Is Diet Culture Doing You More Harm Than Good? This Is The True Cost Of Limiting Your Diet

Another day, another diet.

In today’s world, it seems as though the answer for so many of our problems is dieting. You don’t like your body? Diet. Your mood is low? Diet. You have no energy? Diet. But what happens when we actually take a step back and look at the word “diet” and its implications?

People put a lot of pressure on a small four letter word that has recently become more about limiting and not so much about living. Let’s talk about why.


So why am I talking to you about this?

Personally, I’ve been on every diet imaginable. I was vegan for half a year, gluten-free for a whole year, I’m lactose intolerant so I flirt with the dairy-free diet (ranch is an exception), I’ve been pescatarian on and off, I swore off red meat until my boyfriend’s dad made me a steak (I mean, come on!), I was keto for about a week (bread=life for me), and I intermittent fast religiously (I can’t seem to stop that one).

All these diets took place in the last year and a half. And none of them were suggested by a doctor or nutritionist. I’ve been battling toxic eating patterns and eating phobias for roughly three years now, but my battles came to a boiling point through the form of dieting. I have firsthand experience of the emotional toll that limiting yourself and your diet can take on you. 

All of the diets I’ve been on can be boiled down to “eat __, not __”. And when you’re told not to eat something, more often than not, that food can sometimes morph into a big, evil fear food, and suddenly, you’re stressed because you ate a handful of chips. 

I’ve learned that the more I focus on what not to eat or when not to eat, that food and that time become idols.

. . . .

What’s in a Name

I wanted to research why dieting has become what it is now, so let’s look at the origins of the word “diet.” 

The word “diet” is derived from the Greek word, “diata”, which directly translates: “To live one’s life”. Likewise, the Latin word “diaeta” means, “a manner of living”. If you want to nerd out like me, here are literally all of the meanings of diet

As language progressed, in the late 14th century the Old French adapted the word “dieter” to mean “to regulate one’s diet for the sake of health.” That is when historians see the emergence of ‘health’ connected to the word “diet.”

But I want to point something out: The words ‘restriction’, ‘weight’, and ‘limit’ were not in the origins of this word. I actually find it very ironic that the origin word for diet means “to live one’s life”, while today, ‘diet’ seems to mean, “to regulate one’s food”. 

Now, when you go to the dictionary, the definition for the current English word ‘diet’ is “a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.” This four-letter word has gone from something that means a way of life to a symbol of restriction.

. . . .

Do or Diet

In general, diets do not work. 

If you lived your diet as a lifestyle, it wouldn’t really be considered a ‘diet’ anymore by today’s standards — it would mostly be considered a healthy lifestyle. Diets in today’s culture are often thought of as temporary. Once you lose the weight, have the wedding, or get the abs, you no longer need to diet. 

Roughly 95% of people who end their diet will regain their lost weight within 1-5 years. 

Dieting and the word ‘dieting’ also are more likely to lead to the beginning of an eating disorder, because the diet teaches you restrictions more than healthy lifestyles. Psychology Today cited a source that claimed the people who diet are eight times more likely to develop an eating disorder than people who don’t.

. . . .

Diet Culture and Our Society

While fad dieting and limiting diets are not good for people in general (whether because they are not long-term healthy investments, or they are harmful to people’s mental health), I do want to acknowledge that food today is very different from food a long time ago. Processed foods are so normal to us. Heck, my partner just bought me sugar cookies with purple frosting on them, and you cannot find this stuff in nature. 

I propose you seek not to eradicate all unnatural food and not to limit your natural food — but look for balance. Don’t solely eat McDonald’s and don’t solely eat spinach. In a perfect world, maybe an all-natural diet would be best for everyone, but there doesn’t need to be shame when you reach for your Oreos. 

Labeling certain foods ‘good’ or ‘bad’ literally takes a toll on your psyche. There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ food — every food has some good in it. Labeling foods in this black and white manner will lead to developing fear foods. 

If you look at food as fuel and all the classes of food as balanced, then you are taking one step closer to living out a healthy lifestyle instead of a fad diet.

. . . .

What if I Need to Diet?

Many people are actually prescribed diets for their health. I want to point out the difference between a diet your doctor or nutritionist puts you on, and a diet you saw your friend drop ten pounds on when she did it. 

Look at the reason for the diet and evaluate from there. There’s a difference between getting prescribed a new way to live your life and enjoy food, rather than cutting out things just to lose weight. 

I would also suggest you start to track your mood and your activity while you’re on the diet. I realized my eating disorder was getting bad when I started saying no to events, just so I wouldn’t be tempted to eat the food supplied there. Don’t let your diet become your life!

. . . .

Cherry on Top

Diet is a really big trigger word for me and a lot of other people. It makes me think of the times when I couldn’t bring myself to eat more than 2 meals a day because someone told me it would make me skinny. It makes me think of the millions of different foods I developed aversions to and still have because my brain labeled them as ‘bad’ food. 

In the end, diets are not necessarily bad. I think it’s what we as a society have made them become and the power they can have over us that is the bad thing. A lot of diets have very strict rules and limitations that lead to disordered eating. 

If you want to start a new diet or look at new ways you can improve your health, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But maybe look at why you’re doing it. If you are doing it to lose weight or gain control over a part of your life, maybe take a step back from the idea of dieting. 

I know this is a triggering subject for so many, so if you’ve made it this far, I just want to remind you that you’re beautiful, you’re strong, and you should never limit yourself in anything — from the food you eat to how brightly you shine. 


Can you relate to this discussion about diet culture? Tell us your own story in the comments below!

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