What you need to know about toxic diet culture, and how to avoid it in the new year.
Diet culture has always been in my life whether I wanted it or not. It started with the dieting of the women in my family and has somehow ended with a lifelong eating disorder on my part.
I wasn’t always obsessed with restriction and counting calories, but that doesn’t mean my relationship with food has ever been healthy. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to find or recall a single positive interaction with food that hasn’t been followed by guilt. Yes. Even as a child.
Of course, I’m not blaming anyone. Diet culture wormed its way into my family’s lives because it was everywhere, and the body ideal was everything that they weren’t.
“The weight loss may have been justified, but its toxicity wasn’t and never will be, no matter how big or overweight you are.”
I’ve learned that a healthy and balanced relationship with food is the key, and not the restrictive ‘bad food’/’good food’ society we’ve been thrown into.
*After receiving excellent feedback on Twitter, I should explain my use of the word Diet. A Diet refers to the food we eat. However, in modern culture, it’s become associated with ‘crash diets‘, ‘FAD diets’ etc. If I were to suggest you ditch diets altogether then you wouldn’t be eating and that’s not what I’m about. Simply put, this post is in regard to harmful diets but the use of the term Diet is so widely used that it fitted better with SEO, Keywords, etc.*
How to ditch the diet demons.
>> Stop saying “I feel fat.“
We’ve talked about this before on the blog, and in great detail too. FAT is a feeling, but that’s all it is. It’s not an emotion.
Feeling fat bears no relation to being fat. You can be in a small, malnourished body and feel ‘big‘ or ‘heavy‘. Quite often when I refer to myself as feeling fat I am met with the obvious retorts of ‘oh shush. You’re not fat.’ And that’s when I feel like reminding them that, no I’m not, and I know I’m not, but I feel uncomfortably big in my own skin. That’s the best way I can think to describe the feeling of fat. And while that makes very little sense in itself, it’s a very real feeling.
Instead of saying you feel fat, why not try something else? It’s okay to have an off day with your body, we all do, so express what you mean using the correct terms.
“I don’t feel comfortable with myself today.”
Already it sounds better than the former. You’re expressing what you really mean and giving someone else the opportunity to step in with something other than ‘You’re not fat’ or ‘Stop saying that.’
>> Stop labeling certain foods as ‘cheat’, ‘bad’ or ‘guilt-free’ foods.
Food = Medicine. It won’t cure a disease but it fuels your body with various components to help your immune system. It’s also fuel for our tank, and without it, we wouldn’t last very long.
Giving food negative labels such as ‘bad’ is creating the assumption that we shouldn’t eat it, and if we do then we’re behaving badly. I’ve even heard people say ‘Oh, I’m so naughty for having this chocolate bar.’ News flash, Helen, you’re being human.
As for ‘guilt-free’ foods, all food should be guilt-free. The idea of any food being guilty is a farce. Even if you are watching what you eat, giving the food the power of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ only causes more stress. It’s a surefire way to develop a negative association with eating.
Although you may be old enough to know better, and therefore less susceptible to believing negative assumptions with food, young children are impressionable. Creating this narrative around food leaves children more open to developing a poor relationship with food, and can lead to life-altering eating disorders.
Finally, if you’re out with a friend and they happen to be eating a so-called ‘bad’ food: Keep your comments to yourself. It might be their favourite, it might bring back memories of childhood, or they may be on a meal plan which requires it. Don’t ruin that for them!
>> Forget about ‘cheat days’.
You don’t need an excuse to eat certain foods, nor do you need to justify it to anyone. Especially not to yourself.
If you’re on a specific meal plan for whatever reason and you decide to wander off the beaten track, that’s entirely fine. As long as it doesn’t turn into a binge then you’re free to eat what you want when you want.
Describing a meal or day as ‘cheating’ is telling everyone, including yourself, that you’re being ‘bad.’ Not only is this reaffirming it in your own mind, but it’s also infecting the thinking patterns of those around you. Especially those who may be specifically vulnerable or impressionable.
Be conscious of those around you as well as yourself when making comments like this. If you find it hard to eliminate those sorts of thoughts from your mind then just keep them unsaid.
>> Eliminate body-checking behaviours.
Although this is something I’ve been working on in recovery, it isn’t a behaviour that’s only developed through an eating disorder. In fact, many people body check on a regular basis and don’t even know it.
