NEDA Week 2021: A Reflection on Diet Culture

by Katie Heneghan, Web Editor

This year’s theme of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is “Everybody has a seat at the table.” 29 million Americans will struggle with an eating disorder in their lifetime. Eating Disorders do not discriminate, they come in all shapes and sizes, and affect both males and females. Eating disorders are the deadliest mental illness, and come with dangerous and lifelong side effects and health issues. 

Eating disorders come with stigma. Stigma that you must be stick thin to have an Eating Disorder. Stigma that only women suffer from eating disorders. Stigma that if you are in a larger body and lose weight you are a success story rather than someone struggling. These are some of many stigmas and preconceived ideas of what eating disorders look like. 

I have struggled with anorexia and orthorexia for much of my young adult life, and can proudly say I am in recovery. In no way is it an easy road to recovery, but I am here today to tell you it is possible. I am living proof it gets better and it gets easier. 

NEDA week allows for us to reflect on the journey, spread awareness, and spark conversations and provide support for those struggling. This year, I want to talk specifically about toxic diet culture, and how we are “marketed thin”. 

Those who experiment with dieting are five times more likely to develop an Eating Disorder. Those who practice restrictive eating are 18 times more likely to develop an Eating Disorder. But, did you also know that 95% of people who diet gain the weight back? So, why are we still marketing thin? 

The diet industry in America takes in about 60 billion dollars a year. Despite these facts that dieting is, well, a scam, 1/3 of all teenage girls, regardless of their weight claim to be on a diet or actively trying to lose weight. 

I am here today to tell you that as humans we are so smart, but we fall victim to the mundane practice of dieting and restriction despite it’s false claims. Unconsciously, our words and actions perpetuate the cycle of diet culture. All too often, our compliments are based on bodily appearances. 

This year I want to challenge our readers to counter diet culture. Instead of telling a friend they look skinny, tell them they are kind, funny or beautiful. Instead of discussing the calories in meals at a dinner with friends, talk about how the food tastes, and how happy you are to be with friends. 

Workout because you enjoy the way it makes you feel, not because you want to look a certain way. Eat food that nourishes your body and makes you feel your best. Wear an outfit because you like it, not because it makes you look thin. Unfollow those on social media that promote a thin stigma, and choose to follow those that promote body positivity and uplift others instead. Make conscious decisions to challenge the stigma of “thinness”. 

Challenge conversations surrounding toxic diet culture with knowledge and facts that promote intuitive eating and body positivity. Health comes in all shapes and sizes. Thinness does not equate to happiness or health. The scale is not an accurate depiction of health. 

In terms of health, in my eating disorder my body was smaller, but significantly less healthy. My “before” and “after” shows a weight gain that came with significant health benefits. Diet culture promotes this notion of the “before” and “after” with a thinner appearance after dieting which somehow equals health and happiness, right? Wrong. When you break down what a diet really is, it is a form of restriction. Whether a diet claims to be low carb, low fat, high protein, at the end of the day, it is all a form of restriction. Our bodies and minds need the essential food groups of carbs, fats and proteins to function. Restriction is a form of self harm, intuitive eating and nourishing your body is a way to practice self love. 

The National Eating Disorder Association or NEDA, has many resources on their website to help those who are struggling. There are helplines, online support groups and free resources that are there to help those struggling with eating disorders. 

The Manhattan College Counseling Center can also provide resources and help for any students struggling as well. To make an appointment with the Counseling Center you can visit them in person in Miguel 501, or call 718-862-7394.