Kristen Bryant-Thinking In A Lala College Sweatshirt

The Many Disguises of Diet Culture

Keto, paleo, vegan, Whole30, low-carb, gluten-free, fasting, dairy-free, low-fat, raw-food, detox, liquid are only a few examples of the many diets that make their way into our Instagram feeds, YouTube watch lists, and conversations with peers. There is probably a high likelihood that you have tried one of these diets or know someone who has. Millions of women are utilizing these diet regimes in an effort to lose weight. I am here to say that our obsession with being thinner needs to end, and I will go into the many reasons why. First, I must clarify that many people take on certain eating habits due to allergies, food sensitivities, environmental concerns, animal rights, etc.; I am not referring to these individuals when I speak of ‘diet culture.' I refer to dieting as restrictive eating behaviors that are utilized in the effort to obtain a more “ideal” body type (typically smaller, as a result of losing weight).

Kristen Bryant-Bodies Kristen Bryant / Her Campus First off, this issue is functioning on such a massive scale that it can be hard to recognize the detrimental "self care” that it is when it's so normalized in today's society. We are so often exposed to content that perpetuates the idea that once you change your body (disguised as “getting healthy”), it will be far easier to become happy. It is time we begin to recognize this as the marketing strategy and money grab that it is. Dieting is not the simple answer to obtaining physical or mental well-being, self-love, or inner harmony. The psychological, physical, and even financial strain that diets have on an individual can take them further away from these goals. So many of us just cannot accept that we are enough, constantly making attempts to feel like we are - whether it be through restrictive eating, perfectly following a certain diet plan, obsessively exercising, etc. The irony is that more and more research supports the notion that diets simply do not work, and “95% of dieters will return to their original weight within one to five years” (Cora Wilen). So why is this? Why is it that diets don’t work? Why are we so obsessed with losing weight? What internal and external factors are at play? 

We are born with the innate and intuitive ability and desire to eat when we are hungry, stop when we are full, and move our bodies. Yet as we get older and become immersed in a culture of thin idealization, we begin to lose touch with our bodies’ natural rhythms and cues. We are trained to not listen to our bodies and instead use our minds to try and change our habits to become thin or avoid weight gain: “The best-known environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders is the sociocultural idealization of thinness” (National Eating Disorders). This mind-driven approach to taking over natural harmony throws us into a cycle of weight loss, weight gain, self-hatred, depression, false sense of worthiness, and so on. We begin to make food out to be this evil, shameful thing rather than the beautiful fuel our bodies can naturally manage through hunger and fullness cues. As the National Eating Disorders Association states, “79% of weight-loss program participants reported coping with weight stigma by eating more food." Our bodies are equipped to keep us at a healthy weight, and that weight is different for so many of us in respect to our genes, environment, age, sex, preferences and so much more.

Arianna Tucker-Girl Putting Hair In Ponytail Arianna Tucker / Her Campus It is almost as though the harder we try to lose weight, the less it works and the unhappier we become, and this is something that the diet industry does not want you to know. The U.S. weight loss industry alone is now worth a record $72 billion. How does the diet industry get around the growing recognition of the corruption that is diet culture? They begin to disguise it behind the notions of “health," “detox," “clean eating," “super foods," “wellness," “earning” food, and much more toxic language. All in all, we must stop defining our worth by how well we stuck to a diet or how thin/ fit we are. We must stop constantly trying to control our weight, because our bodies have the capacity to do it on their own without our constant self-criticism and need for control. Once you begin to listen to and accept your physical and personal self, you can begin to make your way toward happiness, balance, and self-love- free from the chains of diet culture.