It has been proven over and over again that diets don’t work. In fact, they can be dangerous. Our bodies are not designed to be deprived of food or tolerate excessive exercise.
Let’s start by defining diet culture. According to Christy Harrison, RD, author, certified intuitive eating counselor, and host of the Podcast Food Psych with Christy Harrison:
Diet culture is a system of beliefs that:
Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”
Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.
Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.
Oppresses people who don't match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health.
Check out Christy Harrison's full post here.
Personally, dieting was one of the big factors that contributed to the development of my eating disorder. I believed that losing weight would make me happy and that I would feel better about myself. Being the goal-oriented, ambitious, perfectionist that I was, I dove headfirst into dieting. I was naïve and thought I was making myself healthier. Turns out, I was on a path of self-destruction, one that would result in more than a decade-long battle with an eating disorder.
Research has told us that dieting and eating disorders are very closely linked.
In a large study of 14– and 15-year-olds, dieting was the most important predictor of a developing eating disorder. Those who dieted moderately were 5x more likely to develop an eating disorder, and those who practiced extreme restriction were 18x more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who did not diet.
The best-known environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders is the sociocultural idealization of thinness
I recognize that all dieting behaviors do not necessarily lead to an eating disorder diagnosis – but any form of classifying food as “good” and “bad” based on calories, ingredients, points, or another method of counting is not healthy or effective.
In elementary school fewer than 25% of girls diet regularly. Yet those who do know what dieting involves and can talk about calorie restriction and food choices for weight loss fairly effectively.
By age 6, girls especially start to express concerns about their own weight or shape. 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. This concern endures through life.
Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors
Note: Eating disorders do not discriminate. It is believed that the prevalence of eating disorders in males is higher than estimated, due to shame, stigma, not being diagnosed, and/or other factors. Males account for 25% of anorexics and bulimics, and 40% of binge eaters. Anyone of any age, race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, (etc.) can have an eating disorder.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, Americans spend over $60 billion on dieting and diet products each year. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather invest my money in things that bring me happiness.
Alison is a passionate advocate for mental health awareness and recovery. She graduated from Salem State University in 2015 with a bachelor's in psychology, and returns to the school annually to speak about eating disorders and share her recovery story. Learn more about Alison on our Blog Squad page.