With the feminist- and body positivity movement on the rise. So is the fight against diet culture. The message? Your weight does not equal your health. Dietician Carlijn Appel explains why this fight is so important and how to fight it.
A 2021 study by Institut de Publique Sondage d’Opinion Secteur (IPSOS) tells us that 45 per cent of the global population is trying to lose weight. Of which 44 per cent is doing this by restricting their food intake or dieting. However, Carlijn explains that 95 per cent of diet attempts fail and leads to more weight gain, “I have clients who have been dieting for twenty years. They are heavier than they were when they started but have not enjoyed eating for twenty years. That is no way to live.”
Carlijn started her practice in 2012 after completing her education. She was not the strictest dietician, but she started doubting whether she was actually helping her clients. “I got a book from a client, not yet about intuitive eating, but about focussing on overall health instead of weight alone. The book was only the start. What actually changed me was a study proving 95 per cent of diet attempts fail and lead to more weight gain,” Carlijn explains.
Once Carlijn started to look for diet culture, she saw it everywhere: “Well, I am a little more focused on it than other people, but I see it in almost everything. It can be very sneaky, especially if you do not know where to look. I see it in comments my mother makes like she should not eat candy that evening. Or co-workers who say they should watch what they eat on Monday because they let themselves go during the weekend. Even weight watchers commercials on TV, or a sale on the dietary supplements in the convenience store.”
In her practice, Carlijn now works with intuitive eating. “Intuitive eating is an anti-diet practice focused on feeling fulfilled by what you eat. There is also a mental component: you have to unlearn all the unhealthy habits inflicted by a structure like diet culture,” Carlijn explains.
That is not the only way Carlijn fight diet culture in her practice. She has also created a weight-neutral space and does not use the Body Mass Index(BMI). “BMI was invented by a mathematician, not a doctor. He invented it to analyse groups of people, never individuals. Also, he modelled it after white men, so it is not inclusive at all,” Carlijn explains.
According to Carlijn, health is way more than a person’s weight. There are way more factors one must look at to form an entire picture: “Weight is only a minuscule part of our health, you have to look at their habits in sleeping, eating, drinking, exercising, but also the stress in their life and if they are on any medication.”
Carlijn sees the effect diet culture has on her clients: “There are more effects than people might think. It is not only dieting and then actually gaining weight or automatically seeing thin as healthy. It also increases the chances of an eating disorder and lowers your self-esteem.”
Even though Carlijn tries to create a diet culture free bubble, this is not the case outside her practice. “What I hear most is difficulty at the doctor’s office. They do not take thin people seriously because they are thin and thus healthy. The same goes for fat people, but they have to lose weight because they are fat and thus unhealthy,” Carlijn illustrates.
If asked for the secret to becoming healthy Carlijn can not exactly pinpoint it. However, she thinks one thing is crucial: “Listen to the signals your body gives you. Hunger, pain and fulfilment. And then, actually, listen to them and do something with those signals.”