I’ve been blinded by diet culture since my early teenage years. Throughout the years, I realised that it deprived me of meaningful relationships and personal development. I know that I’m not the only one under the influence of this toxic culture which limits personal development.
I’m pretty sure we are all on the same page when it comes to admitting that almost every woman has tried dieting in their lifetime. Research shows that the average woman spends 17 years of her life on diets. Throughout our teenage years, we were encouraged to maintain our thin, adolescent bodies, and as a result, found ourselves in the world of diet culture.
Diet culture is different from eating disorders
I want to emphasise that diet culture is completely different from eating disorders. Our society’s diet culture places value on certain sizes, weights, and shapes over health – both physical and mental. Diet culture also promotes the false notion that health equals thinness, but doesn’t always result in an eating disorder, which the NHS defines as developing ‘an unhealthy attitude to food, which can take over your life and make you ill’.
I know how diet culture can be toxic in terms of creating an unhealthy outlook on food, and the way we perceive our appearance. I think diet culture led me to believe that I need to control the food I eat and change my body to fit society’s standards. This is a damaging way of thinking as it encourages an unhealthy relationship with ourselves. One of the destructive effects of diet culture is that it not only prevented me from spending quality time with people I care about but also from working on myself to become a better person and achieve my personal goals.
Of course, eating disorders are not unique to women. However, I want to cover this topic from my perspective as a young woman who has experience with an eating disorder, especially as statistics show women are much more likely than men to develop an eating disorder. We need to talk about the effects of toxic diet culture on women which makes the loss of a few pounds all-consuming for so many.
And the most damaging part of all of this is that it is impossible to escape from this diet culture in our daily lives. From the stereotypical discussions of diets, cutting carbs, detoxing, to the before-and-after photos plastered on social media.
Mirror, mirror on the wall…
What I wish I had known before I developed an unhealthy relationship with food is that focusing solely on our appearance holds us back; there are so much more than our bodies. There are deeper and more significant things in life that we should care about, such as our career, school, friends, family, love, our purpose in life… Hiding behind a mirror and calculating calories won’t help us when we are in the outside world. We must look for the deeper things in life and revolt against diet culture.
I started obsessing over my body when I was 16 years old. I made myself believe that I needed to lose weight, so I started counting calories and constantly checked my body in the mirror. I created a very unhealthy relationship with food which led to my eating disorder.
During that period, I wouldn’t attend social activities which meant I neglected my family and friends. When I look back, I wish I had known that caring about my weight and the foods I eat only kept me from establishing strong relationships with the people around me.
I’m a strong believer in living in the moment. If you really want to live your life to the fullest, make sure you focus on deeper things rather than obsessing over shallow things like calories or your weight. Diet culture jeopardises women’s personal development, as well as perpetuating reductive societal expectations that play a crucial role in slowing the cultural development of women.
“Diet culture keeps women fighting the mirror instead of facing the world.”@ohitsthathannah on IG
Future plans, not diet plans
To accomplish our goals in life, we must make plans, find our motivation, and work towards our ambitions. It is crucial to find your purpose in life and wake up every morning to make small steps to live your life to its fullest. So, how does the diet culture prevent women from their personal development? Let me explain…
In the world of diet culture, it is impossible for women to ignore comments on how your body ‘should’ look. Therefore, many women find themselves in the diet world, full of unhealthy habits.
These comments on women’s bodies create an unhealthy environment, causing many women to prioritise their appearance over everything else. For me, this resulted in neglecting my future, career goals, and personal relationships. My main goal was losing weight. This completely altered my priorities, and for this reason, I think diet culture can harmful in terms of depriving women of their personal development.
I also believe that diet culture is one of the major reasons why women are seen as ‘objects’, the buyers of tabloid, or the consumers of slimming shakes. It solely lies in the fact that women are expected to achieve the ‘ideal body’.
Words to my younger self
If I could go back in time, I’d say this to 15-year-old Sima: “At the end of the day no one will care about your weight, but rather your achievements and the relationships you have built. So, instead of being a part of diet culture which is built on a patriarchal and capitalist system, free yourself and work to become happier, independent, and healthier, not just physically but mentally. Companies who are trying to sell you the magical slimming products do not care about your personal development. Therefore, you must build your life by freeing yourself from the world of diet culture.”