A few weeks ago, I participated in a focus group of healthcare professionals for the purpose of designing an awareness campaign for eating disorders. The dialogue got me thinking about the forces underlying food and body obsessions, and what drives them. While the causes of disordered eating are diverse, complex, and multifaceted, one of the overarching themes among them is diet culture: the pressures we face as women to eat, exercise, and look a certain way.
Most of us understand that these pressures exist in our society, and yet instead of rebelling against them, many of us participate in them, perpetuating the problem. We engage in diet extremes ourselves and then talk about them our girlfriends, families, and children, inspiring others to do likewise.
Word of mouth is one of the most powerful drivers of consumer behavior. Most of the things I try are the result of recommendations from my closest friends and family members. The same is true of most of the other women I speak with, as well. But if our topics of conversation are centered around food, exercise, and the size and shapes of our bodies, we are strengthening the belief among women that these topics are of high importance, and that experimentation with diets, fitness plans, and other weight loss efforts is worth our while.
But it isn’t.
At best, it’s distracting. At worst, it’s harmful, maybe even deadly.
The danger of dieting isn’t just eating disorders. There’s risk of nutrient imbalances, electrolyte losses, increased risk factor for diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Dieting isn’t safe, and weight loss alone isn’t effective for improving health.
So, let’s stop talking about those things as if they’re beneficial. Yes, let’s talk about them, but in doing so, let us highlight the fact that they devalue us as women and endanger our health. Lets talk about the fact that we are worth so much more than body shape and size, and that our voices can be used for things that are way bigger than trying to fit into smaller pants.
What can you use your voice for?
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