The media glorifies a very toxic belief that thin equals beauty and health. An example of this would be a celebrity’s weight loss journey making the headlines. Internalized by society, this belief is the root cause of many food and body-image-related disorders.
Diet culture is a system of beliefs that values weight, shape, and size over the wellbeing of a person. It manipulates us into investing time and money into shrinking our bodies and makes us associate our self-worth with the size of our bodies. Diet culture sounds like “You’ve lost so much weight! You look fantastic” or “It’s my cheat day”. We are all promoters of diet culture, sometimes without our knowledge. It has taught us to label food as “good” and “bad” thus encouraging restriction of certain demonized food groups like carbs. According to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, around 95% of people who diet will regain weight, sometimes even more than they lost. This is evidence that restriction only leads to binging.
How has diet culture rewired our minds? We perceive thin people as successful, confident, healthy, and worthy. Fatphobic by nature, it deems people with larger bodies as unattractive and unworthy of respect. Although diet culture targets women, men fall prey to this oppressive system too. It sets an “ideal” body type, a target that compromises a person’s physical and mental wellbeing.
One of the most debilitating consequences of diet culture is that it causes eating disorders. They are characterized by severe and persistent disturbances in eating behaviours, thoughts, and emotions related to food. Contrary to popular beliefs, eating disorders are not just a lifestyle choice; they are very much real. In fact, they have the highest mortality rate for any mental disorder. About 9% of the world’s populace suffers from an eating disorder. They are associated with a preoccupation with food, weight, and body image. A popular myth is that eating disorders only affect teenage girls. The reality is that anyone, regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation can suffer from it. Like any other physical and mental disorder, a diagnosis is necessary to confirm the disorder.
Despite receiving the most spotlight among eating disorders, anorexia nervosa is actually the least common. People suffering from this disorder restrict their food intake up to the point of starvation. They have a distorted body image and may engage in repetitive perfectionist behaviour. Bulimia nervosa involves short-lived binges followed by compensatory behaviours like purging through self-induced vomiting, strict dieting, long hours of cardio or laxatives. People with this disorder are obsessed with their weight and body shape. Binge eating disorder involves frequent bingeing without subsequent compensatory behaviours. An estimated 3% of the population suffers from this disorder.
Some of the lesser-known eating disorders include: Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED) which is a category that consists of eating disorders and a wide range of disturbed eating behaviours that cause significant distress and impairment in daily functioning but don’t meet the criteria for the other categories of eating disorders. Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is a newly introduced category, it involves restrictive eating without the presence of body image issues in anorexia. This disturbed eating pattern results in persistent failure to meet nutritional requirements. Pica, a disorder where a person repeatedly eats things with no food or nutritional value like hair, soap, charcoal, etc. Individuals with the disorder are generally not repulsive towards food.
Eating disorders have various names and categories with subtle nuances which overlap each other. But the physical and mental consequences are identical and chronic in nature. They are accompanied by comorbid illnesses like Anxiety disorders, Body Dysphoric Disorder, Gastrointestinal problems, weakened bones, and fainting spells.
Breaking free from the chains of diet culture is a challenging task. Given below are some facts that can act as body positivity reminders.
All our bodies are unique. The size and shape of our bodies are dependent on genetics, environment, and time. Even if we all had the exact same lifestyles, our bodies would still be different.
Online is not real. Pictures can be edited and photoshopped. Be aware of the content you consume on social media.
Acknowledge and appreciate the work your body is doing to help you survive. Our bodies know how much food, exercise, and rest we need. Listen to your body.
In a world that capitalizes on your insecurities, loving your body is a rebellious thing to do. So, love, nourish and appreciate your body because all it ever does is protect you.