My thoughts on diet culture.
The funny thing about diet culture is that it can be difficult to define- and may not be a term you've even heard of - yet it's presence is mammoth in this country. To me, it's the set of values given by society that says you need to be a certain size/shape/number to be attractive/desired/accepted. It shows up in a myriad of ways on any given day. Media will give you a ton of obvious examples. From straight up weight loss programs that promise 20 lbs in 20 days to appetite suppressant lollipops to waist trainers to fitness programs that get you 'beach body' ready. The industry makes billions off of making you feel shitty about yourself. The worse you feel, the more inclined you are to seek out their product. Food for thought (pun intended) - ever question who decided cellulite was bad? I promise you weren't born thinking some indents on your skin made you any less of a person. Some person somewhere some time ago decided it to be so, and now countless companies are making millions off of your insecurity that they created.
But beyond the obvious body shaming that all forms of media can subscribe to, diet culture can be much less conspicuous. It can hide behind the umbrella of 'health and wellness'. Today's trending diets are more 'health' focused: Paleo and Keto, for example, still label certain foods- carbs and/or bread or gluten - as bad. The Weight Watchers re-brand- WW now standing for 'wellness that works'- still requires you to count and track calories. Juice cleanses are now in the name of 'detoxification' instead of weight loss. Gyms, studios, and fitness classes that promote inner calm or inspirational exercise are still advertised with thin and 'aesthetically pleasing' people.
Much like exercise selection, I don't believe any of the diets out there are inherently good or bad. Being aware of what you are eating- learning about nutritional profiles of foods or what a serving looks like- is a good thing. Finding a way to eat that fits your lifestyle and goals is great. The problems that arise with diets lie in the reasons we do them and ideas that go along with them. The notion that if you eat something 'off your diet' you've failed is a problem. Avoiding dinner out with friends because it doesn't fit your macro's is a problem. Allowing the number on the scale to determine how good or bad your day is going to be is a problem. Eating your favorite dessert, feeling guilty, and then 'punishing' yourself at the gym the next day is a problem. Telling a friend that they are 'so good' for avoiding the bread basket at dinner is a problem. All of these situations internalize the idea that you are good or bad depending on what you eat. And that losing those 'unwanted' pounds is the crowning achievement to health and wellness.
Diet culture tells you that staying on the diet is the ultimate goal. Lose the weight and keep it off- that's when true happiness will be achieved. But what if weight wasn't the focus? What if we didn't focus on the number on the scale but by how the food we eat makes us feel? If we ate food based on what we were craving versus what fit the meal plan? If we valued ourselves not by what we look like but by how we live? As a trainer in the fitness industry, I do not believe losing weight needs to be the end game to achieve health. True wellness looks different on every body. And dismantling diet culture should be a part of everyone's health and wellness plan.