Diet culture is a system of beliefs that equate thinness with health. Diet culture is a world that promotes weight loss as a means of being a good person and attaining a higher status. Diet culture elevates certain ways of eating while making other ways of eating shameful. Diet culture creates unrealistic expectations and it is everywhere. It permeates our daily lives, our relationships, the things that we see and read, and so much more. The mindset of diet culture is doing more harm than good because it does not focus on overall health.
A key facet of diet culture has made being on a diet the norm. There is substantial research showing the harm that diets cause in the long term. A meta-study, looked at several weight loss studies and found that most dieters were able to lose up to 10% of their weight in the short term (6 months – 1 year) but that 4 – 5 years later, they had regained the weight–plus more! Dieting has other side effects such as contributing to our damaged relationship with food, slowing down metabolism, leading to emotional eating, and restricting foods that can cause us to miss out on important nutrients.
Here are some ways to reframe your thoughts and get out of a diet culture mindset…
Stop acting like losing weight is the most amazing thing a person can do. We’ve all done it, complimented someone because they look smaller. This compliment seems to be beneficial but it is rooted in our diet culture mindset of a person’s size equals their worth. There are plenty of other things to compliment someone one besides their weight loss, like the great job they did on a work project!
Get rid of your scale. The scale is not a measure of your worth. It’s a number that can and does change from hour to hour and day to day based on body fluctuations that are completely normal. If your mood or how you feel about yourself can be set and determined by the number on the scale, get rid of the scale.
Detox your technology. Take a good hard look at the social media accounts you follow, the blogs you read, and the websites that you regularly visit. Do any of them make you feel bad about your food choices or your weight? If the answer is yes, get rid of them. Then fill your technology with people and things that uplift you
Work on making peace with food. Many aspects of diet culture are about food. Diet culture tells us that there are good foods and bad foods. It tells us that we should eat a certain way. Instead of following what diet culture says about food, make peace with food. Eat based on what your body is telling you that it needs. Eat based on what makes you feel good. Eat based on what tastes good and is satisfying for you.
Breaking free of diet culture can be difficult, exhausting, and a little scary. It’s a process and it’s okay to need support and guidance during this process. If you’re reading to ditch diets and become friends with food but aren’t sure where or how to start, please reach out – Friendly Nutrition is here to support you.
Mann T, Tomiyama AJ, Westling E, Lew A-M, Samuels B, Chatman J. Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments. Am Psychol. 2007;62(3):220–233.
It’s that initial rush. You start a diet. You immediately lose a few a pounds. It’s working! The diet is working! But then, it’s not working. The diet becomes difficult to stick with. The diet takes things away – fun things like eating out with friends or spontaneously participating in the office lunch. The diet stops working. The weight loss stops and in the long term, the weight may come back. Or you might actually add more weight than you lost.
Here is a cold hard fact: Diets don’t work, at least not in the long term.
Research shows that 95% of dieters end up gaining back the weight that they lost. Some dieters, about ⅔ of the 95%, gain back the weight that they lost and then some. Dieting is a predictor of short term weight loss AND long term weight gain.
Dieting also has several side effects that don’t help with the intended goal of the diet. Side effects like binge eating, developing eating disorders, eating when not hungry, emotional eating, and eating simply because food is present.
So why do we keep dieting?
It’s that initial rush. Losing those first few pounds is exhilarating and it gives you a feeling of accomplishment. For the first 6 – 12 months, a diet works. People who diet can lose 10% of their body weight during those first months. However, the weight will be back. One study examined women who lost weight during a 6-month weight loss program and found that after 5 years, the average weight of the women was 7.9 pounds heavier than their starting weight.
Then, there’s the diet industry. The diet industry wants you to believe that your weight is a behavior that you can control. But, weight is not a behavior. It is a consequence resulting from a variety of factors such as genetics, age, gender, and lifestyle. The diet industry wants you to believe that you have direct control over every single pound because they want you to keep coming back for more diets to the tune of billions of dollars every year. Dieting promises are wrapped in messages that dieting is the answer to many things – health, happiness, illness, and more.
But if not dieting, then what?
Focus on health, not on weight. No matter a person’s size, health can be improved by making changes toward healthier habits. A study from 2012 looked at the association between healthy lifestyle habits and mortality. The healthy lifestyle habits were eating 5 or more fruits and vegetables per day, exercising regularly, moderate alcohol consumption, and not smoking. This study took the weight, based on Body Mass Index, of the individual into consideration and concluded that adopting healthy lifestyle habits decreased mortality no matter what the person’s weight happened to be. In fact, if all 4 healthy lifestyle habits were adopted, the risk of death was almost the same, regardless of weight.
Recognize that your weight does not show how healthy you are or aren’t. The number on the scale does not show the full picture of health. Is a thin person who does not eat any vegetables and who does not participate in physical activity any healthier than a larger person who exercises regularly and gets at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies per day? Absolutely not.
Center your health and wellness goals on your values. A value is a lifestyle change that you want to make because it matters to you. Why does it matter? Figure out the meaning and purpose behind the changes that you want to make. This will help you create health and wellness goals based on your values. It’s perfectly okay if this starts with a desire to lose weight. Why do you want to lose weight? Explore this question. Your why can’t be feeling words. Your why can’t be “I want to lose weight so that I feel better.” Look deeper – what is it about losing weight that would make you feel better? Maybe you feel better because when you lose weight, you’re eating better and when you eat better, you feel better. You feel better because you’re properly nourishing your body. With this lens, the value is nourishing your body. Once you identify your values, your can start making an action plan to get there.
