Trigger Warning: This article discusses disordered eating, body image, and diet culture.
Freshman year was a blur. I can remember the fun football games, parties and friendships. However, when I was alone, I looked in the mirror and felt ashamed. Like many freshmen, I gained weight my first year of college, and I tried so tirelessly to work it off. I just remember constantly going to the gym, having anxiety over food, body checking, and being unable to separate my self-worth from my physical appearance. This went on for at least a year and a half, and it’s taken unfollowing weight-loss accounts, gaining self-confidence through my actions, unlearning my old thought process, and learning to love myself to get to where I am today.
And while I didn’t realize it at the time, there was one thing that was constantly screaming at me to lose weight: diet culture. Diet culture surrounds us. It’s practically everywhere, and it can be hidden and disguised as “healthy,” so that you may not even be able to recognize it.
Diet culture shows up in many ways. It sells a false narrative that thinner bodies are healthier and inherently “better,” food has moral value (AKA some foods are good, and some foods are bad), weight loss is always a good thing, and you should constantly be trying to make yourself smaller. The purpose of exercise becomes to burn the most calories, punish yourself for what you ate, or lose weight. Even the idea of “clean eating” and “detoxes” are rooted in diet culture, and don’t even get me started on the idea of “guilt-free” foods. Diet culture encourages fatphobia in our society and in my opinion, is partly to blame for the millions of people who suffer from eating disorders in America.
The point of diet culture is for you to feel bad about yourself, spend money to “fix” what you feel bad about, and in turn, lose your power. If you are constantly focused on your next meal, working out, or losing weight, it is harder to focus on your work, social life, and who you are truly meant to be. According to Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CDN, diet culture “Oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health.” It’s clear that diet culture and its definition of “health” is rooted in thin, white privilege. National Eating Disorders Association Ambassador Ragen Chastain provides a deeper explanation of diet culture and how to resist it here.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with healthy weight loss and some people have dietary restrictions for medical reasons. Also, just because I’m anti-diet culture doesn’t mean that I don’t love fueling my body with different foods and exercising to make me feel my best. However, I’m tired of the constant triggers that society surrounds us with to lose weight, because guess what? Not everyone WANTS to lose weight. I’m tired of hearing things like “Let’s go exercise to burn off XYZ” or “That Starbucks drink is high in calories.” We all have different body types, and no one is made to look exactly like someone else. The ever-changing beauty standard is simply unrealistic and stops us from living our dang lives!
However, in 2021, I’m leaving diet culture and its hold on me, and I encourage you to do the same. You deserve to feel happy and comfortable in your body. You deserve to enjoy a bowl of ice cream without thinking of calories or forcing yourself to go to the gym the next morning. You deserve to take part in joyful movement that helps you feel your best physically AND mentally. You deserve to live. We are strong college women. We are and will always be more than our bodies.
Over the past year, I’ve truly learned how to eat, take care of myself, and exercise in ways that serve my purpose. I’ve found a workout regimen that provides the physical and mental benefits I desire. I’ve learned how to fuel my body by listening to what it is actually craving. Also, I’ve learned that my purpose and who I am as a person goes far beyond what I choose for breakfast in the morning. While diet culture still has a small voice in the back of my head, I’m learning to trust myself and remove all that the diet industry has sold all these years. If you are still struggling with this, I recommend talking to someone about how you are feeling, and just know that it takes time to heal from this. As college women, we can take a stand against diet culture, and I encourage you to use resources provided to educate yourself, because you never know who is struggling with it.
*Disclaimer: I am not a dietitian or doctor. This is simply my personal experience with diet culture.
For more information on eating disorders: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
NEDA Hotline: (800) 931-2237
More Information on Diet Culture: http://hannahmageerd.com/what-is-diet-culture/
My favorite body positivity/anti-diet culture Instagram accounts: