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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Staying Happy and Well Over Christmas

The festive season can be really fun but in that statement it can sometimes feel like we “should” be having SO MUCH FUN, OH MY GOD I CAN’T CONTAIN MYSELF I’VE NEVER HAD THIS MUCH FUN IN MY LIFE. Chances are you have. There’s a lot of pressures at this time of year: to eat certain foods, to buy presents, to see people you may not want to see and schmooze around people you don’t want to be schmoozing with. There’s plenty of stimulus to lose your shit over, the turkey, the roast potatoes or even irritating family members who you can’t eliminate from the annual socialising – and we all know a little tipple can sometimes be the fire starter to set things off.

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I’ve just made christmas sound particularly awful. I’m hoping very much that all of this doesn’t happen to anyone this year and that the inevitable stress happens to each person in a small dosage. Even though we can’t necessarily control the things around us there are things we can do to help maintain our mental health and wellbeing throughout the festive season.

Here I’m going to list the methods I try to use to reduce the stress of the festivities and increase the enjoyment, and it seems to work for me so far, so here goes:

  1. Fit in some form of physical activity to get some headspace, reduce stress and help ease the stodgy feeling that some festive foods can leave you with, even if that means just a walk around the park. It’s good to get outside from stuffy overcrowded rooms. A warm house or pub is great and so is some fresh air to make the warmth feel so much more appreciated.
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  2. Eat with some balance in mind. Indulging has become intrinsically linked with the festive season but just because of that cultural norm it doesn’t mean you need to eat until your stuffed all the time, on repeat and until you feel unwell from overdoing it.
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  3. You don’t need to restrict or diet throughout the festive season either. Diets aren’t cool anyway, and they’re especially not cool at christmas. Ignore diet culture. You do not need to gorge for a few weeks and starve for the following few months to “undo the damage”. Stop that. Stop that right now.
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  4. There isn’t a law insisting that festive foods are only eaten in the month of December – there is no urgency to eat them all until the brim because guess what, you can eat them at any time of year if you really want to. They don’t vanish from existence on the 1st of January.
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  5. Take some me time. It’s OK and quite normal to want to take a break from the relentless social calendar that exists at this time of year. Have a nap. Go for a walk. Watch a film on your own or sneak off to read your book. You’re not weird for wanting some down time. Especially if you’re more introverted than extroverted, like myself, this down time is super important so as not to become exhausted and overwhelmed.
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  6. Reduce the pressure and value of presents. I remember family members getting extremely stressed that I didn’t know which book exactly that I wanted to the point of a near melt down. There’s no point. It’s not THAT important. I would’ve like any book on the topic I asked for.
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  7. If you don’t know what to get for someone then guessing is fine. It’s OK if it’s not a perfect present. For as cliché as it is, it really is the thought that counts – so if you’re strapped for cash then baking some sugar cookies is definitely a win.Present giving is fun. I’m a fan of people pretending to like a present I got them even if I didn’t quite get it right – I think gratitude that they tried is important and not losing sight of that.
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  8. Take a step away from social media. Christmas is a time when a lot of people use social media as an opportunity to show off the ‘insane amount of presents under the tree’, and how much they got for their kids, and how they can barely move in the house for presents. It’s bullshit – don’t succumb to it; you’re better than social comparisons and competitions about stuff. You don’t need to worry about what Susan from school got because from Boxing Day you probably won’t care anyway. They got something very expensive and lust worthy, well good for them. It doesn’t mean you need to compete beyond  your means.
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  9. If you’ve had enough to eat it’s fine to leave some on your plate. There can be a pressure to eat more than you physically can because your mum cooked every trimming in Sainsbury’s. If you’re full and you can’t then it’s ok to be firm about that. It’s your body and you’ll be the one experiencing the discomfort of a distended stomach and acid reflux if you push it too far.
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  10. Time and attention are probably some of the best gifts you can give to your nearest and dearest. Put the phone down, shut the laptop off and spend some quality time together. Play a silly game. Help the kids with their lego. Dance around the house to Just Dance on the Wii. Chances are these will be the moments you remember fondly.giphy-1.gif

The most important thing is getting through the festive season in one piece, healthily and as happily as you can.

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Merry Christmas Y’all!