Have you ever gotten a friend to take a photo of your body at every angle before deciding on an outfit? This might be seemingly harmless, but deep down it’s often a tool that allows us to obsess about our bodies.
- “Do my arms look fat in this?”
- “Delete that photo. I look so FAT.”
There’s at least one person reading this who immediately said “That’s me”, and whoever you are, I feel you.
>> Find another way to give a compliment.
You don’t always have to compliment people based on looks and appearance. If someone has been trying to lose weight for whatever reason, it might seem nice to tell them they look amazing, but that implies they didn’t before. Although harmless, it’s insisting that weight loss = beautiful. As an anorexic patient who has to focus constantly on weight gain, it’s very hard to label it as anything other than negative when the world around you is so against it.
Another issue with using shape, weight, and size as a compliment is unknowingly fuelling potential eating disorders. Anorexia has a funny way of misconstruing everything that you say.
“You are looking so much healthier” can easily be converted into “You look fatter.” It’s weird, I know, but it’s anorexia’s way of stirring s**t up.
Instead of a comment based on looks, try commenting on someone’s makeup, hair, or even personality.
- “You look so much happier!”
- “You’re such a compassionate person.”
It’s as easy as that and no comment about shape or weight is needed.
>> Plus-sized mannequins are QUEENS!
The introduction of these new mannequins created widespread discussion. People were outraged at Nike’s plus-sized model because they claimed it was encouraging ‘fat culture.’ As a woman who has been on both sides of the coin, I can tell you that I openly cheered when I first read about these new models.
They aren’t encouraging obesity or ‘fat culture‘, they are displaying a body type. Not everyone is a size 6 string bean as standard models would have you believe. Some women have a booty, some have hips, some have a tum and all of them can still be healthy.
Bigger people work out and exist in the world too, not just petite models. They are allowed to take up as much space as anyone else and not feel a damned-bit guilty about it.
>> Stop avoiding certain food groups.
You need all of the foods within the food group. Without going into a fully blown nutritional lesson, all foods on the pyramid are essential, but at different levels.
- Carbohydrates are needed for slow-release energy.
- Fats are needed for padding the organs and brain fuel. It’s thought that your daily diet should contain 35% of fats. That being said, it’s important that you are getting the right type of fat.
- Dairy is needed for calcium. It’s thought that you need two to four portions of dairy or alternatives each day.
- Protein is needed to make enzymes, regulate hormones, and build and repair tissues. *If you’re a vegetarian or vegan there are other ways to include these in your diet.
- Fruits and vegetables are needed for fibre, and various other vitamins and minerals. It’s recommended that you eat five portions of these a day.
In order to maintain a balanced and healthy diet, we need to ensure we meet the daily recommendations for each. That means not cutting out carbs just because the latest diet tells you to do so.
>> Avoid foods or drinks with the word ‘detox.’
Any products that claim to be detoxing or cleansing usually contain a hidden ingredient: Laxatives. I’ve known people who have taken tea and fruit juices with the intention to lose their bellies or drop a dress size. What ends up happening is a laxative effect that can be both uncomfortable and embarrassing.
Your liver and kidneys are the real heroes of detoxing, and the best thing is they’ll not make you s**t your knickers!
>> Your slim-fast is not a meal, Sharon.
Similar to detoxing, I hate meal replacement shakes or pills. It’s not a meal: It’s a drink. Although these shakes will help you lose weight fast, once you start eating regularly again the weight will pile back on. In fact, most people report having gained back more weight than they lost once resuming their regular diet.
When you’re starving yourself like that your body tends to cling to any sort of solid calorie it can get. It mistakes your new diet for a famine, and so stockpiles any calories you consume.
Do yourself a favour and lose weight the old-fashioned way. Yes, it takes longer, but that’s how weight loss should be. Unless stated otherwise by your doctor, please stay away from diet shakes.
>> Use exercise as self-care.
Exercise because you want to, not because you feel obligated to because you had a burger for your dinner. Hitting the gym should be about relieving stress, working on your physical and mental health, and getting stronger. It shouldn’t be about watching the calories on your tracker.
Giving up diet culture for good!
I’ve spent over a decade under anorexia’s control, and I refuse to spend the next decade stuck there or worse. That’s why in 2020 I’m giving diet culture the boot and calling out anyone who needs it.
