DCulture surrounds and influences us all. Despite the widespread belief that it only affects people who watch their weight, diet culture in general also has an impact. People with a high BMI are often trolled, bullied, and ridiculed. From school to college to work, it’s common for overweight people to be labeled “fat,” leading to self-esteem issues among many.
A distorted body image negatively affects a person’s emotional and physical health. Christy Harrison, author Anti-Diet: Regain Your Time, Money, Health and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating, defines diet culture as a belief system that worships being thin and equates it with health and virtue. In addition, the diet culture promotes rapid weight loss and suggests maintaining low body weight to secure elite social status. It’s about demonizing some foods and eating styles while glorifying others. People who do not meet these expectations or do not conform to the delusional image of ‘health’ perpetuated by the diet culture are disrespected.
Diet culture distorts food image
Dietary culture sees food as fuel. Depending on their macronutrient content, foods are simply rated as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. However, food is more than an energy source.. It has been an integral part of celebrations and culture since ancient times. We can obtain important nutrients—vitamins, minerals, essential oils, antioxidants, phytonutrients, protein, and fiber—only through food. A combination of nutritious foods promotes well-being and disease prevention. Nutritional deficiency, impaired bodily functions, irregular diet and unhealthy relationship with food are the result of avoiding nutritious foods to be ‘low-calorie’. ‘
‘Poisoning’ and ‘purification’ after a celebration or holiday season are classic examples of foods that are perceived as purely calories. ‘Stopping’ from ‘high-fat’, ‘high-calorie’ foods after a feast is classified as disordered eating. It is an unscientific and dangerous process with harmful physical and psychological effects. Focusing on restrictive diets to stay healthy promotes eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Similarly, engaging in physical activity just to burn calories or ‘gain’ favorite foods is a bad consequence of diet culture.
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Psycho-social impact of diet culture
It is very important to understand that obesity and overweight are complex medical conditions that are not always the result of irregular calorie intake or inactivity. You can gain weight for various reasons – genetic predisposition, hormonal imbalance, medications, etc. Dietary culture ignores the science behind obesity and promotes a lean body as the pinnacle of health.
A person who does not meet these standards is considered unhealthy and develops a negative body image, making self-love a difficult journey for them. For such people, weight loss is the only path to acceptance, happiness and health. People with poor body image diet to lose weight and do not develop healthy eating habits.
Those with larger bodies, poor body image or body dissatisfaction compare their bodies to ‘zero figure’ celebrities who support weight loss diets without disclosing whether the method is scientifically sound, safe or sustainable. Unfortunately, people who fall victim to the diet culture lack both self-confidence and basic scientific knowledge about health and well-being. They have a hard time accepting that how they look has nothing to do with their health. Health risks increase with poor diet, unhealthy lifestyle and lack of physical activity regardless of body size.
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Practice intuitive eating
The weight loss and weight management market was valued at $192.2 billion in 2019 and is predicted to reach $295.3 billion in 2027. Decades of research show that diets don’t work in the long run. There are setbacks and disappointments. However, the ‘diet culture’ based weight loss industry is not ready to give up and continues to introduce new trendy diets with no scientific basis. Even when we learn that the new diet is unsustainable, extremely strict, lacks essential nutrients and can lead to weight gain, we don’t stop thinking it’s our fault and that we’re not disciplined enough. The vicious cycle continues. Needless to say, the result is shame and guilt.
A combination of intuitive eating and behavioral changes can help combat the ill effects of dietary culture. To avoid diet culture, avoid self-proclaimed health influencers, unscientific news, and weight watcher groups. Learn about basic physiological functions, nutrition and how a balanced diet improves health. Research the pros and cons before adopting new diets.
Try some basic principles of intuitive eating to get out of the diet industry’s trap. These principles ask you to reject the diet mentality, recognize hunger, and respond to it by eating nutritious foods. These principles invite you to make peace while developing a healthy relationship with food, to challenge someone who categorizes food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, to stop eating when you are full, to understand your satiety factor, to deal with stress without eating, and finally to respect. your body.
Subhasree Ray is a PhD Scholar (Ketogenic Diet), certified diabetes educator, and clinical and public health nutritionist. Tweeting @DrSubhasree. Opinions are personal.
(edited by Zoya Bhatti)