Diet culture distorts body image, promotes eating disorders. Try intuitive eating instead

Dot culture surrounds and influences us all. Despite the general idea that it only affects people who are watching their weight, the food culture also has an impact in general. People with a high Body Mass Index are often cheated, bullied and ridiculed. From school to college to work, it’s common for overweight people to be labeled “fat,” leading to self-esteem issues for many.

A distorted body image has a negative impact on one’s emotional and physical health. Christy Harrison, the author of Anti-diet: Reclaim your time, money, well-being and happiness through intuitive eating, describes diet culture as a belief system that worships being thin and equating it with health and virtue. In addition, diet culture encourages rapid weight loss and suggests maintaining a low body weight to secure elite social status. There is also the demonization of certain foods and eating styles while exalting others. People who don’t live up to such expectations or conform to the “health” delusion perpetuated by the food culture are disrespected.

Diet culture distorts the image of food

Diet culture sees food as fuel. Foods are simply rated “good” or “bad” based on their macronutrient content. However, food is more than a source of energy. It has been an integral part of celebrations and culture since ancient times. Only through food can we get crucial nutrients: vitamins, minerals, essential fats, antioxidants, phytonutrients, protein and fiber. A combination of nutritious foods ensures well-being and disease prevention. Nutritional deficiencies, diminished bodily functions, disordered eating, and an unhealthy relationship with food result from avoiding nutritious foods to go “low-cal.” ‘

“Detoxing” and “cleansing” after a party or holiday are classic examples of foods that are viewed only as calories. The “purge” of “high-fat,” high-calorie foods after a feast is classified as disordered eating. It is an unscientific and dangerous process with adverse physical and psychological effects. The focus on restrictive diets to stay healthy fuels eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Similarly, physical activity solely to burn calories or “earn” favorite foods is a poor outcome of a diet culture.

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Psychosocial impact of food culture

It is critical to understand that obesity and overweight are complex medical conditions that are not always the result of unregulated calorie intake or inactivity. You can gain weight for a number of reasons: genetic predisposition, hormonal imbalance, medication, etc. Dietary culture ignores the science behind obesity and promotes a thin body as the pinnacle of one’s health.

A person who does not meet these standards is considered unhealthy and develops a negative body image, making self-love a difficult journey for them. For such people, weight loss is the only path to acceptance, happiness and health. People with poor body image eat to lose weight, not to develop healthy eating habits.

Those with larger bodies, poor body image, or body dissatisfaction compare their bodies to “zero-digit” celebrities who promote weight loss diets without explaining whether the method is scientifically sound, safe, or sustainable. Unfortunately, people who fall prey to diet culture lack both self-confidence and basic scientific knowledge about health and wellness. They find it hard to accept that what they look like has nothing to do with their health. Health risks are increased by poor diet, unhealthy lifestyle and lack of exercise, regardless of body size.

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Practice intuitive eating

The weight loss and weight management market was valued at $192.2 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $295.3 billion by 2027. Decades of research show that diets don’t work in the long run. There are setbacks and disappointments. However, the “diet culture” based weight loss industry is not ready to give up and keeps coming up with new, trendy diets without scientific backing. Even when we discover that the new diet is unsustainable, extremely rigid, lacks essential nutrients and can lead to weight gain, we continue to feel that it is our fault and that we are not disciplined enough. The vicious circle continues. Needless to say, the result is shame and guilt.

A combination of intuitive eating and behavioral changes can help combat the adverse effects of diet culture. To avoid diet culture, avoid self-proclaimed health influencers, unscientific news, and weight-watching groups. Learn about essential physiological functions, nutrition and how eating a balanced diet promotes good health. Research the pros and cons of new diets before following them.

Try out some basics of intuitive eating to get out of the diet industry trap. These principles ask you to reject the dieting mindset, recognize hunger and respond to it by eating nutritious foods. These principles urge you to make peace with food while developing a healthy relationship with it, challenge someone who categorizes food as “good” or “bad,” stop eating when you’re full, understand your satisfaction factor , deal with stress without eating and finally, respect your body.

Subhasree Ray is a Doctoral Scholar (Ketogenic Diet), licensed diabetes educator, and a clinical and public health expert. She tweets @DrSubhasree. Opinions are personal.

(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)

Diet culture distorts body image, promotes eating disorders. Try intuitive eating instead

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