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Are you ready to get out of here? (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
If certain foods are ‘banned’, you’re always trying to lose weight, and you think carbs are the devil, you’re probably deep into diet culture.
This is the normalisation of prioritising weight loss and your body’s appearance over your physical and mental wellbeing – and it’s extremely pervasive.
You’ll see diet culture in the fads that pop up every other week, – from downing celery juice to going keto – the praise of speedy body transformations, and the endless products and plans to sold that encourage restrictive eating.
It’s everywhere you look, basically, and can quickly take up a huge part of your existence. So how on earth can you break free?
The experts at Delamere Health have some tips.
Recognise diet culture in action
You can’t tackle a problem if you don’t know what it is. Read up on diet culture and you’ll start seeing its effects everywhere.
‘Diet culture is a set of beliefs that value body weight, appearance and shape above health and mental and physical wellbeing,’ say the Delamere team. ‘Diet culture is the glorification of weight loss, it clouds our judgement and decisions about how we feel and treat ourselves.
We experience diet culture every day, yet most people are unaware of it. That’s because it is so deeply embedded in our society that it seems completely normal. Diet culture can become extremely toxic and can cause body dysmorphia, disordered eating and other common mental health illnesses.
‘It’s important to understand that diet culture extends further than merely eating healthy foods, dieting and exercising for physical health. It’s the idea that controlling your body, in particular with regards to food consumption, by limiting how much and what you eat is ‘normal’.
‘Diet culture quickly consumes every part of your life and impacts your physical and emotional well-being.’
Here are some signs that diet culture is taking its toll:
- Exercising to burn off a specific number of calories
- Following a restrictive diet
- Cutting back or avoiding food groups that are considered ‘bad’, e.g sugar, fats or dairy
- Experiencing guilt or shame for eating food
- Rituals based around eating
- Suppressing appetite with other items such as nicotine, water or coffee
- Avoiding social settings that require food consumption
- Harbouring strong negative emotions and feelings towards body image
- Regularly weighing oneself and changing behaviour based on results
- Fat-shaming behaviour
- Jealousy towards others for the weight or body image
Bread doesn’t need to be demonised (Picture: Getty Images/Westend61)
Curate your social media
If you can, limit your time spent scrolling – or at least do an audit of who you’re following.
‘If you’re active on the internet or social media, you’ll know that it’s challenging to avoid diet culture messages, so it’s important to limit the time spent on any platform that makes you feel that you aren’t good enough,’ say Delamere.
‘Unfollow anyone who makes you feel like you are not exercising enough or eating the right things, as these individuals are influencing toxic diet culture messages.
‘Regardless of the platform used, from TikTok to Instagram, every new diet and fitness trend is amplified by celebrities and influencers promoting an unrealised standard of a healthy and active lifestyle.’
Explore intuitive eating
Intuitive eating is the simple act of tuning into your body, and eating when and what you need.
When you’re eating intuitively, no foods are off-limit, and you’re free to enjoy what you like without guilt or shame.
This requires ditching calorie-counting and restriction, and learning to listen to your body. It can take time to unlearn lifelong patterns of thinking and eating, so be patient and treat yourself with kindness as you start this journey.
Practise body neutrality
You don’t have to love your body and think it’s the best thing since sliced bread – we know that might feel like a bit much to ask.
Consider body neutrality instead. This is accepting your body the way it is, and celebrating the things it does rather than how it looks.
Body neutrality can also see you remembering that the least interesting thing about yourself is your body’s appearance. It’s about understanding that there’s more to life and more to your value than how much you weigh.
It’s okay to enjoy the foods you eat (Picture: Getty Images/fStop)
Keep a journal
To start unlearning diet culture, it can help to keep track of how it rears its head day-to-day.
‘Everyone is perceptible to toxic diet culture,’ say the Delamere experts. ‘But if you want to shift your lifestyle habits, you have to be aware of the role it plays in your life.
‘Consider starting a thoughts and feelings journal, and record when, where and why you engaged in diet-culture behaviour at the particular moment.
‘For example, make a note of when you judged your body appearance, or when you didn’t eat a certain food group because it was considered “bad”.’
Let go of the idea that eating certain foods is ‘bad’
This is a big one.
For years, you’ve been told that certain foods are ‘bad’ or unhealthy, and that your only option is to avoid them entirely.
This only sets you up to feel absolutely rubbish about yourself when you do the inevitable and eat something that’s not ‘allowed’.
It’s time to move away from moralising foods in terms of their weight loss potential.
The Delamere team say: ‘Try to remove words such as healthy, low-calorie, cheat or treat and look at food as simply a fuel of energy and source of enjoyment.
‘When you start to remove the stigma around food groups, the feelings of guilt and worthlessness begin to lift when eating.
‘By educating yourself on food groups and health you can gain a greater understanding of how focusing and limiting your body can be detrimental to your physical and mental health.
‘Learning more about food and health will help you understand that there are ways of promoting and maintaining a healthy balanced diet for each body type and eating pattern.’
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