What Is Diet Culture? The Reasons Why Diet Culture Is Toxic – GoodHousekeeping.com

Posted: January 27, 2021 at 11:53 am


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Throughout 2021, Good Housekeeping will be exploring how we think about weight, our shapes, the way we eat and how we try to control or change our bodies in our quest to be happier and healthier. Our goal here is not to tell you how to think, but to start a conversation about diet culture, its impact, and how we might challenge the messages we are given to find alternative ways to feel attractive and successful.

The dawn of a new year is when many of us scramble to make resolutions, and in the U.S., these are often earnest pledges to shrink, tone, chisel or otherwise alter our bodies. Like years before, in the first weeks of 2021, new signups for virtual workout subscriptions and searches for diet on Google are spiking as millions of us look to detox our poor, puffy bodies of the bad food choices we made over the holidays and start the year fresh

Wait. Stop. Just there.

...detox our bodies of the bad food choices we made...

This language and the above concept implies that our bodies have been poisoned by peppermint bark, cookies, latkes, and eggnog, and that an antidote must be administered urgently, or else. It assumes that certain foods are bad and whats more, we are bad for eating them. To be totally transparent, we can fall into that trap here at Good Housekeeping too we recently published a recipe called Christmas Crack, which perpetuates a trend that equates a delicious, sugary treat to a dangerous, addictive drug that could actually kill you. This problematic nickname for a chocolatey candy concoction is a prime example of diet culture and just how easily it can sneak in under the radar.

Diet culture, a set of beliefs that places thinness as the pinnacle of success and beauty, has become our dominant culture often in ways we don't even notice since it's the water in which we swim. There's a whole lexicon, says Claire Mysko, CEO of National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). When we say we need to burn off or make up for the cheeseboard we shared with friends; when we ponder snagging a bite of our partners dessert then immediately wonder, Is it worth it?; whenever we ascribe morality to our food choices, giggling that its sinful when we choose to eat what we crave or what comforts us, or good when we opt for low-calorie, low-carb, or other foods weve deemed healthy. All of that talk is part of diet culture, says Mysko. And it is so inextricably woven into the fabric of our culture that most of us arent even consciously aware of the daily inundation.

Even if youre not actively on a diet or trying to lose weight, diet culture can crop up in choices we think were making for health, to feel or look good, fit in, or even just make conversation amongst friends over dinner. But subconsciously, diet culture creates this idea and reinforces it at every turn that you have to be thin in order to be successful, accepted, loved, healthy: All of these things that we want for ourselves that are just understandable human desire, says Christy Harrison, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.N., author of Anti-Diet and host of the Food Psych podcast. It tells us that weight loss is the secret to that. It tells us that weight loss is a way to attain those things. And its a house of cards.

Diet culture refers to all of the messages and the attitudes around what's valued about body size and style, says therapist Judith Matz, L.C.S.W., author of The Body Positivity Card Deck and Diet Survivor's Handbook. In diet culture, there is a conferred status to people who are thinner, and it assumes that eating in a certain way will result in the right body size the correct body size and good health, and that it's attainable for anybody who has the right willpower, the right determination. In actual fact, there is no right body size, and even if there were, its not attainable to whomever does the right thing, as evidenced by the 98% failure rate of diets. This stat alone is proof of the no-win norm that we, as a society, have been groomed to abide by.

Diet culture can be found in Barbies thigh gap and 18-inch waist, which influences little ones perception of what an ideal body should look like. Its Lululemons founder saying publicly that it's a problem when women's thighs touch. Its Kim Kardashian explaining how necessary it is to squeeze into shapewear beneath a dress, saying, without shapewear, youd see cellulite and I just wouldnt feel as confident. (Her shapewear brand, SKIMS, allegedly sold $2 million of product in minutes when it launched.) Its the fact that we've all been told (or recited!) that at the first sign of hunger, you should drink a glass of water first in case youre actually just thirsty. Its the popular article here on Good Housekeeping's own website about 1,200-calorie diets that netted over two million search users in 2019 alone our second-most-read story of the year despite the fact that the number of calories falls within the realm of clinical starvation (Holocaust concentration camp prisoners were fed 1,250-1,400 calories per day).

In one fell swoop, diet culture sets us up to feel bad about ourselves while also suggesting that maybe losing weight will help us feel better. As anyone whos ever looked into the mirror and wished for a flatter this or a bigger that can likely attest, theres an unattainable and rigidly narrow Western beauty ideal to which we often compare ourselves. Nobody ever wakes up in the morning and says, Gosh, I look terrific. I feel so healthy, I'm so attractive: I think I'll go on a diet, Matz points out. It always starts with negative thoughts.

Instagram, movies, runways, and fashion ads are rife with slim, tall women living a life that somehow always looks better than our own could it be because of those perfect bodies? The sample size for many designers is 0-2, while a 2018 study by National Health Statistics Reports published by the CDC places the average American adult woman in a size 18-20, and teen girls in a size 12. While what is normal varies greatly on genetics, family history, race, ethnicity, age and much more, size is actually not a good indicator of health you can be smaller-bodied and unhealthy, or larger-bodied and fit. We're exposed to the steady stream of images and messages that reinforce diet culture and reinforce the idea that to be happy and successful and well-liked you have to look a certain way, have a certain body, and follow a certain fitness or meal plan or diet, says Mysko.

