Every New Year, we are flooded with diet culture marketing, imploring us to shrink our bodies in the name of “healthy” living. Let’s begin rejecting the diet culture mentality.
By Dalia Kinsey
Diet culture: a toxic belief system that exclusively links thinness to desirability, worthiness, healthiness and morality.
Every year the U.S. diet industry uses shame and body hatred to generate over 70 billion dollars in profit. Diet culture thrives on the assumption that some bodies are better than others, elevating white, thin, cis, het, able-bodied folks over everyone else. Like clockwork every New Year, we are flooded with marketing predicated on the assumption that we are somehow deficient. Rather than allowing yourselves to be used as a commodity in 2021 and beyond, I encourage everyone to opt out of participating in your own exploitation.
Diet culture cannot exist without the thin ideal at its core, and this thin ideal is rooted in white supremacy. In Fearing the Black Body, Sabrina Strings tell us that this thin standard originates from the eurocentric beauty aesthetics of the 17th century. During the transatlantic slave trade, racist “science” was used to identify traits of “inferior” and “superior” humans. The racist claim that Black people are given to excess and suffer from poor impulse control, in relation to both sexual pleasure and food, continues to be a popular tenant of anti-Blackness.
Diet culture was never meant to serve Black people, because diet culture was created as a direct result of anti-Black fatphobia. It is a tool of oppression and, as such, can not contribute to health promotion for us. The good news is that we don’t need diets or external guidance on how to care for ourselves. Nature and our ancestors have blessed us with internal wisdom to nourish ourselves properly.
White supremacy and food elitism
Pleasure is a reliable guide, a powerful communication tool that our bodies use to tell us we are doing the right thing. There are several examples of nature using a pleasurable response to encourage us to do something fundamental for the survival of the species. We don’t have to worry about the human population dwindling to nothing because the “work” of procreating largely comes with pleasurable feedback. That is no accident. Pleasure is one of nature’s favorite cues. We can tap into this natural resource and allow ourselves to be guided to what, when, and how much we should be eating. The first bite of a slice of sweet potato pie is hands down the best. Being overly full at a cookout is pure misery. Learning how to eat in the way that is most pleasurable to you is both delicious and health promoting.
The belief that nature and the body cannot be trusted and that there are “good” and “bad” foods is fundamentally rooted in white supremacy. Buying into the belief that some foods are better than others puts up a barrier to developing a nurturing relationship with food. For instance, canned foods and frozen foods that are more likely to be within reach for folks with inconsistent access to food are not inferior to “fresh” foods. Canning is a safe, hundreds year old practice and frozen foods are picked at the peak of freshness before being flash frozen. Classist rankings of foods are a barrier to the pursuit of wellness for many BIPOC.
Elitism is rife in wellness circles, leading many people to feel that eating well is too expensive when in reality rice and beans continue to be affordable and incredibly nutritious. Simple, inexpensive foods that your grandparents would recognize may require more time to prepare but are more affordable than beautifully packaged items that are heavily marketed as healthy. Contrary to what diet culture says, it is actually far more important to have adequate calories than it will ever be to have organic calories. Demonizing conventional produce doesn’t support the health of food insecure households. Food insecurity is exceedingly common in the US and this year in particular has dramatically increased.
Collaborating, sharing, and addressing food insecurity as a community is a solution many Black community leaders have been exploring for years. While the levels of oppression that make people vulnerable to food insecurity are complex and difficult to untangle, there are community level organizations attempting to do just that. Connecting with local and national groups that are dedicated to helping at-risk communities develop agricultural skills that are meant to increase autonomy and create sustainable solutions to food insecurity is a great way to join the fight against hunger. Working class people tend to be short on time but crowdsourcing ideas and bringing your creativity into problem solving is the greatest approach to overcoming these very real hurdles.
RECOMMENDED: Food Insecurity, Anti-Blackness, and Fatphobia: What Food Access Advocates Need To Understand
How to Escape the Diet Trap
If you have a history of dieting, you will immediately find yourself bumping up against resistance to the idea of trusting your body, and fear of weight gain.
