I’ve wasted many long hours, weeks, and months wishing that my body was not mine. I’ve seen the seasons shift and the weather become warmer, yet I remained stuck inside a body that refused to change. I have fallen victim to the endless scroll — the internet’s great big black hole of weight-loss tips and low-carb diets. I have swapped out foods, drank lemon water, and ran 10 kilometres, only to find myself more exhausted than refreshed. I have read up on my type of metabolism, swallowed more vitamins and counted more calories than I have spent time asking: why am I trying so hard to make myself smaller?
Toxic diet culture runs rife in our society. It’s so ingrained in our lives, that it becomes an unavoidable and unfair consequence of sitting through The Bachelor ad breaks, scrolling through your Instagram on a Monday night, or reading the news articles. While diet culture was alive and thriving before the age of the internet, it has only been amplified by the speed at which deceptive, and often false, information can now travel the globe. From TikTok’s infamous ‘What I eat in a day’ trend, to Instagram influencers being sponsored by weight-loss (i.e. laxative) teas, and Youtube’s handy tips on ‘How to lose 5 kg in just 5 days’,
"..extreme dieting have been romanticised into an image of wellness and self-care."
Seek, and you shall find. But fall too far in, and you will get caught in a sticky web of celery juice and calorie deficits, making it hard to decipher fact from fiction. The most malicious part about toxic diet programs is that they don’t work. You are always left feeling as empty as when you first started. And it’s in this moment of vulnerability and failure that they tell you to try again, with a new program or product. Some are pyramid schemes, filled with before and after photos, and falsified success stories. The cycle of low-carb diets is so addictive, it’s almost hard to break. Therefore, it’s of no surprise that many of us experience moments of profound anxiety and insecurity about our bodies. In fact, 15% of Australian men and 35% of women list body image as their number one concern.1
It is important to note here what I mean when I refer to toxic diet culture: any programs, regimes or advertisements which promote extreme weight loss and restriction, as well as any magic pills or meal replacement products. Simply put, if a qualified health professional wouldn’t advise it, it’s probably not the go. Unfortunately, toxic diet culture has become the internet’s most manipulative friend, creating a cyber club of self-comparison and inadequacy.
One that, without great regulation and constant vigilance, can become a danger to the mental health of countless individuals. So, the question stands: how can we repair this glitch in the system? Can we filter out what we do not wish to hear? If we ignore it for long enough, will it just fade away?
The problem that lies within solving toxic diet culture is that we created it. In turn, many people and businesses profit from the insecurity, guilt and unfair comparisons, which live rent-free in our consciousness. It is a byproduct of the unrealistic and unattainable body standards society has placed upon us. We cannot repair this glitch, because that would insinuate that this was an error, but toxic diet culture is not a mistake. It is a carefully curated masterpiece of manipulation.
"..Perhaps the best, and only way to overcome toxic diet culture is to dismantle it from the inside. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. So, we’ve got to go through it."
By this, I do not mean become complacent at the feet of diet culture, or give in to another poorly made ad. We must call out the businesses and influencers who prey on the insecurities of others, we must ask more questions and think twice before buying a diet product online. And we must ask for qualified advice. We should follow people who adore their natural bodies, and give ourselves the space to do the same.
I am still trying to stop myself from wanting to be smaller, but with each step I take away from toxic diet culture, I feel more and more fulfilled. Dismantling diet culture means putting yourself first. It means unplugging and rewiring all the parts of the internet that said you were too much of this, or too little of that. It will take time and it may be slow, but the earlier you start, the quicker you will grow into yourself.
1. The National Eating Disorders
Collaboration. (2010). "Eating Disorders Prevention, Treatment & Management: An Evidence Review." 1library.net/document/y90r1xry-disorders-prevention-treatment-management-evidence-national-disorders-collaboration.html