As the new year looms, so do resolutions of weight loss. Dieting to lose weight is the second most popular resolution in the United States for 2019, with exercising to get into shape being the first. Even though only 64 percent stick with their resolutions after January and only 46 percent after June, every year Americans pledge to lose weight.
Diet resolutions feed into our fatphobic society, worshipping thinness and degrading fatness. In fact, data from 2010 show that Americans spent over $60 billion on dieting and diet products. Women’s magazines advertise weight loss at every grocery store check-out lane and social media is littered with clean-eating accounts and weight-loss promises. Even television hosts Jenna Hager and Hoda Kotb nervously weighed themselves live on air before starting their intermittent fasting diet. Moreover, Michigan is the only state with a civil rights law prohibiting a workplace to fire someone because of their weight. While some cities have similar protections, the other 49 states have no state-wide laws. All of these contribute to our nation’s diet culture.
From intermittent fasting and the keto diet to low-fat diets, you usually have at least one friend trying something new in an attempt to lose weight. Fad diets continually cycle, brainwashing people into believing they will actually work. About 95 percent of people who lose weight from diets will regain the weight (and possibly even more) within one to five years. Additionally, there are more side effects to fad diets than temporary weight loss. Dehydration, weakness, nausea, headaches and general lack of nutrients are some of the side effects from fad diets. I suffered from these same side effects when I was actively in my eating disorder.
Unfortunately, dieting does not only affect adults. Teenagers and kids are just as subject to dieting and fatphobia. According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, teenagers aged 14 to 15 who dieted moderately were five times more likely to develop an eating disorder and those who heavily restricted their diets were 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder.This was coupled with unhealthy weight control behaviors. According to researcher Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, teenage boys and girls engage in skipping meals, smoking, vomiting, laxative use and fasting. Diet culture is an issue that affects every age and gender. And for those already eating-disordered, diet culture perpetuates eating disorders and makes “a full recovery almost impossible.” For me, much of my time in outpatient treatment involved coping with societal triggers and evading diet culture, especially near the holidays.
This is not to say never try to lose weight or be ashamed if you have. Everyone has different reasons to lose weight. For some, it is because of compromising health conditions where it is important to work with doctors and dietitians to create a sustaining meal plan to remain healthy. But by doing so, one can still help resist diet culture.
There are multiple ways to counteract diet culture. First, use the Health at Every Size logic and guidelines — weight loss or gain is not necessarily a sign of improved health. Excluding extreme cases, people can be healthy or unhealthy at any weight. Personally, I know skinny and fat people who are healthy as well as some who are unhealthy. Weight is not the sole determining factor of health, yet society continually shames fat people even though being extremely underweight is ultimately more dangerous than the counterpart.
Furthermore, through fad diets and fatphobia, our culture glorifies eating disorders for fat people, while showing concern for eating disorders in thin people. Society degrades fat people while putting thin (and emaciated) people on pedestals. Therefore, equal access to care is necessary. But equal access cannot happen until society reframes their thinking around fat people. It is important to reflect on your own weight biases and actions.
Second, acknowledge your thin privilege, if applicable, and use it to help resist diet culture. Though a newly popular phrase, thin privilege has implications everywhere, especially in seating. Knowing you are able to comfortably sit in movie theaters, doctors’ offices, planes and restaurants means you have thin privilege. This is not a bad thing; people did not ask for it. Thin privilege is merely a result of a fatphobic society. However, people can choose to acknowledge their thin privilege and become involved in activism. From asking how to help, welcoming fat people to sit next to you or participating in Weight Stigma Awareness Week these small actions can help fight the nationwide fatphobia that diet culture encourages.
Finally, do not give out unwarranted health advice. Health advice should come from professionals, such as doctors or dietitians. However, make sure your doctor or dietitian is part of the Health at Every Size movement, as even professionals can be fatphobic.
There is no one way to cure diet culture. It is a $60 billion industry. However, we can perform small acts of resistance to not only help ourselves but others impacted by diet culture and the fatphobia within the culture. Fat people deserve the same treatment as thin people. Weight is not a measure of worth. It is time our society reflects that.
Chloe Plescher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.