The Face of Diet Culture: The 10 Year Challenge

The 10 year challenge shines a light on how much we as individuals have changed but how much has the face of diet culture changed in the last 10 years? In 2009, the same year that I left home to go to fashion school in London, starving yourself skinny was still cool. The severity of health implications related to the thin ideal came to a spearhead in 2006 when fashion model Luisel Ramos collapsed and died whilst participating in a fashion show. She died from heart failure related to malnutrition and ultimately anorexia. 6 months later her sister, Eliana Ramos who was also a model died due to complications related to malnutrition and anorexia nervosa. The same year, Ana Carolina Reston, a Brazilian fashion model also died due to complications from Anorexia Nervosa. The size 0 debate was started and the fashion world came under the spotlight – and this wasn’t a case of any press is good press. Many government and health bodies made the call for a minimum BMI requirement to be implemented for all models participating in fashion week events. In research links were drawn between the portrayal of excessively thin bodies as desirable, and the social pressures this placed on women to conform [2]. Size 0 was sold to us and we bought it with dire consequences: thin was in.

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During my 2 years at fashion school I remember hearing club kids talking about how many drugs they were doing and how long they’d managed to not eat for, with the aid of said drugs. Cheekbones and collar bones were in, even if that meant looking gaunt.With the rise of mephedrone at the time whilst it was legal, this wasn’t a difficult feat to be achieved. There were numerous times people weren’t in the studio from dealing with the aftermath of having taken mephedrone (Meow meow/Mcat) [3]. In fact, gaunt was good and not eating was cool. Some tutors would joke about how the cheesy carb fest the canteen was bad for your waistline. Thin was in at whatever cost, health was out.

Needless to say, in this environment I relapsed into my eating disorder and I relapsed hard. At my lowest weight, whilst I was an outpatient at an Eating Disorder Service I received the most praise for my appearance I have ever received to date: “you’re so beautiful”, “how do you do it?”, and on Facebook photos, “OMG gorgeous

This trend is evident beyond the realms of my fashion school anecdotes and misadventures with anorexia; a lot of people are reminiscing about similar changes in their 10 year challenge posts. It turns out that a lot of people in 2009 were skinny and in retrospect, feeling weak, unhappy and generally like a bag of shit. That’s how forcing your body to weigh much less than it is wants to be feels, like an absolute huge bag of shit. Fatphobia was high, and even healthy weight individuals were deemed as “curvy” or “plus size” – I mean honestly, just fuck right off.

These social pressures and appraisal did nothing to help me towards recovery and subsequently a few years later I left the fashion world pretty much over night. Size 0 sucked and the fashion world soon realised how much it sucked for business due to the public health, government and public backlash to promoting such severe thinness ideals. Surely this was a good thing? We were moving away from aiming for waists comparable to the average 7-year-old.

Heroin chic of the 90s had gone and pro-ana sites, blogs and forums were easily found and plentiful online. Entire communities gathered amongst the anonymity of the online world. Safe havens to encourage the pursuit of thin, and the glorification of such ideals became known as thinspiration, or thinspo for short. Fast forward a decade and strong is the new skinny; thinspo has been replaced with fitspo. Instead of collar bones and rib cages we now idolize sculpted bodies, low body fat percentages and big muscles. On the surface it seems health driven but when you get down to it, maintaining such low body fat percentages and building such quantities of muscle mass is just as difficult an ideal to work towards: it is also big business. It costs to get those muscles, cue the introduction of “clean eating” instead of dieting, phrases like “it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle choice” and the rise of the social media influencers. Now people are paying crazy amounts of money to try to achieve a particular aesthetic. When you dig deep, it’s not all that much different, but instead with the introduction of classism – not eating is essentially free whereas superfoods and trendy gym classes are in the KERCHING!  regions, cue M.I.A. “I just want your money” (song title ‘paper planes’).

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The rise of visual social media platforms and smartphones making everyone a photographer, instagram has been a mass playground and propagator for fitspo, clean eating and ultimately a shit ton of social comparisons based on these visuals. Does my smoothie bowl look Michelin start enough? Are my abs clean-cut enough? How about in this pose? Additionally there are apps to add abs and change your photos to be who you want to be – so god knows how much of this stuff we see online isn’t even real, and here’s the catch, we compare ourselves anyway; it’s natural. Of course, we’re always going to come up short in such comparisons. Just as we always came up short to the photoshopped thinness of models in magazines and on billboards.

