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Dangers of Diet Culture by Cynthia Boyede

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We live in a society that places a lot of value on physical beauty. Whether through traditional media like TV, magazines, or radio or through social media, we are constantly fed the lie that thinner is better. If it’s not thinner, than it’s about being perfectly toned and shaped. We are reminded that thinner/more toned means healthier and that translates to worthiness. Even in our close communities and families, those messages are present. Our culture’s obsession with diet, health and fitness makes it difficult to have a caring and respectful relationship with our bodies, food and movement.

A poll conducted in 2014, showed that 87 per cent of Canadian women are dissatisfied with their bodies and 70 per cent of those women are on a diet to lose weight. Diets have been scientifically proven not to work and in fact, they promote disordered eating and put people at risk for developing a full blown eating disorder. Unfortunately, diets are so normalized that we often buy into them without realizing the risk they pose to our mental and physical health. Here are some diet culture red flags to be wary of: clean eating, Keto, cleanses and detoxes.

One in two Canadians know someone who has or has had an eating disorder. That means over 18 million Canadians know of someone with a history of an eating disorder!

As well as being under-reported, eating disorders are often misrepresented, underrepresented or in some cases overlooked. The most popular and widespread image of a person with an eating disorder is an extremely thin, young and financially-privileged white girl/woman who chooses to starve herself. This image perpetuates two dangerous myths about eating disorders:

1.   An eating disorder is a choice: An eating disorder is never a choice. It is in fact a devastating mental illness. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any other mental illness (15%). Genetic makes up 50-80% of the risk of developing an eating disorder (ie. NOT YOUR FAULT).  

2.   Eating disorders discriminate: Anyone can develop an eating disorder regardless of race, weight, body size, body type, gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.

In a society where beauty and thinness are often seen as pathways to health and success, people with eating disorders who do not fit this mold are often prescribed weight-loss or a “make-over” of some sort. Stereotypes like these build a barrier to recovery for a lot of people who have eating disorders because it makes it harder for people who do not fit this mold to detect the eating disorder early.

The good news is there is hope for recovery. A good place to start is recognizing that you struggle with an eating disorder or disordered eating and talking to a health professional or a community support organization like Body Brave, about your concerns.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Are you preoccupied with thoughts about weight, food, calories, carbs, fat, diets, or   exercise?

  2. Do you refuse to eat when you’re hungry?

  3. Are you terrified about gaining weight or being overweight?

  4. Do you feel uncomfortable eating around people?

  5. Do you feel extremely guilty after eating?

  6. Do you vomit after eating?

  7. Do you mostly or only eat diet/clean foods?

  8. Do you particularly avoid certain food groups e.g. carbohydrates, sugars, fat, etc.?

  9. Have you gone on eating binges where you feel like you may be unable to stop?

  10. Our Executive Director, Sonia Seguin says a good question to ask: Is your relationship with food, exercise or your body affecting your quality of life in any way?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is important to reach out. Body Brave offers free group and individual support. We also recommend speaking with a health care provider and checking out our comprehensive list of treatment programs on our website, here.

Check out Body Brave if you’re in the Hamilton Area and would like to be a part of a body inclusive and positive community. We’ll soon be offering online support so stay tuned!

Remember, full recovery is possible!

Sources

House of Commons, Canada, Eating Disorders among Girls and Women in Canada: Report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, November 2014, 41st Parliament, Second Session, https://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/41-2/FEWO/report-4

Ipsos Reid, 2015. Half (50%) of Canadians Have Been Exposed to Eating Disorders, Whether It's Someone They Know or Themselves. (2015). Ipsos Reid. Retrieved 20 September 2018, from:

https://www.ipsos.com/en-ca/half-50-canadians-have-been-exposed-eating-disorders-whether-its-someone-they-know-or-themselves

"The Role Of Genetics In Eating Disorders - F.E.A.S.T.." Feast-ed.org. N. p., 2018. Web. 2 Nov. 2018.

LeBlanc, H. "Eating disorders among girls and women in Canada: Report of the standing committee on the status of women. 41st Parliament." Second Session). Canada: House of Commons. Available from: https://nedic. ca/sites/default/files//Status% 20of% 20Women% 20Report% 20Eating% 20Disorders. pdf [Links] (2014).

Australian Report

"Need For NIED | Nied.Ca." Nied.ca. N. p., 2018. Web. 2 Nov. 2018.

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Cynthia Boyede is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Body Brave.

Body Brave is an Eating Disorder, Body Image & Disordered Eating Resource & Support Organization in Hamilton, Ontario.