The intersection of societal standards and mental health is not a new phenomenon. Whether it’s from the need for religious repentance or the simple desire to be seen as beautiful, people have historically pushed their bodies to unhealthy limits to fit a mold. Modern-day sees this taken to the extreme through the normality of diet culture in our everyday lives. Banyan Philadelphia explores diet culture and eating disorders.
There are many ways to define diet culture. At its core, it is a collective set of beliefs that places value on thinness, but its impact is far more complicated and damaging. It is a pervasive mindset that will always prioritize the shape of one’s body over its physical and psychological health. An example of diet culture is the labeling of certain foods in hierarchical categories and placing restrictions on oneself based on those labels.
Diet culture as we know it today is heavily influenced by the concept of fad diets and rigorous exercise routines. Historically, the word diet was used to refer to the total amount of food consumed. The 1900s implemented the world's connection to the practice of restricting eating to change one’s body shape.
The farther back in time we go, the more common it was for the people of those times to eat for survival as opposed to aesthetics.
The concept of being fit originated in Ancient Greece. Being that it was the birthplace of the Olympics, much emphasis was placed on the body’s physical health. Therefore, the prevalence of eating disorders in olympic athletes should come as no surprise. It was also widely accepted that the body's health was indicative of a strong mind. Essentially, the aesthetics of one’s health was not as important as a body’s physical abilities.
The mid-1800s saw the rise of people recognizing ideal body types,' and the concept of what was considered beautiful became reliant on how the body looked. Thought to be the most beautiful man in the world, a figure known as Lord Byron can be considered the world's first diet influencer. He pioneered the fad vinegar diet, during which he would eat potatoes soaked in the substance and drink it mixed with water. Due to this, there are records of women dying from drinking excessive amounts of vinegar. This serves as just one of the dangerous examples of diet culture and how easily an eating disorder can be formed.
As research on diet culture continues to come out, the serious damage it has caused people around the world is undeniable. Social media and a multibillion-dollar weight loss industry consistently prey on people struggling with acceptance of their own body and profit on their ambition to change it. A 2013 study from the National Eating Disorders Association found that 20 to 25% of dieting evolves into a form of disordered eating.1
Let this be clear. Prioritizing the health of one’s body is an amazing thing, but toxic diet culture makes that dangerous if proper self-image is not possessed from the get-go. Our Philadelphia eating disorder clinic is equipped with resources and staff dedicated to helping you or someone you love manage disordered eating and live the life you deserve.