Diet culture or the idea of maintaining rigorous appearance standards is a dangerous yet pervasive element of modern society. Unfortunately, it is a problem that is not going away anytime soon. Without understanding the impacts of diet culture, the challenges and struggles it creates can lead to significant physical and psychological difficulties.
What is Diet Culture?Diet culture is a term used to describe many Americans’ growing preoccupation with attaining the “perfect” physical appearance. It also encompasses finding and adhering to perfect eating standards or the perfect diet. Someone who succumbs to the pitfalls of diet culture may seem obsessed with habits such as calorie counting, cataloging the foods they consume, following rigorous exercise schedules, and experimenting with other diet fads, all in the name of losing weight. Diet culture is not restricted to a specific demographic. It can appear in any age group or gender. However, it is often more prevalent in circumstances where one’s appearance can put them at the forefront of being noticed. Consider examples such as models, entertainers, athletes, and celebrities. Diet culture is also, unfortunately, common among adolescents and teens who struggle to maintain a particular physical appearance to “fit in” with members of their social circle.
Examples of Diet CultureIt is important to understand the difference between diet culture and nutritious eating. Ideas about diet culture often go undetected because they get lumped into conversations about disease prevention, healthy eating, and “optimal” nutrition standards. This makes diet culture scarier because people prescribe to potentially dangerous diet patterns in the name of health. Not only can diet culture lead to harmful effects on your physical health, but it can also significantly affect your mental well-being. You may notice many signs of diet culture in a friend or loved one struggling to separate healthy eating from potentially dangerous habits. Often, many of these examples seem benign; however, when one or more occur or happen in the presence of disordered eating or another mental health concern, they can lead to dangerous side effects. Some common examples might include:
- Using exercise to “burn off” calories or to earn a reward in the form of dessert or similar.
- Eliminating entire food groups because they are “bad for you.”
- Avoiding social situations or social events because eating is a part of the experience.
- Consistently checking body weight and using the scale to determine future eating behaviors.
- Engaging in fat-shaming behaviors or feeling shameful for your physical appearance.
- Giving food labels such as good, bad, fattening.
- Using dietary aids, caffeine, nicotine, or water to suppress your appetite by increasing the sensation of fullness.