Diet culture, the idea that you need to be slim to be happy and successful, is pretty ingrained in our lives. Subtle messages are broadcast constantly via TV and advertising. And movies and music videos. And pretty much everywhere actually.
“I am sickened that this phrase is on a lunchbox”
Whether we like it or not, our kids are picking up on it. How could they not? But when we see some not so subtle messages about diet culture aimed directly at our kids, it might be time to fight back.
See this? This is a picture I snapped today of a little girl's lunchbox that I saw for sale at a popular department…
American writer Sonni Abatta is doing just that. After spotting a pink and glittery lunch box with the words “cheat day” emblazoned on the front in a popular department store, she took to Facebook to call out the way that companies are selling diet culture to girls.
“I am SICKENED that this phrase is on a lunch box,” Sonni wrote alongside a photo of the lunchbox.
“We wonder, ‘Why do our girls worry so much about their bodies so young?’ … ‘Why does my five-year-old call herself ‘fat?’’ … ‘Why does my middle schooler stand in front of the mirror and find all her flaws?
“THIS. This is part of the reason why.”
The post, which has gone viral, went on to say that the “cheat day” lunchbox could exacerbate body image insecurities.
“Our world is telling our girls that it’s ‘cheating’ if they eat something that’s not 100 percent fat-free and perfectly healthy,” she wrote.
“In turn, that tells them that self-control and denying herself is to be valued above all. And that if she dares to step outside of the foods that will keep her perfectly slim and trim, then she is by default ‘cheating’ and needs to feel some sense of remorse.”
Read more about body image:
- Mum sees the real impact of her self-talk on her son: ‘It broke my heart!’
- Mum’s message to her daughter: “She is perfect just the way she is and so am I”
- Why you should never force your child to hug someone
Zoe Nicholson is a dietitian and founder of Love What You Eat. She tells me that the concept of a cheat day is extremely problematic. “It is reinforcing the idea that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods.”
“It normalises diet culture – the idea that if we are good, we can cheat. It’s something we need to move away from,” she adds.
Nicholson also notes that the biggest issue with the concept of a cheat day is that it normalises restricting our intake – a key risk factor for overeating or bingeing. “People swing from ‘good’ to ‘bad’ and then often end up overeating,” she explains.
What we can do
The issue of diet culture is more alarming than ever before. According to the Butterfly Foundation, as many in one in 20 Australians has an eating disorder and a Mission Australia survey found body image to be in the top three concerns of young people.
So what can we do? Well, we can start by not buying products that actively promote diet culture. Sadly, there is a market for diet culture and while slogans like ‘cheat day’ continue to sell; manufacturers are going to keep making them. Let’s break the cycle and boycott diet culture.
We can also role model normal eating and ensure that our kids don’t overhear confusing messages about food.
Nicholson agrees, she notes that children will pick up on what their parents think about certain foods from a really early age.
So let’s make sure that ‘cheat day’ isn’t something we’re passing on – especially on the front of a lunchbox.