Trying to escape diet culture is like trying to escape the smog in LA. It’s impossible. Believe me, I tried.
After being introduced to intuitive eating, I decided that I wanted to put the whole dieting/eating disorder business behind me as quickly as possible. What I thought would be a simple process ended up being a slow, painful journey, and I often had an itch to return to my disordered ways because I couldn’t disentangle myself from the dieting world around me.
Diet culture really is everywhere and it influences us even when we want to so desperately kick it out of our lives. I used to feel ashamed and embarrassed about any hint of a relapse, but who is our society is totally immune?1 That question led me to wonder why it is so hard to fight back against diet culture. Well, here’s what I came up with:
- It’s a constant companion. Diet mentality will never go away because we are surrounded by the images the diet industry throws at us. It’s pervasive, persistent, and inescapable.
- We are vulnerable. When we are having a difficult time in our lives, resisting the urge to diet is harder because we’re worn out and tired. If someone doesn’t have enough bandwidth to deal with everything going on in life, then that person is more susceptible to diet mentality.
- It’s oddly comforting. Dieting has been part of our lives for a really long time. When we get used to something, we feel out of sorts when it’s removed. Dieting is familiar and can bring a sense of control, so giving it up means replacing those feelings with the unknown.
- We applaud weight loss and thinness. If someone loses weight, people gush and want to know that person’s secret. It has gotten to the point where thinness is so revered in our society that some people see weight loss after an illness as a good thing.2
- We are seduced by the media. Dieting and eating disorders should not be as common as they are, but the media encourages them. I once read about how eating disorders for Fijian girls were rare, but then TV was introduced. It included many of the shows that we are exposed to here in the West, and the prevalence of eating disorders increased quite a bit.3 The media is insidious and the uptick of eating disorders didn’t surprise me at all.
- Diet mentality breed shame. We’ve been taught to feel ashamed when we put on weight and should be overcome with guilt because we’ve eaten something “naughty”. This sense of shame drives us to want to diet our way to thinness.
- Starting a new diet is exciting. Dieting is like the first few weeks of a new romantic relationship or getting a new job. It’s novel, there’s a thrill, and the high that comes with it can be addicting for many of us.
- Dieting is supposed to make us happy. So many people believe that losing weight will be a magic wand and that all of their problems will disappear. Being thinner doesn’t make life easier or guarantee happiness, but the act of dieting can make us miserable.
We cannot completely escape diet mentality since we live in the society that we do, but we can make it so it doesn’t control us. Removing diet mentality is unrealistic, but learning how to reject it is possible. I experimented with different strategies, and these were the ones that helped me fight back:
- Purge the paraphernalia and ditch the devices. I got rid of everything diet-related such as books, magazines, Pinterest pins, scales, FitBits, etc. It’s like the old saying “out of sight, out of mind”.
- Learn about diet culture. I didn’t realize how much dieting was around me until I really started to pay attention. Diet mentality is so complex that it’s hard to see beyond the obvious examples of dieting and identify the subtle manipulations. An ad for Weight Watchers is obvious; fit women promoting the merits of a toned body under the guise of health is not. Atkins granola bars are in-your-face diet foods and are clearly based on the Atkins diet; the Skinny Cow brand is sneakier and entices the consumer by implying that their products would even help a cow lose weight. Being able to pick out the sly marketing strategies helped me identify the enemy.
- Anti-dieting reminders are crucial. I make sure to remind myself why dieting didn’t work for me and how it made me miserable. These reminders keep me away from diet culture because I know what’s best for me and it’s NOT dieting!
- Show self-compassion. If I am tempted to diet, I am kind to myself by keeping in mind that resisting diet mentality in this society 100% of the time is impossible. I am human and dieting thoughts popping up is normal. And even if dieting behaviors begin to show themselves again, this does not make me a bad person.
- Getting in touch with my body’s needs. Paying attention to what my body actually asked for helped me recognize the insanity of living according to a diet. Being aware of and responding to my internal cues rather than external cues makes me feel better mentally and physically.
It took me about a year to get to the point where the dieting voices faded and became background chatter. Honestly, dieting is such a prominent fixture in our society that it’s hard to resist sometimes, but I’m much better at seeing it for what it is and dismissing it. Withstanding the pull of diet culture is not an easy task, but you too will eventually learn what strategies work for you for when diet mentality tries to reel you back in.
How are you fighting back against diet culture? Please share in the comment section below.
1Okay, statistically there has to be someone, but it’s so rare!
2This makes my heart break.
Thank you so much for reading my blog! I am honored that you chose to read about my experience.
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