Today is International Anti Diet Day. That is not a day to promote a lot of ‘unhealthy’ food, but a day to draw attention to the unhealthy social pressure to be thin or lose weight. Dieting and dieting is still often promoted as working on your health, but the prevailing diet culture does more harm than good. Dietitian Arwa told media why commercial diets are not the way to go and why the obsession with being thin is so bad.
There is an unrealistic pursuit of the ideal of beauty. People think that when you lose weight and have a certain weight, you are automatically healthy and look ‘good’.
International Anti-Diet Day was established on May 6, 1992, by British feminist Mary Evans Young. After battling an eating disorder herself, she wanted to help other people accept their bodies and end the diet culture. The day would also have been introduced in response to the death of a 15-year-old girl, who eventually committed suicide due to the persistent pressure to lose weight and meet the ideal of beauty. On May 6, other victims of ‘the ideal of thinness’ are therefore commemorated.
Arwa specializes in helping people with eating disorders and where many people see losing weight as something positive, that is not necessarily the case for her. “I look at it differently from ‘the rest, because I know and see the impact that kind of marketing stunts can have on a vulnerable target group.”
Arwa finds it disturbing to say the least that we are so obsessive about our weight and appearance in our society. In particular, the fact that certain body shapes are seen as better than others is, according to her, bad for the diet culture. “There is an unrealistic pursuit of ‘perfection’, the ideal of beauty. People think that when you lose weight and have a certain weight, you are healthy and look ‘good’ .”
She emphasizes that being fatter than the beauty ideal does not automatically mean that you are better off losing weight. “If you look at nature – at animals, trees and plants – you also see that everything comes in different shapes and sizes,” Arwa explains. ” So why are we so concerned with achieving an unrealistic ideal of beauty? This is just how a human body works and looks like. Everyone is unique.”
Diet culture refers to the system in which being thin is seen as better and healthier than being fat. Weight and body shape determine a person’s further value. If you deviate from the (for most) unrealistic ideal image of a thin body and you do not strive for thinning and weight loss, then there are all kinds of stigmas attached to it. For example, fat people are often seen as nappy, unhealthier and less successful than thin people. This results in various forms of weight discrimination.
These views – and with it the diet culture – are maintained by the one-sided image of bodies in the (social) media. This manifests itself in countless ways. Think of advertisements that play on the fear of gaining weight, the obsession with light and low-calorie products, the way we talk about food with terms like cheating and prejudice about weight in the medical world.
The fact that ‘fat is unhealthy’ has often been debunked by various experts, but an awful lot of people still seem convinced of this. That became clear again at the beginning of this year when there was (once again) outrage from a thin person on Instagram because of the fact that the former Belgian Minister of Health is a fat woman. Because how can someone who is heavy give advice about health?
Well, she probably can do that just as well as a thin person, because you can’t just deduce from someone’s appearance how (un)healthy someone is. You can be fat and very healthy, or thin with all kinds of diseases among the members. “Just because you can see from the outside that someone is fat and it is assumed that they are unhealthy, people think they have the right to say something,” Arwa said. ” When thin people have an unhealthy lifestyle and, for example, drink excessively or use a lot of drugs, you don’t hear about it.”
Just as fat does not equate to unhealthy, it also does not equate to eating a lot and fat. Even if we all eat and drink the same and exercise the same, everyone would still look different, Arwa emphasizes. There are many more factors that play a role in a person’s weight than just diet. For example, body weight is genetically determined, just like eye colour, she explains. “A lot of people don’t realize that. It’s already determined how much fat you retain and how wide your hips get. Just like how big your feet get. And you’re not going to try to get your shoe size smaller, either?”
Dieting is stressful for your body and you often gain weight afterwards, because your body has created a buffer for fear that you will starve yourself again. That’s just not the way.
As far as Arwa is concerned, commercial diets are never a smart idea. “Scientific research has also shown that 80 per cent of people who follow it simply gain weight,” she says. ” It’s stressful for your body and often you gain more weight afterwards because your body has created a buffer for fear that you will starve yourself again. That’s just not the way.”
In addition, she emphasizes that there are no products that can make you lose weight. Whatever a product promises, there is only one way to lose weight: eat less than you burn. “In the end, it always comes down to taking in fewer calories than your body needs.” Detox products and juices are also bullshit as far as she’s concerned. “Detoxing is not necessary at all,” she explains. “Why do you think that as a human being you have a liver and kidneys? They already ensure that your body is cleaned, you don’t need crazy juices for that. They do nothing, except that companies make money from it.”
As far as Arwa is concerned, losing weight should never be a goal in itself, but just a side effect of adjusting your lifestyle. What she thinks you should focus on is listening to your body and ensuring a healthy relationship with food. That means not only eating enough and varied, but also being able to enjoy food without feeling guilty. “We shouldn’t see food as a reward or punishment. We really should stop using terms like ‘cheatday’. People have no idea what effect that has. Food is not an enemy.”
In her opinion, the labels ‘unhealthy’ or ‘bad’ food can also be thrown into the trash. “Like: a can of Coke has ten sugar cubes, so that’s bad. You create a certain fear, so that people have an unhealthy relationship with food. A can of Coke is fine, as long as you don’t drink ten a day.” She explains that you should look at a person’s entire diet, not one particular meal or snack. “That’s why I don’t use the term ‘healthy’ very often. It’s about what you eat in a whole day or week and what your mental relationship is with food.”
Do you find yourself susceptible to outside influences when it comes to diet, weight and your body? Maybe you can use the tips below that Arwa discussed in the Topix podcast.
THAT’S ANOTHER WAY OF DOING IT
- Are you unsure whether your diet is varied and satiating enough? See a professional for help, such as a dietitian. He doesn’t have to make a whole feeding schedule for you right away, but can also just check whether you are getting enough nutrients. “Please don’t do your own research on the internet, because that’s where you’ll find the biggest bullshit,” said Arwa. ” Many websites look reliable and companies often also use research, but they pay for it themselves, so they are often not reliable.”
- Check who follows you on Instagram. That affects you more than you might think. Do you notice that you mainly have negative feelings about a certain person or account? Just mute or unfollow them.
- Think about how you talk about food. Do you kill yourself when you eat a croissant or pastry? Or do you quickly prepare your opinion about a fat person? Ask yourself whether that is really necessary because that is how you maintain the diet culture.
- Don’t mention it when you see someone has lost or gained weight. That is not automatically something positive for the person in question. Perhaps the person is struggling with an eating disorder or the weight change is an annoying side effect of other things going on in someone’s life.
- Would you like to work on yourself? “Then try to focus more on non-physical things, such as loving yourself more,”Arwa advises.
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