by Kayla Carson, Regional Director of Clinical Partnerships
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
There is great hope at the turn of a new year and 2020 is even a new decade. Although we are unable to uphold the promises we make to ourselves with many of these resolutions, we continue to stake claim to something we plan to leave behind or begin doing in a new year. Resolutions offer an opportunity to do or not do something, such as a new opportunity for growth, innovation, and evolution or time to kick a habit that may be holding you back from goals and values. Out of the many resolutions, it seems diet culture is one of the most common.
In today’s society, we are inundated with diet culture. From television shows promoting weight loss to social media overwhelming us with the latest diet products, we can’t escape the diet culture. It is everywhere we look. Health food stores are busier than they ever have been, and gyms are at their peak capacity for most of the month in January. It is only human nature to be tempted by this diet culture after being out of our routines during the holidays. Extreme measures such as cleanses, detoxes, over-exercising, and the latest weight-loss fads are often the topic of conversation. We know with all of the noise around diet culture, overall, we are not adequately nourishing our bodies. It takes a lot of strength to disengage from the norm in January.
What exactly is diet culture?
Diet culture is a belief system that assigns self-worth and morality in how one eats, how much one exercises, or how one looks. It often idolizes thinness and allows for extreme measures to achieve a perceived ideal body. We hear references to diet culture as a social norm, for example, “I am so bad, I just ate this cookie.” This mentality is often surrounded by feelings of shame. Studies tell us that feelings of shame lead to an increased risk of depression and anxiety which typically leads to a never-ending cycle.
Think about when you have been out with friends and maybe you even said, “You’re getting a salad? You’re so good!” While we may have not thought of this as negative, that is part of the diet culture mentality we have. We think by eating only a salad we are eating good, instead of understanding that all foods fit with variety and moderation. We even use this language with our children, praising them when they eat vegetables and using criticism when a child prefers a chicken nugget.
These societal norms are all under the umbrella of diet culture. With value assigned to the size of our bodies, the fitness and diet industry uses this to market a belief that we will have a more fulfilling, happier life after we change our body. If this were true, wouldn’t plastic or bariatric surgery always be the ticket to happiness? The real benefits of body movement are not body image related at all and include strength, heart health, balance, improved digestive health, improved mental health, and flexibility. In fact, the amount of exercise needed to drastically change the way our bodies look in a short amount of time falls under the umbrella of over-exercise (>1 hour per day with little to no rest days absent of athletic training.) We can, however, see significant improvements in blood pressure, mood, muscle memory, balance and agility with joyful movements such as jumping rope or dancing.
What is the harm of diet culture?
If eating healthy and exercise is good for us, we have to wonder then what could be the harm of diet culture. Mainly, it can perpetuate, or initiate disordered eating patterns and continue feelings of low self-worth to develop. Diet culture can be restrictive not only physically, but socially when we isolate ourselves from dinners out and choose exercise over social gatherings. Diet culture leads us to believe we are not good enough as is and offers unrealistic solutions to fit into the social standard that others deem acceptable. It becomes a lose-lose situation.
How do we disengage from diet culture?
- If your church is completing a New Year fast, it is probably not recommended by your treatment team to engage nutritionally. Instead, consider fasting from other things such as social media, television, or video streaming. Use this opportunity to spend more time with God in prayer and silence for guidance on how to spend the new year.
- Consider how your body movement program makes you feel. Do you enjoy it? Did you choose the method based on desires to change physique or for overall health and strength? Are you choosing exercise over more sleep or consistently choosing exercise over social engagements? Do you need a rest day, but are afraid to take off?
- Know when to raise a red flag. Does the nutrition plan go against what you have discussed with your dietitian? Does it make lofty promises? Does it cut out food groups? Does it seem realistic and sustainable?
If you notice the diet culture pulling you and you are begging to feel tempted to take part in some of the mentioned behaviors, talk to your treatment team or health care professional to discuss the pros and cons and how it aligns with your overall beliefs and values. If you feel that you or a loved one need are struggling with an eating disorder and need help, call us today or complete our contact form for more information. Selah House is here to help you find freedom.
As promised in Jeremiah 29:11, the Lord has the context of all plans as a part of His biggest plan. He will always plan to prosper and not harm us and in each new year, our hope and future are always best found in Him.