When do you first remember food having a negative connotation?
For as long as I can remember, the way I fuel my body has been controlled by unspoken rules about food. From a young age, I knew instinctively that some foods were classified as “good”, and others as “bad”. Sugar was the enemy, alongside fats, carbs, and the horrors of sodium. The food I consumed, and how my body looked, was a direct equation to calculate my worth. Multiplication wasn’t limited to maths class in primary school; the sum of weight, popularity, and the ratio of “good” to “bad” food eaten was also significant. This passage of girlhood is rife. It comes as naturally as learning to tie our shoelaces, and to ride a two-wheeler down the bank.
It all didn’t particularly bother me at a young age. In fact, I didn’t think much of it, as diet culture is so normalised – this is simply the way things are. It is no longer shocking or new that you hear of six, seven and eight year olds experimenting with dieting. Our acceptance of this status quo is terrifying.
However, I don’t blame diet culture solely for the rage of an eating disorder than hit like a storm during my teen years and early twenties. Yet, it certainly didn’t help. Diet culture whispered in every breath, folded in every page and haunting through every message – it was toxic and deadly when in combination with my predisposition, personality traits, genetics, and life experiences.
Diet culture is based upon the belief that women are not enough, and are too much, all at once. That our appearances, personalities and achievements are not good enough, while our flaws and imperfections are all-consuming, and too much. In conjunction, our bodies are deemed to pay the price of being a woman; an ugly price set by a society which does not value women. This price is paid by being less; by wearing the smallest size, by occupying less space, by quieting our voices and smothering out our roar.
The women around me growing up – strong, kind, beautiful women – were all subjected to this treatment of never being good enough, and their bodies and minds carry the toll. Do you know how heartbreaking it is for your mother to criticize and dislike her body? The body that grew you, that gave you heart and soul, to be swept and shredded down. Her body really is the most wonderful miracle.
And as for my future children – I am so afraid for them. To enter this world where eating is viewed as bad, and as a weakness. To be taught to recoil from their lifeblood, and to be taught to despise the most precious gift they will ever own. And so, I am vowing to reject diet culture. I will never again take part in this cruel, harmful and toxic industry, which only serves to tear people down. May tomorrow build our children up, rather than break them down.
I will reject diet culture by not labelling foods as “good” or “bad”. Foods are not fairytale characters, nor classroom behaviours. Some foods have more of particular nutrients than others. Some foods give us more energy to live than others. Regardless, I will eat in a way that makes both my body and soul feel loved.
I will reject diet culture by refusing to run on empty. It is no longer an achievement to do everything, and to be everything, on nothing. I now fuel my life properly; nourishment to be the best I can be.
I will reject diet culture by not basing my worth on food. Eating a cookie does not turn me into a Oreo, just as eating an apple does not mean I’m a Granny Smith. I am a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister-in-law. All of these identities make up who I am, who we are, rather than our breakfast, or lack of, this morning.
I will reject diet culture by eating a wide range of foods, to ensure my body gets all the nutrients it needs, and by not restricting foods. Avoiding or being afraid of particular food groups, or joining latest diet trend, is not whole. Medical, religious and ethical reasons are acceptable, as they are based on more than inadequacies and perceived flaws.
I will reject diet culture by not basing what I fuel my entire life on from social media. There is so much “dieting advice” thrown around online from people who have no qualifications or expertise in nutrition and dietetics. Doing your own research to understand your body, and what it needs to thrive is great, but if you need help with food, the only people who can actually help you are those within the field.
I will reject diet culture by eating foods that make both my physical body and mental body happy. Foods that make me feel good. I will eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables, alongside other carbohydrates, fats and proteins, because my body thrives on including all food groups. I will also eat pizza watching Netflix with my husband, ice cream with my friends, and cookies with my parents, because these experiences make me happy. These experiences, consisting of far more than food, are good for us.
I will reject diet culture by not basing my worth off my weight or clothing size. My body is happy and healthy, and therefore I am too. I am not going to spend weeks in a tailspin because I wear jeans a size bigger from one store compared to another. My weight is also irrelevant, I am healthy, and I have not weighed myself in months.
Food is fuel. It is necessary, giving and empowering. Let’s grant it the opportunity to see how it can enrich us. This is where thriving begins.
Please note that although I talk specifically about women in this piece, as this is my own experience, diet culture and eating disorders effect and are harmful to all genders.