Complicit in Diet Culture

I have been thinking about this post for a while—on why diet culture is unhealthy and my role in it.
(tw for weight loss/diet culture talk)

If you’re new here, this blog started as a weight loss blog. (LOL that that about page says “crap, I’m 30.” Reader, I am now 38.

why is diet culture unhealthy

I wanted to lose 50 pounds before a friend’s wedding in Aruba. I lost 35 before the wedding and the last 15 in about six months after that.

I thought I looked great, and I was happy*, and my mom took me shopping to “celebrate” my weight loss. I got lots of great comments here. I started getting interviewed all over the place about my weight loss as my blog grew.
(*My therapist questions “happy” since I was still drinking my face off but that’s another topic for another day. Maybe.)

I was absolutely rewarded and treated differently because I’d lost 50 pounds.

I have been struggling deeply with my body image lately*. I gained weight during the pandemic, and a lot of my clothes don’t fit, and it’s hard when you have this record of your life when you were smaller on the internet.
(*My therapist would also say always/for a long time but I am just now truly acknowledging it.)

preppy runner weight loss junior league

I see a picture like this, and I know I am too thin for my body here—and I also miss looking like that. And also can see what an ASSHOLE I look like for sticking my elbow out so far into my friend’s space in my attempt to look skinny.

Why Is Diet Culture Unhealthy?

The more I learn about diet culture and realize how a $71 billion dollar industry (and media, of which this blog was a part of in broad definitions) is designed to sell us the lie that we’re not good enough in the bodies we’re in, and if we just pushed a little harder, bought this diet, bought this workout plan.

And I was complicit in that, too. As this blog grew and brands wanted to start working with me to get access to the eyeballs on this site, I wasn’t super picky (weight loss pills were never OK in my book though), and I definitely did campaigns with Weight Watchers, Lean Cuisine, some shitty-ass meal delivery service that was absolutely frankenfood. I did all kinds of mental gymnastics to make these OK in my head.

I also said a lot of “if I can do it, you can do it” kind of things. The more I learn about privilege, I realize how much that played a part in all of this too. I was 26 when I started this blog with little responsibility other than going to work 9-5ish—and, to be honest, my parents paid for that twice-a-week trainer I had. That time and money are not resources everyone has.

But back to today. My weight is approaching the original weight it was before I lost all of that weight, and that doesn’t feel good to me. I built an entire identity (and a good chunk of income) around/from that weight loss. It feels really embarrassing to have “failed.” But 80% of diets eventually “fail”—as in, people gain the weight back. Most “diets” work at first—if you’re restricting calories or food groups, you’re probably going to lose weight—but if they’re not lifestyle changes, the weight comes back.

To lose the weight, I essentially did pretty close to Paleo. Whenever I have thought about trying to lose weight, my mind goes back to some kind of restriction like that. “Then that’s not a lifestyle,” says that lovely lady I pay a bunch of money to and then get indignant when she says the things I need to hear. The deeper we dig, the more we find a lot of fucked up things I think about myself, my weight, my body.

If you’re savvy about diet culture, you can probably still see some thinking in here that’s not healthy. I asked her if she thought I had an eating disorder. I’m honestly not sure if she heard me say “had or have” so I’m not sure if she means now or then, but she said, “I don’t think an eating disorder, but definitely some disordered thinking.”

I feel a lot of guilt that I peddled a lot of that mentality on here, when I had a decent amount of influence, to other young, vulnerable women—and I can also hold that it was what I knew at the time. As Maya Angelou said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

griffith park running

I’m not gonna lie that I scrutinize every picture of myself right now. BUT, I truly love this picture from yesterday because I look strong. (I’m the one in the flowered shorts with the aggressively swishing blonde ponytail.) I would also like to know what the fuck I’m doing with my arms and that trailing left foot, but that’s another question for another day.

I am a massive hypocrite, because I absolutely tell clients things like “it’s just a body” (or meat sack, I have been pretty partial to that one lately). I absolutely believe intellectually that all of this is true about bodies—but have I internalized it? Absolutely not.

But I’m a work in progress. (Aren’t we all?)

Here’s some stuff I’m reading/listening to related to this:

Books That Show Why Diet Culture Is Unhealthy

Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach—my therapist is a very direct woman, and I love that about her, but she is rarely directive, as in, telling me what to do. The other day, she pretty much demanded I buy this book. As we hung up, “so you’re going to go order that now, right?” OK YES LADY. A lot of my RD friends swear by this. I’m not going to lie—intuitive eating sounds pretty scary to me. My intuition is usually telling me to eat tacos, so I don’t trust it.

Intuitive Eating Workbook: It contains exercises (emotional ones, not physical ones) to go along with the above book.

Body Talk by Katie Sturino—do you follow Katie on Instagram? She is a plus-sized influencer and body positivity advocate, and she wrote this book about learning how to embrace our bodies for what they are. The first line in the description really stands out to me: “Can you imagine how much free time you’d have if you didn’t spend so much of it body shaming yourself?”

