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We Need to Fight Diet Culture Messaging

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I’ve been on holiday. It’s nice to go away, but it’s even nicer to get home. The older I get, the more I appreciate the unique comforts of my own house.

The weather was hot and sticky, a climate I’m not terribly fond of, and a tropical cyclone was annoying the coastline so aside from the occasional frolic in the ocean, we spent a lot of time inside. We watched a lot of television. As we did not have access to the normal array of subscription television services we are spoiled with at home, we spent a fair bit of time watching free-to-air television.

I’m Shocked at the Incessant Bombardment of Weight Loss Products

I mean, we all know it’s out there. I experience plenty of diet culture messaging in everyday life. But free-to-air television feels like one big weight loss commercial interspersed with the occasional over of cricket. And it’s triggering.

The marketing gurus are good at their job because despite spending five years of my life actively teaching myself to fight the diet mentality, after two weeks of advertisements for weight loss and “health” promotion products I feel like I have to submit.

Diet culture espouses thinness as a ticket to beauty and happiness. As someone who has lived in almost every sized body, I can assure you that my happiness was not impacted by a number on a scale. Something I need to remind myself of when I’m fighting the urge to skip breakfast.

After three weeks of insidious messaging, I want to count things and buy shakes and get a fancy app that’s going to magically transform me from an overweight middle-aged woman into a slender 20-something nymph. Because that’s what the ads claim.

The Shadows of Eating Disorder Voices Want to Starve My Body Into Submission

To punish it for being the fattest, whitest, oldest body wandering around Byron Bay – a town that seems to singularly cater for those wanting to splash semi-naked, nubile bodies across their Instagram feed.

We are surrounded by messages of the absolute necessity to be young, slim, tanned and beautiful. Whatever beautiful actually means. A message that says body size is inversely proportional to a level of happiness. Less body equals more joy.

My Instagram feed is all body positivity, eating disorder recovery and general mental health accounts. Still – there is no avoiding the before and after pictures. The proud and joyful faces of men and women who have lost enough weight to fit into sexy clothes. Thereby associating health and happiness with a waist measurement. The endless photos of “what-I-eat-in-a-day” that range from beaming pride at the consumption of a doughnut, to a sense of superiority for living solely on fresh mangoes and quinoa. As though I’m somehow meant to be impressed with someone else’s food choices.

Facebook and Instagram target me with ads for weight loss products and exercise regimes – all of which are promoted by sculpted visions of perfection.

I constantly hear messages – in real life, in books, on television, in podcasts – that glorify beauty. Where the first compliment a woman is paid is about her looks: “She’s very pretty!” “What a gorgeous girl!” “They’ll make beautiful babies together!”

The food we buy is judged harshly based on its perceived health benefits. Carrots are good. Cheese is bad. Apparently. By today’s standards at any rate.

Who Knows What Tomorrow Will Hold?

Every diet fad is regularly rebranded – count things, eliminate things, eat at prescribed times, fast, fast, fast. Anything except following your body’s natural hunger cues.

Diet culture is insidious and we all play a part. I play a part in it because, despite all the therapy and all the public declarations of a willingness to accept myself in a larger body, I still desire a smaller one. I still fight a daily desire to both binge and restrict. Because my ticket to happiness is still associated with my body.

I know it is irrational, but we live in a society that worships slim, young bodies and discards the rest of us. It is all fine and dandy to theoretically believe every body is beautiful and health at any size, but our media is bursting at the seams with an association between beauty and happiness, and that kind of messaging sinks deep.

As a society, we need to fight diet culture – to stop subscribing to weight loss programs and whatever fad comes along in 2022 to replace intermittent fasting. Food is food and is not inherently good or bad. Restricting foods (carbs, fat, sugar, whatever) creates a psychological obsession and most of us become more likely to want to binge in response. Counting things (calories, points, macros, etc) makes us acutely aware of every mouthful of food consumed and creates a deprivation mentality. Consciously skipping meals or fasting for periods of time overrides natural hunger signals and increases the chances of binging when you finally do eat.

Binging and restricting are not limited to those of us with eating disorders. We are all subject to the endless barrage of “lose weight now” messaging and weight loss promotion always endorses dietary modification.

Imagine a World Free From Diet Culture

Where bodies are accepted in every shape, size, color and age. And beauty is defined by words and actions and the lovingness of our hearts.

Where we eat because we’re hungry, stop when we’re not and food is eaten for pleasure. Where we move our bodies because it feels good. Imagine a world where diet and exercise are not associated with guilt and shame. I want to live in that world.

Getty image by Fabio Formaggio / EyeEm

Originally published: February 22, 2022
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