How to ditch the toxic dieting mentality for good.
Diet culture has always been in my life whether I wanted it or not. It started with the dieting of the women in my family and has somehow ended with a lifelong eating disorder on my part.
I wasn’t always obsessed with restriction and counting calories, but that doesn’t mean my relationship with food has ever been healthy. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to find or recall a single positive interaction with food that hasn’t been followed by guilt.
But what is diet culture, specifically in the toxic sense? And how can we say goodbye to dieting for good?
What is toxic diet culture?
Toxic diet culture is a system that champions the thin ideal. You’re not worthy, pretty or good enough unless you look a certain way, fit into a certain size and eat in a certain way. It’s basically a system that favours the perfect over the seemingly imperfect. Overall, it encourages weight loss no matter the cost. Perfection is the main focus, when in reality perfection is out of reach for many people, even the rich and famous.
The worst thing about diet culture is that it can be found in everything. Our health care system, our schools, universities, shops, television; You name it and dieting can be related in some way to it. It works its way into the mind of adults and children alike, and passes from generation to generation with little care for the destruction left behind. Usually that of broken metabolisms, bad body image and, in some cases, life threatening eating disorders.
During a worldwide pandemic diet culture has even found a way to draw focus to itself rather than the dreaded Coronavirus. Wellness brands are pushing their agenda, offering weight loss products, juice fasts and laxative pills to help you lose the ‘quarantine fifthteen.’ Even the British government has had a say on our waistlines, claiming that we all need to watch what we eat and exercise more to prevent obesity while working from home and staying indoors. It’s almost like they want to promote the onset of poor body image and eating disorders despite continuing to underfund the services used to pick up the pieces.
As someone who has suffered from a lifelong eating disorder, I know first hand how difficult it has been to continue recovery with so many contradicting opinions. It’s actually taken me away from regular television and magazines in a bid to avoid triggering content. But even still MLM’s, weight loss companies and fasting apps rage across social media and online resources. What’s a survivor of anorexia nervosa to do but grit her teeth and bare it?
I’m aware that there are those who may need to lose weight medically for a variety of reasons. There are many instances where a weight loss diet may be needed, but this should be under the advice of a registered GP or dietician. Although I know both of these are not always available or affordable, advice on consumption, nutrients and exercise should be sought from reliable sources. You can lose weight in a healthy way, that is without the use of shakes, fasting and maintaining a level head when it comes to calorie counting. You can lose weight without falling into the toxic diet mentality, but the world doesn’t make it very easy.
If you’re on a weight loss journey in 2021 for medical reasons, please be careful what media you consume and what you choose to believe or follow.
5 Ways to help you ditch diet culture in 2021.
1. Practice and allow yourself some compassion.
We need to allow ourselves compassion in order to begin to heal our relationship with food. By being overly critical of ourselves, we judge every choice we make. And if you’re struggling with an eating disorder, your weight or body image, that might mean judging each bite that goes into our mouths. We give ourselves permission and understanding, therefore helping you begin to overcome the feelings of guilt you have towards food and eating. It’s an excellent way to help yourself heal and even grow.
You can start to practice self-compassion by being more present with yourself and your thoughts when picking or eating food. What are you thinking? Are you judging yourself for eating? If you’re having negative thoughts, recognise them but let them go. It can take time to do this, so don’t expect this to work each time. Practice.
2. How has toxic dieting affected your life?
Think about it. How many times have you been on a diet? How many different types of diets have you tried? How did you feel before, during and after? The changes are you lost a few pounds and felt great, until you realised that it was much too easy to put it back on, and then some.
But there are other ways diets can affect us. Like becoming so obsessed that we fall into dangerous, life altering eating disordered patterns. We might even become so afraid of certain foods that we avoid them altogether at all costs. For some this might mean giving up dairy, for others it can mean giving up eating entirely. Not only that but chronic dieting alters our bodies and, in a way, can make it harder to lose weight each time we go on a diet. The more we take part in dieting behaviour and restrict our intake, the slower your metabolism will become over time. You can always fix it, but it can take a while to regulate. be much easier for you to let go of the obsession and fantasy you associate with dieting.
- Stop labeling certain foods as ‘cheat’, ‘bad’ or ‘guilt-free’ foods.
Food = Medicine. It won’t cure a disease but it fuels your body with various components to help your immune system. It’s also fuel for our tank, and without it, we wouldn’t last very long.
Giving food negative labels such as ‘bad’ is creating the assumption that we shouldn’t eat it, and if we do then we’re behaving badly. I’ve even heard people say ‘Oh, I’m so naughty for having this chocolate bar.’ News flash, Helen, you’re being human.
As for ‘guilt-free’ foods, all food should be guilt-free. The idea of any food being guilty is a farce. Even if you are watching what you eat, giving the food the power of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ only causes more stress. It’s a sure-fire way to develop a negative association with eating.
Although you may be old enough to know better, and therefore less susceptible to believing negative assumptions with food, young children are impressionable. Creating this narrative around food leaves children more open to developing a poor relationship with food, and can lead to life-altering eating disorders.
Finally, if you’re out with a friend and they happen to be eating a so-called ‘bad’ food: Keep your comments to yourself. It might be their favourite, it might bring back memories of childhood, or they may be on a meal plan which requires it. Don’t ruin that for them!
- Eliminate body checking.
Although this is something I’ve been working on in recovery, it isn’t a behaviour that’s only developed through an eating disorder. In fact, many people body check on a regular basis and don’t even know it.
Have you ever gotten a friend to take a photo of your body at every angle before deciding on an outfit? This might be seemingly harmless, but deep down it’s often a tool that allows us to obsess about our bodies.
- “Do my arms look fat in this?”
- “Delete that photo. I look so FAT.”
There’s at least one person reading this who immediately said “That’s me”, and whoever you are, I feel you.
- Exercise mindfully & for self-care, not weight loss.
Exercise because you want to, not because you feel obligated to because you had a burger for your dinner. Hitting the gym should be about relieving stress, working on your physical and mental health, and getting stronger. It shouldn’t be about watching the calories on your tracker.
My previous articles about diet culture should you wish to include them. I used some of the information here already, but not all of it.