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6 Ways to Recognize and Challenge Diet Culture This Year

6 Ways to Recognize and Challenge Diet Culture This Year

It’s that time of year again when the odds of seeing an advertisement for a weight loss program, fitness app, or company that wants to help you transform your body are even higher than usual.

Much of this messaging stems from what is called food culture.

“For me, diet culture is mostly about forcing people to look a certain way, about fitting into a colonial beauty standard,” said Amirah Oyesegun, a recent UPEI food and nutrition graduate and dietitian-in-training. in PEI

Amirah Oyesegun says many of her dietetic internship clients see weight loss as the solution to their health problems, even when it isn’t. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Diet culture, Oyesegun said, focuses more on your appearance and weight than on your overall health and well-being.

So how can we better recognize and challenge food culture?

See it for what it is

This can be hard to notice, especially because of how diet culture is often presented.

“The problem is that food culture is often presented as health. And that’s where the problem lies,” said Oyesegun, whose pronouns are they/them.

They said the diet culture shows up in all of their clients, even people whose health issues aren’t related to weight loss.

“They still believe that weight loss is the solution. Weight loss isn’t necessarily the solution to all health issues.”

6 Ways to Recognize and Challenge Diet Culture This Year
Amila Topic, personal trainer and owner of Kinetic Fitness in Charlottetown, stretches with her five-year-old son, Jenson. (Submitted by Amila Topic)

Katharine MacDonald became interested in the body positivity movement and anti-diet culture after she had a stillbirth in 2013.

“It was kind of a traumatic experience, and it produced a shift in my body,” said MacDonald, who is originally from Charlottetown and now lives in Halifax.

“I kind of started looking to diversify the type of media I was consuming, because I wanted to see more body types.”

I just started choosing to consume media that I felt was representative… body types bigger than mine, more disabled, racialized bodies.—Katharine MacDonald

MacDonald said advertisers have gotten better at trying to sell food culture “under the guise of health and wellness.”

“But at the end of the day, if it’s all about weight loss…it’s still rooted in fat loss, basically.”

Consider mental health when setting goals

Oyesegun reminds customers to be compassionate towards themselves.

“Being healthy also includes your mental health,” they said.

“If you’re forcing yourself and starving yourself to be in a smaller body and your mental health isn’t great, then you’re not healthy overall.”

6 Ways to Recognize and Challenge Diet Culture This Year
Topic tries to encourage its customers to consider other sustainable health goals beyond weight loss. (Submitted by Amila Topic)

This is something that Amila Topic, a personal trainer, also thinks about.

“We have to look at the whole person, their mental and emotional well-being as well as their physique,” said Topic, who also owns Kinetic Fitness in Charlottetown,

Many of her clients are trying to change two big things as the New Year approaches: their eating habits and their fitness.

“With these two changes, to really make lasting positive changes in a person’s life, we also need to look at their work and life stressors, how long they sleep, what their personal life is like” , she said.

“I love discussing… what’s realistic, what will help them feel good in the short term and in the long term.”

Why is weight loss the goal?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to lose weight — it all depends on your reasons, Topic said.

“I like to ask, you know, ‘Is losing 20 pounds something that’s going to make you happy? Or is it something that’s sustainable in the long run?'” she said.

She encourages her clients to consider other goals.

“Can I make myself stronger, more mobile? Maybe start a weight lifting program and then allow that weight loss goal to be kind of a secondary goal?”

6 Ways to Recognize and Challenge Diet Culture This Year
After tackling her changing body, Katharine MacDonald began actively seeking out more body diversity in her own social media feeds. (Submitted by Katharine MacDonald)

But Topic said she tries not to dismiss weight loss goals altogether. She said she’s noticed “a huge pendulum swing” in the fitness industry away from aesthetic goals to the point where it’s frowned upon to express them at all.

“I try to validate that someone has this goal. And then I just try to challenge,” she said.

Change your social media feed

Being surrounded by images of a slim body type can be difficult if that’s not what you look like.

“As a millennial woman, you know, you grow up with, like, The biggest loser on TV and … sharp images of thinness everywhere you look,” MacDonald said.

If you struggle with diet culture, she recommended looking for more body diversity on social media, which she did several years ago.

“Body types that were taller than mine, more disabled, racialized bodies, like, I just wanted to see more diversity in general, and I felt like that would serve me better.”

Is losing 20 pounds something that will make you happy? Or is it something that is sustainable in the long run?— Amila Topic, owner of Kinetic Fitness

The change has helped her accept her own body and be less judgmental of others.

“When people get the representation they deserve…people are less likely to be judgmental of others,” she said.

Topic, as a fitness business owner, also hopes to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

“Fitness companies and health companies can do a much better job by being more represented on their social media and in their media in general,” she said.

“We definitely belong in the category of companies that could also do better. »

If someone in your life comments about your body, talk to them.

MacDonald said she and her two sisters had a conversation with their mother about how she talks about their bodies.

“We had to kind of say, ‘Listen, we know that when you talk to us about our bodies, it’s coming from a place of love, but it’s also rooted in problematic ideas about the body and health'” MacDonald said.

“‘Even if you want to compliment us on our weight or our appearance, it will still fuel a narrative that, on the whole, our appearance matters and that our appearance matters.'”

At first, her mother had difficulty hearing.

“Having a candid conversation about it might be a little difficult. But I know a lot of my peers, a lot, especially women, in their 20s and 30s, must have had this kind of conversation with their parents,” said Mac Donald. noted.

Disconnecting from dietary culture is a process

This change won’t happen overnight, MacDonald said.

“Understanding how fatphobia or anti-fatphobia seeps into our lives and then…improving acceptance of one’s own body and other bodies is definitely a process,” she said.

“It’s not a quick and easy thing.”

Oyesegun agreed, saying it’s hard to change thought processes.

“It’s difficult, because diet culture has been associated with health for so long.”