The Dangers of Diet Culture

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Colleen McAteer Headshot

Colleen McAteer

Growing up in the early 2000’s, diet culture was a major part of my life, and played a significant role in the development of my first eating disorder. I still remember when I was little going to weight loss  meetings and consults with my mom. For pretty much all of my childhood she was on some sort of diet.  She’d buy diet and “healthy” versions of snacks. During these diet cycles, she would always talk about wanting to get thin and get the house organized because then everything would be alright, and she would be happy.

This message of thinness and happiness resonated with me as I entered high school. The show America’s Next Top Model was pretty popular and as a tall and thin adolescent I became fixated on becoming a model. I didn’t have many friends during my teenage years, and at times it felt like the only positive reinforcement I got from my peers was my thinness. I became attached to a mentality similar to my mom: if I stayed thin I could be a model and then I would be happy. My peers would respect me and my life would finally be the way I wanted it to be.

It all started “innocently” enough, exploring calorie counting my freshman year but slowly weaning off sophomore year until things started to spiral. Winter break, I felt myself becoming increasingly hungry, most likely going through a growth spurt. I hadn’t gotten my period yet, so my body was probably trying to gain enough weight so it could start. When I saw my weight though I was mortified. How dare I get so “out of control.” I became resolute on getting back to a certain weight, and more importantly certain measurements because according to Top Model, mine were too large.

I told myself I would return to counting calories and working out at the gym consistently until I reached a certain size.  Unfortunately, this seemingly innocent “wellness plan” manifested into a full-blown eating disorder. When I reached that initial size, I told myself I would lose only “a little more weight” because I was going on vacation and would gain it back. When I lost that, it still wasn’t good enough…it was never good enough.

Though there were many factors that played into my eating disorder, the ones that stuck most with me were those around diet culture. These messages that thinness equals happiness and that life all “falls into place” when you reach a certain size bombarded the media when I was a teenager. And though there has been some progress in that there is a greater presence of body diversity and body acceptance today, the desire for thinness is still pervasive in our culture.

I truly hope one day we reach a point in our society where diets are no longer an issue, and people can learn to nourish their body and move in ways that spark joy and provide balance.  No Diet Day is a good place to start. By sharing the dangers of dieting and informing people of ways to approach nourishing their bodies in a way that takes away the idea of “good” and “bad” foods, we can help slowly shift our culture away from one that is obsessed with the idea that thinness equates health. Furthermore, it moves away from the notion that diets are health conscious, or “lifestyle choices” but rather restrictive regimes that promote disordered eating.

Colleen is a 29 year old eating disorder recovery coach in the DFW area. Though new to the coaching field, she has experience in the area of eating disorders, having recovered from both anorexia nervosa and binge eating disorder. She currently works at Bridged Collaborative, a recovery center in Allen, TX,  and strives to help more individuals forge balanced relationships with food and exercise.  She is working on obtaining her CCI EDC certification. For more information check out the links below: