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Liberating yourself from diet culture

Stuck in a restrictive mindset that only makes you feel bad about yourself? Here’s how to shift the narrative—for good.

Growing up, it wasn’t uncommon to see our mothers on diets. Depending on your age, you may have seen her ebb and flow through a myriad of diets, such as low-fat, the “grapefruit” diet, low- to no-carb, and so many more. Watching these patterns as children likely instilled in many women the idea that restrictive dieting, over-exercising, or engaging in crash diets was completely normal. With those patterns engrained in us, combined with societal pressures and messaging that urges us to compare bodies against one another, it’s no wonder many women have strained relationships with how they eat.

And while, fortunately, movements such as body positivity and whole-food nourishment are becoming more mainstream, old habits die hard. We may still feel anxiety creeping in if our clothes suddenly don’t fit the same, we see a photo of ourselves and our appearance catches us off guard, or a celebrity’s body makes us feel insecure about our own. These are the lingering effects of our unfortunately intimate relationship with the diet cycle, and these negative feelings are bound to rear their ugly heads every so often. But through the power and perseverance that each woman holds, we can continue to move body acceptance forward—for ourselves, and for our daughters who are watching. Here’s how we can stick it to diet culture and keep making strides in breaking the cycle.


You don’t need to ditch the scale if that’s not right for you, but shifting your attention to taking care of your whole health rather than reaching a number on the scale can help you develop a more positive relationship with nutrition and exercise. By tuning into the foods and nutrients your body is craving, the intensity and type of exercise that’ll help you feel your best, what it feels like to be properly hydrated, and the differences in your ability to function optimally depending on the amount of sleep you got the night before, you will have a better sense of how to truly take care of your body and you’ll be more likely to be able to tell when something feels off—and you’ll be able to rectify it with your new-found body-focused vocabulary.


When you’re on a diet, the only thing you can think about is what you can’t have. This minimizing mindset is a recipe for disaster, and only perpetuates the diet cycle. Instead, focus on adding more nourishment to your plate—not less. If you’re someone who’s used to nixing food groups as a fast fix, try reversing this mindset but loading up your diet with varied whole foods such as fresh produce, whole grains, healthy fats, and satiating proteins. Keeping in mind that nothing is off limits and that you have the freedom to choose to consume the foods that help you feel your best can begin to heal a restrictive mindset.


A hefty section in the diet cycle is the feeling of failure. Meaning, if you’ve committed to sticking to a diet and then you “slip up” on it, it’s a quick jump to feeling like you’ve failed entirely and that there’s no other choice but to give up. This problematic pattern wreaks havoc on your mindset and ensures that the diet cycle remains strong. Diet culture tells us that “food is just fuel,” and that it should be kept separate from emotion. But if you can’t enjoy a slice of cake at your niece’s birthday, eggs benny at brunch with your partner, or a few glasses of wine with your best friend, is reaching a number on the scale even worth it? Rather than interpreting that you’re being “good” while restricting foods and you’re “bad” when you indulge, try shifting this mindset to a place where you believe that there is room for all of it. You can fuel your body with nutrient-dense whole-foods and you can enjoy the sweeter (or saltier) things in life. On the same day, even. There is room for both.


Growing up, it was commonplace to hear our mothers and aunts talking about the new diets they were trying, how they’d been “bad” when they indulged in sweets, or that they constantly wanted to drop a few pounds. But if you take a look around in today’s society, we’re starting to see a promising shift among women towards a more body positive mindset. Today’s women aren’t afraid to express themselves in clothing that isn’t designed to simply hide their bodies, and more conversations are beginning to revolve around efforts to accept their bodies just as they are—not a certain number of pounds from now. These conversations need to keep happening, so while you may feel as if the topic of weight is taboo, speaking with other women about the efforts they’ve made towards body acceptance will inspire you in your own journey. We may not have all the answers yet, but the more we talk about it, the closer we get to acceptance and breaking the diet cycle for good.


Despite movements like body positivity gaining momentum, deep-rooted habits can trigger anxieties related to body image. But women can continue to take constructive steps to counteract these influences and break the diet cycle by focusing on overall health rather than fixating on weight, promoting an abundance mindset over restriction, rejecting the notion of failure, and encouraging open conversations about body acceptance. By empowering women to shift their mindset and engage in supportive dialogues, women can break free from the constraints of diet culture and foster a more positive self-image for present and future generations.

Try Intuitive Eating to Break the Diet Cycle – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
How to Break Free From The Diet Cycle – Alissa Rumsey
3 Steps to Escape the Dieting Cycle | Chelsey Amer Nutrition


  • Chelsea Clarke is a Toronto-based health and wellness writer who’s obsessed with championing the underdog, sparking new perspectives on old ideas, and getting to the root of the latest trends.

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