Taking Focus Away from Diet Culture
By Victoria Kupiec RD, LDN, Director of Nutrition Services, Timberline Knolls
Diet culture is a prominent part of society that is often difficult to avoid. Conversations surrounding diet are ever-present on social media, in stores, and on television. This diet culture places a strong emphasis on achieving the ideal level of thinness with the promise of love, acceptance, and health to follow.
We are often told that we will suffer from disease and feelings of worthlessness if we fail to achieve an appropriate weight. Blame and ever-changing body standards that transform with time serve as major barriers to sustaining well-being.
The focus on unrealistic body standards promotes a cycle of shame that further attracts individuals to diet culture and products with the intention of “fixing” their bodies. Yet, the majority of diets that are started with the intention of weight loss are unsuccessful in the long term. Individuals often feel shamed or guilty if they are unable to meet the goals they set for themselves. If someone does not experience or sustain the weight loss they desire, they may adopt the belief that they are weak and do not possess enough willpower to manage their weight.
The overwhelming number of individuals whose dieting is unsuccessful points toward a big-picture issue with approaches rather than a problem with the individual. Another aspect that impacts the effectiveness of dieting tools is their heavy reliance on external cues and strategies. A more effective approach to support a positive relationship with food should instead focus on building sustainable habits that are not rooted in restriction and that help rebuild the body’s own innate wisdom to guide one’s eating.
Individuals who begin dieting will often regain the weight shortly after, which triggers the continuation of the dieting cycle. This cycle and the associated negative feelings leave our bodies and minds exhausted. Over time, this fatigue takes a toll on our emotional and physical well-being. The adverse effects of dieting can be seen with every fad diet that emerges, yet it is common place to fault the individuals rather than the approaches.
One solution to this struggle is to allow ourselves an open-minded approach to discover how we interact with food. Individuals are encouraged to develop and honor internal cues of hunger and fullness while exploring how different foods affect their bodies. This would also involve permission to incorporate foods for enjoyment. By allowing ourselves to explore the tastes, smells, and textures of food through an unbiased lens, we can find a balanced, yet diverse connection with what we eat.
These methods of self-inquiry are important, especially when supplemented by education from healthcare professionals who are trained in nutrition. There is no single solution to achieve a body image that you are comfortable with. Because each individual, and their relationship with food and eating, is unique, it is important to emphasize the body as a complex and multifaceted system that must be nurtured and cared for. In this way, our society can begin to see the importance of a person’s well-being, rather than focusing solely on their weight.