We live in a diet-obsessed culture. We see it everywhere. From TV shows like The Biggest Loser to social media posts of celebrities telling us how to lose weight just like they did (mm-hmm). But such extreme and unnatural actions as perpetuated by the diet culture are not the way to a truly healthful or sustainable lifestyle.
The diet culture and I used to be besties…I mean frenemies
By diet culture, I mean the collective mindset that thinness is to be attained at almost any cost. To be fat is a moral no-no, while a thin body represents one’s goodness, responsibility, and willpower. The diet culture says that thinness carries more value for a human being, while those in larger bodies just have not “yet” met the required standard of importance. While most of these themes are unspoken, even unrecognized, they really do drive commerce, social media, and perception. This is the culture we live in, and it has wreaked havoc.
I’ve seen my share of diets come and go, and I’ve participated in them more times than I can remember. Or want to remember. Over the decades, I have become far too familiar with the weight loss pursuit and fad diets. Some seemed okay, others absurd, but all of them were ultimately unsustainable for the long haul. You can read more about my story here.
Unfortunately, the diet culture has extended its reach everywhere. Even in our own homes, there may be shelves filled with expensive fad foods that are supposed to help with weight loss. Almost everyone I know, myself included for most of my life, strives for thinness, or at least losing “just a few more pounds.” And this is just as true in the church as it is in the world (me again!). I suppose that’s why I always thought this constant diet…lose weight…gain weight…diet again cycle was just the normal price of being an American woman. Even a Christian one. But as it turned out, this was actually a form of disordered eating and represents disordered goals.
I want to help you look past the curtain so that perhaps you can escape this diet culture sooner than I did. Oy vey!
Take the red pill
If you’ve seen the movie The Matrix, you understand where I’m going here. In the movie, the main character was given the option of seeing the unveiled reality of life by swallowing a red pill. Alternatively, he could opt for a blue pill, leaving him in his blissfully ignorant state.
The analogy doesn’t work perfectly here because in the movie, the red pill brought trouble and angst along with the revelation of truth. In contrast, the blue pill left a person in their contented, but phony, life.
In the realm of diet culture, however, staying bound up in the typical diet obsession does NOT produce blissful peace and contentedness. Instead, it often brings failure, shame, and despair. In addition, the “red pill” of seeing behind the curtain, though initially challenging, can bring a world of freedom and healing.
This is particularly true for Christians who never needed such restrictions and rules to achieve value, belonging, and hope in the first place (Mt. 10:31; 1 Pet. 2:9; Rom. 15:13)! Joy, self-control, and peace are the fruit of the Spirit working in us (Gal. 5:22-23), not the results of unrealistic rules and self-imposed punishments. And they are certainly not the result of achieving a particular body size or shape.
It is as we respond to the gospel in repentance and forgiveness, putting off sins, putting on righteous behaviors, and living by complete dependence on the Lord that the peace, joy, and contentment we crave will form in us. This is sanctification.
God created our bodies with incredible and purposeful specificity and precision. We should take care of them just out of gratitude! However, the most popular ways of caring for our physical bodies promoted in the diet culture may be unhelpful and even problematic.
The diet culture is likely making you UNhealthy!
There are several reasons that in striving for health, the common methods promoted everywhere can lead to just the opposite.
First, in automatically equating health with weight loss (as the diet culture does), many people attempt to reach a body shape and size that is just not natural, or even possible, for them. This leads to frustration, guilt, and despair when they fail to reach their goal weight or lose the weight only to gain it back again.
This “weight cycling” may carry some physical and mental consequences, some of which can be quite harmful.1,2 This cycle repeats over and again, which could make matters worse.
Second, food restriction doesn’t usually equal health. It doesn’t even guarantee you’ll lose the extra fat you are desperate to be rid of. What a rip-off! While extreme calorie restriction helps you drop unwanted pounds initially, it could alter your body in a way you probably weren’t hoping for.
Not all weight loss efforts are helpful…or true
To be clear, I haven’t been talking about sensible, sustainable eating behaviors that allow us to nourish our bodies well and sufficiently. I also am not saying that weight loss (AFTER a disordered eating mindset is dealt with) cannot bring health benefits. Indeed, risk factors for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other health issues are often lessened by losing a few pounds. What I am specifically referring to is the abundance of fad diets pumped out ad nauseam on every social media outlet every day, and the importance placed on them. These practices very often carry little understanding of biology or physiology and evidence is lacking, if it is alluded to at all.
If we aren’t being sold a very low-calorie diet (I’m looking at you, HCG!), we are given unnatural and excessive eating rules to follow. Trying to live with such restrictions is like trying to hold a basketball underwater. It takes so much power to fight our natural forces that eventually the strength to fight gives out.
In other words,
- Common food restrictions and deprivations cannot help us control our cravings and desires (Col. 2:20),
- In general, weight loss achieved at the beginning of a diet does not last in the majority of cases3
- Unless there are medical reasons for restrictions (in which case they are helpful), strict rule-led eating and the desperation to lose weight often do not improve our overall health and wellbeing.
The third problem with diet culture is that there are so many different diets out there today. It’s just too confusing for the busy person to sort through and understand them. There are low carb diets, high protein diets, vegan diets, paleo diets, intermittent fasting diets, ketogenic diets, etc., etc., etc. While each one may have its pros, as a dietitian, I can tell you they can each have significant cons.
And finally, the biggest problem with being swept up in the diet culture is Christian-specific. This mindset keeps our eyes on the wrong target and fills our hearts with priorities that are superficial and temporary (compare to Mt. 6:33). We should be the most joyful and content people on earth. And we just cannot be part of a culture that measures a person’s worth based on appearance (1 Sam. 16:7).
And really, so what if I don’t look like I did when I was 18…or 25…or 35…or…nunya? So what if I never looked and will never look the way our secular culture is demanding I do? When I was trying to meet those standards, what kind of life goals was I setting, anyway? I thank and praise God that, once again, He pulled me from the pit.
So I should never try to lose weight?
Why, I’m glad you asked!
Like many other things in life, weight loss absolutely has its place. I don’t want to leave you with the idea that either the desire to lose weight or efforts to do so are bad, dangerous, wicked, or fruitless.
It is the METHOD of weight loss most commonly used – and the mindset behind it – that I am trying to dethrone. Weight loss can be a very good and healthful thing IF it is done in a sustainable, unextreme way, which does not drag your mind and heart into obsession over body size or despair when your body looks different than what you see on social media. That is the balance that is often missing from diet culture.
Just take one step today…
Escaping the diet culture isn’t something you can do in a day. Or a weekend. Not usually in a month, even. It is so deeply ingrained in most of us that I just want you to begin with one thing.
I want you only to consider what I have said here. That’s all. That’s enough.
The red pill takes some contemplation and prayer. You will likely want to argue with me – and that’s okay. You will probably have a few inner battles – and that’s okay, too! If you come to recognize some wrong and temporal priorities in your heart, as I did, there is a Savior ready to hear your repentance and cleanse you (1 Jn. 1:9)!
I will share plenty of information with you through this blog, the website, and other resources (such as a free ebook you can claim HERE). And if you choose to work directly with me, we will walk together through a plan tailored to help you escape this diet culture and grow in true health and true freedom.
If you desire this option, schedule a free online consultation using the big orange button below!
- Rhee EJ. Weight cycling and its cardiometabolic impact. J Obes Metab Syndr. 2017;26(4):237-242. https://doi.org/10.7570/jomes.2017.26.4.237.
- Oh TJ, Moon JH, Choi SH, et al. Body-weight fluctuation and incident diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, and mortality: a 16-year prospective cohort study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2019;104(3):639-646. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2018-01239
- Hall KD, Kahan, S. Maintenance of lost weight and long-term management of obesity. Med Clin North Am. 2019;102(1), 183-197. doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012