Foster GD, Wadden TA, Kendall PC, Stunkard AJ, & Vogt RA. (1995). Psychological effects of weight loss and regain: a prospective evaluation. J Consult Cin Psychol, 64(4), 752-757.
Mann T, Tomiyama AJ, Westling, Lew AM, Samuels B, & Chatman J. (2007). Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: Diets are not the answer. American Psychologist, 62(3), 220-233.
Matheson E, King DE, & Everett CJ. (2012). Healthy Lifestyle Habits and Mortality in Overweight and Obese Individuals. J Am Board Fam Med, 25(1), 9-15.
When parents find out that I’m a dietitian and that I do some work with kids, I often get one of two responses. They either ask me how to get their child to eat more veggies or they make a comment, with an uncomfortable giggle, about how bad their child eats. As a parent, you want your child to be well nourished. In an ideal world your child delights in eating broccoli and kale and says “no thank you” to cookies and cake. But, reality is quite different! However, you can still raise a healthy eater who has a good relationship with food.
Here are a few tips to do so:
Be a health and wellness role model. Your child is watching and learning from you. Create health and wellness habits for yourself that you want your child to have. Teach your child to eat when they are hungry by learning how and paying attention to your own hunger. Teach your child to cope with their emotions without using food by helping yourself (and them) find non-food ways to deal with feelings. Don’t talk about foods as “good” or “bad.” Talk about food from a standpoint of how the food makes your body feel.
Offer a variety of options and aim for balance. Offer foods that provide a variety of different nutrients. Offer foods from a variety of textures. Offer foods from a variety of food groups. Keep in mind that the balance of each day doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s the balance over time that matters.
Let your child take the lead. You provide the food. The child decides whether or not they’ll eat and how much they’ll eat. Trust your child. Most children, unless there are severe feeding problems, know when they need to eat and they know how much they need to eat. This does not mean let your child eat anything they want – remember, you provide the food! However, children are surprisingly good at intuitively knowing how much and when they should eat.
Avoid restricting food. Restricting food on purpose with the hopes that your child will eat that food in moderation typically has the opposite effect. Restricting food can lead to binge eating that food, sneaking the food, overeating, and eating when not hungry. Imagine this – You don’t let your child have cookies. You don’t keep cookies in the house. When you are with them and cookies are around, you don’t let them have any cookies. You do this with the hopes that you are teaching them that cookies shouldn’t be eaten. What’s your child going to do when there are cookies around and you aren’t? Eat every single cookie in sight. A research review in the journal Pediatric Obesity (1) has found that restrictive practices with children and food can result in children who want those goodies even more and will eat more of the restricted foods when they are available.
Ban the clean plate club. Being a member of the clean plate club teaches your child to ignore their internal hunger and fullness cues and teaches your child to overeat. Being a member of the clean plate club teaches your child to mindlessly eat because they don’t get to determine the stopping point since they have to eat until the plate is clean.
These are just a few strategies that you can use to raise a healthy eater. Utilizing some of these strategies to their fullest extent may mean that you have some things to work on with your own food relationship and that’s okay. You can do it and Friendly Nutrition can help with support and guidance if you need it. Being a parent is hard so let’s try to get to place of ease and happiness with food for your benefit and your kiddos benefit.
(1) Rollins, B. Y., Savage, J. S., Fisher, J. O., and Birch, L. L. (2016) Alternatives to restrictive feeding practices to promote self‐regulation in childhood: a developmental perspective. Pediatric Obesity, 11: 326–332. doi:10.1111/ijpo.12071.
Halloween has come and gone. November is here and the holiday decorations are starting to pop up. I don’t know when the official start of the holiday season is but it’s starting to look like it is here. This time of year is wonderful, fun, stressful, busy and…. full of food!
Pretty soon your social media feeds will start filling up with advice on how to handle food at all of the upcoming holiday events that will soon take over your calendar. You’ll see things like “eat a healthy snack before you go to a party” or “don’t eat all day to save your calories.” This advice is perhaps well meaning but may not be all that helpful. It may actually set you up for feelings of failure or cheating or guilt when you finish at the holiday event.
The holiday season is great place to utilize mindful eating strategies. Here are a few you can try out.
Eat what you really love. You don’t have to try everything in front of you at a holiday party so skip what you don’t want. Savor the flavor for the first few bites and then ask yourself if you really want to keep eating that food because it’s that amazing or is there something else wonderful to try.
Practice self-care. Focus on holiday activities that you love and keep doing the everyday activities that you enjoy. Be patient with yourself during the holiday season. Be mindful of your emotions and take care of yourself.
Trust your body. Pay attention to your body’s signals. Use your signals of being hungry and being full to guide you through the holiday party food. That advice about eating something before you go to the party may only set you up to be overfull when you leave the party. It’s always best to listen to your hunger and honor your hunger no matter what time of year it may be.
Always remember, it’s just one day. One day will not make or break your health. Your health is determined by a pattern of healthy activities. The season of holiday eating won’t last forever so be mindful of returning to eating habits and exercise routines that make you feel good when you’re not celebrating the holiday season with friends and family.