There have been associations made between exposure and engagement with healthy eating communities on Instagram and orthorexia tendencies [4]. Orthorexia is an obsession with eating clean foods, without impurities. It manifests as an obsessive preoccupation with eating perfectly and results in the cutting out of food groups deemed not pure enough [1]. In the rise of clean eating and the idea of purity invading in on our eating practices it’s a wonder of whether we are eating something because we like it and it tastes nice, or whether it’s trendy, seen as the new cult super food or looks good on Insta? The social pressures amongst these online communities is high, and food shaming is definitely rife like a plague amongst these online circles. Just as with starvation practices, this takes us away from listening to our bodies and their needs because external forces are dictating what, how much and when we eat.

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Although we might not be starving ourselves, models might not be collapsing and dying at fashion shows and smoking cigarettes instead of eating lunch the question lies in really contemplating just how much has really changed? How much of this change is a mask of the same old issues? The same motivations, feeding into the same desires and issues around controlling our bodies, minds and emotions? When we are so focused on our bodies and controlling them down to every minute detail, we do not have the energy to focus on bigger things. Being super lean and strong is not empowering if you’re obsessed with what you can and cannot eat. Fitspo is not empowering if it makes you feel like shit. Being enslaved to your reflection and how you look is not empowering. It might feel as such sometimes but if it’s taking away from your life in any way then it’s time to reconsider how we relate to fitspo and slogans such as “strong is the new skinny”.

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The irony of a lack of focus on holistic health in the health and wellness industries is laughable at best and shameful at worst. Are we really progressing away from hyper-vigilience around what we put in our mouths and the impacts this ha son our body shape in the pursuit of health, or is this a new era of diet, health and wellness fuck uppery? My advice for seeing between the lines? Be critical, be analytic and if an image is prescribing an aesthetic ideal get the fuck outta there quick sharp. Being pained by attaining a certain look is not progress, but instead the falsification of progress. For real change we need to call this shit out and disempower the hold they have over us as individuals, communities, men, women, and especially for our children. We need to learn to know better.


Sources:
[1] Beat (2017) Orthorexia. Available at: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/types/orthorexia .
[2] Costa-Font, J. & Jofre-Bonet, M. (2011) Anorexia, Body Image and Peer Effects: Evidence from a Sample of European Women. London: London School of Economics and Political Science.
[3] Rebekah Brennan, Marie Claire Van Hout, (2012) “Miaow miaow: a review of the new psychoactive drug mephedrone”, Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 12 Issue: 4, pp.241-253, https://doi.org/10.1108/17459261211286654
[4] Turner, P.G. & Lefevre, C.E. Eat Weight Disord (2017) 22: 277. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40519-017-0364-2

 

5 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight On Your Diet

When your body is trying to tell you your diet or lifestyle change isn’t as healthy as you thought

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Source: Demi Whiffin

We are constantly bombarded with how unhealthy we are as a nation. We’re getting more obese year on year, our children are more obese than they’ve ever been, we don’t exercise enough, we eat too much and we don’t eat enough of the “right” foods. The government have even written a Childhood Obesity Plan in order to try and tackle the growing problem of our nation’s health. It’s natural to respond to these messages by trying to be healthier in your own diet. That’s perhaps largely the purpose of some of these messages.

Many people set out on diets with great intentions: they want to feel more energised, be more active and hit their daily fruit and veg quota of 7 a day. Alongside those intentions is a dieting industry that is massive just waiting to help you on your way with ‘quick fixes’ and ‘easy plans’.

For example, at Be:FIT 2017 when I was looking at a product the sales person assumed I wanted to lose weight and tried to sell me a formula for that. I was a healthy weight and had no interest in losing weight.  It seems that everyone is fair game regardless of their health status because the dieting industry’s message is quite clear, we could all do with losing some weight. Not all diets are healthy and sustainable though. There is a massive failure rate for dieters. The storm of trying to lose weight can look very overwhelming and bleak.

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Salmon, chilli and ginger fishcake with sweet potato fries and roast veg. Healthy. Unrestricted. Tasty. 

If you have decided that you want to lose some weight, or revamp your diet then there are some tell tale signs that your diet isn’t all that healthy despite how many celery sticks and crackers you trying to fill up on.

