Body statue

Anthropology: The Sociocultural Effect of Diet Culture on Body Image Expectations

The reality of diet culture

In society, especially in the entertainment world, actors, actresses, models constantly show us that it is the norm to have a perfect body. On social media, influencers also continually show off their toned fit body. This affects the culture in a way that skews reality; there is an expectation to be perfect when a lot of social media is filtered and even edited. 

The definition of “Diet Culture” is a set of beliefs that values thinness, appearance, and shape above health & well-being

This concept also addresses the importance of restrictions on calories and labels foods for good or bad. And for more individual mindset, society labels people who are dieting and following a health journey as morally superior to others. There are words called “fat talk”. It refers to negative comments about someone’s weight and food calories.

How it affects people

In the early 2000s,diets are not working” started to come out in public, and diet culture has started slowly moving away from the real meaning of the word “diet.”

This diet culture has spread throughout society but mostly to teenagers. Especially in their early 20s, and it affects people who are struggling with their self-appearance. It has become normalized more to the modern society in which the disorder may occur without any concern.

Common knowledge of the eating disorder is such as skipping the meal, counting, restricting carolers, getting rid of certain food categories.
Nowadays, the intermittent diet and ketogenic diet are two of the most popular weight-loss diets. Intermittent fasting has only simple concepts. Basically, you can eat whatever you want, but only for a very specific period of time. For example, starting the fast at night, skipping breakfast, and eating their first meal around lunchtime.
According to the study in 2017 from the Journal of the American Association, it did not help people lose more weight or keep weight off longer than people who simply restricted daily calories. 
The ketogenic diet requires getting 10% or less of your total calories per day from carbohydrates. It means cutting out some of the foods with the highest amount of water and dietary fiber, like most fruits, root vegetables, and beans.
The popular eating plan advises breaking down your daily calories into about 70% fat, 20% protein, and 10% carbs in order to enter a metabolic state called ketosis, where your body burns fat for energy instead of its preferred fuel, carbohydrates. –9 keto diets dangers. Nutritionists want you to know about 

The relationship with Social Media

As we already mentioned, these stereotypes of body image and expectations come from the society we constantly check-in, such as social media.

The media has had a tremendous impact on body image. Their platforms are accused of giving us false impressions of reality. In that, the models portrayed are either naturally thin or unrepresentative of normality, unnaturally thin because of very strict dieting. Also, sometimes these pictures are edited to show us a more toned body. And it encourages people to compare themselves to mostly physically unachievable appearance ideals. Which can have a very serious negative impact on our well-being.

One of the studies focused specifically on Instagram use and its associations with body image concerns, comparison, and self-objectification among young women in the United States and Australia. The participants were women between 18 to 25. And it concluded that Instagram usage may negatively affect our body image and expectations.

600 total Instagram posts ranked by the app as “top” were collected on three different hashtags — #cleaneating, #eatclean, and #cleaneats — along with their respective comments. – Diet Culture and Clean Eating: A Social Media Study
It has been related to increased body dissatisfaction, lowered self-value, anxiety. This mindset has often occurred because public attention is under the impression that thinner is better and more attractive.
Instagram influencer culture, movies, fashion runway, fashion ads, and other media only show us one life with one type of person. Usually, white women with slim bodies, tall and seem to live fabulously. 

The diet culture and staying at home 

new year's resolution and diet culture diet cultu
“In the first week of 2021, new signups for virtual workout subscriptions and searches for “diet” on Google are spiking” – The unbearable weight of diet culture 
The new year tends to be considered a turning point. Starting new things, resetting habits, and detoxing the body from the cycles of bad food we made to choose over the holidays.
Especially in 2020, during the middle of the pandemic, people kept saying that staying at home makes our body fat because we are bored and the only joy to do is eating. This is also one of the reasons the number of Google searches has increased. In particular, now the pandemic is in a new phase and has started to open up social communications.
There was a study that showed 1,590 participants from varying states and demographic categories.
Because of the social impact of navigating life as someone who is clinically overweight, those who reported weight-based discrimination had sharper declines in life satisfaction during the pandemic.- Body shaming, Harmful diet culture on the rise during covid-19 

