Anti-Diet Culture is touted as the solution to Diet Culture, but is it helping or hurting us? Are websites like this one that provide recipes and meal plans for keto and other diets part of the problem? IS dieting inherently bad for us? Let’s discuss.
I don’t usually do these kind of opinion posts, but I want to “weigh” in (sorry) and also get your opinion on the debate about anti-diet culture that always peaks around this time of year.
After being called out on Instagram by someone for promoting “diet culture” when I posted about my 5 Day Soup Diet this morning, I asked myself honestly if there is anything unhealthy (mentally, emotionally, physically) about promoting or using a plan like Squeaky Clean Keto, Whole30, the Egg Fast (or any diet plan) to lose weight after indulging.
According to the woman who commented on my IG this morning saying she was “not ok with this post,” I was “promoting an ideal” to lose weight “via glorified restriction.” Also that I was not “empowering women to accept themselves” and that I need to “do better for our kids who internalize these messages of diet culture.”
That’s a lot of accountability to assign to someone who is simply sharing a free meal plan for people (and not just women by the way) who want to lose a few pounds.
She obviously feels strongly about it, as do many others. But does anti-diet culture really solve the problem of diet culture?
Before I could answer that – I did a little research into what diet culture and anti diet culture even mean. There is a lot of info out there, and honestly it seems to be subjective depending on who is explaining it, but here it is in simple terms.
What are diet culture and anti-diet culture?
Diet culture is a term that refers mostly to beliefs that slim bodies are more acceptable and attractive and healthy than fat bodies, and that those social norms, perpetuated by the media, are what motivate people to punish themselves via guilt, denial, dieting, and/or over-exercising to achieve the “ideal” body and gain acceptance.
Anti-Diet Culture promotes not conforming to the belief of an ideal body size, and in defiance of that belief to not “diet” or restrict calories, food groups, or portion sizes in any way – but rather to intuitively let your body tell you what it needs to be it’s healthiest self.
Naturally, this raises some questions.
- Is going on a “diet” really self-punishment for the yummy things you ate that led to some unwanted weight gain – and are we even allowed to call it “unwanted” weight?
- Does dieting mean that you are buying into the idea that women have to look a certain way or be a certain weight to be attractive or worthwhile?
- Is going on a temporary diet to reduce your weight (for whatever your personal reasons are) an inherently bad thing?
In my opinion the answer to all of these is no.
I strongly believe that actively managing your body weight isn’t wrong, and that it is all about checks and balances in a similar way to managing your money. When you go on a spending spree it’s fun while it lasts, and then reality hits that you are broke (or at a balance below your comfort level) and you have to tighten up a bit until your bank account recovers.
You don’t decide that being broke or in debt is your right, and continue to spend however you want to because of some imagined “poor” culture.
We don’t vilify having money, and normalize being poor to make ourselves feel better about overspending and not adjusting to whatever our personal financial situation is.
That would be unreasonable and even delusional. The facts are, if we don’t live within our personal means eventually we’ll end up bankrupt, or at least in a situation that causes a lot of anxiety and unhappiness.
In that scenario, if you want to course-correct you have two choices – earn more money to support your spending habits (I realize this isn’t as simple as it sounds for a lot of reasons when it comes to actual money, but bear with me for the purpose of this analogy), or adjust your spending to meet what your current income is.
I propose that dieting is no different. Whether you make a big purchase (a few weeks of overindulgence) and need to tighten up a bit (a short plan to lose those pounds), or you’ve really been off the rails for awhile (hello pandemic weight that is still hanging around 🙋🏼♀️) and need to make some longer term eating adjustments – the checks and balances principle applies.
Maybe, instead of cutting spending, you increase your “income” by exercising and burning more calories so that you can afford to consume more, while still maintaining a positive balance.
Conversely, if you don’t check yourself at all, and simply justify it as abandoning diet culture, empowering women in larger bodies, intuitive eating, food freedom, or whatever is trending at the moment – then you may feel good about that for awhile, but eventually if you aren’t applying some checks and balances to your own eating, you will find yourself in a place you aren’t happy with physically.
And your satisfaction over championing those ideals will be small consolation when you are personally facing the challenges that come with weight gain and other potential health consequences of eating whatever you want for an extended period of time.
