What is the impact of diet culture on modern society and our ability to enjoy food?
As a society, we’re obsessed with the next big diet, and how we look. It’s all over social media and can go one of two ways; Body positivity or body shaming. Your Instagram feed can either empower you to give up on diet culture with influencers such as BodyPosipanda. Or it can send your tail spinning into comparison. Now, more than ever, we’re hyper-aware of the people around us, their successes, and our own shortcomings.
With children as young as six supplied with smartphones and social media, toxic diet culture has another chance at revival.
Diets: A brief history.
Diets of various forms have been around for thousands of years. The word ‘diet’ simply refers to the food we consume in any shape or form. But, in recent centuries, it’s been coined to mean something ‘restrictive’ in a bid to lose weight.
The Tapeworm Diet was favoured in the 1900s due to its fast-acting results. However, this was also alarmingly dangerous, especially in such a primitive time when sanitary conditions were at an all-time low. This was followed by a succession of questionable diets such as The Lucky Strike (cigarette) diet, the cabbage soup diet, and eventually led to the modern Atkins Diet and other weight loss programs.
All of these have been fueled by society’s need to strive for the perfect appearance. Although social media is only a fairly recent discovery, most diets have been endorsed by various celebrities who have an influence over a large portion of society.
Then we arrive in the current 21st century. Reported eating disorders are at an all-time high and children as young as 6 are beginning to pick up on the fact that they need to be perfect.
Why diets aren’t welcome anymore!
Diets are bad for both our physical and mental health.
‘Yo-Yo dieting’, or weight fluctuation, triggers physical side effects such as the increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and issues relating to blood pressure.
The mental health implications of diets and diet culture are even more alarming. Serial dieters have an increased risk of developing eating disorders such as binge eating, bulimia, and, on occasion, anorexia nervosa. Due to external influences on shape and weight, many dieters suffer from low self-esteem and confidence issues in regard to their bodies. Sadly, this can bleed into other areas of their lives and can contribute to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Diets DON’T work.
Almost everyone who goes on a diet will gain back the weight, plus a few extra pounds for good measure. In fact, a whopping 95% of dieters manage to gain back everything they’ve lost within the space of 1-5 years.
By definition of the word, a diet is meant to be a temporary measure and therefore won’t work long term. If you’re following a restrictive diet, chances are that it’s unmaintainable. Your body doesn’t want to starve, therefore it’ll compensate for your restrictive diet by slowing down the metabolism, making it even harder to shed the pounds. It can also lead to the dreaded ‘binge-restrict’ cycle, or it may lead to you falling back into old habits permanently, which in turn sees the pounds creeping back on in no time.
This isn’t new information, and in fact, it baffles me that people continue to try the newest ‘juice fast’ with the knowledge that once they begin to eat again that the weight will pile back on. But then again, I’m a recovering anorexic who also thought starving myself was an effective, and ‘safe’ way to reduce my BMI.
“Fad” diets are extremely dangerous.
Fad diets, such as Atkins and juice fasts, can be very harmful. Some can lack basic, essential nutrients, and the majority teach nothing about the concept of healthy eating. So, when you finally are done with your diet you go right back to eating as you once did, which ultimately leads to gaining all the weight back.
Thus begins ‘yo-yo dieting’ which, as we have learned, causes a host of other issues.
Diets make us obsessed with food.
When we diet the onus becomes completely food-focused. We’re constantly thinking about it, whether we realise it or not.
- What should I eat for lunch?
- How many calories must be in that?
- What can I eat if I go out for dinner?
- Oh no, I’ve overshot my calorie limit. I’m a failure.
Food becomes the first thing you think of when you get out of bed, and the last thing that crosses your mind as you go to sleep. It takes over every aspect of your life when we should be focusing on more important things like spending time with family.
With all the focus centred on food and calories, it becomes more difficult to manage. Calories should be nothing more than fuel to us. It shouldn’t cause such great distress.
“Calories are fuel. They’re simply a unit of energy used to fill up our tank. But Diets measure our worth in lbs.”
When you stick to the plan and manage to lose X amount of pounds, you automatically feel better about yourself. If you happen to ‘cheat’ a little and gain even a fraction of an ounce, then all hell breaks loose.
Our weight and the food we put into our mouths can set us up for the whole day. If we step on our scales first thing in the morning and see a number we don’t like, then you can bet we’ll be walking around the office with a sour look. We might not even join you for drinks afterwards because we’re punishing ourselves for a number that, ultimately, doesn’t matter.
Our self-worth, esteem, and confidence become completely dependent on the number staring at us from the scales. In reality, we’re far more than just that.
We should be measuring our self-worth in the work we do, in the kindness, we express, in the words we exchange, and in the loved ones we have; Not by our weight, shape, inches or size.