Without fail, the most common resolution to make January 1 is “getting healthier.” Which, for most people, means diving into the vast ocean of dieting culture and hopping aboard a new meal plan, program, or gym membership.
January has morphed into a repeating cycle of weight-loss advertisements. Even when you turn away from the media noise, many people in your life will likely be partaking in the annual tradition. Diet culture and its constantly growing industry must be thrilled, looking forward to January as if it’s Christmas.
A quick Google search, and you’ll find over 27 million results for “January weight loss.” All of these different websites giving on advice on what and what not to do with your body, what foods are deemed good or bad, how to “cleanse” and “detox” your body after the holidays.
Advertisers are very aware of what they’re doing to sell you diet culture. Every message and product you see is strategically designed. We’re made to think we really need that new supplement, we really should look like that toned, bikini-clad, Photoshopped model. But we are so used to these influences that we don’t think twice about it. It’s normal to be uncomfortable in your own skin, to want to shrink your waistline.
Diet culture isn’t healthy for anybody, but those with troubled pasts involving food and exercise tend to struggle even more. Using weight-loss and “healthy” buzzwords can trigger damaging thoughts, regardless of how recovered you might be.
At my stage in recovery, I have a newly found anger toward diet culture. I see the same routine of promising unsustainable, quick results, only to yo-yo weeks later. I see the bodies of “success stories” highlighted with little mention of how rare it is for people to be satisfied with themselves or maintain their new physiques.
Just because I’m generally healthy in mind and body doesn’t mean those messages don’t affect me. I still have anxieties and obsessive thoughts that ebb and flow with each passing day. I still have uncertainties if my body seems to feel or look different. I’m still hyper-aware of what’s on my plate and what’s going on in food-related situations.
Diet culture might not inherently drive someone toward disordered eating, but one can easily fall into a restrict-binge cycle and become obsessive about following a plan and keeping track of numbered progress. If you have any past experiences with an eating disorder, please avoid fad diets and seek support if you need it. Heaven knows it’s not easy, but you’re strong and capable enough to resist falling into an addictive diet trap.
What’s important to remember for those of us conscious of these dangerous ideas and passing fads is that they’re not for our health, but for our society’s capitalistic desire for profit. The annual revenue for the diet industry is over $20 billion with well over 100 million people partaking in a new diet every year, each of those people trying up to different plans to keep off the weight.
Yes, trends change. We’re seeing more interest in fresh, healthy foods. That means the diet industry is responding accordingly. They’re opting for labels that tote how fresh their ingredients are, that they’re natural, gluten-free, even vegan. Except there’s a huge discrepancy as to what a balanced lifestyle actually looks like, so all of the bombarding us with new language, even if the products themselves still aren’t good for us.
So what can we do to avoid tempting offers of unhealthy New Year’s goals?
1. Face and accept reality.
Health doesn’t take shortcuts. One diet and one lifestyle doesn’t fit all. Your body won’t ever look exactly like somebody else’s. A single photo doesn’t accurately portray somebody’s well-being. Advertising doesn’t tell the full story, nor does it describe the repercussions of certain products and services. Any type of progress doesn’t occur overnight. Flashy slogans and designs can place rose-colored shades in our vision, but it’s important to be confident in what we already know and seek objective information.
2. Make goals not based on your body/weight.
If you want to lead a more plant-based lifestyle this year, go for it, but have a reason for doing so that doesn’t involve losing weight or looking a certain way. Be more consistent with exercising because it makes you feel good, not to reach a certain number on the scale. Also, don’t forget that your health is much more than the exterior: focus attention on your mental, emotional, and social health to find fulfillment in other aspects of your life.
3. Celebrate what you already have.
Our bodies are such precious gifts that diet culture makes us take for granted. Cheesy as it can feel, words of affirmation expressing gratitude for our bodies can make a huge difference. Remind yourself of your health, your ability to experience life and all it offers, your functioning organs. Our bodies were intricately designed to serve as temples for our souls. Rather than accepting societal norms, let’s accept ourselves as beings that need no adjustment to be worthy and content.
How else can we confront and counter the damaging messages of diet culture?
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie