Toxic diet culture – Pandora's Health

The telltale signs of toxic diet culture

Diet culture… are you being influenced by it? You just might be, as it’s so ingrained in our culture (particularly women’s) today.

*Warning* This post may be triggering for people who are suffering or recovering from disordered eating habits.

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I need to do a cleanse/detox” or “I will be happy if I just lost n pounds”? Well… you’re not the only one.

Toxic diet culture is a huge problem these days. We’re bombarded with images of supermodels and influencers who are able to dedicate time and money (not to mention photo editing) to look as good as they do. I’d even go so far to say that some of them don’t look real anymore and frankly, they have my sympathy. They are as much a victim of toxic diet culture as we are, but sadly do nothing to stop perpetuating it.

But, when something is so ingrained in us as diet culture, how can you tell when it’s affecting you? How can you tell when a genuine health concern is fabricated by an industry that wants to dominate your life and your wallet? Here are a few signs.

You buy into quick fixes

You know the kind of quick fixes that I’m talking about. Skinny teas, juice cleanses and even simple lemon water are all prime examples of quick fixes that have become so common that they’ve become a truism. Here’s the thing though, they aren’t true.

I’ve previously written about health and wellness myths that you shouldn’t believe, and detox cleanses are at the top of the list.

Skinny teas will help you lose weight because they have a laxative effect. If you rely on them too much, you can cause serious damage to your digestive system.

And as for lemon water, well, I’ve also written about how this does nothing for you. In fact, it does do something. It makes plain water taste like lemon, and maybe provides a bit of vitamin C.

The most important thing to remember about quick fixes is that results won’t last long. They don’t allow you to go back to a comfortable sense of normal. They trap you in a vicious cycle.

Ditch the quick fixes. Health changes and habits really do take time.

You weigh happiness with the scales

I have definitely thought that if I just lost 7 pounds (half a stone), then I’d be so much happier. I’d fit back into my UK size 10 clothes, and I’d like my body more.

Here’s the thing though. When I was this weight (i.e. before I had the contraceptive implant placed in my arm), I still wasn’t happy. I still thought that I needed to lose 7 pounds.

It took me a while to realise just how toxic my thinking was. I tried going into an extreme calorie deficit that made me miserable. I fretted over food choices, and cried when I put on clothes that no longer went over my curvier hips.

Toxic diet culture will always tell you that losing weight will make you happy. But will it really? Or will happiness always evade you, until you buy into another product or scheme that promises the happiness you crave?

Self acceptance is hard when you’ve been programmed to hate your own body by society. Your body does amazing things. Love it. Be proud of it.

You label foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’

You’ve probably said the following phrase yourself, or heard someone else say it:

“I can’t eat that, I’m being good today.”

When you’re trying to lead a healthier lifestyle, it’s easy to try and sort things into the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ categories. Being bad means that it should be avoided… but doesn’t that just make it more tempting?

By constantly denying yourself the foods you enjoy, you give them power over you. You might start obsessing about them, try to avoid them and potentially cave and over indulge in them. After that, ultimately, the vicious cycle begins again.

The same goes for labelling food as ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’. The clean eating phenomenon of a few years ago came about from the simple wish to stick to foods that were not overly processed. It’s since transformed into another type of obsessive dieting that has been associated with disordered eating patterns such as orthorexia (where a suffer panics over eating ‘non pure’ foods).

I thin that Nigella Lawson (my food loving queen), sums it up nicely:

“I think behind the notion of ‘clean eating’ is an implication that any other form of eating is dirty or shameful.”

Nigella Lawson

How can we break free of toxic diet culture?

Toxic diet culture – Pandora's Health

This is a tricky question. Frankly, I don’t have the full answer for it, but I’ll give it a go.

The first step is to simply be aware of toxic diet culture when you encounter it. Diet culture has been able to quietly seep into everyday life, to the point that we never notice it. So keep an eye out for foods that are advertised as ‘guilt-free’ and ‘clean’ or have even jumped onto the high protein bandwagon.

The second is to take things slow and think long and hard about why you may want to make a healthy change. Is it simply for appearances, or do you genuinely want to be able to comfortably run 5km? Do you want to force yourself to eat boring salads, or do you want to expand your palette? Jumping headfirst into a change normally means that it won’t stick.

The last thing that I would advise if probably the hardest. I’ve said it again and again on this blog, to the point where I realise that I’m sounding like a broken record to myself. By kind to yourself. You wouldn’t say some of the negative things that you think about yourself to friends and family – so take it easy and cut yourself some slack.

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  1. Generally, I’ve found there is so much toxicity in the diet industry, etc. I’ve been on various diets throughout my life and have never felt less valued as I have while on them or being made aware of them. The advertising of them and the way they operate just oozes negativity. Great post!

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  2. Loved this.
    Couldn’t have put it into better words myself. There’s definitely a toxic diet culture in society, and I definitely believe social media has made it worse and the accessibility of the new fad diet products such as Flat Tummy Tea & appetite suppressing lollipops.

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  3. I loved this post, its so important that we learn all about how awful diet culture is as it has become so normal to be on a diet or aspire to be a certain weight in order to be successful enough or pretty enough. In the past I have struggled a lot with not feeling good enough because the scales don’t say a certain number so I really like that you have raised awareness about this. xxx

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  4. I experienced toxic diet culture for years until I started researching the science behind weight loss and nutrition and watching YouTube videos from real professionals not just influencers. This helped me tremendously to understand the terrible impact of toxic diet culture.

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  5. I experienced diet culture for years until I started researching the science behind weight loss and nutrition. I also watched YouTube videos from actual professionals not just influencers and that helped me tremendously.

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    1. Yeah, some influencers are pretty bad at giving advice (they tend to parrot one another) – I recommend Abbey Sharp on YouTube who’s a registered dietician

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