Body shaming, even if you have what society deems as ‘the ideal body type’ is still rife, and no matter what size you are – the impact that body shaming can have on mental health is significant.
It seems impossible to walk past a magazine stand nowadays without seeing a celebrity being scrutinized for their weight. And with all the advancements the world has made, diet culture isn’t one of them.
What does Diet Culture look like?
According to experts, diet culture is a system of practices and behaviours that humans have created based on the ideology that being thin is morally good and being fat is morally bad. Christy Harrison, the author of Anti-Diet, defines diet culture as:
- Worshipping thinness and ‘supposed’ ideal body types
- Promoting weight loss as a means of attaining higher status
- Demonizing certain ways of eating while elevating others
- Oppressing people who don’t match with a supposed picture of health
Harrison remarked that: ‘’Diet culture is a form of oppression, and dismantling it is essential for creating a world that is just and peaceful for people in ALL bodies.’’
Other research suggests that diet culture creates a never-ending cycle which ultimately results in weight regain as essentially most diets are ‘fad’ and aren’t sustainable in the long-term.
What impact does diet culture have on those in recovery from addiction?
It’s an unfortunate fact that 72% of women in recovery from addiction have some form of an eating disorder.
Outside of addiction many women fall prey to the pressures of being thin and staying thin. In 2017, it was reported that hospital admissions for eating disorders rose by a third, and a report by The Costs of Eating Disorders revealed a 7% rise in eating disorders each year.
There are many variables as to why this is the case, but research suggests that social media plays a huge role in the pressures for modern women to stay thin.
Slimmer body shapes are glamorized and looked up to, and as far back as the 1960s, models like Twiggy were worshipped for having such slender figures and it seems that things are not too dissimilar today.
Women in recovery from addiction are extremely susceptible to the effects of diet culture and body shaming as the body experiences biochemical shifts during the recovery phase. When someone is attempting to get ‘clean’ from alcohol or drug misuse, they tend to eat more as the appetite increases and acts as compensation for low mood.
During recovery, the brain instinctively craves other pleasurable activities and this usually results in an increase in junk food that is high in sugar and fat. Instead of turning to substance abuse, biscuits, chocolate, cakes and caffeine often become the new ‘go-to’ for that quick fix.
Because of the pressure to stay thin, women in addiction recovery will often turn to strict diets in an attempt to lose the weight they gained during treatment. Although this often creates a double edge sword – as their attention is focused on the ‘external’ rather than the ‘internal’. This misdirection often impacts recovery.
The dangers of diet culture for women recovering from addiction
Since substance misuse can cause considerable damage to the body, it’s important for there to be a holistic approach to treatment. Identifying psychological and spiritual needs is essential to long-lasting recovery, often though, the physical aspects of healing the system can get overlooked.
Long-term substance misuse can create deficiencies in the body, therefore it’s important for treatment programs to include proper nutrition plans. What people eat during the recovery phase is crucial to how well they recover. And instead of ‘shaming’ women for how they look, the focus should be on nutrition education.
Food is essential for our bodies to heal and part of the healing process is to gain weight. For recovery to be successful, we must shift our thinking from military-styled dieting to celebrating and acknowledging the positive role that food plays in recovery.
If for whatever reason, education around nutrition is neglected, women in recovery will be susceptible to many dangers such as eating disorders and relapse. Diet culture sends the message that weight gain is negative, and this can have a knock-on effect – particularly for those in recovery. Experts say that cultivating a balanced diet free from restrictions is essential for those recovering from addiction.
Is it possible for women in recovery to overcome diet culture?
For those in recovery from addiction, it’s important that the focus remains on health. Therefore, we must discard the ideologies of diet culture to continue going in the right direction. Ragan Chastain ( NEDA ambassador) explains that: ‘’If we want to prevent eating disorders and create a culture where full recovery is possible, we need to learn to identify Diet Culture and speak out against it.’’
Chastain also explains that reminding people that food has plenty of appropriate uses in our culture, including nourishment, celebration, and emotional eating, and that trying to manipulate our body size is not one of them.
Here are some of the ways that women in recovery can resist diet cultures:
- Make time for self-care: By identifying any negative self-talk and limiting beliefs. This will help to increase feelings of self-worth and confidence
- Cultivate empowering social media followers: Follow people of various sizes and body types (they are involved in many great causes and are very empowering!)
- Be aware of your personal boundaries: Particularly in conversations about dieting
- Focus on self-love: Self -acceptance is key when it comes to recovery
- Seek help: Seeking help from online forums, groups, podcasts and (if needed) professional counselling