Diet culture is defined as “a system that values weight, shape and size over health and wellbeing”. 1 It can be very difficult to spot and is very misleading. The culture of dieting is led by an industry that claims to encompass “wellness and health”.2 This industry provides the means for society to internalize the thin ideal and practise behaviours that are likely to stem into social, mental and physical issues.3 There is a great emphasis on health and becoming the best version of oneself however, this can create unrealistic perceptions and ideologies. The preoccupation with health foods and health journeys in general is diet culture in disguise.
As individuals, we should all be aware of diet culture and obtain the appropriate skillset to be able to recognize its’ bias and translate its; language for what it truly is. Corporations have become smarter and are choosing language which captures the attention of their audience. The words “health” and “wellness” are largely misused in this industry and have negatively impacted mindsets resulting in mental and physical harm.3 There is a constant pressure to uphold the social construct of beauty that society has laid out for us with the influence of the media, role models and misused terminology.3 We have all become victims of diet culture when we believe that beauty is defined by perfection and that certain shapes and sizes carry more value over others.
Children as young as 6 years old have begun to express curiosity about their body weight and shape, as well as a fear of becoming “fat”. In fact, 40 to 60% of elementary school girls have become victims of body shaming and have expressed their concerns for body image.4,5 This is the age for children to grow, experience and find their voice. They are meant to carry body fat, experience growth spurts and explore their appetites. This is the face of our next generation and without proper guidance they can be easily persuaded by negative body ideals that promote negative behaviors congruent with eating disorders and body checking.6
Diet culture reaches society from every possible angle and medium. It is important to be able to identify what triggers us, then prevent the honouring and promotion of negative behaviours and mindsets. Triggers can include messages sent out by the food police mislabelling foods and shaming food groups. People are afraid of being an outcast, making the “wrong” food choices and possibly being bullied as a result.6 With this, we are not respecting our bodies and honouring our rights to nourish our mind, body and soul. When we become preoccupied with food and exercising, we then fall into the hands of diet culture.3If we try to interfere with our bodies’ natural rhythm and happy state, we are pushed away from our “set point” and damage our metabolism in the long run.7
The environment that we surround ourselves with is the best indicator as to whether one will ignore or engage in diet culture. Eating disorders stem from the environmental contribution of the sociocultural idealization for thinness. 8 It is important not to feel overwhelmed by fad diet culture and to discourage weight loss as a goal.2 We need to pay attention to the language that we are using. Our choice of words and demeanor can be misread and pose harm to an individual, especially if the individual is vulnerable to diet culture or is in recovery from an eating disorder.
There are certain pressures from our society to embark on a fitness journey or exercise program. Following a new year, every magazine, morning show, and advertisement focuses on the misleading ideology that health is defined by a number and size. It is a misconception that in order to be healthy, we need to be thin, exercise vigorously and encourage behaviours that can consequentially cause harm.3,6 It is important to experience autonomy and freedom when moving your body and to mitigate the stresses and pressure to exercise by media blasts.
As human beings we eat to nourish our bodies with nutrients and energy to meet our physiological needs and bodily functions. Food is meant to be celebrated; it allows us to fuel our systems, form connections and experience a level of satisfaction and pleasure.9 For decades, society has allowed food to be mislabelled into categories of “good or bad”.9 Many words are used in the media to suggest “good food” such as superfoods, health foods, detoxifying agents and low calorie, to name a few. By feeding into this perceptual bias, we have become consumed with diet culture and are likely to be missing out on sacral moments and pleasurable experiences.
“Clean eating” and “meal prepping” is also being taken to the extreme and being promoted to support the wellness of individuals.2,3 These are more examples of diet culture in disguise.10 Orthorexia Nervosa is described as a form of dysfunctional eating and preoccupation with healthy living. It shares characteristics with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Anorexia Nervosa.11 People who become preoccupied with healthy living usually live by food rules that involves the elimination of a food group, energy restriction, consuming cheat meals and other compensatory behaviours.10This leads to shame and guilt and welcomes an opportunity for body distortion, negative relationships with food and isolation. Ultimately, this preoccupation with food can trigger emotional dissatisfaction and pose threats to our wellbeing.11
Once we take the stance and abolish diet talk, weight shaming and unrealistic beauty ideals, we can welcome a life free of restriction and control. Diet culture can be powerful, but can be defeated as we spread awareness of diet culture in disguise and begin to refuse its’ enticing but unrealistic promises. By changing the shift of self-destruction to self-actualization, we can focus our energy on living life to the fullest and reaching our greatest potential.
- Upson, S. (2017). Diet Culture 101. In My Signature Nutrition; Nutrition Education & Councelling. Retrived from http://www.mysignaturenutrition.com/2017/05/20/diet-culture-
- Chiu, A. (2018). The new Weight Watchers is all about ‘wellness.’ Critics say it’s ‘diet culture’ in disguise. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/09/25/weight-watchers-rebrands-critics-say-its-another-disguise-for-the-diet-culture/?utm_term=.01023d49cd99
- Hesse-Biber, S., Leavy, P., Quinn, C. E., & Zoino, J. (2006). The mass marketing of disordered eating and Eating Disorders: The social psychology of women, thinness and culture.In Women’s Studies International Forum,29(2), 208-224. doi:10.1016/j.wsif.2006.03.007
- Cash, T. F., & Smolak, L. (2011). Body image: A handbook of science, practice, and prevention. In Guilford Press.
- Statistics and Research on Eating Disorders. In National Eating Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders
- Lawler, M. & Nixon, E. J. (2011). Body Dissatisfaction Among Adolescent Boys and Girls: The Effects of Body Mass, Peer Appearance Culture and Internalization of Appearance Ideals In Journal of Youth Adolescence. Retrieved from https://doi-org.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/10.1007/s10964-009-9500-2
- Set Point Theory. In Center for Clinical Interventions.(2018)Retrieved fromhttps://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/~/media/CCI/Mental%20Health%20Professionals/Eating%20Disorders/Eating%20Disorders%20-%20Information%20Sheets/Eating%20Disorders%20Information%20Sheet%20-%2024%20-%20Set%20Point%20Theory.pdf
- Culbert, K. M., Racine, S. E., & Klump, K. L. (2015). Research Review: What we have learned about the causes of eating disorders – a synthesis of sociocultural, psychological, and biological research. In J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 56(11), 1141-1164.
- Fleming, K. (2018) Normal eating Vs Disordered eating. In Center for Clinical Interventions. Retrieved from https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/~/media/CCI/Mental%20Health%20Professionals/Eating%20Disorders/Eating%20Disorders%20-%20Information%20Sheets/Eating%20Disorders%20Information%20Sheet%20-%2022%20-%20Normal%20Eating%20vs.%20Disordered%20Eating.pdf
- Fleming, K. (2018). “Clean Eating”: When “Healthy” Eating Becomes Unhealthy. In Center for Clinical Interventions. Retrieved from https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/~/media/CCI/Mental%20Health%20Professionals/Eating%20Disorders/Eating%20Disorders%20-%20Information%20Sheets/Eating%20Disorders%20Information%20Sheet%20-%2007%20-%20Clean%20Eating.pdf
- Orthorexia Nervosa. In Ketly Eating Disorders.Retrieved fromhttps://keltyeatingdisorders.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Orthorexia-Nervosa-Fact-Sheet.pdf