• Finding Your Way Off the Diet Culture Roller Coaster

    Finding Your Way Off the Diet Culture Roller Coaster

    By Ashley Hutchinson, LCSW

    How many Januarys have you spent super motivated for the first two weeks of the New Year to only find yourself standing in your kitchen alone with a pint of ice cream after everyone goes to bed? That warm wave of shame envelops you as you as you ask yourself why you are never “motivated” enough to stick with your diets. The pain of self-loathing now sets in as you take another ride on the binge-eat-then-restrict-your-food intake, theme park ride. If this sounds familiar to you, you are not alone. The psychological hooks of diet culture have taken a toll on the overall health of western society. 

    The first time I became consciously aware that I was riding the diet culture roller coast was after a trip to the mall when I was three months postpartum. I was standing in line with my childhood best friend crying about how much I hated my new body as I bought clothes two sizes bigger than what I had worn before I had my daughter. A small girl around seven years old standing in front of me with her mother turned around to listen to mine and my friend’s conversation. This small girl took in every hateful word I had to say about the body that had just made life. I was horrified. I immediately apologized to her mother for all the things I had said. This girl’s mother ended up being the hero of this story as she extended so much grace to me by saying “Girl, its ok. It gets better. Don’t beat yourself up”. The irony was not lost on me that in this moment a stranger had more compassion for me than I had for myself. 

    Diet culture leads to folks believing that thinness and the consumption of certain foods are connected to one’s morality. Diet culture sends you packing your bags on a guilt trip to blow more money on yet another supplement or diet plan that fails. Diet culture has you using words like good or bad to describe what you eat and obsessing about watching numbers that move up and down on at-home scales. Diet culture pushes you to stare endlessly at the health data your Apple Watch collects throughout the day. The antidote to diet culture is self-compassion and dialectical thinking. A dialectic is two seemingly opposite things that can both be true. You can be both health conscious AND love yourself. You can want to improve your physical health AND care for your mental health, too. You can change the way you speak by describing food in neutral terms versus in all-or-nothing “good or bad”, ones.

    Start this new year by remembering that associating yourself worth with what you eat, obsessing about your clothing size, and binge-eating-then-restricting behavior patterns are something to process and modify with the help of a psychotherapist. Strive for healthy and strong, not “skinny” or “thin” in your conquest for better health. Food is meant to nourish us physically, emotionally, and socially. Food is not to be used as a weapon to beat ourselves up. Invest in your health by scheduling your annual physical, getting that dentist appointment you have been putting off, and by actively looking for a therapist. Thinking dialectically and challenging distorted thoughts related to your health, food, and moving your body is crucial for overall wellbeing.