It’s not you. It’s not the food. It’s diet culture. And you can unlearn diet culture.
January 27th, 2020 by Sara Upson
Diet culture is a monster. And to be clear- diet culture is more than just dieting. It’s getting caught up in the culture that values body weight, shape, size and “wellness” or dogmatic approaches to heath over true wellbeing.
Diet culture has strict rules around which foods are good or bad, healthy or unhealthy and even rules on when you should eat, how you should eat your food, and how much you should have. As a result, instead of feeling better about eating- as diet culture promises- it just makes you feel worse. To help with the “problem” diet culture then diet culture offers another food rule or restriction.
On top of that, the rules in diet culture keep changing. There’s no way that you can get it “right.” We only have to look back in history to watch how certain nutrients have been demonized, (I’m looking at you fats and carbs). Meanwhile, specific foods have been praised in an ever evolving list of superfoods that are going to solve all your health problems and heal the world- goji berries, mangosteen, avocados, acai, cauliflower, kale. In reality- these foods are a product of marketing and bring in super sales for companies but have no magical powers.
Diet culture repeatedly warns of a problem and promises a solution but in reality- diet culture is the problem. It makes you feel awful about yourself, causes harm (both physical and mental) and destroys your life.
The system is a setup for failure and designed to make you feel bad. Becoming aware of your rules from diet culture and how they impact you, helps you take your power back- even if you’re not able to change them yet.
You weren’t born with food rules. They were acquired over time. You were born responding to your body and then you collected them over time from your family system, friends, authority figures, culture, media, news, friends, entertainment, etc. And certainly this varies for everyone depending on your family of origin, friends, environment etc. But over time, these beliefs grow and increase to take over more and more of your thoughts and life.
What often starts as an innocent pursuit of health, desire to feel better in your body, etc., often leads to the point where diet culture takes charge and makes you miserable and afraid of food.
It gets to the place where diet culture or the eating disorder takes over your life and leaves little room for anything else. You’re always thinking about food, what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, what order, getting it right, what’s healthy. It leaves you feeling drained, overwhelmed, and like a failure.
The good news is you can unlearn these food rules, you can begin to change your thinking, challenge the thoughts you have and learn to be neutral with food. It takes patience, time, and intention.
The better news is- you’ve already done this once before. Remember, you weren’t born with food rules, you acquired them and made changes over time that developed into beliefs and patterns that make you feel bad and guilty. So just as you formed these rules, you can also form new beliefs for food freedom.
You do this is by “unlearning” your diet culture beliefs and replacing them with new life sustaining, recovery or intuitive eating oriented beliefs. Unlearning is not like the clicker thing on the movie Men in Black that erases certain parts of your memory- although that would be a lot easier process!
Unlearning is replacing your old thoughts, patterns, and beliefs with new ways of thinking. It takes time and intention to do this because you’re literally rewiring your brain- or working on the neuroplasticity of your brain.
Unlearning helps your brain create new patterns of synaptic communication that support a new and different way of thinking. Because your brain does so many tasks automatically- it takes time to rewire your brain and replace old thought patterns. As your brain develops these thought patterns they will become more automatic and you won’t have to think about them as much.
I like to compare unlearning to hiking on a new trail. Imagine hiking in the woods on a well developed trail that’s been hiked on many times before and the trail is easy to see and follow. The trial is like the synaptic connections in your brain that lead from one point to another. Now imagine you want to go on a different trail, create a new trail, or go back to a trail you haven’t used in awhile. The trial is overgrown, hard to see- or may not even exist at all. As you walk on the trail- you don’t really know where you’re going and there’s no evidence for where you’re supposed to go. Over time as you keep walking on that trail it will become more distinguished, well developed, easy to follow, etc. while the other trail will start to grow over and become harder to see. This is what neuroplasticity is like in your brain. You are creating new neural connections and the old ones are fading away.
So how do you rewire your brain to unlearn diet culture?
- Become aware of your thoughts and beliefs from diet culture and how they no longer serve you- how they’re harmful and have harmed you.
- Create new thoughts and beliefs that support freedom from diet culture, recovery and intuitive eating that support you in achieving your goal of dropping out of diet culture, recovery, or becoming an intuitive eater.
- Practice your new thoughts and beliefs to help reinforce new neural pathways in your brain. It’s important to practice them a lot. To practice them when you’re not experiencing diet culture thoughts, to practice them when you are experiencing diet culture thoughts, and to not let diet culture thoughts go by without reframing them. It takes time and repetition to rewire your brain.
It’s not you, it’s not the food- it’s diet culture. And you can unlearn diet culture. Diet culture is a monster and has caused a lot of harm. It makes you feel like it’s the food you eat or your body that needs to change- but it’s not. It’s recognizing the lies from diet culture and then working on changing your thoughts and beliefs (aka rewiring your brain or neuroplasticity) so that you find freedom.
To help you unlearn diet culture, I have a free guide that helps walk you through this process. The first part helps to get diet culture out of your life, the second part helps to build awareness about your diet culture thoughts and beliefs, the third part helps to build awareness about how diet culture has impacted you, the fourth part helps you replace your old thoughts, and the fifth part supports you in reinforcing these thought patterns. Click here to get your free guide, or click on the image below.