Our bodies are like a bank account – and the balance is different for everyone. As someone who has always struggled with my weight, I am a low earner – I can’t afford to “shop” like my account is fat – because inevitably I will be.
I have learned this the hard way, and am back to tightening the calorie/carb belt yet again in an effort to get back to a healthier weight that’s more comfortable for me.
Other people are “making it rain,” and seem to have unlimited spending potential – they can eat whatever they want and maintain a healthy weight. It’s maddening for those of us in a different “class”, but undeniably true.
We can rail about how unfair it is, blame fit people for “perpetuating the problem,” chalk it up to media for stigmatizing being fat – but none of that is going to change the fact that if your goal is to be fit and healthy, then you need to observe the checks and balances and manage your own personal account – whatever its limitations.
Which means if you choose to indulge and it results in some weight gain, if you aren’t happy with that and want to lose the weight, you’ll have to put yourself in a deficit until you do.
It’s not punishment, it’s balance.
I feel that I can speak to this with some credibility because I gave it a go during the pandemic – I “listened to my body” and “honored my cravings” as was recommended by so many influencers on social media who have abandoned “diet culture” in favor of intuitive eating.
It was easier than staying keto and saying no to foods I enjoyed – and instead of feeling guilty about it I felt righteous. I bought into the idea that if I just stopped the cycle of dieting and then indulging and the guilt that came with it, that my body would eventually even out and naturally regulate itself to a healthy weight that was effortless to maintain.
But that’s not what happened.
I slowly but steadily gained weight. I wasn’t binging, but I wasn’t tracking, and I wasn’t limiting – I ate what my body told me it wanted – sometimes salad, sometimes pasta, sometimes fruit, sometimes pizza.
I didn’t like that I was gaining, but I was assured by all these ant-diet culture people online that you just have to hang in there and it will eventually work.
Fast forward to about a year later and lo and behold, anti dieting never led to some metabolic miracle where I didn’t have to put conscious effort into maintaining a healthy weight – instead I was saddled with even more weight than I started with.
And I wasn’t willing to wait another year and possibly another 30-50 pounds gained to see if it would finally start working.
It wasn’t really a surprise in hindsight – from the moment I hit puberty I had to work hard to keep weight off. It’s my reality – no matter what the internet or popular opinion says.
But I believed it because I wanted to believe it.
So called intuitive eating let me off the hook, and I could finally just eat what I wanted to eat and everything would be ok. I could achieve a healthy weight without even trying. Because that’s the promise. That your body will default to its healthiest self on its own.
But it’s a beautiful lie for most of us.
And based on how much my website traffic has shot up in the last few days, I’m likely not the only one who fell for it and is returning to keto or whatever other plan we’ve used in the past to manage our weight when we knew and accepted that it was a fact of life.
So what’s the takeaway?
Saying no to yourself when your body is telling you it “needs” that cookie (and then next thing you know it was actually 5 or 10 cookies) is sometimes a good thing. It’s called restraint and self discipline.
Anti-diet culture tells us that food “guilt” is bad and unhealthy, but the fact is, how you feel about what you eat is irrelevant to the chemistry of weight gain. Feeling guilty about eating 10 cookies versus not feeling guilty about it does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
The word guilt has a negative connotation, and yes, unhealthy guilt can be debilitating if it denotes failure or self-condemnation in the extreme. But some synonyms for guilt are also “responsibility” and “answerability” and that is an appropriate application here.
If that “answerability” or awareness of the cause and effect of over-indulging a bit motivates you to go for a walk or take the stairs to burn those extra calories, then how that NOT a good thing?
Maybe, rejecting that “guilt” because it’s seen as punishing yourself – and believing your body will somehow be sad about it and react negatively, is really just a rationalization for not holding yourself accountable.
I said what I said.
I realize that the notable exception to this would be someone who has struggled with eating disorders who could be at risk when engaging on a limiting eating plan. The very real issues that they are dealing with are not at all what I’m talking about here.
So is it wrong for me to be posting diet plans on my website and social media which could trigger someone vulnerable to unhealthy habits?
I thought a lot about that, and in the end I believe the answer is no. I’m not responsible for someone’s actions regarding eating habits any more than a blogger who posts photos of a delicious cocktail is responsible if it triggers a recovering alcoholic to have a drink.
But maybe I’m rationalizing because I make my living providing keto recipes and meal plans to the public. Can I really be objective on this?