  1. You’re always hungry:
    If you’re always hungry then your diet isn’t sustainable. Your body makes hunger signals in response to a need for energy and nourishment, e.g. food not some spiritually embodied meal replacement shake. Identifying real hunger from emotional, boredom or habitual hunger however can be tricky but ignoring your hunger regardless of the reason for it isn’t leading you anywhere healthy.
  2. Your diet is stressful:
    If you find yourself hangry and stressed because you can’t find a suitable something to eat that you fancy then that’s pretty stressful. This could indicate that you’re diet regime is to restrictive. Food is a form of sensory enjoyment and when that enjoyment becomes a huge stress and you find yourself wishing you could be non-human so you didn’t have to eat because it’s too much stress then it’s time to re-evaluate the sustainability of your diet.
  3. Eating becomes about emotions:
    We all comfort eat to some degree. A classic break up scene involves copious orders of pizza and ice cream in front of the TV. Emotional eating becomes a real problem when eating patterns and behaviours become a way of experiencing, expressing of stuffing down emotions, whether that’s overeating or under eating. It can go either way. Responding to emotional overeating with a restrictive diet to “undo the damage” will only fuel your disharmony with food. There’s a whole range of good advice, books and support available out there to help with healthy expression of emotion and regaining confidence with food.
  4. Fat becomes a feeling: 
    Fat isn’t a feeling. It isn’t an emotion either. If ‘feeling fat’ becomes a regular rhetoric for you when you’re feeling something unpleasant then it’s time to do some digging about what you’re really feeling. When fat becomes a feeling, whether you actually are fat or not becomes irrelevant and you can find yourself feeling ‘fat’ even when you’re very underweight. It also entrenches the negative connotations to the word fat, which gives the word way more weighting than it deserves.
  5. Guilt and shame start hanging around:
    A diet that is very rigid can mean more chance of swaying from the plan. This creates and heightens feelings of guilt for eating a ‘bad food’ such as chocolate bar. No one died from a heart attack because they ate a chocolate bar or two on occasion. Feeling so emotionally worn down because you ate something doesn’t have a place in a healthy relationship with food. None what so ever. If the shaming is coming from someone else for your food choices and it keeps happening it may be time to stick up for yourself. I don’t mean punch them, but in a reasonable way saying something along the lines of “I’d rather you didn’t comment on my food Karen” might help avoid internalising their judgement or snapping with a “FUCK OFF KAREN!!”.

Signs Your Healthy Eating Regime isn’t as Healthy as You Think

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We are all constantly bombarded with messages that we as a nation
are unhealthy. We’re getting more overweight and obese. We’re not
exercising enough. We drink too much and eat too much of the wrong
foods.

You’re Always Hungry:
One sure fire way of knowing that your new dietary lifestyle isn’t
sustainable is by how hungry it leaves you feeling. Your body makes
hunger signals in response to needing energy and nourishment.
Identifying real hunger from emotional hunger or boredom hunger,
or habitual hunger can be tricky – and if you now live in a permanent
state of hunger most of the time with a growl in your stomach then
chances are something is a miss.

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Your Diet Is Stressful:
If you find yourself crying because of a food, then something isn’t right.
If you’re stressing because nothing available to eat is fitting with your
new dietary lifestyle then maybe it’s too restrictive. Food is a form of
enjoyment that is very natural to us. Sometimes making big changes
can be slightly stressful as you adjust, say if you’re transferring from an
omnivore to a vegetarian diet. However, if it feels overwhelming or too
restrictive then maybe a longer transition time might help to gradually
ease into your preferred dietarylifestyle.

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Eating Becomes About Emotions:  We’ve all comfort eaten for some
reason or another. The problem really emerges when eating replaces
emotions, whether that’s overeating as a way to deal with emotions,
or under eating. Neither scenario is entirely avoidable but as a default
then this starts spelling trouble with your relationship with food.
Dieting as a way to ‘undo any damage’ caused by emotional eating will
only fuel the disharmony with your relationship with food. There’s a
whole range of advice, books and therapies available to help with
healthy expression of emotions.

 

Fat Becomes a Feeling: Fat isn’t a feeling. You don’t ‘feel fat’ emotionally
speaking. If that becomes a default rhetoric you use when you’re feeling
a bit crap then, without sounding like a psych stereotype, do some digging
about what you’re really feeling. Maybe you’re upset, or angry or annoyed.
It can be anything which solidifies the argument that fat isn’t a feeling.

