When diet-culture is normalized

A really important thing to remember in recovery is that a lot of people engage in some disordered behavior. And it can be hard to focus on recovery and work towards health when other people *still* are losing weight, engaging in dieting behaviors, and even focusing on things like calories and macros.

It can feel unfair–and it might feel like you’re swimming upstream, because you are.

A lot of people in our society focus on their appearance, their weight, their shape, their food, and their exercise. People are so obsessed with these things, really, that it almost seems normal to be focusing on this stuff!

One thing I think is really helpful for my clients and people in recovery to do is to start noticing the disordered comments that people make. At first it might feel triggering and scary to do this, but the more we pick up on these things and begin to notice how often they’re woven into our thoughts and conversations, the easier it can be to start challenging them.

I’ve written a lot of posts before about how to respond to friends or family when they make disordered comments, but I think that the first step is just opening up our ears to really listen for these disordered comments.

In my own journey to being recovered, I’ve learned so much about diet-culture and how to steer clear of it, and I’m always amazed at how my view of these comments has changed. I used to not think twice about those “I just have to go to the gym” comments, but now I hear things that are even more subtle and I’m appalled at how devoted we are in our culture to perpetuating unhealthy dieting and disordered eating.

One of the most subtle examples I can think of off the top of my head is the recent group of Panera commercials that label their food as “clean,” and then they throw in something about “food as it should be.”

These types of statements are so readily accepted by our culture, and the clean eating movement is perhaps one of the most widely accepted forms of disordered eating and restrictive dieting.

My goal in bringing this up is to help people realize that diet culture is so intrinsically tied to our existence on this planet–it’s so deeply woven into our experience that we often don’t even see it.

Writing that makes me think about two ways to understand what I’m talking about. You know those Febreeze commercials where they talk about going nose blind? They use examples of a teenage boy’s dirty bedroom, or a couch that a dog sleeps on. When we’re so used to things, it can be hard to even notice they’re there. When we’re so used to the smell of our pet’s favorite couch, we won’t even smell it anymore.

There’s another thing that I think illustrates what I’m talking about. I had a professor in undergrad who once shared a Sufi quote, and it went something like this: “fish are the last creatures on earth to discover water.”

The point of that quote is that we don’t always notice the things that we’re surrounded by because we’re so used to them. That’s how I feel about diet culture: sometimes it’s hard to even notice it because it is everywhere!


My point in all of this is that recognizing the unhealthy and disordered comments that people make is the first step towards challenging these ideas and moving away from diet culture. When I heard people make these comments, I typically respond with some nutrition facts about how our body digests and processes all foods the same (unless we have an allergy to them), or I share some of the things I’ve learned working as a therapist for people with eating disorders.

It’s no easy feat to hear these comments and let them roll off your back, but awareness leads to action. If you’re not comfortable speaking up about these comments, at least you can have an inner monologue of why the comment is unhealthy.

Sometimes I’m in a situation where I either feel it’s not my place to speak up, or it doesn’t seem like it would be helpful. When that’s the case, my inner monologue looks something like this:

Person: I don’t eat X because X is so unhealthy for you!

Me: Whoaaaaaaa, diet culture alert! *Some type of run through of why this comment is false or rooted in diet culture* I feel bad that this person believes that X is a bad food. Too bad they don’t know that all food are healthy and that our bodies are smart enough to handle any and all foods we give them!

To me, having compassion for someone can help me feel less angry by someone’s disordered comment. It’s easy to get caught up in the fear of judgment, “well if this person thinks X is bad, what will they think if they see me eating X?” But if we take a pause and realize that this person is still acting from a disordered place, it’s suddenly easier to feel confident in our own actions that come from a place of recovery.

It might always bother you to hear people say disordered things, but recognizing these comments as we all continue to learn about diet culture is a great way to eventually move towards distancing ourselves from these harmful beliefs.

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