The One Liner

Stop Dieting and Eat Healthy! Why do Indians Need to Quit Diet Culture?

In a world obsessed with quick fixes and instant results, diet culture reigns supreme, offering everything from the cabbage soup craze of the GM Diet to the fat-laden Keto Diet and caveman-inspired Paleo Diet! Yet, behind these fads lies a harsh reality: a cycle of restriction, guilt, and disappointment. 

Diet culture promises transformation but often delivers a distorted relationship with food and body image, leaving us to wonder if the real diet we need is one that nourishes our minds and bodies or the one which tortures?

Once a renowned dietitian Katherine Zavodni said, “Our Bodies aren’t the Problem, Diet Culture is the problem”. This is quite evident from the statistical data which portrays that 35% of people who are dieting are obsessed with dieting, with 20-25% diets turning potentially into eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa. 70 million people internationally live with eating disorders. 

Research conducted by the Institute of Psychology of Eating shows further that  95% of people who diet and lose weight, will gain all of the weight back, and more, within a year after stopping the diet. 

Being Perfect is impossible.  

But here is the thing: maintaining your diet is important for weight loss so as keeping yourself motivated on self-improvement rather than just being obsessed towards attaining the “perfect”figure. 

It’s interesting that people don’t fail in maintaining diets. But, study shows that 95% of diets fail people. For at least the past 100 years (and likely more), dieting has been synonymous to suffering. The diet followers have been instructed either to suffer through hunger or to consider food simply to be fuel.

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Remember! Food simply isn’t fuel, it’s a comfort to your hormones! 

In the past few decades, Diet culture has gained an immense popularity in India. The awareness campaign and research in India shows that we need to embrace a positive diet culture to battle against Indian obesity

But rather than focusing on the positive incorporation of good food-habits and discipline, this practice soon attained a negative connotation in Indian culture where people are obsessed over gaining the hierarchical standardised “Thin and Slim” figure. This particular phenomenon is especially common among Indian Women. 

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In this article we will unfold the meaning of diet culture and why Indians need to quit toxic diet culture along with the remedies through which they can overcome this. 

Diet Culture: The Seed of a Dangerous Cycle

Diet culture isn’t just about fad diets and calorie counting. It’s a pervasive belief that thinness equals health and worth. This obsession with weight loss can be a major trigger for eating disorders, which can have devastating consequences, including suicide.

Diet culture refers to a set of beliefs that values thinness, appearance, and shape above health and well-being. It promotes weight loss as a means of achieving higher status, demonises certain ways of eating while elevating others, and often includes rigid eating patterns.

Here are key aspects of diet culture and why it’s important for Indians to move away from it:

1. Negative Body Image

A 2020 systematic review suggests that certain social media content may link to negative body image, especially in young females. Comparisons to people whom users perceive as thinner may relate to body dissatisfaction.

Diet culture perpetuates the message that “if your body isn’t a certain size, that is worthless”. Some feminist scholars see diet culture as a patriarchal method of discipline or control. However, diet culture can affect all genders.

Young adult males also report seeking validation on social media for their appearance. Diet culture, in the form of fitness images intended to be inspirational, thin bodies, and aspirational food images, may reinforce body dissatisfaction and body shame.

2. Thin vs Health

Diet culture equates thinness with health and moral virtue, creating a narrow standard of beauty and success.  This can lead to unhealthy behaviours like extreme dieting, over-exercising, and disordered eating. In India, where diverse body types and traditional diets exist, this narrow view can be particularly harmful.

3. Promotes Unhealthy Eating Habits

Diet culture encourages restrictive eating, often eliminating entire food groups (like carbs or fats). This can lead to nutrient deficiencies and a poor relationship with food. Traditional Indian diets, which are typically balanced and rich in variety, can be compromised by these restrictive patterns.

4. Poor Mental Health

The constant pressure to conform to an ideal body image can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. In a society like India, where mental health issues are often stigmatised, the added pressure of diet culture can exacerbate these problems, making it harder for individuals to seek help.

5. Leads to Economic Burden

Diet culture often promotes expensive, branded diet foods, supplements, and weight loss programs. This can be a financial strain, especially in India where a significant portion of the population lives on limited incomes. The pursuit of diet culture can divert funds from essential needs.

6. Constantly Neglecting Traditional Diets

Traditional Indian diets are often sidelined in favour of Western diet trends. This can lead to a loss of cultural food practices that are not only nutritionally sound but also a part of India’s heritage. Traditional Indian foods like lentils, rice, and a variety of vegetables provide balanced nutrition and should be celebrated.

7. Misinformation on Health

Diet culture often spreads misinformation about food and health, promoting quick fixes and fad diets. This misinformation can be dangerous, leading people away from scientifically sound health advice. It is crucial for Indians to rely on evidence-based nutritional information rather than fad diets that promise quick results.

8. Encourage Stigma Around Weight Gain

Diet culture stigmatises those who do not fit the ideal body shape, often discriminating against them. Weight stigma can lead to social isolation, bullying, and discrimination in various areas of life, including the workplace and healthcare. In India, this stigma can compound existing social hierarchies and discrimination.

Say No to Diet Culture,but a Yes to Healthy Diet!

Currently! We are living in a world where celebrities are seen with flat stomachs and abs, who are into a certain diet culture who would pay around 2 Lakhs per month to their home chefs. 

What makes a Diet culture worse are: it reinforces myths about ‘good’ food and ‘bad’ food, makes quick and uniformed judgements about people’s appearance and health, and profits from people’s dissatisfaction with their bodies. 

For this reason, it’s critical for us to remember that diet culture is a phenomenon that we are all subject to and all have the potential to challenge.

Then, how can we embrace body positivity?  It is not important to get into “Diet culture”  but rather it is important to maintain a healthy diet which fosters will power and gives you immense self confidence. Diet doesn’t mean food deprivation or eating less. It’s all about producing discipline habits and removing unhealthy foods. 

Here are few ways to overcome ‘Diet Culture’ and rejuvenate healthy diet practices:

1. Radical Self-Care

First, notice what triggers diet culture thoughts. This could be social media, certain magazines, or conversations that focus on weight loss and dieting. Practice self-care by putting yourself first and listening to yourself rather than ideals or behaviours fueled by consumerism.

2. Focus on Nutrient-Dense Food

Prioritise a variety of nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These foods provide essential nutrients and support overall health. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. This intuitive eating approach respects your body’s natural hunger cues and prevents overeating.

3. Practise Mindful Eating

 Take time to eat your meals without distractions. Focus on the flavours, textures, and smells of your food. This practice helps you enjoy your food and recognize when you’re satisfied. 

Regularly ask yourself how you’re feeling before, during, and after meals. Are you eating out of hunger, boredom, or emotion? Understanding your motivations can help develop healthier eating habits.

4. Ditch the Diet Mentality

Stay away from diets that eliminate entire food groups or require severe calorie restrictions. These are often unsustainable and can lead to a cycle of yo-yo dieting. Give yourself permission to enjoy all types of food in moderation. Labelling foods as “good” or “bad” can create guilt and shame around eating.

Shift your focus from weight loss to overall health and well-being. Celebrate non-scale victories like increased energy, better mood, and improved fitness.

5. Seek Support from Community

Consider working with a registered dietitian or nutritionist who practises a non-diet approach. They can provide personalised guidance and support. Surround yourself with people who support your journey toward a healthier relationship with food. Online communities and support groups can also be beneficial.

Final Thoughts

In a nutshell

Diet culture is pervasive and harmful, promoting a narrow and often unhealthy standard of beauty and success. For Indians, it’s essential to move away from these harmful beliefs and practices. Embracing traditional diets, focusing on balanced nutrition, and prioritising mental health over appearance can lead to a healthier, more inclusive society.

Embracing a healthy diet is about finding balance, respecting your body, and prioritising well-being over unrealistic standards. It’s a journey that requires patience, self-compassion, and a commitment to making choices that support your overall health and happiness. It’s time to celebrate all body types and foster a positive relationship with food and self.

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