8 Ways Diet Culture is Harmful to Your Health

diet culture

Do you know what the term “diet culture” is? If not, go to your Instagram or Twitter and search for the tag “diet.” You will see hundreds, thousands, of social media personalities and influencers promoting it. They spend their days posting their daily exercise routines, meal plans and giving advice to their followers on why they should ditch sugar, gluten, carbs, or processed foods.

We are deeply entrenched in diet culture. So much so, you may not even know it. However, it promotes toxic standards and unhealthy, often short-term solutions for weight loss. So, it’s time to ditch diet culture and learn how to start living a truly healthy life.

Let’s get started. 

1. It’s Misleading 

Social media promotes many different diet fads that produce no results and leave people out hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Advertisements boast their program can help you lose 5, 10, or 15 pounds in two weeks. While you may lose weight using a commercial program, there is no guarantee you will be able to maintain your new weight when all is said and done.

The proper way to approach weight loss is the Calories In, Calories Out (CICO) model. This approach to weight loss focuses on the number of calories you eat versus how many you burn. You should know or find out your TDEE, or Total Daily Energy Expenditure, as that number tells you the number of calories you need to eat every day to maintain your current weight.  

2. It’s Discriminating 

The culture around dieting reduces people to their bodies rather than actual people. Instead of being seen as necessary to fuel our days, food is viewed as calories or a collective of “good” or “bad” ingredients. This type of discrimination leads to a hierarchical view of people and food and increases stigma

When thinness is automatically equated with health and value,  everyone else is viewed as unhealthy and not valuable. This discrimination is rampant everywhere: in workplaces, schools, doctor’s offices, on social media, in stores and restaurants, etc.

3. It Causes Anxiety Around Food 

Telling yourself you are being bad or naughty when you eat something that is not a part of your diet plan leads to feelings of shame and regret. These thoughts may lead to cycles of eating these “bad” foods and binging. 

While it is not an official diagnosis in the DSM-5,  orthorexia nervosa is a type of disordered eating that revolves around the obsession with “clean” eating. Some common signs of orthorexia are a fixation on the quality or the ingredients of food, a rigid schedule or meal plan, emotional distress if “rules” are not followed, anxiety around food, fear of becoming sick, eliminating certain foods/food groups/ingredients, weight loss. 

For example, someone with this disorder may avoid any and all foods with fat, added sugars, carbs, or processed foods. They may keep an inflexible schedule or meal plan with certain foods to eat on specific days.

The anxiety felt around food is serious and should be taken seriously as a type of disordered eating. However, it is often not taken seriously. People praise clean eating in our culture so many people with orthorexia nervosa go unnoticed, are not believed, or do not receive help. 

4. It Can Lead You to an Eating Disorder 

While your environment is not the only thing that triggers disordered eating or a full-blown eating disorder, it is certainly a factor. The constant pressure to eat or look a certain way can take a serious toll on your mental health. The shame that diet culture brings when a person’s body is not the size seen in popular culture or the one held up as the cultural ideal can lead to restrictive diets,  disordered eating, or an eating disorder. 

Unhealthy restriction for weight loss can lead to the development of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED), and binge eating disorder (BED). Diet culture makes this seem behavior seem normal and even rewards it. When a person is being praised for their illness, it only serves to perpetuate their harmful actions and normalizes it.

5. It Keeps You Stuck in a Cycle 

Many people who fall in the trap of gimmick or unsustainable diets wind up in a cycle that is very difficult to break. There are shame and stigma surrounding every part of the dieting cycle. 

As an example, a person who starts a restrictive, low-calorie diet without easing into it may be okay for the first couple of days. However, over time it becomes more and more difficult to sustain due to fatigue, cravings, irritability, stomach problems, or even FOMO. That person may allow a “cheat day” but it could turn into a binge or episode of uncontrollable eating.

That, in turn, creates feelings of shame and guilt. The diet starts all over again to make up for the extra calories consumed during the period of excessive eating. Some people may go to extreme measures like severely restricting their calorie intake or purging to continue to dieting cycle. 

6. It Doesn’t Focus on Your Health 

Diet culture is not about becoming healthy. It is about becoming skinny by any means necessary, even if that means compromising your health. It values a person’s weight and their size or shape, and size more than their mental and physical health.

While there are bad health consequences that come with being overweight or obese, there are also negative effects of unhealthy weight loss solutions. Rapid weight loss (which is losing more than 2 pounds per week over a period of several weeks) increases a person’s risk for gallstones by 12% to 15%, dehydration, imbalances of electrolytes, malnutrition or deficiencies, hair loss, and muscle loss. 

The recommended standard for healthy weight loss is 1 to 2 pounds per week. If you are trying to lose weight, make sure you are getting all of the proper vitamins, minerals and supplements you need to achieve a healthy balance

7. It’s Not a Holistic Approach 

The culture around dieting tends to ignore the different elements involved in cultivating a healthy lifestyle. Instead, it holds up food restriction as the best thing you can do for your body, This is simply not true.

There are many reasons to change your diet, but when you are trying to become healthier, you should make changes to more than your nutrition. You can make simple changes, like drinking more water and green tea. Green tea has been shown to help with weight loss as it has caffeine, antioxidants, and metabolism-boosting properties.

Incorporating more fiber in your diet, in supplement or food form, can help you feel fuller for longer. Similarly, gut-health and probiotic supplements are a must-have when you make changes to your diet. Probiotics re-introduce healthy bacteria to your gut and help to maintain a balance between good and bad bacteria. 

A sustainable workout routine coupled with a healthy meal plan and supplements is a way to approach dieting holistically. Dieting should be about prioritizing how you feel and improving your health rather than focusing just on your shape or size. 

8. It’s Mostly a Marketing Gimmick 

You have likely seen TV ads or magazines with the headline “Lose weight fast,” “Drop two pants size in one week,” or “10 weight loss secrets”. They are all marketing gimmicks that promote misleading and unhelpful information. But, it is all about the money.

Big names in the diet culture industry often promote what is known as “detox” or “cleanse” diets. However, the details about these diets are often nonspecific and only claim you will release “toxins” from your body that are keeping you from losing weight. 

Detoxes and cleanses are little more than expensive laxatives that don’t do anything for you except help you shed water weight. Your body detoxes itself on its own with the liver and kidneys.

Other buzzwords used in diet culture marketing trends are “superfoods” and “processed”. Superfoods are held up as foods possess near-magical qualities to aid you in your fitness journey. In reality, superfoods are usually fruits or vegetables with high amounts of vitamins and minerals: nothing special. When foods are promoted in this way, the price for them often increases with demand.

The term processed has been demonized and used to shame those who buy processed foods—such as frozen dinners, potatoes chips, cereal, etc,. Other processed foods include bagged, canned, frozen or pre-packaged fruits and vegetables, and other items packaged for convenience. The talk around diet culture is largely influenced by advertising and influence from social media. 

It’s Time to Ditch Diet Culture 

Diet culture promotes unrealistic, expensive, misleading, and sometimes even dangerous ways to lose weight quickly. It is time to ditch diet culture and the toxic messages it advertises and learn how to live a life that is actually healthy. Instead of trying diet fads, approaching a lifestyle change holistically and incorporating exercise and the proper supplements is the way to go.

If you have any questions about what supplements you should be taking to help you on your journey to a healthful lifestyle, check out the rest of our blog or contact us here

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