Wow wow wow! You are absolutely correct in all points and explained everything so nicely. This is one of the reasons why I have not included a food section in my fitness and dance blog. There is more to health than weight loss and trying diet trends that promise a quick-fix solution. Keeping fit is a journey and that’s what I have learnt from my mom who does not exercise but keeps herself active in gardening and reading all day. My dad cured his diabetes by doing exercises regularly and keeping a check on his food. Avoiding certain foods is never a solution. I find dancing and playing sport as wonderful activities that keep the body, mind, and heart happy.
Thank you so much for stopping in and reading!
Omg I totally agree. Toxic diet culture is not something we should engage in and should avoid.
That’s not really what I’m getting at. I’m getting at leaving behind all these fad diets, Keto included. However, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and lifestyle, and I don’t know enough about Keto to dismiss it.
Thank you for reading 🙂
I already started my keto plan and love everything you say here! Thanks for sharing!
Diets make me so stressed and sad. It’s important to chose the correct foods either natural or processed. Natural foods is my option but from time to time I do indulge in some processed foods.
Thank you so much for stopping in and reading. I hate this time of the year and all the awful talk it encourages around food, weight, shape and diet.
Exactly! Thank you so much for reading.
Thank you so much for stopping in and reading 🙂
Thank you so much for stopping in and reading.
Exactly. Don’t tell me ‘Oh you’d be lovely if you gained/lost weight.’ What? I’m not lovely now? Just as I am? It’s so offensive. We don’t need to use size/appearance etc as a way to compliment someone. I am so much more than my meat suit.
Balance is what we all need. Not too much, not too little but just enough to live a happy and contented life. We’re allowed to indulge, otherwise, life would be boring, but I suppose the take away is not to allow the pressures of society to drive us to starve to a size our bodies shouldn’t be.
Thank you so much for reading. I really appreciate it.
I am so glad someone said it! This is a very important to read
This is a post that I can very much relate to. I am trying to eat less because I have gained so much weight the last quarter of the year. I need balance.
O wow this was very informative and interesting! I agree people should learn new ways to compliment people. I hate it when people say o your slimming down nicely. Like was I a pig before and you didn’t say anything
self care is essential, i do dislike the diet culture. Being mindful about the nutrition and detoxing
These are such good points. There are so many unhealthy aspects related to the term diet!
Yes, I have observed the most people equate the word “diet” with losing weight. We need to be mindful of our nutrition.
It is so hard to figure out the best way to eat, exerise, and stay in good shape. There are so many diet plans. At this time of the year, the world is full of new crazy diets. It breeds distrust of food which is crazy. We all have to eat to survive so we must find a way to have a good and healthy relationship with our food.
I loved this, especially the idea that all food is guilt free – you shouldn’t have to feel guilty for eating something because it’s considered a “cheat” food! Exercise definitely shouldn’t be about counting calories either, as you said it should be about your general wellbeing and your mental health!
Thank you so much pet! x
Thank you so much for stopping in and reading, pet.
Thank you so much for reading. x
Thank you so much for reading and commenting pet. I really appreciate it. x
Thank you so much for stopping in and reading.
Thank you for reading and commenting. x
Thank you so much for reading.
Thank you for reading!
Thank you so much for stopping in and reading 🙂
Thank you so much for reading and commenting. x
Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it.
Especially here in the Philippines, the culture here forces people to look better (or you will be ridiculed). You really need to have tough skin so it won’t get through to you. So yes, I’m with you in this. We should really ditch the awful diet culture… and embrace ourselves curves and all.
What a great post! And yes ditching the whole diet culture is something we all should consider. Thanks for sharing this encouraging post!
I love this! There is a really a big difference between a “diet” and “healthy choices”. I want to lose weight, but not diet!~ I want to be healthy
I can’t agree more with you! Diets do not work and most of them are toxic. It is all about a lifestyle and learning how to eat healthy food.
This is really great, practical advice! Thank you for sharing @ButFirstKisses ButFirstKisses.com
Diets are complicated and restrict yourself, they can (and most of the time do) make you unhappy. I look at food in two ways: natural and processed. I very often chose natural because I love to cook, but from time to time I do eat and enjoy processed, without thinking at calories or at weight.
You share a lot of good advice and tips! I love the fact you analyzed and broke down the “I feel fat” phrase! I am totally guilty of saying it. I like your perspective!
Very well said!Most of your words are exactly similar to what my mind thinks at present!Thanks a ton for enlightening me on diet!
This is a great reminder post for someone like me, who is a nutritionist. Thank you.
This is a good healthy post on how we all should look at food. We should say this is guilt free food or bad for us food it’s other ways to look at it.
Very interesting post really enjoyed the read. I will try and put the right words with how I feel. !!
I’m proud of you for standing up for what you believe in! I think this is a great message to send to a future generation of adults, watching us now as children.
Thank you, Nyxie! Happy New Year!
This is a great post, and I agree with all of it. I used to describe food as “guilty”, such as boxes of chocolates, but then the fact that they were almost forbidden made me want them even more! It can become a vicious circle. Nowadays I’m much better at seeing all food as okay to eat, but if I find myself reaching for way too much junk food then I question why, rather than completely binging or going the other way and restricting my diet.
It’s the one phrase that has helped me move further in recovery. Yes, it’s still hard but when I put it into perspective i.e I need food to live and get up each morning, it’s just like taking your meds, it becomes easier.
Thank you so much for stopping in and reading.
As a woman who hopes to one day have children, I’m also very conscious of the way we’re heading in regard to diet and body image. As a survivor of anorexia nervosa, I honestly don’t know how I would even begin to approach the subject of “F*ck society, you’re beautiful” while also wanting them to be healthy both mentally and physically, you know? The mixed message the media send to young men and women is my biggest concern above all else.
Thank you for stopping in and reading. 🙂
Great points. I’m especially conscientious of this as a mom of two girls; I want to have a positive influence on them in this area and it’s important to rid my own mind first of the toxic diet culture that is present in our society today.
Wise words! If you make healthy eating a lifestyle, then “diets” aren’t a thing anymore. All foods are okay in moderation (well, some are never good!). When you think of food as medicine it changes your entire perspective.
Thank you so much. x
I find eating a well-rounded diet and taking some, not too much, exercise works for keeping my weight at set point. I just need to try and re-wire my brain to get back to that place again.
I’m so sorry that you had to go through this, and even more so that your mother told you just to ‘get used to it.’ Yeah, she had a point, but still, it shouldn’t be something we should just lay over and take, you know? We are so much more than the kilos or the lbs on the scale. We’re built of stronger stuff.
Sending you lots of love and wishing you a wonderful new year. x
Thank you so much for reading and commenting. It means so much 🙂
Thank you so much for reading. Hypothyroidism is a bit different in regards to diet, in that it largely controls your weight. My aunt has it, and I know how difficult it is for her. I wish you all the best and hope you can find some peace with it someday.
Thank you so much for reading. x
Although I promote wellness and eating disorder recovery, I’ve been approached by no less than 5 people wanting me to promote their diet shake, plan etc. To each I have been 100% honest in my response telling them to kindly sell their laxatives elsewhere because I ain’t buying. And never will again. I took diet pills when I was a teen, shakes, starved myself etc I’ve done all the damage I can do, and don’t care to do anymore.
Thank you so much for stopping in and reading, and for your super enthusiastic comment!
Thank you so much for stopping in and reading.
Yasss I love this! Thank you so much for stopping in and reading.
It certainly is. I love myself some carbs but my eating disorder doesn’t, so I’m constantly battling with myself. It’s horrible and it pains me to see the younger generation coming up in a world where dieting is normal and, although challenged, there is an ‘ideal’ body type.
I wish I could be like that. In fact, after treatment, I hope to be able to leave weighing myself in the past for good.
Exactly. I aim to eat without worrying about what’s in it etc in regards to nutrition/calories. But it’s hard when I’ve just been taught to stick to ‘safe’ and ‘good’ foods all my life in order to maintain or gain a smaller body. It’s a horrible message to be brought up with and then have to fight when we’re no longer able to easily change our own thinking patterns.
I’ve stopped cutting food out of my diet now because I know I have a tendency to get obsessed. So I’m just making sure to stick to my meal plan.
Thank you so much for reading and commenting.
Thank you so much for stopping in and commenting. I really appreciate that you took the time to read through this.
Thank you so, so much for reading. I really appreciate it.
I’m so glad that you’ve found somewhere that makes you happy i.e a happy medium with food. I’m still struggling to actually comprehend that food might not be the enemy we’re taught that it is. In fact, what is the enemy, is what we’re taught about food, dieting and body shape via the media. I understand that obesity is an epidemic, but so are other eating disorders if you’ve been keeping up with the UK news at the moment. There have been a substantial rise in admission for eating disorders, especially young people.
Toxic dieting and these images of the ‘optimum’ body are ruining the next generation, just as much as obesity is.
You’re so right. Good daily habits is better than anything dieting can give you!
Very true point. Moderation is key for diet, and for many other things in life.
As you said,food is medicine.But it is up to us to take everything in moderation.When the meal is unbalanced,there are so many issues including obesity.
After years of “dieting” on and off, I now focus on the power of good daily habits. I don’t think I can give up sweets and still be happy, so I just try to consume them in moderation.
Good points but how do you tackle obesity which is a rising. Problem
I love the idea that all food should be guilt free! What I’ve learnt in the last few years is that unless you make a habit of eating it, ‘bad’ food makes absolutely no difference in the short term, so punishing yourself for eating it is just wrong.
Like you, I had a terrible relationship with food because I grew up seeing all the females in my life constantly dieting. My mother even made me go on her diet of the moment with her when she decided that I was getting too fat. It’s taken my whole adult life to ditch those toxic thoughts. Now I just eat what I want and I’m healthier than I’ve ever been.
These are all true and spot on. I also hate the diet labeling and some negative impacts it has. This post made so much sense.
Very important things to keep in mind. I had to learn the hard way about eliminating whole groups. Now I just try to eat a balanced diet. I guess we’ve all been there.
This was a good post. I was on a no white food diet a few years ago, but it made me sick so I stopped doing it.
I totally agree! Although I practice my own “diet” it’s got none of the usual stigma. We all have to be happy the way we are and not just reaching for unrealistic superficial goals.
Ideally eating should be a way of life which is what I learned growing up. Yes, every January there are tons of people going on a diet but it does not mean one has to follow the crowd. I actually have never been on a diet and I have no idea what my current weight is as I don’t weigh myself on a scale. I just prefer to listen to my body and live as healthy as possible and walk to enjoy the environment.
God it is so hard to ditch diet culture. I struggle because I have really poor eating habits – I eat wth my emotions and I love carbs and sweets. I’m trying to learn to just eat smarter and better, to eat when I’m hungry, and to treat food as fuel and with respect. It’s so hard sometimes!
YAAASSSS such an important post. Diet culture has been ditched by us for good! Nutrition plans and meal prep are our jam.
What a brilliant post, I love the phrase exercise as self-care. Definitely something I’m trying to live by.
I love this post and yes….there are so many confusing fad diets out there that it is hard to keep up for sure. I have wanted to try the Keto diet but have decided to simply eat clean, organic and watch the amount of calories I take in each day. I also am working out 3 to 5 times a week which is new for me this year….and that will help me to feel better and will assist in burning some calories so that I do not need to worry about “dieting”.
Another wonderful post with very encouraging words that I really needed to hear right now!!! Thank you!
I minute I returned back to work I hit the weighing scale and not to my surprise I did gain a kilo, I expected that. I am trying to burn that again, including diet.
I have struggled since school with my weight. In elementary school I was a beautiful thin and slender girl, but already from middle school things have changed also because of my hormonal development. I get dressed thinking about how to hide and in the end I started taking care of myself consciously and I lost weight. Of course I am no longer that twig that I was when I was a child but I have found a balance between my sanity and that of my body.
Thanks for a great article. I’ve never felt I have an eating disorder per se, but I think I at least have an unhealthy relationship with food. I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been and I have a hard time liking myself. I just wish I could figure out a happy medium where my hypothyroidism didn’t seem to rule my life.
I have never really been a fan of cutting calories or dieting, I have it so stressful. I feel like some people really go the extra miles just to lose weight! This article is really informative and I hope the right person reads it.
This all started with me at the age of 8. I was sitting around with a bunch of neighbors on a summer day. We were bored. And then someone laughed at me because when I sat my belly bulged because I was slouching. I was not fat at the time. But I definitely felt like I was. And from that day forward it was a struggle. I actually did become (somewhat) fat in high school. And my mom told me to get used to it because I would always be fat. And then I stopped eating and lost 46 pounds. I ended up at 98 pounds. My life has still been a struggle with weight, although I have not gone back to those totally unhealthy practices.
All this to say, I do understand the struggle to a degree. And my heart goes out to those who cannot seem to get ahead of that struggle.
Some people make eating to complicated. I have several food allergies and wish I did not have to restrict food.
Yes! I hate diet culture. I have never been on a diet. If I feel I’ve gained weight, I don’t stress. I just go jogging. I find limiting food or various kinds of food doesn’t work for me.
Loved this! I could identify with so many parts.