Food labeling

However, let’s think about food labeling. People tend to think that there are bad foods that are poisoning our bodies to be fat, such as cookies, chocolates, chips, burgers, etc. But what’s more, “we” are bad for eating them. In reality, this moralization of food and our desire to fix any perceived wrong choice is the first example of diet culture.
It provided a list of good foods that should be the majority of our diet meals and a list of bad foods is what we should restrict to achieve weight loss.
According to Fitplace Nutrition,
“Good Food List: GMO-free, no chemicals, fresh, low sugar, gluten-free, quality ingredients, unprocessed, no sugar added, delicious tasting, closer to earth, nutrient-dense, edible foods, low carb, fewer ingredients.”
“Bad Food List: high fructose corn syrup, dairy, gluten, high sugar, highly processed, foods I do not like, artificial sweeteners, added sugar, foods I am addicted to, foods to throw away, high fat, high carb.”
Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) says, “There’s a whole lexicon,”  When we say we need to “burn off” or “make up for” the cheeseboard we shared with friends. When we skip the dessert we want and ponder if snagging a bite of our partner’s dessert is “worth it”. Whenever we ascribe virtue to our food choices, giggling that it’s naughty when we choose to eat what we crave or what comforts us or good when we opt for low-calorie, low-carb, or other foods. The diet culture has been deemed healthy. All of that talk is part of diet culture.

The definition of diet culture should lead in another direction

In the first paragraph, we mentioned that the definition of diet culture is to be healthier, thinner. According to the anti-diet dietitian Christy Harrison M.P.H., R.D., C.D.N, “it’s a set of beliefs that worships thinness and equates it with health and moral virtue.”

Diet culture has become a predominant part of society and culture without us even realizing it. Our judgment works subconsciously on how we feel about ourselves. Being thin is thought to be the epitome of diet culture and beauty. And in this culture, there is a certain status that eating good foods will give us the result of the right body size.

Even though weight loss is a trend right now, there is no “correct” body size or no “correct” diet. It sets up us to feel anxious about our body and appearance, while they also suggest losing weight will make us feel better.

Encouraging people to question and ultimately reject diet culture is at the bottom heart of the anti-diet movement. This movement is part of working to disprove the diet culture. Raising awareness, helping to end fatphobia and discrimination against plus-sized bodies. 

The Anti-diet movement is challenging

anti-diet culture and body image

Diet culture has been present in our culture for ages. It means this culture is mainstream. Roughly half of the people have been on a weight-loss diet. 

Each year, an estimated 45 million Americans go on a diet. And they spend 33$ billion on their weight-loss products and programs. But still, two-thirds of Americans are overweight.

A study from the Food & Health Survey, released by the International Food Information Council Foundation. From 2017 to 2018, the number of people on diets for weight loss is rising. Up nearly 22%, from 12-36%. 

The Anti-diet movement is not an anti-dieter. The anti-dietitian, Christy Harrison, says that the anti-diet movement challenges diet culture. As a result, it takes issue with the many restrictive diets. Those are scientifically proven to harm cognitive function, heart health, and mortality, contributing to social injustice and weight prejudice.

It’s a movement that promotes overall well-being rather than size reduction. It’s a statement that people deserve to exist and don’t have to engage in weight-loss attempts to earn respect.

Because of diet culture and the encouragement or ideology to be fit or thin, we could be unconsciously picking certain foods which may be healthier, but to a level that isn’t balanced. This may cause us to forgo certain pleasures and delicacies in food, just because of unreal expectations. 

And more examples

More examples. The Barbie’s thigh gap and 18-inch waist. Which also influences so many people as an ideal body image. Lulumon’s founder, Chip Wilson, says that it’s a problem when women’s tights touch. You may have been told that when you feel hungry, before giving your body any food, drink non-calorie water and delay eating what your body wants.

