6 ways to recognize and challenge diet culture this year

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

Many of these messages stem from what is known as diet culture.

Amira Oisegon, a recent UPEI Food and Nutrition graduate and a Dietitian-in-training on PEI, said:

Princess Oisegon says that among clients in their nutritional niches, many see weight loss as the answer to their health problems, even when it isn’t. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

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

So how can we better recognize and challenge diet culture?

Seeing it for what it is

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

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

They said the diet culture shows up in every client they have, even people whose health issues aren’t related to weight loss.

“They still think losing weight is the answer. Losing weight isn’t necessarily the answer to all health problems.”

Amila Tobik, personal trainer and owner of Kinetic Fitness in Charlottetown, stretches with her five-year-old son Jenson. (submitted by amila your topic)

Catherine MacDonald first started looking at the body positivity and counter-diet culture movement after a stillbirth in 2013.

“It was a rather traumatic experience, and it made a difference in my body,” said MacDonald, who is originally from Charlottetown and now lives in Halifax.

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

I just started choosing to use media that felt representative to me…body types that were bigger than my own, more people with disabilities, and their bodies are racist.– Catherine MacDonald

Advertisers are getting better at trying to sell diet culture “under the guise of health and wellness,” MacDonald said.

“But in the end, if it’s all about losing weight…it’s still rooted primarily in the fight against obesity.”

Consider mental health when setting goals

Oyesegun reminds clients to be self-compassionate.

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

“If you force yourself and starve yourself to be in a smaller body and your mental health isn’t doing well, you’re not healthy overall.”

Topic tries to encourage its clients to consider sustainable health goals other than weight loss. (submitted by amila your topic)

It’s something Amila Tobik, personal trainer, thinks about.

“We need to look at the whole person, their mental and emotional as well as physical well-being,” said Topek, who is also the owner of Kinetic Fitness in Charlottetown.

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

“With these two changes, to make positive, long-lasting changes in a person’s life, we also need to consider their work and life stressors, how much sleep they get, and what their personal lives are like,” she said.

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

Why is weight loss a goal?

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

She said, “I like to ask, is losing 20 pounds something that makes you feel happy? Or is this something long-term sustainable?”

It encourages its clients to consider other goals.

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

After struggling with her changing body, Katherine MacDonald actively began searching for a larger group of bodies in her social media feeds. (Provided by Catherine MacDonald)

But Tobik said she tries not to rule out weight-loss goals entirely. She said she’s noticed a “huge pendulum swing” in the fitness industry so far from aesthetic goals that it’s reprehensible to articulate them at all.

“I’m trying to prove the fact that someone has that goal. And then I’m trying to question it,” she said.

Change your social media feed

It can be hard to be surrounded by images of one type of skinny body if that’s not what you look like.

“As a millennial woman who, you know, grows up with, The biggest loser MacDonald said:

If you struggle with diet culture, she recommended searching for a variety of bodies on social media, which I did several years ago.

“Body types that were bigger than my body, more people with disabilities, racialized bodies, like, I just wanted to see more diversity in general, and I just felt like that would serve me better.”

Does losing 20 pounds make you feel happier? Or is this something long-term sustainable?– Amila Tobik, owner of Kinetic Fitness

The change helped her accept her own body and reduce judgment of others.

“When people are given the representation they deserve… people are less likely to judge 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 of getting greater representation on their social media and in the media in general,” she said.

“We definitely fall into the category of businesses that could do better as well.”

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

MacDonald said she and her two sisters had a conversation with their mother about the way she talked about their bodies.

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

“Even if you want to compliment us on our weight or our appearance, it still fuels the narrative that how we look in general matters and that our appearance matters.”

At first, her mother found it difficult to listen.

“Having a frank conversation about this can be a little tricky. But I know a lot of my peers, a lot of them, especially women, in their twenties and thirties, have had to have that kind of talk with their parents,” MacDonald said.

Separation from diet culture is a process

MacDonald said that change won’t happen overnight.

“Understanding the way lipophobia or anti-obesity seeps into our lives, and then … improving acceptance of your own body and other bodies is certainly a process,” she said.

“It’s not a quick and easy thing.”

Oyesegun agreed, saying that switching up your thought process is a challenge.

“This is difficult, because diet culture has been associated with health for a long time.”

Leave a Comment