You open a magazine and on page 13 there’s an article about loving yourself – about how being confident is what men find attractive, as though that’s the reason you deserve love. You turn the page to see airbrushed picture after airbrushed picture of women with impossibly flat stomachs (don’t they have internal organs?) showcased on that one specific shade of lightly tanned white skin. Turn the page again, and you’ll arrive at a double page spread telling you how to lose 5 lbs in 5 days – without a shred of evidence to suggest that what you’re losing is anything other than water.
There’s a common theme across these magazines: fat is bad. Fat people are bad, and fat in food must make you fat, so eating fat is bad. I’m not sure exactly who coined the science behind telling you that avocados are bad for you but that a mug shot will make you healthier and happier, but they’ve certainly profited from it. Our current diet culture is one that profits from insecurity, especially insecurities pertaining to women. Not only that, but this diet culture has no interest in actually making us slimmer, healthier individuals. The companies who make diet products are interested in one thing and one thing only: selling a product.
You buy the products and restrict your food intake because you think they’ll improve your life, and one of two things happens: 1) some part of you realises this is unsustainable and you crave every kind of food that isn’t low-calorie, resulting in over-eating, ever-decreasing self-esteem and an ‘I’ve failed’ mindset, or 2) you continue to restrict calories, you become obsessed with what’s in your food and you don’t end up any happier. Both of these scenarios make you a marketer’s dream – vulnerable and sad, you blame yourself for these products being engineered to work the way they do, and you believe that if only you had the willpower to diet right, then you’d be happy.
I know this, because I have experienced it firsthand – and I am not alone. We think we are individuals, with individual insecurities, but we as a collective have fallen for these lies, which dictate how we ought to look, eat and behave. This is not just marketing, and this is so much more than just profit. This is where disordered eating begin to manifest itself, and it is dangerous.
I know this, because I have experienced it firsthand.
Back in 2012, my mum had booked a summer holiday for me, her and my little sister. I had hated my body for as long as I could remember, and that holiday became a goal that was essentially some sort of turning point. Over the Lent of 2012 I gave up chocolate, and took up running. And then I started giving up other things – like breakfast and lunch. It very quickly spiralled, but because I wasn’t underweight, I was applauded for the way I was eating and behaving. I deprived myself of happiness on the basis that I didn’t deserve it yet. Maybe I’d deserve it if I were thinner – there was obviously nothing wrong with me, because my weight was healthy. It would only matter if my collarbones were more prominent, if my thighs were smaller, if my jawline were more pronounced. Very quickly, fat became more than just an adjective describing the physical; it became an emotion.
I will never forget the moment when a girl in my physics class asked me why I never smiled any more, nor will I forget the horrified look on the face of a girl I used to walk home with when I asked her how often she thought about killing herself. I hate the jealous, miserable, bitter version of myself that I became, but most of all I hate how easy it was for me to access that world.
For 40p you can buy a 38 calorie sachet of hot chocolate. Based on taste alone, it’s the closest thing to shit you’ll get without eating actual faecal matter. But when you’re obsessed with calories, and craving sugar because of the lack of food and abundance of artificial sweeteners your diet consists of, you’ll take it.
How is it possible that we have created a world in which a sachet has the power to make a 15 year old girl feel like she wants to die because she’s not good enough? I was lucky to have had a relatively short battle with eating problems – which even now I don’t feel comfortable labelling because my weight never went below what’s considered healthy for my height. There are so many vulnerable people who have been taken in by this same diet culture, and so many of them are still struggling.
This is exactly what every single diet product represents, and this is why I will never drink hot chocolate from a sachet again.
It must be our goal as a society to achieve balance – in which we view food as food, and not as products. We must remember that food exists to nourish us. We are not nourishing ourselves by self-deprivation, nor are we nourishing ourselves by mindlessly consuming food without paying attention to our hunger cues. We must love ourselves, and find our own individual balance. Healthy is different for everyone, and we must not punish ourselves or demonise any other group of people for being obsessed with food, in a world that is constantly pitching it to us.
For more information about the food and diet industry, the following documentaries are available on Netflix and I highly recommend them:
Hungry for Change
Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead
For more information about disordered eating, please visit https://www.b-eat.co.uk/