Diet culture has gone too far

The dangers of diet culture


Collegian File Photo

By Emma Garber, Assistant Op/Ed Editor

My Instagram Explore feed is full of content warning me to avoid overeating. I went out to eat for dinner and the calories were listed on the menu. In the dining hall, little green bars tell me which foods are smart choices. Everywhere I turn, there is evidence of our culture’s obsession with dieting.

This diet culture is based on our obsession with body image and encompasses the glorification of thinness and the never-ending path towards “the perfect body”. As a result, obsessive dieting, food restriction and calorie counting are seen as completely normal, even encouraged. Many may not see the harm in this, especially given the recent surge of obesity in America. Some may classify dieting as a proactive solution to combating unhealthy lifestyles. However, it’s important to question the underlying assumption that obsessing over food equates to living a healthy lifestyle. This is not true.

There is countless research showing that restrictive dieting is a leading cause of eating disorders. A study of 14 and 15-year-olds found that dieting was the main predictor of developing an eating disorder, with extreme dieters being 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who do not diet. According to the Nationals Eating Disorder Association, “The best-known environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders is the sociocultural idealization of thinness.” Subsequently, restriction often leads to binging. Girls with a dieting history are 12 times more likely to binge, and 95 percent of dieters will regain their weight in the span of five years. Research aside, diet culture shames bodies that do not fit the norm and glorifies obsessive behavior.

Recently, our obsession surrounding food has gone too far. This summer, Weight Watchers released Kurbo by WW, an app that allows children as young as eight to set weight loss goals and then track their daily consumption. Children can choose from a variety of goals, including “Lose weight”, “Make parents happy”, and “Boost my confidence”. The app sorts each food into three categories: green, yellow and red. The objective is to limit one’s consumption of the dreaded red foods, including whole milk, peanut butter and most sweet treats. We are teaching children that eating is a competition, with points, goals, winners and losers. That chocolate chip cookie they ate at their friend’s house is something they should feel guilty about. If they want to “make Mom and Dad proud” they should lose weight. We are implementing in their brains that there is something wrong with them, that they should strive to “feel better in their clothes” at eight years old.

There are a few things we must realize. First, being healthy and being thin are not synonyms. Thinness is a superficial label that encourages body dysmorphia and unrealistic body expectations. Furthermore, being thin and being happy are similarly not synonymous.

Second, diet culture does not care about the consumer. Fad diets are constantly evolving and reinventing the rules of what is healthy or toxic so quickly that it is impossible to keep up. A few years ago, almonds were considered a healthy alternative as a snack. Now? Almonds are high in calories and therefore should be consumed sparingly.

Obviously, we should be encouraging healthy lifestyles. There is no denying that many people need help maintaining healthy, active lifestyles, and that many Americans are at risk of Type II Diabetes or Heart Disease as a result of their weights. But obesity does not exist in a vacuum. There are countless factors that influence one’s weight, including one’s socioeconomic status. Low-income neighborhoods are ripe with food deserts, areas in which access to whole foods is a rarity. Foods high in salt and sugar are cheaper and more accessible, making it easier to gain weight when these foods are one’s only option. Perhaps instead of encouraging food restriction, we should be ensuring that everyone has access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

We treat gaining weight like the plague, as if the worst thing that could happen to us is gaining a few pounds. As a result, we shame ourselves for eating that extra donut at work, we assign points to food and worry that yogurt has too many calories in it. Rather than focus on losing weight, we should focus on living healthy, fulfilling lifestyles.

Emma Garber is an Assistant Op/Ed Editor and can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @EmmaGarber1.