Self Compassion by Kristin Neff—

Podcast

Maintenance Phase—this is a fascinating podcast that deconstructs a lot of the junk science we’ve been peddled and the unhealthy messaging. The episode I was listening to that kind of inspired this post was their episode on Oprah.

15 comments on “Complicit in Diet Culture

  1. Catherine

    I was reading this just totally nodding my head like “oh yes, same, same.” Oof – a big turning point for me has been listening to Maintenance Phase. It’s made me realize how ingrained diet culture is in our overall social norms and wow is it awful and damaging!! I’m writing down all these books to get as well 🙂

    Reply
  2. Sarah

    Also please check out The F*ck It Diet—which is a very funny and relatable intuitive eating book that makes it very accessible!

    Reply
  3. Traci

    This. This is so on point. I’m recently engaged and preparing for a wedding in July 2022 and my anxiety has spiked with the pressure of a wedding diet and being thin enough. It’s been 20 years of trying to understand how to deal with body issues and diet culture, having gone through all the motions and stages. I believe there’s a line between saying fuck it and caring about health for the sake of good health that I’m trying to find. Sometimes, I’m in desperate mode and sometimes I’m in a place of satisfaction, and I’m working to be okay that it’s okay to experience both. I totally see you and feel this so much. Keep doing what you love and sharing you feelings. It makes a difference. I’m here trying to figure it out too.

    Reply
  4. Marisa

    The book Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield was a game-changer for me. It was a huge shift in mindset and I work on it every dang day.

    Reply
  5. Anne

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s such a toxic aspect of our society, and one that just needs to go. I can’t tell you how many people I have unfollowed due to their unhealthy focus on diet, restriction, and (nearly as bad) promotion of supplements and quick fixes, rather than promoting healthy lifestyles. Take care, and I hope that your journey continues on an upswing… you have made so many changes in your mindset and perspective, and it’s so inspiring!

    Reply
  6. Michelle Ginsburg

    Theodora, I have appreciated your blog for it’s honesty and transparency. Elyse was my nutritionist in the early 90’s after I graduated from college. The book is a balanced approach to seeing food as fuel. She convinced me that even if I gave in to my cravings I would eventually want/need to eat for nutrients too.

    In the photo you do look strong, like the amazing athlete that you are! Thank you for always enabling me to see different opinions. You are a great influence!

    Reply
  7. Kelly

    Hi Theodora, I love this post, and what courage it takes to write it. I, too, love that MA quote and it affords such grace, which we all need.

    When you said you were “too thin for your body” in the picture, I would love to understand more of what you meant from that? Did you mean your body fat % was at a unhealthy level, or did you mean that that level of “thinness” was just not sustainable for you personally without engaging in unhealthy behavior to stay there? Or something else? It’s an interesting point to dive into and ponder, I think, and one that many don’t take into consideration when they see an instagram pic of someone, or even a celebrity, etc., and think “I want to look like that”. So just curious to hear more of your thoughts on that.

    Love your vulnerability, social media could use a little more of this and little less hubris.

    Reply
    1. Theodora Blanchfield Post author

      Hi Kelly! So sorry for replying many months later—I don’t always get the comment emails and I don’t really check any more either.

      Interesting question about what “too thin for my body” meant here. I’m not sure if my body fat % was at unhealthy level, but it definitely wasn’t sustainable for me to maintain that level of obsessiveness, which certainly has also had long-lasting mental implications. Also, I think I just looked gaunt sometimes, particularly in my face.

      Reply
  8. Kelly

    Hi Theodora, I love this post, and what courage it takes to write it. I, too, love that MA quote and it affords such grace, which we all need.

    When you said you were “too thin for your body” in the picture, I would love to understand more of what you meant from that? Did you mean your body fat % was at a unhealthy level, or did you mean that that level of “thinness” was just not sustainable for you personally without engaging in unhealthy behavior to stay there? Or something else? It’s an interesting point to dive into and ponder, I think, and one that many don’t take into consideration when they see an instagram pic of someone, or even a celebrity, etc., and think “I want to look like that”. So just curious to hear more of your thoughts on that.

    Love your vulnerability, social media could use a little more of this and a little less hubris.

    Reply
  9. Kelly

    Hi Theodora, I love this post, and what courage it took to write it. I, too, love that MA quote and it affords such grace, which we all need.

    When you said you were “too thin for your body” in the picture, I would love to understand more of what you meant from that? Did you mean your body fat % was at a unhealthy level, or did you mean that that level of “thinness” was just not sustainable for you personally without engaging in unhealthy behavior to stay there? Or something else? It’s an interesting point to dive into and ponder, I think, and one that many don’t take into consideration when they see an instagram pic of someone, or even a celebrity, etc., and think “I want to look like that”. So just curious to hear more of your thoughts on that.

    Love your vulnerability, social media could use a little more of this and a little less hubris.

    Reply
  10. Melissa

    I love this post. Thank you for sharing – I think it’s powerful and a much-needed message. I hope grad school is going well!

    Reply

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