By Kayla Carson, Regional Director of Clinical Partnerships

Happy New Year! There is something about a new year that just feels good. It could mean a clean slate, a new chance, 365 more days of opportunity, growth, innovation or evolution. Maybe it is putting a negative aspect of life behind you or finally leaping into something you have procrastinated. People all over the world are looking for ways to improve or gain control over something in their life. We package this up in a key phrase – “New Year Resolution.” Despite a long history of not sticking to them, we continue to strive for something new in the year. So, what does resolution mean? The dictionary says, “a firm decision to do or not to do something.” Many ideas are circulating for resolutions. Some want to use social media less, drink less caffeine, save more money, get more rest, go back to school, journal daily or improve boundaries, but the looming and most popular resolution is related to diet culture.

Diet culture is everywhere in the new year. You can’t turn on the tv, look at your phone or search the Internet without seeing something related to diet culture. It’s in the news, social media, magazines, the grocery store, it’s everywhere! Health food grocery stores are busier than ever, and gyms are at their peak capacity for most of the month in January. Sure, when the holidays are over, and we have been out of our routines it can be easy to fall into diet culture when we aren’t fully feeling like ourselves. Sometimes the holidays can leave us feeling tired and out of sorts creating a temptation to hit the reset button which can look like extreme measures such as cleanses, detoxes, over-exercising, and overall not adequately nourishing our bodies.

Remember, feeling full or a little tired after the holidays is normal and it is perfectly acceptable to ease back into your routine. Diet culture is heavily normalized in the new year and it takes great strength to continue disengagement from it.

What exactly is diet culture?

Diet culture is primarily a belief system that assigns self-worth and morality in how one eats, how much one exercises or how one looks. It often idolizes thinness and allows for extreme measures to achieve a body that may not be genetically achievable. Diet culture dismisses the idea of healthy nutrition and that people can be of all shapes and sizes, and it assumes morality in thinness or fitness. We hear references to diet culture as a social norm, for example, “I am so bad, I just ate this delicious doughnut.” This sounds a lot like shame and studies on shame show an increased risk of depression and anxiety which starts the cycle all over again. Have you ever said to a friend, “You’re getting a salad? You’re so good!” We even use this language with our children, praising them when they eat vegetables and using criticism when a child prefers a chicken nugget. These societal norms are all under the umbrella of diet culture.

With value assigned to the size of our bodies, the fitness and diet industry uses this to market happier lives after changing our bodies. If this were true, wouldn’t plastic or bariatric surgery always be the key to happiness?

Unfortunately, the fitness industry does not use the real benefits of exercise including strength, heart health, balance, improved digestive health, improved mental health, and improved flexibility as their primary marketing ploy. They also don’t tell you it can be achieved in 30 minutes a day, 3-4 days per week. It piggybacks on diet culture to make false promises on changing our bodies which changes our lives, right? Unfortunately, the amount of exercise needed to drastically change the way our bodies look in a short amount of time falls under the umbrella of over-exercise (>1 hour per day with little to no rest days absent of athletic training) We can, however, see significant improvements in blood pressure, mood, muscle memory, balance, and agility quickly!

What is the harm in diet culture?

If eating healthy and exercise is good for us, what is the harm in diet culture? Mainly, it can perpetuate, or initiate disordered eating patterns and continue feelings of low self-worth and negative body image. Diet culture can be restrictive not only physically, but socially when we isolate ourselves from eating out and choosing exercise over social gatherings. Diet culture leads us to believe we are not good enough as is and offers unrealistic solutions to fit into the social standard of good enough. It becomes a lose-lose situation.

How do we disengage from diet culture?

A few check-ins can help!

  • Notice when morality is being tied to food and exercise choices. Try using positive affirmations such as “enjoying ice cream is normal because ice cream is delicious. I am not bad because I enjoy ice cream.” Or, “Choosing a salad because it sounds good does not make me inherently better than if I choose a burger.”
  • Know when to raise a red flag. Does the nutrition plan go against what you have discussed with your dietitian? Does it make lofty promises? Does it cut out food groups? Does it seem realistic and sustainable?
  • Consider how your body movement program makes you feel. Do you enjoy it? Did you choose the method based on desires to change physique or for overall health and strength? Are you choosing exercise over more sleep or consistently choosing exercise over social engagements? Do you need a rest day, but are afraid to take off?

If you notice the diet culture leading to negative body image and disordered eating behaviors, call Magnolia Creek today.  We offer evidence-based treatment that can help you overcome your eating disorder.  For more information, call us at 866-318-2329 or complete our contact form.