Have you ever tried dieting? Like most, I have tried diets from time to time. When done in moderation and carried out sustainably diets can be a good way to maintain a healthy psysique. Dieting can become dangerous when the motivation to diet originates from negative internal or external beliefs. Diets driven by negative thoughts or feelings towards oneself are becoming increasingly common, one of the drivers of this is diet culture. Diet culture is a set of beliefs that idealizes thinness and equates it with health and moral virtue. It has become one of the most dominant cultures we are immersed in, with many individuals unaware of its existence and influences.
The Importance of Awareness
It is critical to be aware of your motivation for dieting, and the influence of diet culture on your thought processes. Being aware is the key to changing these thought processes and achieving your ideal physique in a healthy way.
Your diet may be coming from an unhealthy mindset if:
• You have persistent negative thoughts about your body
• Your diet is unsustainable (i.e. too restrictive)
• You feel shame around eating
• You obsessively count calories/exercise to a point that it becomes overwhelming.
Thoughts that may be encouraged by diet culture:
• Your weight defines your self-worth
• You value being thin over your mental and physical health
• You are not happy with your body because it is not the “ideal” size
The Dangers of Unhealthy Dieting
Unhealthy dieting occurs when the motivation behind the diet is negative. This can mean negative thoughts, poor mental health, related mental illness, etc. The main risk of continuing with an unhealthy diet, is the reinforcement of negative thoughts about your worth and body. Continuing with an unhealthy diet increases your risk for an eating disorder. Those who diet moderately are five times more likely to develop an eating disorder, while those who restrict food intake extremely were 18 times more likely (Golden et al., 2016). (If you are struggling with an eating disorder, contact the Eating Disorder Federation of Canada toll-free 1-866-633-4220 Toronto 416-340-4156).
How to Diet Healthily
Before you begin dieting do a self-check-in, make sure your mental health and body image is in a good place. Consider your reasoning for dieting, the main motivation should always be your health, not meeting unhealthy standards. Do your research. Make sure your diet is sustainable, healthy, and manageable. Lastly, consult your physician to ensure the diet is healthy for you, everyone’s body is different. Regularly check-in with your doctor to make sure you are within a healthy weight range.
How to Mitigate the Impacts of Diet Culture
- Consider a weight-neutral approach to health. Do not define your health by how much you weigh. Instead consider your happiness, mental health, and physical health as a measure of your overall health.
- Curate your social media. Seeing ads for detoxes and cleanses that are essentially laxatives promoted by people of the same excessively thin body type does not reinforce a body inclusive/positive mindset.
- Eat for you. Remember that you deserve to be happy and healthy, food is your way of fuelling your body.
Lastly, remember that everyone has a different relationship with their body and food. What works for you may not work for someone else. Having a healthy relationship with yourself and your body takes time and work, as does anything that is worth doing. Remember that you deserve to feel comfortable in your body, so educate yourself, work on having a healthy mindset, and remember to love yourself at whatever stage in your body positivity journey you are at.