I saw a post on IG the other morning but was unable to comment on it as I was running out the door and have since lost track of it as it was on a hashtag I was following and not a specific person. Basically what she was talking about people who stopped following her because they felt she supported “diet culture” and isn’t a role model to them anymore. I get it. I follow and unfollow people all the time – typically because they portray an image that doesn’t align with my morals/values/beliefs – usually it’s because I get tired of the blatant over-sexualisation and the disgusting comments on their photos. And that’s okay! People are on social media for different reasons but I choose what I expose myself to with great care.
So let’s talk about “diet culture”
According to the website www.christyharrison.com which aligns to my definition:
Diet culture is a system of beliefs that:
- Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”
- Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.
- Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.
- Oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health.
I believed in diet culture for year – decades, really – which was exasperated when I was doing physique competitions. I was taught by the “mean girls” in elementary school that my body was wrong. I spent most of my life hating my body and trying to change it. I didn’t allow myself to enjoy food – food was always a means of escape and punishment – as was exercise. When I was doing bodybuilding competitively, I would consume, probably, only 500-800 calories a day and exercising 2-3 hours a day (sometimes more!) on top of working a full time job. My marriage suffered, my finances suffered, my life suffered. It damaged my health, my body, my self-esteem, my confidence. But I was working towards a goal, so this was okay, right? Five years later when I competed in Figure, I was able to contest prep in a healthier way, but it was still damaging. I never saw my accomplishment but tore myself apart. I was still sick. I still held this debilitating goal higher than my health and wellbeing.
I didn’t realize I had a problem – an eating disorder – until two years ago when I started down this path of taking my health back. Then I realized I did. That realization allowed me to heal and with healing came a lot of extra pounds. I had to learn not to demonize food or restrict food. I needed to learn not to turn to various substances to numb the hard stuff. I needed to heal my head and heart before I could heal my body – and it has been a long, slow, hard journey. Learning that my “flaws” weren’t flaws and were just a means for diet culture to control me. I learned to listen to my intuition about what and how I want to eat. I worked on healing my relationship with exercise.
It’s not been an easy road by any means! It’s been hard and painful and it’s sucked… but I’ve come out better for that struggle. I’m learning to trust myself, my body, and my intuition. I’m learning to love exercise and eating healthy because that’s when I feel my best; more energy, clearer mind, stable emotions…
And therein lies the difference and what people are forgetting; you can still watch what you eat and not have an eating disorder. You can watch what you eat and not support diet culture. You can exercise and put your health first without being obsessive. People seem to think that shunning diet culture means being able to eat whatever, whenever, however you want… which it CAN. BUT it also means that you can eat in moderation, or cut out processed foods and avoiding sweets. It is all down to an individual persons constitution and personality. I can’t have sweets in the house – whether candy, chocolate, cookies, doesn’t matter. I can’t have them in the house because I will binge on them. Some may say that I haven’t recovered from my ED, but that’s not the case. I also don’t restrict myself. If I really want a cookie, I’ll walk across the food court to the Subway and I’ll buy a cookie – no guilt! It doesn’t change the fact that I WILL binge on anything sweet.
Things won’t be perfect; I’ll still overeat, I’ll still eat too much processed foods and too few whole foods, I’ll still binge on sugar, I’ll not feel like going to the gym… and that’s okay!
Because there’s more important things to do than constantly be worried about eating “perfectly” and living at the gym!