This Dietitian Wants to Burn Diet Culture to the Ground – Outside

Posted: March 12, 2020 at 11:45 pm

Forty-fivemillion Americansdiet every year, and though they might see short-term success,90 percent of those people regain the weight they lost. Thats because dieting, at least as weve been doing it,doesnt work.

Were made to believe that diets fail because welack willpower or discipline. But the odds are stacked against a person trying to lose weight through dietary restriction. Recent research has shown that our bodies have a set weight range largely determined by genetics, and a2013 study found that if you dip below your natural weight, your brain triggers changes in metabolism and energy output to get you back to normal and prevent further weight loss.

Fixating on appearance and weight also affects our well-being. A 2015 articlepublished in the journal Social and Personality Psychology Compass indicates that many of the poor health outcomes associated with obesitycould instead be traced to the stigma against bigger-bodied people and the stress it causes.

In short, what ails us isnt weightits our obsession with it, according toChristy Harrison, a registered dietitian nutritionistand New York Times contributor. In herbook,Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being, and Happiness, which came out in December, Harrison proposes that the solution isnt weight lossits burning diet culture to the ground.Were trained to believe that being thin means youre healthy and being fat means the opposite, Harrison says, when you can actually be healthy at any size.

Weight bias explains much if not all of the excess health risks in people with larger bodies, Harrison says. Framing peoples body size as an [obesity] epidemic is weight stigma.

The overzealous pursuit of thinnessunder the guise of a visual indication of healthhas an unfortunate byproduct: the foods, lifestyles, and body types that dont fit into thisnarrow paradigm are demonized, Harrison argues. When a low-carb diet or a juice cleanse is dubbed clean eating, the natural assumption is that other ways of eating are dirty. Before-and-after photos celebrate weight lossbut also imply that a bigger body is a problem to be solved or a project to be worked on. Complimenting someone on looking thin suggests that something was wrong with their body before. Harrison also notes that our physical spaces reflect these ideals, like how bus and airplane seats only accommodate people of a certain size. Clothing stores often dont carry sizes that accommodate larger bodies, andif they do,the options are typically few.

The way [wellness and diet culture] conceives of health is bound up in healthism: the belief that health is a moral obligation, and that people who are healthy deserve more respect and resources than people who are unhealthy, Harrison writes. Healthism is both a way of seeing the world that places health at the apex and a form of discriminating on the basis of health.

Anti-Diet explains that discrimination itself can leadto a wide array ofnegativephysical and mental health outcomes: a2015 study from Obesity Reviewsfound that repeated weight loss and gain can lead to blood pressure and heart problems. A2009 study in Obesityfound that people who had experiencedweight stigma in the past year were twice as likely to have a mood or anxiety disorderand 50 percent more likely to have a substance-use disorder than those who had not.

Institutional fatphobia can also affect the quality of health care thatlarger-bodied people receive, Harrison explains. Women with high BMIsabove 55are almost 20 percent less likely to get gynecological cancer screeningsand have to deal with disrespectful treatment, unsolicited weight-loss advice, and inappropriately sized medical equipment in the doctors office, a 2006 studyfound. That kind of treatment leads larger-bodied people to avoid spaces where they can expect to be stigmatized, like doctors offices or gyms, according to research from theUniversity of Nevada and theUniversity of New South Wales. While there is a correlation between higher BMI and health outcomes like hypertension or heart disease, high weight alone doesnt necessarily cause poor healththere are other risk factors to take into account.

It is possible to change what and how you eat without becoming a part of diet culture yourself. Instead of going keto, quitting sugar, or committing to Whole30, Harrison suggests her readers try something a little simpler:intuitive eating, which basically means eating what you want without stress, shame, or restrictionbut with careful attention to how your body feels. (If youre looking for a how-to guide on the approach,check out Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Reschs1995 book.)

Diet culture convinces us that honoring our hunger, seeking satisfaction, and feeling full will send us down the road to perdition. It tells us our instinctsarebad and wrong, Harrison writes. We have the capacity to get back to a place where our relationships with food are as simple as they were when we were babieswhere hunger and pleasure are nothing to be ashamed of, and where fullness is a signal that we can take our minds off food for a while.

Anti-Diet offers a much-needed unbrainwashing for anyone feeling stress, stigma, or shame about their appearance, diet, or activity levels. Even the socially conscious reader will have an ahamoment when Harrison debunks something they have accepted as truth. Though some of the more nuanced concepts are tricky to absorb, like the ways in which diet culture infiltrates progressive movements like food activism, Anti-Diet is an approachable read for anyone ready to untangle their eating habits from their self-worth.

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This Dietitian Wants to Burn Diet Culture to the Ground - Outside

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