top of page
  • Writer's pictureSophie S.

That’s Disordered: What Does it Mean to be “Healthy”?



Understanding Diet Culture and Eating Disorders


Have you ever heard somebody say they were going to skip lunch to “save room” for a bigger dinner? Or they must exercise to “burn off” the dessert they just ate. Or, my favorite, blatantly decline something because they are “watching their weight”. These scenarios have one thing in common: I would describe them as disordered. However, someone else might describe these scenarios as “being healthy”.  So, what does it mean to be “healthy”, and when do “healthy” habits become disordered?



The Diet Culture Doozy


Society has normalized disordered eating to the point that you can say all these things, and nobody will think anything of it. Diet culture is a societal framework that places high value on thinness and equates it to health, success, and moral virtue. This mindset promotes the idea that controlling one’s body shape and size through dieting is a normative and desirable approach.


Do you find yourself being unknowingly influenced by diet culture? The answer is probably yes if you give energy to the following diet culture principles:


  1. Thinner is Better

a. Diet culture promotes the belief that thin bodies are inherently better and “healthier” than larger bodies.

b. It also equates weight loss with attributes such as self-discipline, attractiveness, and success.


2. “Good” and “Bad” Foods

a. Diet culture encourages labeling foods as “good” and others as “bad” when, in reality, all food is just food.

b. It also encourages feelings of guilt and shame for eating said “bad” foods


3. Normalization of Restrictive Eating

a. Diet culture glorifies diets and programs that tell you to restrict calories, certain foods, and even entire food groups for non-medical reasons such as an allergy.


4. Perpetuates Weight Stigma

a. Diet culture stigmatizes and discriminates against individuals who do not conform to the thin ideal.


Are you recognizing diet culture now? It is EVERYWHERE, influencing how we eat, move, feel, and think about ourselves.


Doesn’t More Fat = Less Healthy?


As mentioned above, diet culture makes us think that fat and being fat is a negative thing. It teaches us from a young age that if you are fat, you will be lazy, less attractive, and unhealthy. I mean, we’ve all been to the doctor when they tell you your BMI range (underweight, “healthy”, overweight, etc.), right? But what if I told you that diet culture (and maybe even your doctor) is wrong, or at least they aren’t giving you all the information?


               Let me explain. There is a theory called the Set Point Theory, that we are all born with a “set point”. This is a natural weight range that your body is biologically programmed to try to maintain. It is a 10–20-pound range that is difficult to predict. Your body has internal mechanisms that control hunger, metabolism, and energy expenditure to keep your body weight within this range. This is part of your body’s homeostasis, or stable internal environment, that it is constantly trying to maintain.


               So, how does this work exactly? To simplify it, there are two main mechanisms of regulation. Your metabolism, the chemical processes that occur to breakdown food for energy, may change speeds based on how your body weight is changing. So, if you gain weight, your metabolism may speed up to return to the set point. If you lose weight, your metabolism may slow down to return to the set point. In conjunction with this, your body is also regulating your appetite and satiety. There are hormone signals that are working to keep your body weight stable by regulating hunger and fullness cues. So, you may be wondering how this works when people are intentionally losing or gaining weight.


               Have you ever noticed how it is particularly difficult to lose a significant amount of weight or gain a significant amount of weight? Odds are you have tried to do one, or both, of these things at some time in your lifetime. Or maybe you were able to lose weight easily, but then it slowly crept back on (aka back up to your set point). Do you see where I’m going with this? Your body is fighting to maintain homeostasis, which includes its set point. Your metabolism and appetite will adjust accordingly. That’s why research shows that up to two thirds of diets fail.2 Your body fights back.


               So, if your set point is in the “overweight” or “obese” category, were you born to be “unhealthy”? Without getting into a can of worms, BMI is bullshit. BMI, which stands for Body Mass Index, was created in the 19th century by a mathematician with the sole purpose of categorizing people to study the “average man”. It was not meant to be utilized as a health tool. It does not account for bone density, fitness level, psychosocial factors, metabolic health, ethnicity, sex, age, or body composition. To summarize: BMI is deeply flawed.


Still, you may be wondering about why higher BMIs are linked to certain diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, respiratory issues, certain cancers, etc. I am not here to say that high BMI does not correlate with increased incidence of these conditions; however, correlation is not causation. Let me say that again: Correlation is not causation. Otherwise stated: A high BMI does not necessarily lead to these conditions. Perhaps, just like a person is genetically programmed to have a set point weight, they are also genetically programmed to be at increased risk of certain diseases.


Now, stay with me here. If this statement were true, then people with low or “healthy” BMIs would also have to be genetically programmed to be at risk for increased risk of certain diseases. That would be correct. Simply put, every person has a different genetic code that predisposes them to certain conditions. That’s why one person develops colon cancer, another gets diagnosed with heart disease, and the third has glaucoma. We are all genetically diverse. Our weight is just a biometric, like our height or heart rate. It does not need to be blamed for all the conditions that we may or may not develop in our lifetime. Health is a complicated issue that cannot be boiled down to the number on the scale.

There is Nothing More Unhealthy than an Eating Disorder

Now that we know about diet culture and its impact on society as well as how it may be influencing the healthcare we receive, we need to address how it affects millions of Americans. According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), “9% of the US population, or 28.8 million Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime”.1 Developing an eating disorder can lead to nutritional deficiencies, cardiovascular issues, bone health issues, GI problems, hormonal imbalances, muscle weakness, deteriorating mental health status, cognitive impairments, low self-esteem, body image issues, isolation, compulsive behaviors, chronic health conditions, and much more. Chasing the idealistic image of “health” is not worth developing an eating disorder. There is nothing worse for you and your health than developing an eating disorder.


Conclusions


Your health is your decision. You have the power to control what you worry about and what you choose to do to and for your body. You also have the power to choose how you think about health, movement, and nutrition. You do not have to subscribe to advice from influencers, doctors, or that random lady at work. Turn your focus inward and check with yourself first. Ask yourself what you need to feel “healthy” and what may lead you away from your authentic self. Health does not have a universally true definition. Take some time to define health for yourself and move forward authentically.


Citations


1.        NEDA. National Eating Disorders Association. Nationaleatingdisorders.org. Published2023. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

2. Tribole E, Resch E. INTUITIVE EATING : A Revolutionary Program That Works. St Martins Essentials; 2020.

22 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page