Christmas is right around the corner now, and for those who celebrate it (and maybe even those who don’t), one of the key parts of celebrating is enjoying the festive snacks and having a glorious Christmas dinner. However, on big occasions that involve big feasts like this, a common consequence is the feeling of guilt the day after.
Why do so many of us experience such a negative emotion after a celebration that’s supposed to be filled with cheer? Is it really so bad to let yourself indulge in delicious food until your belly is going to burst during these holidays? In my opinion, no. Diet culture, on the other hand, says otherwise.
What is diet culture?
Diet culture is essentially a sort of mentality that brings morality into the way you eat and look. For example, someone who is thinner than you is perceived as morally superior to you because they supposedly have more “self-control.” The same goes for someone who is always eating healthy foods and exercising.
In fact, the phrase “cheat day,” referring to a day where you allow yourself to eat something unhealthy in your otherwise healthy diet, is a product of diet culture. “Cheat” has a negative connotation to it, and eating unhealthy food is seen as negative and therefore less moral. But since it’s only for a day, it’s passable, according to diet culture.
How are guilt and shame after eating related to diet culture?
If morality is linked to weight in the world of diet culture, it means that anything that “threatens” your appearance or healthy lifestyle is seen as bad. Therefore, when you eat a burger and fries for lunch instead of a sandwich on cereal bread, you do enjoy it in the moment. After the fact, though, you might be beating yourself up, thinking about how you could have had that healthy sandwich instead of the calorie-filled meal you did have.
You beat yourself up about it because you’ve been told by diet culture that your act of enjoying a burger and fries is immoral. That’s why you can find people having to justify eating something “unhealthy” to themselves. For example, when we say we haven’t eaten the entire day so the extra calories won’t affect us as much, or we’ve “earned” an extra snack because we’ve exercised today. That way, we won’t have to feel guilty about eating whatever we want.
Additionally, this is all enhanced by the countless advertisements like this one reinforcing the guilt and shame we “should” feel about eating certain foods so that companies can sell us their newest diet fads. Even light options in restaurants’ menus sometimes have “guilt-free” or “guiltless” in the name, encouraging the idea that you’re supposed to feel guilty about eating certain things in the first place.
What can we do to stop the diet culture mentality?
Honestly, it’s not easy to change other people’s minds when it comes to deep-seated beliefs. However, if you yourself are willing to unlearn the things diet culture has taught you, that’s more than enough.
Diet culture stems from and feeds on our insecurities about our appearance. Thus, if our insecurities are gone, so is diet culture’s grasp on us!
Easier said than done, I know. This sort of thing doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes a conscious effort to unlearn. The most vital step is to surround yourself with people (at least online, if no one you know in real life is as supportive about this) who openly advocate for body positivity.
One podcast I can recommend is I Weigh by Jameela Jamil. Among other topics, I Weigh focuses on acceptance of your body and defining yourself by how you are as a person, not what you look like. Just following that account on Instagram has made my outlook on life better, as a fat person who struggles with internalized fatphobia daily.