On my personal Twitter account, I collect pictures, articles, and stories that demonstrate the Euro-American “Diet Culture.” My purpose in doing this is to call out our attitudes towards food – specifically towards indulgence and dieting. Before I go into this a little further, I would like to take a moment to explain.
“Diet Culture” is a series of attitudes, behaviors, and ideals that encourage an unhealthy relationship with food by means of unsafe dietary practices (like over-restriction, extreme exercise, and bingeing). Diet culture is particularly poignant in Euro-American contexts and dietary spheres. Diet Culture is changing our relationship with food.
Our relationship with food is fundamentally flawed.
Food, (and eating it), is one of the few universal human constants. Every person needs food and experiences eating in his or her life. Because food is so ubiquitous to our survival, it has necessarily impacted all human cultures. Whether we like it or not, a large chunk of “culture” has to do with food and the practices surrounding eating, harvesting, or preparing food. This is why I say we have a relationship with food – human beings interact with each other over food and we spend a lot of time preoccupied with eating (and preparing) food. Think of the success of various cooking channels – we like food.
Diet Culture makes a problem out of our need (and love) of food. On the one hand, during the latter half of the year, we are encouraged to indulge in delicious food. From Halloween to the holiday season, we are bombarded with adverts celebrating the consumption of too much candy, over-indulging at Thanksgiving, and eating copious amounts of cookies, tamales, and latkes in December. As soon as January 1 hits, however, advertisers give us a different picture. The same people who advertised gleeful amounts of cookies are now advertising diet pills or encouraging us to “get back on track” with our diet. It reinforces guilt around the foods we eat and encourages unhealthy practices like crash dieting and too much exercise. Promises like “lose 10 pounds in one week” give people with low self-esteem a false expectation of what happens to our bodies when we make healthy food choices.
While healthy food choices are always important to emphasize, the cultural approach to healthy lifestyles is one laden with misinformation. The biggest problem in this situation is that we begin to assume certain foods or habits are healthy when they are in fact detrimental. A healthy lifestyle is not necessarily one bound in extreme diets or health fads. In reality, when we look at healthy lifestyles, it should be understood as a variety of different attitudes and approaches to health that all have one thing in common: respect and care for the body. Over the next few weeks, I will be discussing some specific examples of how our perception of health has been warped by “Diet Culture.” I hope you will join me in this discussion – and when you see an example of diet culture, tweet or instagram using the hashtag “#StopDietCulture.” Hopefully we can begin to bring awareness to our relationship with food.