Why I Stopped Buying Into Diet Culture ( And Why You Should Too)

I grew up ingrained in diet culture. At eight-years-old, my pediatrician told me I needed to eat more salads, and at ten-years-old I decided to try Weight Watchers for the first time.

Diet culture is a society focused on weight, BMI, calories, weight-loss, and dieting instead of truly focusing on actual health and wellness. Diet culture masquerades as being focused on health, but in reality it is detrimental to both physical and mental health. Diet culture’s soul focus is on numbers, and health isn’t a black-and-white issue that can be reduced to a number. Health is multifaceted and is more than weight or physical appearance. As a result, focusing solely on these factors is ignoring a huge portion of what health really is.

You can tell that our country is consumed by diet culture just by turning on your TV, scrolling through Instagram, or walking through a magazine aisle. From headlines that read “Lose 20 Pounds in 2 Weeks!” to celebrities making sponsored posts for detox teas, to aisles full of reduced-calorie, reduced-fat, reduced-sugar (and, honestly, reduced fun) foods, you just can’t seem to escape diet culture in today’s society.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, “35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders.” Eating disorders are the deadliest of all mental illnesses, and the fact that such a large percentage of dieters end up developing eating disorders is definitely a reason why diet culture is so dangerous. Another startling statistic is that “46% of 9-11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets.” The fact that nearly half of 9-11 years are frequently on diets is alarming. Diets are restrictive and deprive our bodies of energy and joy. Children need lots of energy from food to support their growing, active bodies. Encouraging dieting behaviors at a young age can set children up for a lifetime of body image issues and can potentially trigger or contribute to an eating disorder.

I started dieting at 10 years old, and started to develop an eating disorder at 14 years old. Nearly 10 years of my life were spent thinking about calories, pounds, sizes, and numbers.

Instead of putting all of my energy into my education and growing as a person, my energy was being put into changing my body.

At 19 years old, I finally accepted that enough was enough, and I decided I would take the scary leap of beginning to recover from my eating disorder. I started therapy, and I began to realize how deeply rooted my disordered thought patterns were. From the time I was a little girl, I was socialized to believe that my body defined my worth, and that dieting was just something I needed to do. I believed that food was either “good” or “bad” and that it was something I needed to earn.

NEWSFLASH: Food is NOT a moral issue. Food is not good or bad; food is just food. All foods can be healthy in moderation. Ice cream isn’t “better” or “worse” than grilled chicken, and kale isn’t “better” or “worse” than cupcakes. Food is a necessity, not something that needs to be earned. In addition, there is so much more to us as humans than our bodies. Our bodies are just the vessel for the rest of ourselves. We are souls and living beings, not just an external body. Lastly, weight is not an indicator of health or worth. Health has many components, and weight is not something that can solely determine that.

There is more to life than being a victim of diet culture.

There is more to life than calories, points, diet food, and food tracking apps.

There is more to life than defining yourself by numbers.

There is more to life than changing your body to conform to a standard.

Health is multidimensional, and diet culture is so far from healthy.

I stopped buying into diet culture, and you should too.