Diet Culture Lies

How diet culture coerces the sacrifice of health for aesthetics

Opinion Of: NOELLE AVENA

Diet culture is the promotion of dieting with the intention of weight loss in media and advertisements. One of the defining features of this decade is the prolific amount of diet pills, teas, waist trainers, detoxes, and diet challenges that feed off the fear of fatness.

The truth is, most diets ultimately fail. The restrictive nature of dieting goes against a person’s natural hunger signals, which almost always come out victorious after a couple of months of dieting. According to a Harvard study from 2020, “At 12 months, the effects on weight reduction and improvements in cardiovascular risk factors largely disappear.”

I unwittingly got first-hand experience in this kind of short-term diet. Over the summer, I worked as a counselor, lifeguard, and maintenance crew member at a summer camp. Despite doing the same work as my male colleagues, and being around the same size, I received children’s portions, while the rest of the staff was prioritized in receiving extra portions and leftovers. Each time I attempted to take another portion, I was ridiculed. Combined with the physically demanding nature of my job, even this slight calorie deficit was enough to cause damage.

After a week, I was struggling to keep lethargy at bay. If I turned my head fast, I would black out. At around three weeks in, I was unable to work. My coworkers left camp to buy supplements and bananas while I lay on the boathouse floor. Over the eight weeks I was away, my body burned through

15 pounds of necessary fat and muscle. My body gained back those 15 pounds in only a week once I got home, just waiting to return to its natural state as soon as the diet stressors were lifted.

Each person has their own natural weight. Genetics and ethnicity are prominent factors. When a person restricts their calories to lose weight, or puts on excessive muscle, at some point the body will start to creep its way back to its desired state. This creates a cycle where people lose weight and then look for fixes to keep the weight off, sometimes spiraling into unsafe dietary practices. This can result in yo-yo dieting, where the body goes into survival mode and holds onto every calorie whether or not one is actively dieting.

While people tend to think that disordered eating is only eating too much or too little, it can also be an obsession with maintaining the “perfect diet,” as inspired by diet media which pushes that having excess body fat is a health crisis. Keto diets, intermittent fasting, and even an obsession with protein in an attempt to “bulk up” can be just as damaging. People’s stomachs and bodies are best adapted to digest whatever they normally eat. Cutting out something to lose weight, like dairy, gluten, or sugar, could result in losing the ability to digest it.

The phrase “eating healthy” should be replaced with “eating naturally.” Food should be monitored only on how it makes you feel. Feel sick or heavy after a meal? Adjust the portion. Feel a craving for something? That’s normal, go grab it. Eat when hungry, stop when full. Even though it sounds simple, following the body’s hunger cues and maintaining a steady, full diet is necessary to the health of the teeth, hair, organs, heart, brain, and hormonal balances. The health of a body and its size should not be assessed by a one size fits all standard. Health cannot be seen externally. Health can only occur when the body and self are both working towards balance and consistency.

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