How “Diet Culture” Distracts Us From a Culture of True Health

diet culture

Whether you call it “diet culture,” or know it as one of it’s many alter egos and favorite buzzwords (things like “juice cleanses,” “skinny teas,” “detoxes,” “superfoods,” or “clean eating”), we all are aware of its existence.  

Diet culture is the pervasive belief that appearance and body shape are more important than physical, psychological, and general well-being. It’s the idea that controlling your body, particularly your diet—by limiting what and how much you eat—is normal. 

This belief is deeply ingrained in our society, from the way we teach our children about food to the way we talk to ourselves about our bodies. Social media has perpetuated diet culture and allowed it to have new and far-reaching effects. More than ever before, our bodies are being monetized by corporations, and individual social media users are bombarded daily with images of “healthy” (read: thin/fit) people and ads selling ways to make us thinner and younger-looking. And while the “body positive” movement is growing, diet culture is growing too. Detox products are now a multi-billion dollar industry, and the “superfood industry” is right behind it.  

diet culture

Why did we start believing that our own organs can no longer handle the detoxification of our bodies? 

When did we start thinking that drinking a “skinny tea” would make us feel better about our physical appearance? Why did we all start obsessively consuming kale after Gwyneth Paltrow made kale chips on Ellen in 2011? 

You may initially think: what’s so bad about drinking green juices and replacing rice with quinoa? The problem is not about the consumption of these foods and products, the problem lies in how diet culture has harmed our body images, demonized ethnic foods, and shifted our focus away from true, lasting physical health. 

Diet culture has also contributed to a rise in disordered eating and eating disorders. 

Subscribing to the values of diet culture means subscribing to the idea that a food needs to be evaluated as “good” or “bad” before consuming it. This isolates us from embracing food as meaningful, enjoyable, and a way to connect socially and environmentally. We begin to choose foods based on calorie content, instead of choosing them based on nutrients, or how the food makes us feel. We start to feel out of touch with our bodies, looking to Instagram influencers and pop culture to tell us how to eat. 

In true American fashion, diet culture has also begun to further erase and demonize the consumption of ethnic and cultural foods. 

By choosing to place certain foods above others on the “good/bad food” scale, without any concern for bio-individuality, traditional African, Latin American, and Asian foods have come to be known as “unhealthy.” This trend is an indication of deep and pervasive eurocentrism and racism, and ultimately fetishizes certain aspects of non-white cultures and bodies, while discarding the parts that aren’t as easy for corporations to monetize. For further information about this side of diet culture, please check out the following articles, written by BIPOC authors who are well-versed in this topic:

diet culture

What would happen if we looked beyond the mirror for indicators of our physical health?

What if instead of measuring our health by the number on the scale, we measured it by how restfully we sleep, or how nourished or energized we feel after eating a meal? What if we measured our health more holistically, by looking at our emotional well-being and the health of our relationships? What if the “body positive” movement didn’t even have to exist, because we learned to value true health over physical appearance?

Combating diet culture is difficult, and often feels like an uphill battle. Here are some of quick tips:

  • Learn to eat intuitively
  • Become more aware of diet culture – the language used & how it’s marketed
  • Reject the diet mentality 
  • Try a social media cleanse
  • Build community that supports you in reconnecting to your body and rejecting diet culture 

Humans thrived on this earth for 300,000 years with no skinny teas or detox diet programs. Sometimes all it takes is a mindset shift to feel better, emotionally and physically. 

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