Many of you know that I may be the biggest foodie to ever walk the planet. I'm constantly thinking about what my next meal consists of because I love it that much. As much joy as food has brought me in my lifetime, quite honestly there are times that I have also struggled with my relationship with food. I blame part of it to my own mental health and compulsive tendencies which I have been continuing to work through, but I also blame an even bigger part of it to the toxicity and persistence of diet culture.
Diet culture, while meant to originally encourage healthier living for all, has instead compelled people to strive for an unattainable body type and has promoted unrealistic lifestyle choices.
I, like many others, have and still sometimes continue to succumb to the pressure of diet culture.
In the last few months, I have really changed my opinion on what diet culture truly is. I've been trying to change many of the ways that I think about my body and challenge many of the messages that have been ingrained in my brain for so long. This is by no means easy as I basically have to undo almost twenty years of my thought process.
I first want to share with you some of the unhealthy messages that I have been sent throughout my lifetime about diet culture. Many of these are things that I didn't even really think about or let myself actually recognize until very recently but nonetheless continue to hinder my life and negatively impact the way that I see my own body and the world around me.
1. Fatphobia is ingrained in society and the main reason why we all want to be skinny
This was a harsh reality that I kind of came to terms with recently. While wanting to be healthy is a big reason why people want to lose weight, there is also this other portion of it: the world is fatphobic. Many of us are have a fear of being overweight because we are scared we will be judged or held back because of our weight and the stereotypes that are associated with it. Unfortunately, this problem has held true in the past as most of the media typically promote the "thin ideal," that being thin is the most preferred and desired body type.
But even the way that people sometimes refer to people who are overweight in everyday conversation can be so demeaning and hurtful that I think people also fear they could be the target of that treatment at any time. I think most people, including myself, would like to say that they are accepting and embracing all different body types. But when I really reflect on it, I don't always think that's the case. So people are not just concerned about being overweight because of the health concerns, but also the social repercussions that come with it, which honestly I can understand and sympathize with.
2. Body positivity is nearly impossible to obtain, especially for someone who has struggled with it for most of their life
Recently, there has been a big audience (especially on TikTok) centered around the "body positivity movement." Rising influencers, many of whom have struggled in the past with eating disorders and their own body image, have worked to challenge the thin ideal and instead promote practicing intuitive eating and embracing all body types. As much as I aspire to have the confidence and optimism that so many of these people have, it is really difficult and feels nearly impossible, to completely change my mindset. There really is no way that you're going to feel happy with the way that you look 100 percent of the time.
Additionally, I also don't think there is anything wrong with wanting to change your body. For many people, the decision to change their diet and in turn change their body has been a positive and life-changing experience. Just like there is room for dessert and pizza in your diet, there is just as much of an importance to fuel your body with nutritious foods that are going to keep you healthy and happy in the long run. I think the body positive movement can sometimes mislead people that it is wrong to want to lose weight when in reality for many people it is not only a healthy decision but also one for the best. Finding that healthy balance in your diet as well as defining your worth based on who you are as a person despite how you may look on the outside is much more important.
3. One diet/lifestyle plan will work for every single person at any given time
Social media teaches us that we can follow the same diet plan as someone else and get the exact same results as them. There are so many "influencers" out there who think they are doing the right thing by encouraging their followers to follow their lastest fad diet plan or that their new workout is going to help them get abs in thirty days, but for many people, this is a very dangerous message. It is often the farthest from the truth, as not every diet is going to be the best fit for everyone, nor will it produce the same long-term results as someone else.
News flash: not everyone wants to eat a salad with fiber crackers and cauliflower rice every day for the rest of their lives. That is not a sustainable way of living.
Even for me, I've found that certain diet plans worked for me at one time and not the other. For example, when I first started a certain food plan about a year ago, I was seeing a LOT of progress and was feeling so good and amazed at how easy I was able to work it into my own life. However, as time went on, I found myself struggling more and more, both in terms of on the scale (which is, frankly, way less important), but also because of my own mental health. I slowly began to drive myself crazy, constantly thinking about what I would eat next in hopes that it would stay within my plan. About a month ago, I decided to stop the plan temporarily to see how I would feel, and if I could still maintain a similar diet without the compulsion of tracking it. Frankly, I feel so amazing I don't plan on going back anytime soon. This truly just proves the point that sometimes certain food plans will work at certain times for one person, and other times it doesn't.
By no means am I saying that any certain diet is bad or that you shouldn't do it. But I do think it's important to take other people's opinions with a grain of salt and assess what is going to be the best for you at a particular time.
4. Thin privilege exists, and too often is used to promote an unattainable goal for many people
Similar to the challenges of fatphobia, thin privilege has and continues to be alive and well. For so long, thin people have remained the center of pop culture. Whether its music, T.V., or film, there is a lack of representation of celebrities of everyday body types. This subconsciously causes us to think that we are not good enough just the way that we are and that we can only achieve our goals if we are thin and pretty. And while certain media outlets have been working to change this, there is still so much to go.
5. You won't be fully happy until you're skinny
This is probably the biggest problem with diet culture in my opinion. Every time that someone posts a transformation photo or shares their health journey, both of which are not necessarily a bad thing, it also subconsciously teaches people that your life is going to be significantly better if you lose weight. This isn't always a bad message, however, it can be triggering for people who do suffer from disordered eating or may not be wanting to lose weight for the right reasons.
And here are five things that I am personally doing to actively go against the toxic nature of diet culture...
1. Focusing on listening to my own body rather than what an app on my phone says
Believe it or not, but there was once a time where each and every single one of us were intuitive eaters. Think back to when you were a kid. You pretty much ate whatever you wanted when you wanted, but only when you were hungry and stopped when you were full. Those are the main principle of intuitive eating, something that I would absolutely love to be able to attain for the rest of my life. But for now, the biggest thing I'm trying to work on is solely listening to my body — eat when I'm hungry, stop when I'm full. And not just because an app on my phone tells me how much to or not to eat every day because I get to make that choice.
2. Support platforms and people that normalize body types and promote positivity in the health and wellness industry
As I have kind of shifted my focus on health and wellness in the last few months, I have also tried to mirror this on my social media feeds. I have been trying to follow more people who have a positive mindset on eating and also are vulnerable enough to open up about their own struggles with disordered eating. I also want to see people who are honest and embrace all parts of them, not just when they feel and look their best. Because those are the people who are going to inspire and push me to be my best self.
3. Aim to be "body neutral" and show my body compassion
It is no secret that it is really hard to be body positive, especially after years of being taught that your body is not good enough. I recently listened to an episode on my favorite podcast aka "Diet Starts Tomorrow" where they heavily covered this topic, so I highly recommend listening to it. Rather than striving to be "body positive" and love your body 24/7, 365, they first recommend people working to be "body neutral," or trying to diminish the enormous significance that your physical appearance has on your overall self-worth. Showing compassion, forgiveness, and indifference towards your body is much more realistic than forcing yourself to do a complete 180 from full negativity to full positivity. Example of some body-neutral mantras you can say to yourself includes: "I am more than just my appearance," or "My worth and lovability do not depend on my looks and I am worthy for so many other reasons."
4. Working to not compare my body, my diet, and my life to other people
This is one of the hardest ones for people to work on. It is so easy to look at a group picture of yourself or the transformation pictures on social media and compare your body or weight to everyone else's because it really is human nature. I am a person that tends to be extremely hard on myself and never allow myself to have the benefit of the doubt. This lesson comes out quite often when I am thinking about my body or diet compared to another person. I also have the tendency to get jealous of people whose weight does not appear to be an issue for them — in reality, that may not be the case.
Something that really resonated with me that I heard recently is the idea that even if you were to eat the exact same thing at the exact same time as someone else would not mean that you would have the exact same body as that person. And you shouldn't want to. We should embrace our own beauty and the qualities that make us uniquely different from someone else.
5. Striving to not allow the negative thoughts about my body or my poor relationship with food to prohibit my happiness and living my own life
I think the main reason why diet culture was something that I didn't see as a problem for a long time was that it didn't hinder my life in any way or cause me to question anything. So the second that it did, I realized that I needed to make a change and make one fast.
Just a few months ago, I would freak out about going out to a surprise dinner with family and friends out of fear that it would ruin all of my progress or that I was constantly frustrated at myself that the scale wasn't moving and working my butt off to make it happen (despite how much progress and success that I did have). But I refuse to let that happen anymore. For a girl who is just a foodie at heart, I am not going to let something that I love to continue to destroy me. I am determined to work towards dwindling and hopefully one day eliminating the toxic, negative thoughts I have about my body and replace them with things that are going to only make me happy in the long run.
I refuse to let diet culture or anyone else around me impact the way that I think about myself any longer and instead embrace every food (because both vegetables and ice cream taste freaking good) and every beautiful part of me.