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Dangers of the Diet Cult(ure)


Last fall I was interviewed by the National Eating Disorders Association in conjunction with an article I wrote for them about holiday eating. It was a brief interview and there wasn’t time for everything I wanted to say. Hence this blog to add to the many other anti-diet blogs I’ve written. 

Diet culture is a cult. It’s a society-approved and encouraged distortion of the purpose of eating primarily for nourishment to survive and secondarily for pleasure. It provides rigid rules to keep people in line and to see food, bodies and themselves as either “good” or “bad.” It exclusively values thin, lean and toned bodies and eating restrictively. 

If you follow diet culture rules, it promises good health, happiness, lovability, cultural approval, and self-worth. If you don’t follow the rules, it suggests you’ll end up with poor health, no control over your eating, unworthiness, and being an outcast in society. It teaches that how we look is more important than who we are and that weight, not appetite or nutrition, determines what we should eat. That’s, pardon the expression, ass backwards with the caboose (weight) moving the engine (food) forward instead of the other way around.

We develop not only eating disorders from subscribing to the diet cult, but disorders of the self. Chronic weight-loss diets stunt emotional growth as we develop anorexia, binge-eating, bulimia, body dysmorphia, exercise addiction, or other sub-types of eating disorders. By over-focusing on eating restrictively and perfecting our bodies, we miss out on regulating our emotions more effectively than by exerting control over appetite and making our bodies perfect. In sum, we lose all sense of proportion and in the process practically insure that we’ll never be physically or emotionally healthy.

Fortunately, we can turn all that around and head in a positive direction simply by leaving diet cult. This means stopping dieting forever, giving up diet and body talk, ending the quest to eat perfectly and have a perfect body, saying goodbye to diet cult connections (unless they’re also willing to leave the cult) and finding people who are into intuitive and mindful eating, emotional healing and growth, and true self-care.

We can learn about body positivity and neutrality, enter therapy or join a support group, work with a registered dietician, resolve trauma and adverse childhood events that have kept us stuck, involve family members (or not) in recovery, and learn life skills for “normal” eating. The first step is leaving diet culture behind.