Why we need to ditch diet culture

In 1863, William Banting invented the first known modern diet: a low-carb plan that prescribed high amounts of fish, mutton, or any other meat (besides pork) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, without sides of potatoes or other common carbohydrates. Our obsession with dieting and weight loss has been ongoing for more than 150 years, with a number of fad diets and ‘lifestyles’ appearing and disappearing over time. Now, there is new kind of movement emerging in direct contradiction of historical precedent: the anti-diet. 

Caroline Dooner’s book, The F*ck it Diet: Eating Should Be Easy (find out more here), is a recent addition in the collection of anti-dieting books and content that discusses the innate failure of diets and the importance of learning to separate our eating habits from feelings of shame, guilt, stupidity, and failure.

Dooner reflects on her experience with diets that might be familiar to a lot of us: the belief that this diet (whichever one it might be) is the one that will work. It will cure you, as Dooner comically describes, “of your weak, human desire for food.” Sometimes, diets do work, for a while at least. Until eventually you fail and start the “binge / repent yo-yo” or “replace it all with another, better diet.”

The overwhelming message here, and it’s something that took me a long time to learn (and something I still need to remind myself of), is that “you aren’t failing the diet; the diet is failing you.”

You aren’t failing the diet; the diet is failing you. 

So, if we accept that this is the case, how do we actually change our behaviour to align with that statement? I’m not a medical professional, so I can’t provide advice on what’s right for you or your body, and if you are suffering from a diagnosed eating disorder, then that requires attention from a qualified professional.

What I’m talking about are the disordered patterns and the negative relationship with food that typically precede a disorder – the behaviours that we inherit (and encourage) from our friends, parents, social media, and other elements of society. For those of us who can identify with any these behaviours or thought patterns, then I think gaining an understanding of why diets will always fail you can be instrumental in overcoming negative messaging and forming a more positive, cohesive relationship with food and with our bodies.

It’s easy to think that diets will deliver a result that fulfills our ‘dream’ of looking a certain way, but most often, says Dooner, the way we look feels like the first, necessary step on a longer, more permanent journey towards achieving our actual dreams and goals, feeding a belief that once you look a certain way, you can finally get started with your real life. 

But again, you aren’t failing the diet; the diet is failing you. Your innate survival response will win every time, and it’s important to learn how to listen to that response and to respect and embrace it. This can take time and a lot of un-learning that is personal and different for everyone, but in this new age of anti-dieting it’s becoming more accessible and easier to talk about.

Tagged in What messes with your head, Wellbeing, health, health and wellbeing, empowerment, food