Don’t judge yourself for wanting to change your body. Weight stigma is real. It is natural to want to avoid being stigmatized but I assure you that your body is not the problem you have been told it is.
You are enough. You don’t need to be a certain body size to be worthy of love and affection. Your existence is proof of your worthiness. Fear of unworthiness is a tool that toxic capitalism uses to keep you off balance, always willing to buy solutions that promise to ‘fix’ you. You don’t need fixing. All bodies are good bodies. Your body is full of natural and ancestral wisdom that can guide you to balance without external intervention. Diet culture is the problem here. Diet culture undermines your belief in your own ability to care for yourself and tears down your belief in your inherent worthiness. You haven’t failed on previous diets and you don’t need to try to find the right ‘lifestyle’ change this year. Dieting has failed you because dieting is trash.
Diets are notorious for yielding temporary results, triggering weight cycling, and long term weight gain. This is by design. The diet industry never has had any interest in helping you. Dieting is both physically and psychologically damaging and is only propagated as a health promotion tool for the sake of profit. As a queer, black Registered Dietitian I refuse to even tacitly participate in a system that profits off of human suffering and reinforces racist myths about superior body types.
The toll that diet culture takes on queer BIPOC is particularly obscene because of the false hope it holds out for improved health outcomes. Learning to ignore your body and suppress your appetite will not heal you. So many of the negative health outcomes that Black folx and people of color suffer from can be attributed to stress related to systemic oppression. Eating an apple a day will not shield you from the beating that high levels of chronic stress gives the body. I can drink green smoothies day in and day out but my blood pressure will still spike when I see state sanctioned violence against black and brown bodies on the news. You can’t green smoothie the stress of racism away and it is gross to blame people that are being subjected to additional environmental stress for negative health outcomes.
Being in a larger body is not a disease state. Racism, however is a public health crisis that surprise, surprise the dominant culture has zero interest in battling. Afterall who would profit from the dissolution of systemic oppression? Can you generate 70+ billion in the fight against racism, homophobia, and all forms of systemic oppression? Remember that anything that is prolific in the west exists because it is generating profit for someone. You already know this. Fatphobic messaging and healthism is pervasive but don’t believe the hype. Higher body weight does not explain gaps in health disparities nearly as well as racism and systemic oppression. Diet culture remains true to its roots and continues to be a tool for systemic oppression, blaming the individual consumer for poor health outcomes and absolving the dominant culture from its role in undermining the health of folx of color.
Believe me when I tell you your body is doing the absolute best it can to support you. Please listen to your body. Feed your body when it is hungry. If your connection to your body has been disrupted by chronic dieting or previous trauma don’t worry, you can lean gently into rebuilding your connection with your hunger cues. Body lead or intuitive eating doesn’t require perfection. The goal is to give yourself as much pleasure as possible when you eat, enjoying what you want, in the quantities that you want, whenever you please. The biggest obstacle to making body lead eating a habit is fatphobia. That is something you’ll have to give yourself time to work through considering that it is everywhere you turn. Be leery of ‘body positive’ resources that continually present white, cis, het, relatively small, able -bodied women as standard. Intersectional women of color like Sonja Renee Taylor and Jessamyn Stanley both have a wonderful presence on social media that truly celebrate diversity in the human form, free from fat phobia. Start to seek out people doing aligned work and fill your social media feed with images that support the belief that all bodies are good bodies and slowly you’ll begin to resolve your entrenched internalized fatphobia.
Be kind to yourself. Trust your body, heal your relationship with food, and avoid the diet trap this year.
Dalia Kinsey, RD, LD (she/they) is a queer and genderfluid decolonized wellness and body image coach and creator of the Body Liberation for All podcast https://anchor.fm/bodyliberation , a show dedicated to amplifying the health and happiness of QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) folx. On their mission to spread joy and eliminate health disparities, they reject diet culture and teach people to use nutrition and pleasure as self-care and personal empowerment tools. Their work can be accessed on YouTube, Instagram, and their personal website.
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