The "average" American woman is a size 18-20; designer sample sizes are 0-2.

The truth is that healthy, attractive, desirable bodies come at every size and shape. But for many people in larger bodies, people in "average" bodies, or even slender folks who don't feel that they're thin enough in the exact right places, a lifetime on the hamster wheel of feeling othered leads to people feeling a lot of shame about their body and feeling that being thin is worth pursuing at all costs, says Matz. The result: People choose from hundreds, if not thousands, of diet plans or restrictive food plans.

But its not our fault: Diet culture has long been institutionalized and is part of an oppressive system thats intrinsically tied in with racism and patriarchy. Whenever we create standards about how we all should live, these norms always benefit those individuals who are already in power, says Sabrina Strings, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology at the University of California at Irvine and the author of Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia.

What constitutes good behavior is going to be far more accessible to white persons, to men, to wealthy persons, than people who do not fit into those categories, says Strings. This includes conventional thinness, and when you have been told that you should only have [a certain amount of] calories or that you must keep your BMI here, you will always feel like you are doing either good or bad, right or wrong by sticking to these dictates, Strings adds. Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths, [including the concept that] if you just restrict your food, then you'll be able to attain that weight, says Matz. The reality, as well get to, is much different.

In short, it keeps us unhappy with ourselves, chasing something we can't ever catch, and spending loads of money to do so. Heres how:

If we lived in a society where neighborhoods were walkable, and people could get access to clean drinking water and plenty of sleep, people would already be far healthier than they are now." But, she continues, rather than focusing on these larger structural issues that could have a global impact on a population, we want to target individuals and tell them to change their bodies in ways that are unrealistic and unproductive.

Its no coincidence that in November 2020, the CDC reported that more people are dieting now compared to 10 years ago yet obesity rates have increased by nearly 10%. Diet culture conditioning leads us to assume that more diets must mean better population health, but trending upward right alongside the growing number of dieters, mean weight, waist circumference, and BMI in adults have increased over the past 18 years," according to a 2018 study. Theres also evidence that yo-yo dieting (or weight cycling) may be responsible for all excess mortality and cardiovascular risks for diseases associated with being in a larger body. But perhaps the larger problem is that because of diet culture, when we do gain the weight back, we have learned to internalize it as a failure of self.

98% of diets fail Why do 100% of dieters think they'll be in the 2%?

A 2008 survey sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that a whopping 75% of women reported disordered eating behaviors that cut across racial and ethnic lines, and occurred in women in their 30s and 40s ... at the same rate as women in their 20s. That means disordered eating is the norm in the U.S. for women of all ages and colors. Its a staggering statistic, and one that goes under reported since a lot of these behaviors support the very underpinnings of diet culture itself.

The first step is understanding the science of the matter: Dieting is biologically set up to fail, and the human tendency to regain lost weight is ultimately a success for evolution. Our bodies are really designed to protect us against famine, says Harrison. The message this culture gets is that you can decide what weight you want to be with enough willpower, but its just not true, says Matz. Our weight regulation system is beyond our conscious control. According to a 2010 F1000 Medicine Report, there is an active, biological control of body weight at a given set point in a 10-20 pound range. When people diet, they mess with that, says Matz. Diets work in the short-term, but then our weight regulation system kicks in to help us out: To keep us alive.

Anti-diet does not mean anti-health.

Anti-diet culture aims to dismantle this oppressive system of beliefs ... so that people have the chance and the choice to be able to be free of those stigmatizing and body shaming beliefs, says Harrison. Its discarding the broken vacuum and investing in one that works beautifully and will last a lifetime. The anti-diet movement tosses out the bones of conventional dieting (i.e.: restriction, rules, omission, strict adherence) and replaces these with flexibility, acceptance, and ultimately peace with food and our bodies. Here are some aspects of anti-diet culture that can actionably put an end to the restriction and guilt cycle of diet culture:

Getting reacquainted with your bodys natural hunger cues, cravings, and needs can free you from the learned shoulds of diet culture. The irony: Most find that once you grant yourself permission to eat the things you want when you want, your "fear foods" (you know, the things you declare you cannot have in the house or Ill eat the whole bag!) have less of a siren song. When the scarcity mindset drops, so does the need to overeat out of fear of never having it again. Remember that we come into this world born knowing how to do this, says Matz. Babies, when they're hungry, cry. So really, we're going back to the way we were born: Eating.

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Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight

Strings adds that HAES is built upon the belief that you are worthy of love and respect, regardless of your size. In a society that demonizes fatness, its a simple but novel concept. As Strings says: Just to love yourself and to know that you can be healthy regardless of your weight is really a revelation to probably most Americans.

Anyone feeling like they are suffering from disordered eating or an eating disorder can and should reach out for help immediately. The NEDA helpline at (800) 931-2237 is available daily via call or text, and officials also are on standby in digital chats, ready to help you find resources in your area. If you are concerned about a loved one, learn more about how you can help.

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What Is Diet Culture? The Reasons Why Diet Culture Is Toxic - GoodHousekeeping.com

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January 27th, 2021 at 11:53 am