Unfortunately, giving up and removing yourself from diet culture is not as easy as it sounds.
If it was as simple as deciding not to diet and just to get on with your life, it would still not be as easy as it sounds.
To be able to really understand how hard it is to give up diet culture, we need to actually take a look at what “diet culture” really means. It sounds like a simple term, but the reality is much more complex and intrinsically tied up with society, business and psychological conditioning that takes place more or less from birth.
Diet culture sells the simple idea that thinner = better.
Not healthier, not fitter, but thinner. Thinness is the goal whatever the method or mindset necessary to get there is fine.
Selling diet culture is a multi million pound industry, selling diets, diet books, and exercise equipment, miracle teas, magic potions and pills not to mention, endless supplements (ranging from harmless to extremely harmful) that all help you to subscribe to the myth that thinness is the key to health, happiness and a better life.
This message is enmeshed so far into society that it is seen as normal practice to be striving for thinness. Even the thinnest of women, talk about diets and watching what they eat. It is socially acceptable (even expected) for women to leave food, refuse food, pick only certain foods because they are “on a diet” or “trying to be good”. A woman who loves food is treated as a rarity and accepted only if she happens to also be thin. A fat woman, or a woman who doesn’t fit into society’s norms who also loves food is treated as someone who needs to be pitied. They are often treated to unsolicited diet or exercise advice, sometimes from complete strangers.
It is diet culture that sells the idea that a calorie deficit is a desirable situation and that it is quite possible, even recommended that you live your life in that state. (it isn’t the reason it is called a deficit, is that it is less than your body needs!)
It is diet culture that tells you that exercise is a punishment for eating badly, and that you have to earn your treats by burning calories. (you don’t)
It is diet culture that tells you that foods are good or bad (they aren’t, food has no moral value at all)
It is diet culture that has driven the fatphobia within society for countless years. Not only that, it is diet culture that legitamises fat shaming for the person’s “own good” driven by the mistaken belief that thin automatically equals healthy.
I have mentioned before that the diet industry is just that, an industry, and that if it actually worked it would put its self out of business. But that is really only one small facet of the culture. It is not that it “doesn’t work” diets and the diet industry are actively causing the problem. They are using manufactured fear and the fake ideals of the “thin=happy” world to keep the population dependent on them.
This is much bigger than just the big diet industries that everyone has heard of though (you know the ones.. WW, Slimming world etc) it extends to celebrity trainers, chefs, wellness experts, gyms, anti-diet books, the advocates of “lifestyle changes” to lose weight not just diets (yes I know I used to be one of those), your family, your friends, everyone who compliments you on weight loss without knowing anything about the reasons.
Quite simply diet culture is everywhere.
It is sneaky, it morphs into current trends and listens to backlash. Reports talk about diets not working, diet culture changes to talk about non-diet methods of weight loss. It changes apparent focus onto wellness and health, but at its heart, weight loss is the goal.
It lives in gyms and with trainers who sell exercise solely to lose weight, who assume when you walk through the door that if you are fat (and even if you are not) that weight loss and becoming thinner must be your goal.
It lives on tv and in magazines
But worst of all, it lives in your head.
It takes a huge conscious effort of will to banish the ideas that diet culture has been planting in your brain for your whole life.
It is hard to see pictures of yourself without first hating the fat and second liking the strength that you can see. It is hard to accept that you look the way you look and that it is ok. It is easy to fall back into the comfortable criticism of self and to resolve to be thinner and then everything will be better. It takes a fair bit of self talk to remind yourself that you are under no obligation to be thinner just because society says you should be.
It is hard to eat food, especially demonised food (cake, chocolate etc) without mentioning gym training and exercise to offset your food in the eyes of the world. It is hard to eat food without justifying it to yourself in terms of training. Even though I train because I love it, I still catch myself mentally performing the calories in vs calories out calculation.
this is me:
This is me with my new yoke, carrying 100kg around which is the equivalent to carrying an average female moon bear, or a newborn baby elephant. This is impressive, and yet I still had problems even putting this picture into this blog because “I look like I have a big tummy”
That right there is the influence of diet culture on me.
I feel I have to hide myself, and disguise parts of me because that is what society expects. I question whether I can “get away with” wearing certain things. I generally wear them anyway, because I am really doing my best to leave these things behind.
I am fully aware too, that in terms of the fat acceptance movement and the fatphobia within society I am what would be termed “small fat” and I do a lot of exercise, which while I do not do it to offset food, or to gain acceptance from mainstream society, does give me a certain amount of privilege. The stigma of weight and the abuse hurled around at other fat people is far more horrendous than anything I have had to deal with.
It is important to know that it is ok to be whatever size you are and you don’t need to buy acceptance with exercise or with claims of health. Whatever size you are, you are still worthy of respect even if you aren’t trying to change. You have a right to exist without starving or trying to shrink away.
It is important too, to apply these standards to yourself as well as others.
I am working on it.