How To Spot Diet Culture Disguised as Health

Help identifying when diet culture is disguising as health and stop it from infiltrating your relationship with food.

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January is one of those times of year when it seems everyone is on a health kick. Changing habits can be a great thing, especially when it is motivated to become a healthier version of yourself. There’s so much evidence for giving up smoking, and in giving it up at an earlier age; for drinking less alcohol; for eating more fruit and veg; for being more active yada yada. You know the drill, but what happens when motives become unconsciously sly?

The quest for health can become untoward and often it goes unnoticed. Before you know it the little bit of healthy competition between colleagues to get the most steps can spiral into a compulsion. The eating less cakes can grow into a pattern of self denial and spread from your own well-being into enforcing no one eats cake around you, and the healthy office snacks become restricted only to celery and seeds with no leeway for the odd chocolate bar. Pretty soon it can become competitive, and border into the realms of the ring leader embodying a food fascist. Often this is done unconsciously and with only good meaning intended.

There’s no room or need in the world for food fascism but somehow it commonly creeps up and into the healthy resolves people make, making a healthy initiative transform to be unhealthy for everyone involved. So how can we prepare and notice the unhealthy undertones to a well intentioned health kick?

  • Food Shaming:
    Food shaming comes in all sorts of different ways. Whether it’s commenting that someone is having cupcake number 2 and making some sort of announcement about it or posing the question “are you really going to eat that/all of that?” Even if they’re on a health kick and have been reading loads about nutrition, it doesn’t give them a free pass to become the social food commentator. What someone else wants to eat and put in their body is entirely their choice. What is healthy for one person may well be unhealthy for another. There is no one size fits all when it comes to nutrition.If you see someone eating something and you think “they shouldn’t be eating that” maybe the next step is to ask the real question of, “why do I think they shouldn’t be eating that?”. Does it really fucking matter if Karen in the office ate two cupcakes at the office party? Really? As in really? Like it will keep you up tonight kind of matter? Probably not.
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  • Secret Eating:
    What happens if you’ve been food shamed one too many times? Even if you’re healthy, have a healthy attitude towards food and your body but still, you’re going out of your way to secretly shove in a Mars Bar then chances are the health kick that shamed you isn’t all that healthy.Or if you feel so deprived by your new healthy diet and want to appear like you’re keeping on top of it so much that it drives you underground with eating then that’s not healthy either. The thing with eating in secret is that it’s a psychologically and emotionally loaded activity and not in the way that a fun rollercoaster may be. If you find this happening because of your own ideas about food, or those that others are infringing on to you then something needs to change.
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  • Sole Focus is on Weight:
    A lot of people need to lose weight for health reasons. A lot of people don’t. A lot of people use diet as a way in which to lose weight however, when weight loss becomes the only focus and purpose of feeding then the health aspect of losing weight is lost. Food is more than the number of calories it contains. Food is nourishment, enjoyment, and social amongst many other things. There’s so much more to gain in terms of health from food than losing weight.large-3.jpg
  • Peer Pressure and Diet Lectures:
    What happens when you don’t even want to change your diet, but everyone around you is shoving it down your throat that you ought to because of X, Y and Z? For example, the vegan trend right now is pretty hot and heavy. Just as clean eating was, and a million other dietary trends before that. It’s OK if you don’t want to go on a diet. It’s perfectly fine if you don’t want to go vegan and you’re not a bad person for that.If someone is self righteous about their diet, and figuritively speaking, trying to ram it down your throat, that is a sure fire sign that you need to evacuate the premises from them. That sounds extreme, but by that I mean shut down the conversation and find someone else to talk to – or maybe don’t talk to anyone. You have just as much right to not be bombarded with stuff you’re not interested in as they do for eating the way they prefer.

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    Source: Anna Higgins
  • Size Shaming, Regardless of Actual Size:
    We’re all different sizes. We are heights and widths that are personal to ourselves. Some of us are naturally smaller and some of us are naturally bigger. This doesn’t mean that anyone can size shame you, regardless of where you fit on that spectrum. “Are you really going to eat all that?” and “I’m surprised you can eat that much, look at you” and comments along those lines can all jog on. Jog on, jog on and keep on jogging until they’re talking to a wall because that’s the only thing that will reasonably have the patience for such drivel. Just because someone is a size 8 doesn’t mean they’re never hungry and can’t eat a big burger. Similarly, just because someone is a size 18 doesn’t mean they can never touch chocolate again in their lives.
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We’re Not In Control of Anything, Other Than How We Choose To Respond to Everything.

I’m working on a group project at uni at the moment. If you’ve been to uni I’m very sure you understand the pain of trying to pull people together to work on one thing who have different ideas about studying, about how to study, how close to the deadline we leave our work, if we do the work at all or try to coast through and learn from failure. We are 9 different people.

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Another group member and I were talking about the woes of our group. They expressed their frustration at people not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, about how we shouldn’t be having to nag so much and how they couldn’t bear not being able to make people do what they’re supposed to do. Donald Trump shouldn’t be president and we shouldn’t be entering an age of global nuclear threat – and we are.

However, this situation got me thinking about control. Personally, I have a very complicated relationship with control that I have had to work on over the years. I have had to take the journey from a very unhealthy relationship with control to a more balanced one. That relationship has ultimately wound up with me where I am today, in this place right here and now. I have struggled to accept that I am not 100% in control of my life. I have more autonomy now than I once did – and that boils down to having control over the only thing I have control over: myself.

I don’t even have full control over that. I can’t decide what I want to weigh and make sure that happens because my body will metabolise and respond to my diet, exercise and medications however it will. I can control my diet, but control and diet is somewhat of a complex relationship; I don’t think diet is something to “be controlled” per se so I don’t try to control it anymore. There is liberation in letting go of unnecessary grasps at control because ultimately you can’t programme your reactions or metabolism or biological processes. You can influence them, but control? Nope. Not happening. Of the things we have control of in our lives it is not entirely of ourselves and it is certainly not of others, and even more unfortunately and definitely, not of what happens to us either. What, if anything, are we in control of then?

We are in control of how we choose to respond, behave and frame our perceptions when we think and act. I say this loosely, by thinking I mean choosing acceptance, non judgmental ness and being mindful. We can choose how to respond to what happens to us and what we are confronted with in our lifetimes. Let me highlight a recent example.

At the start of this group project I was getting stressed about people not pulling their weight – I spoke to a few of my homies and they all said “take a step back, it’s not worth it”. So I did and you know what I realised? I had the power to control how much I responded to that situation, which in turn affected how much I let it affect me. I could choose to get het up and make it of high importance or I could choose to frame the situation in relation to the bigger picture – it is a first year module that only requires a pass and I am working with some people who may not even return in January. There is great power in choosing my battles when it comes to not losing my shit. Although I did need the help of my homies to help me figure this out, I still figured it out.

We do have the choice in how we respond to whatever may come our way and for as frustrating as life can be, for as frustrating as other people can be, as we can all be, we can control very little in our lives except how we choose to relate and respond to what happens to us and around us. It’s important to take ownership of that small piece of control we all have over ourselves and our lives.

So if you see someone with a pram struggling with stairs you can take the choice to walk on or stop for a moment to help. If someone is mean to you, you can take the choice to be mean back or to ignore them. If someone smiles at you in the street, you can ignore them or just smile back and let the world be working with you instead of against you. It really is a very simple idea, but admittedly sometimes very hard to implement into our mindset. It is a journey that we are all on – and we make the decision about how we respond to the lumps and bumps in the road of our journeys that defines us to the world.