Food Freedom and Anti-Diet Culture:
The Path to a Peaceful Relationship with Food
I used to be “the best dieter in the world!” Seriously. If anyone had decided to create an award for dieting back in the 80s or 90s, I would have won first prize!
I was on a diet for twenty-five years. Not the same diet obviously, I changed it up frequently. Sometimes every few weeks, but often every few days. I followed ‘real’ diets (those that were created by diet experts and written in books or magazines) as well as diets I made up for myself. The latter generally entailed eating virtually nothing, while still trying to function like a normal human being. I lost weight on every diet I followed – anywhere between a few pounds and several stones – and I always regained it!
That’s how dieting works. That’s how it’s supposed to work, and that’s why I was really good at it.
After twenty-five years of dieting, I was bigger than I’d ever been.
Success! For the diet industry that is.
For me it was half a lifetime of depression, anxiety, disordered eating and feeling ashamed of my body and my eating habits. All I really wanted was:
- To eat like a ‘normal’ person
- To feel comfortable in my body
- To be able to buy clothes in ordinary shops
- To eat in front of other people without feeling embarrassed
- To be fit and healthy
In 2005 I gave up on dieting. It clearly wasn’t working for me. It doesn’t really work for anyone other than a tiny percentage of people. Statistics say that 95% of diets ‘fail’. I don’t like that word because it suggests ‘human error’, but it’s a part of diet culture.
The diet industry is worth nearly $306 billion! ‘They’ don’t want us to stop dieting!
While we are constantly bombarded with images of unattainable beauty standards and new diets are forever promising us a quick fix, it’s no surprise that so many people have a difficult relationship with food. The pressures to conform to a certain body type and the prevalence of diet culture have led to a dangerous cycle of disordered eating and low self-esteem. ‘Dangerous’ is not too strong a word because we know that dieting can lead to clinical eating disorders which have a higher incidence of suicide than any other mental illness.
In 1978, the psychotherapist Susie Orbach wrote a book called ‘Fat Is A Feminist Issue’ in which she put forward the concept of ‘anti-diet’ and raised the issue of compulsive eating. That book inspired the Fat Liberation Manifesto. Unfortunately, I didn’t come across it until 2006 (better late than never!) but it was a revolutionary idea, even twenty-eight years after it was written, and I loved it! In 2007 I embraced the idea of diet free living and in 2008 I became a Food Freedom and Anti-Diet coach.
Anti-Diet culture has grown in popularity over the years, along with Body Positivity and Health at Every Size. It challenges diet culture’s norms and promotes a healthier and more sustainable approach to nourishing our bodies and our minds.
So what exactly do I mean when I talk about Food Freedom and Anti-Diet Culture?
The two are very much intertwined and can be outlined as follows:
Food Freedom is a concept that revolves around the idea of making peace with food and your body. It encourages us to break free from the restrictive rules and guilt-driven behaviours often associated with dieting and embrace a more intuitive, balanced approach to eating. At its core, Food Freedom encourages you to trust your body’s signals, honour your cravings, and let go of the anxiety and guilt that can come with food choices.
The key principles of Food Freedom are:
1. Intuitive Eating: Listening to Your Body
Food Freedom stresses the importance of intuitive eating, which involves paying close attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Instead of following external rules or calorie counting, you learn to trust your body’s wisdom in determining when, what, and how much to eat. This fosters a healthier relationship with food and helps prevent overeating or emotional eating.
2. Rejecting Food Shaming
In Diet Culture foods are labelled as “good” or “bad” and, as a result, people feel they are being “good” or “bad”, depending on what they eat. Food Freedom means allowing yourself to eat anything and everything. Food is morally neutral. You can eat chocolate, ice cream, salads or fruit without attaching any meaning to the action. This approach helps reduce guilt and anxiety around food choices. If you eat a biscuit, or even a whole packet, there’s no need to punish yourself by restricting your eating or trying to burn off the extra calories for hours in the gym.
3. Self-Compassion and Self-Care
Food Freedom encourages self-compassion and self-care. Nourishing your body with foods you enjoy is seen as an act of self-care and kindness. This perspective can help people develop a healthier and more positive self-image.
I like to think of Anti-Diet Culture as a warm embrace for your well-being, especially if you’ve been on the dieting rollercoaster for years. It encourages:
1. Self-Acceptance: Sometimes self-love is seen as the ultimate goal but, for most people, self-acceptance has to come first. Anti-diet culture invites you to appreciate and cherish your body just as it is. It’s a reminder that you are unique and deserving of self-compassion.
2. Listening to Your Body: Instead of following rigid diet plans and punishing exercise regimes, anti-diet culture encourages you to tune into your body’s hunger and fullness cues and to move in a way that feels good.
3. Letting Go of Diet Industry Pressure: Anti-diet culture highlights the diet industry’s cruel and manipulative and tactics and calls for a shift towards genuine health and well-being. Being kind to yourself is the goal.
4. Health at Every Size (HAES™): HAES is a vital component of anti-diet culture. It is a weight neutral philosophy promoting the idea that people of all sizes can pursue health and wellbeing without being subject to weight discrimination or the pressure to conform to a specific size or shape. It emphasises the adoption of healthy behaviours such as eating a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity and getting adequate sleep.
HAES is a holistic approach which supports body positivity (body acceptance and body respect), as well as intuitive eating, joyful movement and mental and emotional wellbeing. It promotes inclusivity and respect for all individuals, regardless of their body size, gender, or background.
The Kindness of Embracing Food Freedom and Anti-Diet Culture
I believe that embracing food freedom and anti-diet culture is the kindest, most compassionate choice for your body and soul. It leads to:
1. Enhanced Mental and Emotional Health: By rejecting diet culture and embracing your body, you can let go of the stress and anxiety tied to body image. This path leads to greater self-esteem and mental well-being.
2. Sustainable Wellness: Free yourself, once and for all, from the rollercoaster of chronic dieting! Anti-diet culture encourages you to focus on long-term health instead of temporary weight loss. Yo-yo dieting is known to cause a number of health issues that can be avoided if we stay away from dieting altogether and let our bodies settle at a size that’s right for us.
3. Gentle Eating Habits: This approach helps you reconnect with your body’s natural signals for hunger and fullness, fostering a more mindful relationship with food. No more guilt or feeling out of control.
4. Reducing Stigma: Anti-diet culture promotes empathy and respect for everyone, regardless of how they look. It celebrates body diversity and recognises that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and that there is no one-size-fits-all definition of health. Instead of striving for a specific, unrealistic ideal, the focus is on respecting and appreciating the uniqueness of all bodies.
5. Joyful Activity: Stop doing exercise you hate and find joy in movement. Anti-diet culture encourages you to embrace activities you genuinely enjoy, which makes staying active pleasurable and fun.
The diet industry has been around for a considerable length of time, so diet culture is deeply entrenched in our society and not everyone is on board with ideas that oppose such widely held beliefs. Some worry that it might promote unhealthy behaviours or give people an excuse to neglect important dietary changes, but they are misunderstanding the ethos.
Food Freedom and Anti-Diet culture offer a refreshing and compassionate approach to our relationship with food, our bodies, and our overall well-being. By promoting intuitive eating, body positivity, and self-acceptance, these movements encourage us to let go of the toxic mindset of diet culture and embrace a healthier, more sustainable way of nourishing ourselves. It’s time to choose self-love and kindness over self-criticism and deprivation, and in doing so, we can truly enjoy a more fulfilling and happier life.
Take care and be kind to yourself.