In 2015, a study showed us that roughly 40,500 people searched for 1200 calorie meal plans on Google every month. 

Barbie’s ideal body shape is technically connected with the Western white beauty ideal. To which many of us compare ourselves and are held by other people. When people go on a diet, it always starts with negative thoughts. 

But here is the truth. In 2018, a study by the National Health Statistics Reports was published. When designers give the sample size, it’s often 0-2, while the average American woman’s size is 18-20. These averages change with their race, gender, age, family history. To indicate it, size and weight are not supposed to be the ones to check. 

Diet culture gives us a hard time adjusting to society. 

diet culture and societyWeight loss and thinness are very sensitive subjects. Because it is such a sensitive topic, it makes us feel shameful, anxious about our own bodies if we aren’t ideal. The diet culture can potentially lead people down the wrong path, especially people in their plus-sized bodies. 

 A study clarified that people who experienced weight discrimination have declined in well-being and increased in loneliness over time than those who have not had such experiences.

Discrimination based on age, weight, physical disability, and appearance was associated with poor subjective health, greater disease burden, lower life satisfaction, and greater loneliness at both assessments and with declines in health across the four years.

The CDC says more Americans are on a diet compared to 10 years ago. One of the reasons is that “wellness” has become a more trending word on a health journey. But some are misleading about wellness. Wellness means being in good health, but it doesn’t mean you have to restrict foods and attain a certain weight. 

Some more specific issues of diet culture

There is discrimination based on diet culture. For example, kids in school are often teased by others because of their weight and body size. The mocking, the bullying of them because they’re fat. It also affects people getting jobs, healthcare, and more. A 2012 study revealed that plus-sized people tend to be discriminated against in society. 

Another example, the diet culture takes an opportunity to create a business. Many people are attending some diet programs where they promise a certain result and spending a billion dollars on it. Marketing search shows us the US diet market has grown roughly 4.1% in 2018. And it is predicted to grow 2.6% annually in 2023.

Another, 75% of women had a disorder. This means the diet culture is deeply connected with society and it surrounds us, making us continuous anxiety. It made disorder a norm. 

So how do we face our body image and diet culture?

to see the reality of diet culture

So far, we’ve been talking about how diet culture affects our expectations. It has a toxic impact on everybody’s lifestyle. Again, to resist this type of toxic culture doesn’t mean changing to anti-health or anti-nutrition ideologies. The Anti-diet movement gives us the chance to think and choose a way to be healthy in our own way.  The anti-diet movement is defined as focusing on making peace with food, removing the power that food and food rules have, and allowing you to enjoy cravings as they come up guilt-free. 

Change the diet to intuitive eating. They have main 10 principles. Reject the diet mentality, honor your hunger, make peace with food, challenge the food police, discover the satisfaction factor, feel your fullness, cope with your emotions with kindness, respect your body, movement-feel the difference, honor your health- gentle nutrition.  

Now you can see that Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to health and wellness. And it helps you to deeply connect with your body signals, and break the cycle of toxic dieting, heal your relationship with food. 

Intuitive eating is an approach to health and food that has nothing to do with diets, meal plans, discipline, or willpower. 

How intuitive eating works with diet culture

A study showed that people who put on a diet gained weight from their dieting states. But after having no food rules, eating intuitively, they came within 5% of the weight that they were at before dieting.

Another study also shows that dieting has a success rate of as little as 6%, over a 15-year follow-up period. When people start to diet without correct knowledge, they tend to gain back the weight they lose. 

Practicing intuitive eating and not following a specific restricted diet plan is probably the best way to eat healthily. Listen to what your body craves, how hungry and full your body is. And getting rid of any guilt for what you choose. But also, it doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want.

You have to focus on satisfaction. It allows you to eat the foods you crave in a mindful way. It can encourage you. This way, you can feel physically nourishing and satisfying. Instead of making a list of good and bad foods, focus on what foods make you feel better.

The Anti-diet movement doesn’t focus on any numbers, but on behaviors, how you treat your body.



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