5 Big Signs of Diet Culture

I love my husband very, very much but there's one thing he frequently does that drives me absolutely crazy. He tells people "Rylee's on a crazy diet". Now, to give him the benefit of the doubt, I think his intentions are to be helpful and supportive of me. I think deep down what he's really meaning to say is "Rylee might be hard-pressed to find a healthy option if we go there" or something of that nature. Also to give him the benefit of the doubt, Cam and I met at a time in my life when I was trying to eat healthy, but struggling to figure out how to do so. He heard the oh-so-familiar line "my diet starts tomorrow" many, many times and during many failed attempts to cut out carbs, it was all too easy for him to get me to cave to his "Can we please get Taco Bell?!" pleas. 

However, it drives me nuts because when I hear someone's on a "crazy diet", I think of something short-term, restrictive, and miserable.. which is very different than healthful eating. And since I've been making an effort to properly nourish my body for over a year and a half (with some days better than others, and some slip ups here and there because, hey, nobody is perfect) I think it's safe to say I've made this less of a short-term fix and more of a lifestyle. But since he continues to say it and it bothers me, it opened up an opportunity for us to have some healthy dialogue about it. The other day I told him "it really bothers me when you tell people I'm on a crazy diet, because to me it implies something restrictive, like a crash diet". He responded "Well, you do restrict yourself. You don't let yourself eat whatever you want, you count macros". Okay, yes, I do count macros - as a way to make sure I'm getting ENOUGH of the nutrients I need as well as not letting myself go crazy and overindulge.. so if you want to call eating 5 meals a day restrictive, it's a stretch but I'll give it to him because he's my husband.

He then said "Anyway, a diet is just the food you put into your body so I'm really not saying anything bad". And he's exactly right. In the truest sense of the word, the primary definition of a diet is "the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats". But there's a second definition for the word diet.. "a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons".  And since we don't go up to a person NOT eating healthy at work and say "Hey, do you want to go get Wendy's for lunch... Oh wait, you're on a DIET" I think it's pretty fair to say that as a culture, we tend to associate the word diet with the second definition.

He STILL claims that that isn't his idea of a diet, so this is one of those marriage conversations where you just agree to disagree. However, I have a feeling he may not understand my feelings about "dieting" because he's never truly been a target of diet culture. Now I'm not saying men can't have body image issues, but in a study of adolescents 66% of girls thought their body was too large, in comparison to only 21% of their male counterparts. In addition, studies have also shown that "the way I look" is the most important indicator of self worth for girls, whereas self worth is based on abilities (rather than looks) for boys.

We live in a "diet culture", a culture that normalizes calorie counting and valorization of weight loss, combined with food-associated shame. We also live in a culture where, for some insane reason, you have to have a REASON to want to eat healthy, other than a pure desire to take care of your body: maybe it's an upcoming wedding (I will save my rant on diet culture targeting brides for another blog post) or a high school reunion. Don't let yourself fall into the trap. Recognize diet culture and fight it. 

Diet culture is learned early in life, usually from an older female relative. Here are signs of diet culture: 

  1. Empty claims like "lose 10 lbs in 12 days without changing your diet or exercise"
  2. The idea that you need to restrict yourself in preparation for holidays or special events
  3. Characterization of food and body size in terms of "good" or "bad"
  4. Assuming that skinny equals healthy
  5. "Drunkorexia": which is a phenomenon many college girls participate in.. eating fewer calories in a given day to prepare for a night of binge drinking

So what can we do to combat this? First of all - think critically when it comes to your health. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Claims that you will get your dream body with no exercise or adjustment to how you eat are simply not true. Short term "fixes" will usually land you in a worse spot than when you started. Even though a lot of programs say "it only takes 21 days to form a habit", keep in mind that when it comes to lifestyle modifications and behavioral changes, it actually takes closer to 6 months until you are considered in the maintenance phase and you have truly made this part of your lifestyle. So stick with it! It's your health, and it's worth it. Secondly, don't restrict yourself in preparation for holidays or special events. It amazes me that people are so concerned with what they are eating between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when really we should be considered with what we are eating between Christmas and Thanksgiving (the other 10 months of the year!). On a smaller scale, if you are a person who allows yourself, say, a weekly treat meal (like I do) don't starve yourself the entire day to prepare for the meal. Eat as you normally would throughout the day and just let yourself enjoy that special meal. Also recognize that means to "get skinny" are often not considered healthy; many plans might be effective means of weight loss, but that doesn't mean they are good for you (this is an exaggerated example but anorexia is certainly an EFFECTIVE means of weight loss even though it is not HEALTHY). See where I'm going with all this? Long story short, if you are making healthy choices in regards to eating a majority of the time and moving your body the way it is meant to move, you won't need to fall into these traps that a 20 billion dollar (per year) industry tries to sell us.