Perhaps people of all shapes and sizes pop into your head when you think about a “healthy” person. They’re reasonably happy, they eat a balanced diet, don’t drink (too) much alcohol and they probably have a fairly active lifestyle. Alternatively however, we may subconsciously think of someone who is quite small. Or should I say thin. You would imagine they would spend a great deal of time exercising, while you envy them for the amount of vegetables they manage to consume within a day. In fact, you may have even wished that you were able to eat a more “balanced” diet yourself, so you perhaps attempt to follow along with some rather strange diet, which involves things like cutting carbs out, or even involving almost putting your body into starvation. But come on, we ought to know that all bodies are different, therefore for everyone to try and look as small as possible, even if it includes cutting out half food groups, cannot really be healthy. So why do we think that it is?
What is Diet Culture?
Without there being a rigid definition, there are a variety of views and personal definitions relating to this term. These have included involving a system of believes that “worship thinness and equate it to health and moral virtue”, “promoting weight loss as a means of attaining higher status” and “oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health”. This I would agree with, and would say that diet culture heavily promotes and glorifies weight loss, often at the consequence of people’s health. Furthermore it fails to take into account that we are all different therefore all of us are healthy with different bodies, and we metabolize food slightly differently from one another.
The pervasiveness of this can be seen by how brides are often encouraged to lose significant amounts of weight before their wedding so they can “look their best”, how women who lose weight quickly after pregnancy are often congratulated, even though the process is unnatural.
Loving your Body Should not be Dirty
One of the key messages that diet culture tends to send, is that us normal people shouldn’t feel good about ourselves. Instead it is often seen as “conceited” and “stuck up” to talk about out bodies in a positive way; while it is perfectly normal and accepted to talk about our bodies in a more self deprecating manner.
Simultaneously, we are taught that certain foods, such as those which may contain higher amounts of fat or sugar, or even carbohydrates are inherently “bad”, while those low in such are vegetables. To the point where we are often made to feel as if our bodies are poisoned! Therefore how should any (healthy) person be expected to love their bodies, when they are consuming such a considerable amount of these so called “bad” foods, in order to actually get a balanced diet?
Why is this so Unhealthy
Most of us probably know that it is essential to have a balanced diet, if we want to be healthy. Nonetheless, when we are exposed to content such as a photograph of a very skinny woman in sports wear, nibbling at a lettuce leaf, it can be easy to forget the importance of having an actual balanced diet. However let’s have a look to see how bad this can be for our bodies… For a start, as trivial as this may seem, popular doll Barbie, with a thigh gap and an 18 inch waist, portrays many modern beauty standards. However she would have a BMI of just 16.4, which would be significantly overweight. What’s more, a a 2015 study showed that the popular 1200- calorie meal plan actually fell into the clinical definition of starvation. As a consequence, diet culture has been scientifically proven to have a negative impact on cognitive function, heart health, and mortality, Therefore, the fact that 98% of diets fail shouldn’t come at a surprise.
Potentially this could explain why doctors often have the tendency to blame someone’s condition on their weight, rather than looking further into the actual cause of the condition.
Why the Diet Industry Gets away with it
Profiting from anyone willing to spend money in order to peruse the “ideal body”, the weight loss industry is worth $66 billion. The first weeks of 2021, where new signups for virtual workout subscriptions and searches for “diet” on Google spiked, demonstrates the eagerness of people to commit to working toward a smaller body. But for one minute, have a think about why so many people end up coming back time and time again. Be it during the run up to summer, where there is the need to have a “bikini body”, Christmas where of course people want to look their best, and come the following January where people desire to change their ways for the upcoming year. From an outsiders perspective, this must seem rather strange, however when we consider that the vast majority of diets fail, this is not going to come at a surprise. Nonetheless, this certainly isn’t something the diet industry does on purpose. Instead, the diet industry usually know what they are doing, by releasing products that are unlikely to work, at least in the short run. leaving consumers in a cycle where they tend to lose small amounts of weight in the short run; only to put it back on and soon try another product.
What we can do to Fight Against it
When we are pretty much surrounded by this, knowing what to do about it can almost seem impossible. However there are ways in which we can distance ourselves from this. For a start, we can stop following those on social media who promote diet culture in an unhealthy way, especially those who have no actual health based evidence to back up what they are saying (many unfortunately don’t have this).
Instead, from my point of view, a healthy lifestyle should come first, regardless of size etc. Meanwhile, we should do what we can to appreciate our bodies for what they can do, and really for how they look. As at the end of the day, as clique as this sounds, all healthy bodies are beautiful.