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- Diet culture normalizes thinness as an ideal and ties self-worth to weight and food control.
- This unrealistic, universal cultural standard is harmful for your mental health, according to experts.
- Intuitive eating, body acceptance, and debunking weight stigma can help heal this mental toll.
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Condensing our entire lives into four walls over the past year and a half shed a bright light on many issues, including how toxic our deeply established obsession with diet culture and an ideal body type has become.
Diet culture, or the idea that a person’s value lies in their body weight rather than their overall health and well-being, traces its roots to ancient Greece. In America, it dates back to the 1860s. With the rise of fashion magazines, celebrity culture, and social media over the last few decades, this cultural lens of sizing one up based on low body weight has become pervasive.
Because of this toxic, widespread message, the word “diet” wrongfully became synonymous with unhealthy behaviors like food restriction and compulsive exercising – historically, “diet” referred to the food a person or community regularly ate.
This way of thinking is so harmful because it furthers the idea that we’re “not okay if we don’t meet the physical ideal,” and ignores the fact that many diets don’t actually work, said Leslie Faerstein, Ed.D., LCSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in women, body image, and trauma.
“Instead of making us feel good about ourselves, which is the promise [of going on a diet], we end up feeling bad,” Faerstein told Insider. “We end up feeling like there’s something wrong with us. Not that there’s something wrong with the diet.”
In reality, what and how much you eat should, generally, be based on what makes you satiated. “It may not be the svelte body we want, but it will be our own healthy body,” she added.
This concept is called intuitive eating. And, directly coinciding with the rear-up against toxic diet culture, it’s gained immense popularity over the last few years as being the anti-diet approach to eating.
It’s just one strategy to move the world away from a one-size-fits-all approach, but it’s widely supported by body positivity and body acceptance communities. Multiple experts say intuitive eating fosters a healthier relationship with food nourishing your body, rather than being a tool to fit an unrealistic mold, which in turn fosters a healthier mental state.
If you’ve been struggling with breaking free from diet culture, we’ve got you: Below, we’ve rounded up a list of products, services, and resources that can help de-stigmatize body weight and may encourage healthier practices like intuitive eating.
Although these resources can be very helpful, we recognize that more work is necessary to create a more inclusive, accepting, and accessible health community. It’s also important to note that the products and services highlighted below are not replacements for professional mental health treatment. If you need to talk to someone, check out our guides to the best teletherapy services and the best online therapy services for under $35.