While writing this blog I wanted to make it educational so hopefully, it can help someone struggling or encourage someone to get curious about what diet culture is and how it is affecting people. One of my biggest goals while using this platform is to never shame or put anyone down but to educate, encourage and offer a new way to look at things.
I was running errands with my son this morning and we drive past a gym with a giant billboard that reads "summer bodies are made here". A while later I hop on my emails to read one that tells me how I need to cleanse regularly. This evening I was in the checkout at the grocery store and the cashier is having a conversation with the woman in front of me about "clean eating". They go on to discuss how it's great that she is on day one of "eating clean" because most people can't do it. I wait patiently with my combo pizza, chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream.
This is all an example of diet culture and a great example of what is very wrong with how we view well-being. A good friend of mine told me recently that she was about to sign up for a yoga retreat when the owner let her know it probably wasn't the best idea because "yoga is difficult for people with larger bodies". Could you even imagine?
Diet culture surrounds us everywhere. Starting a new diet, beginning a new workout program, going on a cleanse, it can all seem harmless enough however there are a lot of negative side effects that come along with it. I could share the research, I could offer the scientific data, I could show you study after study but I think whats more important is to really take a look at how these approaches make us feel about our worth. What happens when my son grows up reading billboards everywhere telling him he needs to change his body because summer is coming? What happens to the woman beginning her clean eating journey because she thinks she needs to change something about herself when research shows there's only a 4% chance she'll be able to stick to it? How would you feel if you were told you probably shouldn't do something because someone had a bias against body shape and size?
I work with clients who are in recovery from eating disorders. Diet culture plays into their eating disorder on a daily basis. So what does that look like? It looks like isolation, a living hell and treatment costing up to $30k a month. It looks like time away from their family, lost friendships and being constantly preoccupied with thoughts about food, body and weight. It looks like shame, exhaustion and a constant battle against diet culture. Those in recovery are the bravest and strongest people I know. They're fighting an eating disorder in a culture that very much normalizes disordered eating.
It took me a long time to take an honest look at myself and my actions to see how I was playing in to diet culture. Luckily I was able to get curious and make changes that supported a more accepting approach that promoted individual well-being and diversity.The thing about diet culture is It's tricky, it's sneaky and it's created by us. Some of us may not even know we are playing into it and that's the reason I encourage you to get curious. Challenge your beliefs, your bias's and your approaches.
I think one of the most important things to remember is that it's not black and white. There is room for veggies and quinoa and pizza and cake. There is room for movement and rest. There is room for large bodies, small bodies, short bodies, tall bodies and every body in between. A lot of times this makes people uncomfortable. It isn't sexy. It doesn't sell. It doesn't fit into a clean box. You can't wrap it up in a pretty marketing strategy and make $60 billion off of it. That's a tough sale.
But know this, the more we get curious, honest and real about what diet culture is the more we can fight it. The more we can educate, stand up to it and challenge it, the more likely someone can gain their life back.
If you are struggling know that you are not alone. Reaching out for help can be the bravest thing you can do. If you are open enough to get curious about your approach, beliefs and bias's my hat is off to you because that can be scary.
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As always, I'm rooting for you,
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Hanna Kuyper is a wife, a mom and a lover of all things outdoors. She has owned a women only wellness studio, sat on the board of a non profit dedicated to eating disorder and body image awareness and has volunteered as a mentor for girls in school. Hanna has a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in eating disorders and body image. She is a currently a virtual body image and recovery coach at The Eating Disorder Center.