Unpacking the Influence of Diet CultureNov 01, 2022
Have you been scouring the internet trying to find the best diet for weight loss? If so, I'm sure you have stumbled across some crazy options, like the lemon water/cayenne pepper trick, a product claiming to be the "best diet pill" out there, or an insane workout routine that promises chiseled abs and sculpted arms. Welcome to diet culture.
What is Diet Culture?
Diet culture is the collective belief that one should eat and move their body in a certain way in order to achieve a change in their appearance. Emphasis is placed on smaller, more sculpted bodies being worthier than those that are not. Diet culture is pervasive, intrusive, and sneaky. It creates a sense of distrust between you and your body. There is a fine line between engaging in activities that contribute to overall health versus those that are the negative influence of diet culture. In fact, you may not even know that you are being influenced by diet culture until you pause and become curious about the beliefs and thoughts you have about food, movement, and appearance.
Actions Get Results
Every single day, we engage in actions that move us toward a result. These actions are based on the belief in which we form a thought that drives us to take action (or inaction). Most of these are done without much thought because they are habitual and we know that the action will give us our desired outcome. For example, opening a door, pushing the start button on your car (or turning the key), or moving the lever on your kitchen faucet. Engaging in these actions will give you a desired result. If the door doesn’t open, you check to see if the lock is engaged, if your car doesn’t start, you may check the battery, if the faucet doesn’t spit out water, you may check to see if the water has been turned off or if there is a leak. When the desired outcome does not result from the action, you troubleshoot the problem until you achieve the desired outcome.
Actions Influenced by Diet Culture
When you start to become curious about your actions (or inactions) that you make every day, you may begin to realize that there may be some “rules” that you live by each day that are influenced by diet culture. For example, you may immediately put half of your meal in a to-go box while dining out, use devices to track your macros and calories, eat 1200 calories a day or less, drink a full glass of water at the beginning of a meal to curb how much you consume at the meal, only engage in high-intensity exercise, believe in “no rest days”, not eat after a certain time at night, not eat before a certain time in the morning, eat low carb, work out to make up for the food choices you made over the weekend, use your workout as a justification for your food choices, scheduled cheat days, etc, etc. I can go on and on. Why? Because of my own personal experience with diet culture’s influence and trying to find the best diet or diet to lose belly fat or hack to change the way my body appeared.
Diet culture tells you that if we do “x” action then you will get “x” result. You begin to shift your belief in the quest for the best diet trick or diet to rapidly lose weight/gain muscle/transform your body. The stories start swirling in your head that you need to follow these rules or you will not achieve the results thus, becoming out of tune with your body and the signals it is giving you. It creates a sense of failure and poor body image, even if you do adhere to the “rules” and don’t see results. It makes you believe that you can't stick to a diet and that your body is broken.
Conversely, what if you have a transformation in your body with these new rules? Does that automatically mean that you are suddenly happier, fulfilled, and confident? Or does it leave you feeling drained, rigid, and unsatisfied? Does it create fear around allowing yourself to eat freely, without structure for fear of your body reverting back to the way it was before the transformation? Many of my clients have shared with me that when they were their thinnest, they were more miserable because of the lack of flexibility in their food choices and felt a lot of pressure to maintain that physical state of their body.
Evaluate Your Actions
As you begin to get curious about the actions you are taking every day, evaluate if they are
- Will create a loving and healthy relationship with yourself and your food
As you evaluate your actions around your food, movement, and appearance, you maybe begin to feel that some are not truly in alignment with how you want to live or feel. It’s ok if your perspective has changed from when you first implemented the action. Your body and life are dynamic and fluid. Your thoughts and perspective can be too.
What Can I do to Change a Misaligned Action?
As your awareness increases, know that the shift away from a misaligned action can be both scary and intimidating. Your ego may fill your head with new stories as you step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Be gentle with yourself and this transition state. Pause and ask yourself if this story actually has evidence to support it or if it is just your ego going wild to try to keep you in your comfort zone. You can also check out the guest blog post on "How to Include Mindfulness to Improve your Body Image".
The realignment takes a bit of time to adjust. I don’t recommend changing multiple habits at one time. Start with one that feels the easiest for you to shift and wait to change another until you feel successful with the change of the first. You’ll feel more empowered and confident as you do.
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