Diet & Nutrition

OPINION: If you needed proof we have to ditch diet culture this summer, here it is

For millions of us, this is the worst time of the year.

By Maddison Leach
This article includes discussion of eating disorders and negative body image. If you need help, call The Butterfly Foundation's national helpline on 1800 33 4673 or visit their website
Summer may still be a month away, but as the weather heats up across Australia millions of women are already feeling the seasonal pressure to slim down.
Every year we're flooded with messages about "bikini bodies", crash diets and summer workouts designed to get our figures "ready" for the holiday season.
Gyms slash their joining fees, diet companies plaster before and after weight loss photos across social media and friends and family start bemoaning their winter weight gain.
This year, many Australians are coming straight out of lockdown and feel more pressure than ever to change their bodies (typically through weight loss) before December 1 hits and summer truly begins.
Search the words "summer body" and this is what you'll be fed. (Are Media)
For millions of us, this is the worst time of the year.
Inundated with messages about how our bodies are "wrong", summer can be deeply traumatic for anyone – man, woman or child – who feels even the slightest insecurity about their figure.
Plus size women are pressured to slim down with crash diets or cover their bodies at the beach, while people with eating disorders can end up on a devastating downward spiral.
So why do we keep seeing this harmful narrative around "beach bodies" and summer weight loss pop up year after year?
"It's being driven by diet culture, by the fitness industry, by anyone really trying to profit off people's insecurities," Danni Rowlands, National Manager Prevention Services at The Butterfly Foundation explains to Now To Love.
"Diet culture actually promotes and normalizes disordered eating behaviors… it's anything that's really driving weight loss, body shape change, or anything suggesting that there is a quick fix around weight, shape and size."
Danni reveals that we see these harmful messages crop up every year because they target our insecurities and encourage us to invest in diet programs and gym memberships in a bid to fit society's beauty standards.
That in turn makes the diet and weight loss industry a hell of a lot of money.
"One of the sad realities is that the more unsatisfied we feel, the more likely we are going be to seek out ways to 'fix' what we perceive as a 'problem', based on what society says," Danni elaborates.
Basically, the worse these industries can make us feel about our bodies, the more they'll profit.
If you need proof that it works, just look at your own life or the lives of your friends and family.
Who hasn't dropped cash on a crash diet or paid for a gym membership in a bid to drop a few kilos before summer hits?
It's easy to think that engaging in these behaviours once a year isn't that bad, but the truth is that the annual push for summer weight loss can quickly turn into something more sinister.
"People might start engaging in a restrictive diet or an extreme exercise program… in order to feel better about themselves," Danni says.
"And we do know that's not a long-term solution. Dipping in and out of dieting and extreme exercise programs can really disorder our relationship with eating exercise and our bodies."
Lynne McGranger recently opened up about her own experiences overcoming an eating disorder in her book. (Instagram)
I was just 22 when I first downloaded a calorie tracking app hoping to shed some puppy fat before a beach holiday. That sounds harmless, right?
But instead of dropping a few kilos, enjoying my holiday and going on with my life, I developed a crippling eating disorder that I'm still grappling with almost four years later.
Every summer like clockwork it rears its ugly head and I find myself poring over nutrition labels again or lying to my partner about how much I ate that day.
Every summer I panic at the thought of donning a bikini or a pair of shorts for fear that my body won't look exactly the way my disordered mind thinks it should.
And every summer I wish I had never downloaded that f—king app.

Danni confirms that most people find their overall health suffers when they buy into diet culture, be it through crash diets or insane workout regimes, and I can certainly attest to that.
But when everything around you – from TV ads, to Instagram posts and celebrities promoting their newest diets – is screaming that you need to change your body for the summer, how on earth can you protect yourself?
Danni says it comes down to three things: getting savvy about diet culture, shutting down negative body talk and staying vigilant on social media.
Her biggest tip is to check in with yourself regularly and be aware that the feelings you have about your body will shift and change all the time, and diet culture messages can amp up any insecurities you have.
"So many people have been in lockdown and under stress … a lot of us are feeling a bit uncomfortable in ourselves and our bodies right now. But your body isn't wrong," she says.
"Your body isn't wrong." (Pexels)
"If we are feeling dissatisfied and we are really feeling that the solution is a quick fix diet or an extreme body transformation program, just consider the bigger picture," she says.
"Try not to engage in that and instead do things that make you feel good in your body… move in ways that feel good, make sure that you're providing your body with lots of nutritious and fun foods, try to remove the guilt and shame from our body and appearance."
As for conversations about bodies and weight, Danni urges people to simply shut down any negative talk this summer.
"If someone is making comments about your body… think about a statement to shut that down," she says, and the same goes for comments about other people's bodies, especially children.
If a friend or family member does say something hurtful, just remember: "They're the problem, not your body."
We also need to practice what we preach and avoid making comments about other peoples' bodies too, Danni stressing that it's important to model the behaviour we want to see.
That ethos carries across to social media, where Danni encourages people to avoid engaging with content that promotes negative or unrealistic messages about body image.
She adds that it's important to be wary of body positive content too, as often the images shared alongside positive captions can reinforce harmful body ideals.
"Sometimes it's not the intent of the person posting, but unfortunately it's actually what ends up happening," she says.
"If you're talking about body image… can we represent that in a different way that doesn't rely on us using a body ideal or our appearance to demonstrate that?"

I'm not going to lie; many of these things are easier said than done and it can often feel impossible to undo the damage of years living in a society obsessed with diet culture.
But this summer, I'm urging everyone to let go of the chokehold of diet culture and allow themselves the freedom to enjoy the heat, the beach, and all the rest without the body insecurity this season so often brings.
"In summertime, the things we need to be focused on is spending time with people, healing from the last couple of years, and just being able to enjoy summertime without this pressure that our body has to look a certain way," Danni agrees.
"This is the time we spend trying to heal rather than… criticising our bodies because they're not what they were two years ago."
For some people, that may simply mean ditching the fad diets this summer. For others, it could be a longer process of recovering from disordered eating.
"This summer, I'm urging everyone to let go of the chokehold of diet culture." (Pexels)
Either way, every Australian should have the right and the freedom to enjoy the summer of 2022 (and every summer after) without the crippling pressure of diet culture and unattainable body ideals.
And if that's something you're struggling with, even just a little, know that there is always support available.
"You don't have to have a full blown eating disorder to actually reach out and chat to somebody about what you're feeling," Danni says.
"We actually encourage people to talk to support services sooner than later, rather than waiting until it's all-consuming."
If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, help is always available. Call The Butterfly Foundation's national helpline on 1800 33 4673 or visit their website
SHAREPIN
  • undefined: Maddison Leach