 

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Guilt and Shame Appear:
We often eat for emotional reasons. A classic break up scene is crying at a
film with a tub of ice cream. It’s a natural reward so if you’re feeling a bit
down or have had a stressful day then a glass of wine, or some chocolate
may be on the agenda. That’s totally cool; no one ever died of a heart attack
because they ate 1 or 2 chocolate bars when they were hacked off on occasion.
Guilt and shame are such strong emotions and they really have no place in
your life when it comes to food. Feeling so emotionally worn down
because you ate something doesn’t have a place in a healthy relationship with
food. None what so ever. If someone else tried shaming you for your food
choices and it keeps happening, it might be time to stick up for yourself and
ask them to not do that as nicely as you can. Maybe a “I’d rather you didn’t
Karen” instead of “FUCK YOU KAREN!” when you’ve reached the end of your
tether might be needed.

How to Tell If Health Media is Unhealthy?

How to identify unhelpful media messages for body image and dieting.

Health and fitness advice is everywhere. You could read all day every day and reach no consensus on how to best eat and exercise for your health.  There are entire businesses that rely on our need to transform ourselves in search of an elusive sense of happiness and ease in life. The TV is full of programmes showcasing different diets, including crash diets and their success stories. Advertisements bombard us with how their product will help us shape up as if we’re all too shaped down. That’s before we’ve even delved into the unfiltered and unedited online world.

Sometimes media outlets and their messages can be a bit of a trickster, packaging themselves as having our best interests at heart but really the underlying tone of the messages can ultimately make us feel a bit shit about ourselves. This only serves to fuel the diet and fitness industry because why would we be so desperate to spend our money on their products if we were satisfied with ourselves and our lives?

Laura Thomas PhD edited the Women’s Health Cover

There are some ways to identify unhealthy media for your diet and lifestyle, even if they have ‘Health” in the title and pictures of 6-packs throughout their content. Below are 5 red flags that mark out the shit I should ignore from the shit I should really take on board, and get this, remain balanced.

  • They’re sure that you need to change in order to be happy.
    You can’t be too comfortable with yourself. You just can’t because if you were then how would magazines be a leading monthly seller? Unhealthy media assumes that you’re unhappy with yourself, and if you’re not it will give you reason to be unhappy with yourself. Then they’ll tell you how to change in order to not be unhappy with yourself. Of course it will seem like a simple and decent plan, but of course it fuels a cycle to keep you coming back for more like a crack addicted mouse chasing its next hit in a lab.
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  • They have astounding “life changing” promises.
    If the author of the media is promising to change your life phenomenally then tread with caution. There is no one solution to all of life’s problems; they are too complex and varied. Being a certain weight, size or body shape also won’t make everything in your life easier, smoother and happier. You won’t breeze through life just because you’re a size 10. Life doesn’t work like that. Your boss will still be annoying. Your landlord will still be difficult and your overdraft won’t pay itself off.
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  • They ensures that if you didn’t want XYZ before, you do now…
    They will tell you what you want in life. If you didn’t want what is being prescribed before you do now. This can sway you away from what really matters in your own life and values to what someone thinks you need or ought to want. Abs is a big one, with ab workouts and cheat sheets everywhere. To be honest, maintaining my health is more important to me than abs.
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  • They’re judgement loaded
    A classic lines includes, ‘if i can you can too’, and buzz words are: lazy, should, ought, and why not? If someone is self-righteous about upholding their lifestyle regime, as if anyone who doesn’t isn’t seeing the light yet and are stupid because of it, then that’s pretty unhelpful. Health is different for different people.
  • Just because someone is following a particular plan and another person isn’t doesn’t make one better than the other. Greedy, pig, and lazy are also unhelpful contexts within which to frame anyone and their habits or behaviour.
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  • You feel shit after reading it and you didn’t before you started.
    I noticed this in particular with an image that circulated around Insta earlier in January. People who had achieved a level of self acceptance about their bodies were upset and feeling pretty damn shit about themselves. If you have a level of acceptance before reading or seeing something, then afterwards you’re finding yourself self-doubting yourself then put that shit down. Right. Now.You don’t need that shit in your life. Unless you’re feeling empowered to be healthy, I mean genuinely healthy not washboard abs super woman “healthy” then it’s likely not useful for you.
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If you really do feel that you need help with your weight for health reasons, a qualified health professional is best equipped to help you out. Check credentials and go for dietitian or registered nutritionists as these are the only regulated nutrition professionals by government standards. There will be a post about this at some point.

