It is SO confusing, emotionally draining, and time consuming to critically think about every single thing you read. Sometimes we have to turn it off. However, part of diet culture and eating disorder recovery is learning how to step back from the disordered food thoughts and analyze the information we consume.
As you read websites, blogs, and look at social media, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Is this a diet? Are the food rules triggering my eating disorder? If it is, this info is counterproductive to recovery. Close out. Delete history. Find recovery-oriented materials to read instead.
- Who profits off this information? Are there books, ads, promotional materials, webinars, and other things you can buy through the website? Who sells it? If it’s a multi-level marketing company, who is in charge? What are their core values? Are people trying to reach a quota or do they have your best interests at heart? If they truly care about consumers, what are they doing to dismantle systems that uphold conventional beauty and body ideals?
- Is what they’re saying gaslighting? This part is also confusing because it’s easy to be a victim of gaslighting. For example, you read a post about a new meal delivery service and the seller says they have your best interests at heart because they want you to look and feel your best. Recognize that this is an underhanded way of triggering diet thoughts (“I could lose weight! I could be happy!”) and relies on conventional beauty standards and shame to sell their product. The company isn’t trying to break the system because it makes them money when you buy their product (or lifestyle plan or whatever). Gaslighting is what happens when people speak up and the company says, “We never misled you. It’s your fault it didn’t make you look and feel your best.”
- What pictures are on their website or blog post? Are they images of mostly thin, able-bodied people? Do they show body diversity? Are people of color represented? What do the activities they’re doing suggest about their socioeconomic status or access to certain foods?
- How do they talk about food? What about the recipes? Are they a certain “type” of recipe (e.g. Paleo, AIP, Keto, WW, gluten/fat/everything-free)? Do they label foods as “junk,” talk about eliminating certain foods because they are “bad” or proclaim the benefits of certain “good” food?
- How do they talk about themselves or their clients? Is the language aspirational and a little unrealistic sounding? (E.g. “I used to be in pain/have chronic fatigue/feel bloated and now I’m happy, healthy, and free from pain!” “Quinn lost 120 pounds by going gluten-free!” “You don’t have to fear food (but here are some recipes only using certain foods because they’re “better” for you)!”)
- How do I feel when I read this? What happens when reading these articles and (sneaky diet culture) ads for programs is that we get hard on ourselves. Shame is a powerful feeling. It comes from believing “I AM bad.” Guilt comes from the belief “I DID something bad.” (Both can be mixed up and often overblown when it comes to the inner critic of diet rules and the eating disorder voice). Neither one is usually true. Unless you stabbed someone to get that Starburst candy, you are not bad and you didn’t do anything bad by eating it.
On the surface, diet culture, health and wellness language looks pretty harmless. But when you dig deeper there are problems. Health and wellness language also tends to invisibilize huge groups of people: gender non-conforming, trans, disabled, poor, neurodiverse, people without access to nutrient dense food, people with chronic and/or genetic health problems, people from other cultures who have different values and belief systems (to name a few).
Moreover, we put too much emphasis on food, exercise, and body size (all based on certain beauty ideals). Food, workouts and bodies become the primary targets of change and sources of external validation. But when you zoom out, you’ll see there are many other things we can do to boost our overall health beyond obsessing about foods on the “no” list, feeling guilty when we don’t hit an arbitrary number of workouts a week, or hate on our bodies when the scale doesn’t show a number we want to see.
So, as you go about your day, browse the internet, or scroll through social media, I hope you ask yourself these questions. Ask yourself what purpose that guilt or shame has. Be critical of the words and images you consume. You are worth the time and energy it takes to bolster your recovery.