Written by Andrea Guerrini
Diet culture is one of the biggest lies of our times. It promises happiness, success, health and a long life if you attain the thin ideal. But that is just not true. If you haven’t heard the term diet culture, anti-diet warrior Christy Harrison has a great definition for this term:
“Diet culture is a system of beliefs that: worships thinness and equates it to health, promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, demonises certain ways of eating while elevating others, and oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of health”.
Diet culture is so embedded in our lives that it’s really hard to recognise. The good news is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it! Diet culture shows up in the way we talk about our bodies, in the way we count calories, in the way we compliment weight loss, in the way people feel like a “good” or “bad” person for eating certain foods, and so on. But diet culture harms us all with its sneaky lies and empty promises. Here is a list of myths from diet culture, so for once and for all we call it for what it is…a big lie!
“Long-term weight-loss is possible”
Lie number one of diet culture. Long term studies on weight loss show that this idea is just not true, there is no scientific proof that diets lead to lasting weight loss or health benefits. The Australian National Health & Medical Research Council is well aware that any kind of lifestyle intervention with the purpose of weight loss will inevitably result in weight regain within 2-5 years. They call this Level A evidence, the same evidence status that “smoking causes cancer” has.
“Weight is an indicator of health”
Ok, this is a big card used to promote the “so called” benefits of dieting. Diet culture loves using weight as an indicator of health. But what is health? WHO defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Yes! Health is MUCH more than what we eat and how often we exercise. In fact, the emotional, environmental, economical, intellectual, social, occupational, and spiritual components are all equally important to our overall health. There is no denial that there is a correlation between weight and some health conditions such as heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, however CORRELATION DOES NOT MEAN CAUSATION. This is extremely important to understand, because this misunderstanding contributes to the development of weight stigma, which is proven to be associated with adverse psychological and physiological outcomes, including depression, shame, resistance to seek medical help, hypertension, and cortisol and oxidative stress levels. You know what predicts health better than body size? Healthy habits.
“Thin equals healthy”
Mhhhh nope. You can’t tell by looking at someone’s body whether they are healthy or not. Diet culture loves thinness and wants us to believe that we will be healthy and live forever if we lose that extra weight. In a dieting culture, behaviours such as over exercising, fasting, restricting meals, and cutting out essential food groups such as carbohydrates or fats, are all normalised and praised practices. The truth is that you never know what behaviours are behind a “successful” weight loss story. In fact, diets are the most common indicator of the development of an eating disorder. Diet culture makes people obsessed with dieting, and because diets don’t work, people get stuck in an endless weight cycle. A great deal of research shows that weight cycling is associated with a variety of adverse health outcomes, including metabolic disturbance, type 2 diabetes, depression and cardiovascular events . What this means is that diets can actually make you more unhealthy in the long term!
“Folks are responsible for their weight”
Another big and cruel lie. When someone jumps into the latest intermittent fasting or a trendy paleo diet, the body can’t differentiate between a weight loss program and a state of famine. Our bodies are designed to survive and are equipped with amazing and efficient systems to keep us alive! So our beautiful bodies put in place all the mechanisms necessary to resist further weight loss, and even better, to gain it all back and more if possible… just in case there is another famine (AKA diet). In addition to this, our bodies have a genetically predisposed weight range. This is what is called Set Point Theory. According to this theory, our bodies will fight to maintain that weight range. No wonder why losing weight is hard, and almost impossible to keep it off!
“It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change”
Gluten free, sugar free, fasting, cleansing, detox, butter is bad, no wait, it’s good again, vegan, eggs are bad, eggs are good, salt free, the list can go on forever. All “in the name of health!” We are bombarded daily by social media influencers and “health gurus” letting us know that certain food and ways of eating are just evil! Typical diet culture talk. Diet culture evolves and so does the dieting industry. In early 2019 the billion dollar company Weight Watchers announced a rebrand with a new name WW: Wellness that Works. Yeah right. WW now sells itself as a holistic program for weight loss and wellness. See? This is what we are talking about. All “in the name of wellness”.
“No pain no gain”
This philosophy around exercising is typical from diet culture. Being active is really good for you, but it doesn’t have to be a sacrifice. In fact, finding joyful ways to move your body, rather than burning the last calorie you have left, is much more beneficial for your overall well being! Making physical activity a pleasure rather than an obligation makes it easier to become part of your everyday life. The benefits are many, it makes you feel good, keeps you active, improves your metabolism, enhance flexibility and strength, and many more!