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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New Year, Same Person

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We are fast approaching 2018. We currently reside in the week between Christmas and New Year, a period of time that I call “limbo week”, when you’re not quite sure what day it is; some people are back in work, some aren’t and there seems to be no real logic as to who is and who isn’t. It’s a time for recovering from the family antics, the overeating and the forced fun. For myself, it’s a time for squeezing in those books on my ever-growing reading list, binge watching a series I’ve wanted to and spend some time resettling myself for the new term at uni.

Culturally we put a lot of emphasis on the 1st of January, as if this one day is the most important first day of the month each year. As if the 1st of January holds the power of being a life changing 24 hours. It’s not really though is it? If we take a step back and look at the bigger picture it is just the first of another month, just like the 1st of November was, and the 1st of June, and the 1st of March.

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This isn’t to say I’m against goal setting and lifestyle changes for better health and contentment. I am a massive advocate of goal setting and a massive advocate of continuous goal setting. I believe in aiming for what we want in life regardless of which particular month it is. The world never stops and the universe puts no extra speciality on any other months. It is just another 24 hours that the Earth continues orbiting and spinning.

With any goal setting though, swearing you’ll stick to a massive overnight change of lifestyle is never going to be effective. You will not suddenly eat a restricted diet any better than the previously failed diets just because it’s January. You won’t miraculously start going to the gym 5 times a week and get a six-pack just like that last gym membership you swore would change everything didn’t. Even if you do lose weight, say if it’s medically viable for you to need to in the first place, life won’t be any less stressful or more care free at a certain size. If you don’t need to lose weight, medically speaking, then being a size 10 won’t change your life in the ways that diet culture promises.

If your lifestyle isn’t particularly healthy then small steps may be beneficial and you might notice being able to run for the bus with ease after some commitment. Maybe you have smashing a goal like running or swimming a specific distance in mind. That’s cool. Go for it. I’m all for healthy endeavours and challenging yourself.

Shrinking to a size 8 or “the perfect 10” however, won’t make life any better than it is now, not really. People might tell you that you look better but for those putting extra emphasis on your looks, on you being slim and meeting beauty ideals well, fuck ’em. You don’t need that shit any more than you need a detox diet, or a juice cleanse or a faeces face mask. (I made that up. I don’t if they exist but wouldn’t be surprised).

Make some goals that are realistic and be weary of the new year resolution trap that will only set you up for failure and perpetuate an annual system of Monday morning mentality if you don’t meet your transformation goals overnight.

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If you want to make changes it doesn’t matter which day you start. Plan ahead, be realistic and practice self compassionate. So here’s the cliché cocktail: Rome wasn’t built in a day, lives don’t change overnight (except for lottery winners), and as a heads up healthy sustainable lifestyle isn’t associated with any of the following words, phrases or promises:

  • Fad
  • Fasting
  • Cleanse
  • Detox
  • Toxins
  • Colonic irrigation
  • Weight loss surgery
  • Liposuction
  • Plastic surgery
  • Fillers
  • Botox
  • Diet
  • Restriction
  • Challenge
  • Blitz
  • Transform
  • Lose 3 st. in a month
  • Breathing fire when you reach a size 8 because you’ll be so smoking hot
  • Everyone you hated will suddenly love you
  • The universe will totally change
  • The world is gonna flip on its axis
  • Prince Harry will ditch Meghan Markle for you

What will I be changing in the new year? What am I aiming for? All the same things I’ve been working towards for a while now. I got a climbing pass for Christmas, so that’s more climbing on the agenda. I want to keep trying my best to fuel my body well. I want to keep working on my degree. I want to keep training for the London marathon and raise some dollar for my cause – link at the top of the page *wink nudge wink nudge*

I want to keep reaching goals. I want to practice consistency because that seems to be the on.

Keep writing.
Keep reading.
Keep on keeping on.

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So here’s to the same shit, different year, for growth and progress, just like yesterday. I’m starting to quite like consistency. I think it’s pretty neat.