you otherwise. The food you eat should taste good and make you feel good, because that contributes to your health in more ways than one!

3. Do It For Your Health, Not Your Appearance

Remember that a smaller body does not mean healthy, just as a bigger body does not mean unhealthy. Ask yourself: Am I doing this because it will make my body feel good today or because I want to change my body? Instead of dieting for weight loss, consider starting to make holistic plans for your overall health - mental, emotional, social, financial, spiritual, and physical health. The first step to doing that is putting more trust in your body. It’s a high-functioning machine that knows what it needs and when it needs it more than any diet plan out there. When you’re hungry, you’re allowed to eat. When you’re full, you’re allowed to stop. Learning how to trust, respect, and take care of your body from a place of love is real health. Many of our clients feel best when they take it a day at a time, practice Intuitive Eating, move joyfully, and work toward being on the same team as their bodies.

4. Embrace Your Body

Lastly, don’t forget that health also involves mental wellbeing. One way to improve your mental state is to work towards a more positive body image. Yvette Brazier, an editor at Medical News Today, talks about how body image affects us. Research has shown that having a positive body image improves health. It also improves your mood and overall wellbeing. This means accepting your body is a necessary step on the road to health. But if this sounds easier said than done, don’t worry. It doesn’t have to happen overnight. Self-acceptance takes time, and it’s okay to go slow as long as you’re taking the steps to get there. In the end, the goal is to eliminate the fixation on weight and, instead, promote empowered, sustainable, flexible, and fun health and wellness. Check in with a local therapist, and/or reach out to us for some steps on how to get there.

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