How To Spot Diet Culture Disguised as Health

Help identifying when diet culture is disguising as health and stop it from infiltrating your relationship with food.

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January is one of those times of year when it seems everyone is on a health kick. Changing habits can be a great thing, especially when it is motivated to become a healthier version of yourself. There’s so much evidence for giving up smoking, and in giving it up at an earlier age; for drinking less alcohol; for eating more fruit and veg; for being more active yada yada. You know the drill, but what happens when motives become unconsciously sly?

The quest for health can become untoward and often it goes unnoticed. Before you know it the little bit of healthy competition between colleagues to get the most steps can spiral into a compulsion. The eating less cakes can grow into a pattern of self denial and spread from your own well-being into enforcing no one eats cake around you, and the healthy office snacks become restricted only to celery and seeds with no leeway for the odd chocolate bar. Pretty soon it can become competitive, and border into the realms of the ring leader embodying a food fascist. Often this is done unconsciously and with only good meaning intended.

There’s no room or need in the world for food fascism but somehow it commonly creeps up and into the healthy resolves people make, making a healthy initiative transform to be unhealthy for everyone involved. So how can we prepare and notice the unhealthy undertones to a well intentioned health kick?

  • Food Shaming:
    Food shaming comes in all sorts of different ways. Whether it’s commenting that someone is having cupcake number 2 and making some sort of announcement about it or posing the question “are you really going to eat that/all of that?” Even if they’re on a health kick and have been reading loads about nutrition, it doesn’t give them a free pass to become the social food commentator. What someone else wants to eat and put in their body is entirely their choice. What is healthy for one person may well be unhealthy for another. There is no one size fits all when it comes to nutrition.If you see someone eating something and you think “they shouldn’t be eating that” maybe the next step is to ask the real question of, “why do I think they shouldn’t be eating that?”. Does it really fucking matter if Karen in the office ate two cupcakes at the office party? Really? As in really? Like it will keep you up tonight kind of matter? Probably not.
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  • Secret Eating:
    What happens if you’ve been food shamed one too many times? Even if you’re healthy, have a healthy attitude towards food and your body but still, you’re going out of your way to secretly shove in a Mars Bar then chances are the health kick that shamed you isn’t all that healthy.Or if you feel so deprived by your new healthy diet and want to appear like you’re keeping on top of it so much that it drives you underground with eating then that’s not healthy either. The thing with eating in secret is that it’s a psychologically and emotionally loaded activity and not in the way that a fun rollercoaster may be. If you find this happening because of your own ideas about food, or those that others are infringing on to you then something needs to change.
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  • Sole Focus is on Weight:
    A lot of people need to lose weight for health reasons. A lot of people don’t. A lot of people use diet as a way in which to lose weight however, when weight loss becomes the only focus and purpose of feeding then the health aspect of losing weight is lost. Food is more than the number of calories it contains. Food is nourishment, enjoyment, and social amongst many other things. There’s so much more to gain in terms of health from food than losing weight.large-3.jpg
  • Peer Pressure and Diet Lectures:
    What happens when you don’t even want to change your diet, but everyone around you is shoving it down your throat that you ought to because of X, Y and Z? For example, the vegan trend right now is pretty hot and heavy. Just as clean eating was, and a million other dietary trends before that. It’s OK if you don’t want to go on a diet. It’s perfectly fine if you don’t want to go vegan and you’re not a bad person for that.If someone is self righteous about their diet, and figuritively speaking, trying to ram it down your throat, that is a sure fire sign that you need to evacuate the premises from them. That sounds extreme, but by that I mean shut down the conversation and find someone else to talk to – or maybe don’t talk to anyone. You have just as much right to not be bombarded with stuff you’re not interested in as they do for eating the way they prefer.

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    Source: Anna Higgins
  • Size Shaming, Regardless of Actual Size:
    We’re all different sizes. We are heights and widths that are personal to ourselves. Some of us are naturally smaller and some of us are naturally bigger. This doesn’t mean that anyone can size shame you, regardless of where you fit on that spectrum. “Are you really going to eat all that?” and “I’m surprised you can eat that much, look at you” and comments along those lines can all jog on. Jog on, jog on and keep on jogging until they’re talking to a wall because that’s the only thing that will reasonably have the patience for such drivel. Just because someone is a size 8 doesn’t mean they’re never hungry and can’t eat a big burger. Similarly, just because someone is a size 18 doesn’t mean they can never touch chocolate again in their lives.
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