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OPINION: You can’t spell “diet” without “ED” Calories, BMI and dieting aren’t indicative of good health

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Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor

By Ember, Contributor

cw: fatphobia, disordered eating

Food is what fuels our bodies. So why is it that there is an ever increasing rise of popularity in dieting and diet culture? A movement that encourages us to deprive ourselves; to aspire to be thin. To put it plainly? A hatred for fat bodies that results in widespread disordered eating.

The way we frame different topics and discussions is very important. This especially applies to the way we talk about food, our bodies and other people’s bodies.

Caloric science is based on outdated Western scientific methods from the nineteenth century by Wilbur Atwater. It is the estimate of how much energy is contained in a portion of food by burning it in a tank submerged in water, and measuring how much burning the food increased the temperature of the surrounding water.

However, it is hard to accurately predict the energy stored in food; our bodies do not work as simply as a furnace burning fuel. There are many factors that influence the calories of the foods we eat, like how the food is prepared, if cellulose is present and how much energy it takes to digest the food.

Not to mention, there are additional factors that affect digestion, such as metabolism, age, gut bacteria and physical activity. Labels on food do not accurately represent what we’re putting into our body nor what we’re getting out of it.

Ever since Canada enforced the Healthy Menu Choices Act back in 2016, which requires food establishments to list the amount of calories in their products, there has also been an increasing number of discussions surrounding the negative impact of the addition of calories to menus.

Another measurement that is often used to determine how healthy we are is body mass index, even though it is an inaccurate measurement of “health” for multiple reasons. It was meant to analyze the weight of populations, not individuals, and doesn’t take into account whether mass is fat or muscle. As a result, BMI is a biased and harmful method to gauge health.

Along with measurements like calories and BMI, language surrounding food can also be dangerous. You may hear things like “carbs are bad”, or you may hear discourse on “healthy” versus “unhealthy” foods, “cheat days” and “clean eating”, to name some examples. This language can contribute to the notion that we should feel bad for eating food, when it simply is a way to nourish ourselves and additionally, something to enjoy.

Diet culture is so pervasive and present in society. It is encouraged by menus listing calorie amounts, peers, elders and healthcare professionals in various ways. Thoughts like “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” stem from conflating “health” and “weight”, which has roots in racism, classism and fatphobia.

Diet culture is so pervasive and present in society. It is encouraged by menus listing calorie amounts, peers, elders and healthcare professionals in various ways. Thoughts like “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” stem from conflating “health” and “weight”, which has roots in racism, classism and fatphobia.

Hannah Meier, a dietitian who contributed to a project tackling women’s health, writes about how society glorifies dieting. In Meier’s article titled A Dietitian’s Truth: Diet Culture Leads to Disordered Eating she writes, “I was half-functioning. I remember filling pages of journals with promises to myself that I wouldn’t eat. I planned out my week of arbitrary calorie restrictions that were shockingly low and wrote them all over my planner, my whiteboard, the foggy mirror in the bathroom.” 

For many of us, the mindset of diet culture swallows you whole, consumes your every thought and waking moment, then spits you out like rotten food.

Oftentimes, people aren’t advocating for diets because they want to be “healthy”. Instead, they often feel passionate about dieting because of their hate and disdain for fat people since they associate being “fat” with “unhealthy”, “unhappy” or “unlovable”.

It’s also important to note that views on fatness and fat bodies change depending on the time period and culture; renaissance paintings often depict fat women in angelic and celestial aesthetics. As well, certain cultures, both past and present, value fatness as a symbol of privilege, power, wealth and fertility.

Diet culture, eating disorders, and fatphobia are so tightly knit together that they are like an ill-fitting sweater woven by your grandmother that you didn’t want or ask for. Sometimes you think about wearing it, to make things easier or simpler. But it won’t. You will only become a shell of your former self; a husk that is barely scraping by.

Any joy derived from depriving yourself is temporary. A scale will weigh how much of you is there, but it won’t weigh how much of you has been lost to an eating disorder. It is a mental illness, a distortion of reality and external factors that influence how you think. You can’t just stop having an eating disorder on a whim.

Calorie counting isn’t healthy, demonizing certain foods isn’t healthy and having preconceived notions about someone’s health based on how their body looks isn’t “just caring about their health.” Stop calling food “unhealthy” or “healthy”, start calling it “nourishing” or “not/less nourishing. Eat food that makes you happy and makes you feel good. Bodies are so many things, including wonderful and complex. You only have one — so treat it with kindness.

 

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