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  • Dounia Said Bakar

New Year, New Diet: The Problem with Diet Culture

The New Year comes with excitement and optimism. People create vision boards and resolutions to have a prosperous year. New Year’s resolutions have existed through many forms, but today, they generally revolve around a change of lifestyle, attitudes and behaviours. Examples would be budgeting, being more productive and - one of the most commercialized resolutions - maintaining a “healthier” diet.

On January 1st, gyms and health food stores welcome new people. For some, the goal is weight loss or weight gain, while for others, eating healthy and doing exercise are thought to be part of the building blocks to becoming a better version of oneself. Whilst these resolutions are perceived to have positive intentions, they often lead to negative implications because of toxic diet culture.

Diet culture has been a popular word this past year, as we have become more open to conversations surrounding eating disorders and fatphobia. Though it may be presented through other names like wellness, the key principle of diet culture is a focus on achieving thinness through exercise and diet, even though it may not be the actual solution for everyone’s well-being.

Businesses have taken advantage of insecurities and societal weight stigma for years and these advertisements are increasingly present during the New Year. They used media like television and magazines to promote diet culture.

This is the 7th consecutive year that Planet Fitness is sponsoring Times Square New Year’s Eve. This adds to the ever-present message that fitness should be part of one’s journey to well-being in the New Year.

Nowadays, toxic diet culture messaging is mainly on our social media apps. Influencers are paid to promote diet teas, supplements, weight-loss devices, exercise and diet packages, treatments etc.. This is dangerous because many products and treatments are unregulated and influencers don’t have the qualifications to offer nutritional and exercise advice.

The problem with these promotions is the 'one-size-fits-all' approach. It’s expected that if you eat the right amount of calories, do the right exercises and drink enough water, you’ll be able to reach your goal. This approach disregards differing physical and mental states, age, income and lifestyle.

Weight stigma has roots in other systems of oppression like racism and classism, so people who are already marginalized through to those systems are vulnerable to diet culture. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to a registered dietitian or a trained fitness instructor, so meal and exercise plans on the internet have become very popular. The downside to this is that people could easily injure themselves through exercise and they might not be eating a sufficient amount of foods for their needs, seeing as these plans aren’t individualized.

Disordered eating is also linked to our societal diet culture. The media presents disordered eating and exercise habits in the name of “wellness”. “Eat less, exercise more” is a popular message spread to those seeking to lose weight and this has negative implications on mental health.

Whilst nutrition and exercise can be beneficial to one’s well being, mental and physical health shouldn’t be disregarded in order to reach those goals. Prioritizing health in all forms and working to dismantle instilled fatphobia should be a critical aspect of 2022 and beyond.

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