on diet culture

when i look back on my childhood i remember being a chubby kid. i was self conscious about my weight, about what i ate and how i was perceived. my mother modeled this for me in her own preoccupation and fear and, fueled by diet culture’s 90s DIY vibe, instilling in me her self-taught patchwork of beliefs about nutrition & weight.

the thing is, i *wasn’t* overweight. to my knowledge, no doctor ever labelled me as such, recommended dieting, or gave my mom advice to watch what i ate or be concerned about my weight–she did that entirely on her own, based on her own experiences and fears. 

i was actually an athletic, fit kid who was pretty healthy (aside from some asthma and undiagnosed anxiety) but because i went through puberty early i was curvier, and definitely felt bigger, than my classmates.

so when the bricks of disordered eating added up to a full-fledged eating disorder that told me i was fat, i believed it! i didn’t need any medical proof that my weight & body were an issue; i had data, coming from popular culture and from my own home, that that was the case.

the irony is that developing an eating disorder did eventually make me fat. it divorced me from an ability to interpret hunger and fullness cues; it put my body into starvation mode, sometimes for years at a time; and restriction led to binge eating behavior, whether followed by purging (as part of my eating disorder) or not (as part of my short-lived, DIY recovery attempts).

diet culture tells you that without rules and restrictions your body will be greedy or unregulated, that you’ll eat too much of the “bad” stuff and/or not enough of the “good” stuff, and get or stay fat. when diet culture tries to pretend it’s not diet culture, it tells you that the rules & restrictions are for your health: the “wrong” stuff is what’s going to make or keep you sick, while the “right” stuff is what will heal you and keep you well**.

the worst, most insidious thing diet culture does is dissociate you from your body & its needs, then tell you that it’s empowering you to be in the driver’s seat on your way to feeling (and looking) your best.

diet culture is a guy who sets your house on fire and then rescues you from the burning wreck–literal gaslighting.

diet culture is so pervasive, and takes so many forms, that most well-meaning people have no idea that it’s a problem. it shows up everywhere, from tv shows to family gatherings to medical & wellness training. we internalize it as medical advice, even when it’s never been told to us by a medical professional, and the deprivation & restriction (as well as the idea of “cheating” & “treating”) that are such a common feature of diet culture mirror the “no pain, no gain” attitude that we’ve conflated with work ethic.

there is an element of unlearning diet culture in every one of my therapeutic relationships, and i am left wondering, for myself and for my patients, what could someone have said to me that would have kept me from believing this? living in a world in which the validity of diet culture is a foregone conclusion, what questions could someone have taught me to ask to peel back the propaganda, and learn how to *truly* empower myself?

it is a human right, and a foundational need for true health & happiness, for our minds to live in partnership with our bodies, for our bodies to be our home, and for home to feel safe. my hope is that in sharing my healing journey you will feel inspired to share yours, and that collectively these stories will inspire further healing. what i fight for when i speak out against diet culture, ultimately, is our right and ability to come home to our bodies. 

so, please, share your journey. post a comment, send me a DM, or pass this post on to someone who needs to read it. help me learn more about what you’ve learned (or hope to learn!) and how you’ve survived–let’s help everyone come home.

 

**this is a complicated conversation, because certain foods can exacerbate health concerns while others can alleviate them–but that is a completely different framework, and to be determined based on your individual experience and needs, with the help of a wellness professional.

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