About 45 million people in the U.S. go on a diet every year. So there's no denying that we all live in "diet culture" because it's everywhere. The urge to lose weight, and the product someone is shilling to help us do it are in almost every commercial and in every store. From fads and crash diets to tried and true eating plans, everyone has a suggestion. But this deeply pervasive diet culture may be a big contributor to weight problems, overall health issues, and even mental health concerns. Let’s take a look at how diet culture hurts people.
Diet culture is the pervasive societal belief that thin equals healthy and happy, and overweight equals unhealthy and unhappy. And although many overweight people are very happy, active and eat well, diet culture holds onto the idea that thinness is the most valuable body type. Diet culture attaches value to body types when the truth is that there is no inherent value in any body type.
While there may be health-based reasons for weight loss, losing weight to garner basic respect or to have. place of value in society is completely different. And diet culture is everywhere in the United States. Yes, everywhere. No place is immune.
Diet culture’s biggest problem is that it’s fatphobic by nature. The culture tells people they aren’t healthy or good enough if they weigh more than the outdated BMI chart says they should. But BMI (body mass index) was created many years ago for insurance purposes and fails to consider many other health markers.
People with more muscle mass, for example, may appear to be overweight based on their BMI even though they have low body fat percentages, generally eat well and exercise often. Diet culture is so focused on thinness, it doesn’t see that people come in many different sizes, and that size, alone, is not a marker of overall health.
Moreover, we cannot measure a person's health by looking at them. And even if we could, since when is being healthy a measure of value? Aren't people struggling with disease still worthy of our love and respect? Why in the world would being fat be any different?
Much like bullying, reducing diet culture’s toxicity and treating people fairly and equally is critical. All people deserve to have the sense that they are valuable and that their self-worth isn't tied to a body metric. When we are significantly overweight, we will almost certainly be healthier if we lose weight, but that has nothing to do with our value as human beings. And the idea that we can or should judge people based on their body metrics has got to stop.
People on both sides of the weight spectrum, from underweight to obese, are often subjected to commentary and opinions about their bodies. People feel that they have a right "because it's unhealthy" but honestly, we don't have the right to comment on another person's body or their food choices no matter what. And we need to stop tolerating it in others as well as in our media.
Sometimes we may want to lose weight for our health. And that pursuit of health is a major indicator that we're on the right track. If we're seeking to fit into the opinions of others, we're probably going to hurt ourselves trying to fit into diet culture. Before beginning any diet, it’s important to speak with a trusted healthcare provider and no one else gets to have an opinion.
Diets and weight loss certainly have their place; they can even be life-changing for some people. But the pervasive idea that everyone must be skinny to be healthy simply isn’t accurate. In fact, it’s dangerous and may lead to mental health issues and eating disorders. Being healthy and, most importantly, being happy doesn’t need to be tied to our size or the numbers on the scale. And for those trying to say different — forget them. Or try to.If you suspect that you or a loved one might have an eating disorder, call or text the Eating Disorders Hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
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