I am creating this new syndrome, Toxic Diet Culture Syndrome, because that is what it is. I have seen this syndrome (cluster of symptoms) so many times in my private practice and I have a whole Facebook group of people who are trying to recover from it.
Toxic Diet Culture Syndrome is a cluster of symptoms from years of restriction based weight loss diet strategies. I wanted to see how bad the advice was from mainstream weight loss experts in my own keto and carnivore community.
One particularly famous keto person has a website where you can go and work out your weight loss macros. With this calculator she recommended a measly 1119 calories a day with absolutely no follow on advice about how to make sure I don’t end up with a tanked metabolism eating so little and how long to do it for.
1119 calories is too low for an adult woman. This is toxic diet culture and it leads to toxic diet culture syndrome.
Do You Have Toxic Diet Culture Syndrome?
Here are the symptoms. How many have you got?
- You feel on high alert regularly
- You feel stressed regularly
- You gained weight during a particularly stressful period
- You are weight loss resistant (cannot lose weight)
- You feel like everything has a sense of urgency
- You struggle to say “No” to request even if you don’t have time/energy
- Your breathing tends to be shallow and fast
- Your pulse rate is low
- Your blood pressure is low or at the low end of normal
- Your blood pressure is high
- You wake up at 2am or 3am
- You struggle to stay asleep
- You struggle to fall asleep
- You are a night owl
- You have overwhelming carb cravings
- You have overwhelming sugar cravings
- You drink a lot of coffee/energy drinks
- You wake up feeling groggy
- You are often bloated
- Your face looks puffy or swollen regularly
- You feel cold inappropriately (when it’s not that cold)
- If you don’t fall asleep by 10pm you get a second wind
- Your hair is falling out
- You have cold hands and/or feet especially before you go to sleep
- You feel like your insides are vibrating or trembling
- Your skin is dry, cracked or bleeding
- You have menstrual cycle issues (irregular, heavy bleeding, large clots, PMS)
- You struggle with good digestion
- You feel numb or you have low moods
- You are gaining weight with no explanation
Did you tick more than 5 of these? If so you need my Adrenal Recovery Guide. You can download it for free here.
Why Toxic Diet Culture is so effective
Toxic Diet Culture is not a new phenomenon. Nowadays it’s just easier to spread the toxic messages. Like a virus, trends spread to women everywhere on the internet and social media. Women in western societies have always been told what to do, what to say (or no), what to wear, what jobs we are allowed to do and so on.
It wasn’t always like that. Women are strong and resilient, we always have been but we have forgotten our power. We used to lead armies, be chiefs of tribes, and healed communities with knowledge of midwifery and medicine. Somewhere along the line, the men decided that the women were getting too big for their boots and things began to change.
Religions specifically targeted women, their power, their sexuality and started the thousands of years of repression we have come to know as the sex inequality we all live with today. I recommend you read THIS BOOK, to learn the real history of women.
KEEP WOMEN DISTRACTED
Keeping women distracted was the goal. However when Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique”, on the dissatisfaction felt by suburban housewives, came out in 1963 a shift started. Women were no longer satisfied with being housewives and mothers and demanded more. More equality, more pay, more access to careers, more help with childrearing and housework. Men were not happy.
Just read some of these famous quotes like this one from the late, great(?) John Wayne – “They have the right to work wherever they want – as long as they have dinner ready when you get home”. High praise of women indeed.
Mainstream Media’s Contribution
One very effective way women have been kept distracted is beauty standards. Women are constantly bombarded with messages of why we are not good enough and what product we can buy to fix the problem. In 2022, worldwide revenue from cosmetics was $100.50 billion. ONE HUNDRED BILLION, just from makeup. Now, as a feminist, I am completely supportive of women’s rights to wear makeup or not. What I believe is that no woman should be judged on her decision to wear it or not.
By telling women that their bodies are not right, you give us the ultimate source of distraction. You keep us preoccupied, unhappy and focused on what we look like, how much we eat and whether the size 12 jeans we fit into last month don’t fit because we ate too much or whether it’s the way women’s clothes are sized in stupid ways.
Safety In Numbers
Most women are natural people pleasers because it means safety. We need protection from men and the best way to be protected from men is to be part of a tribe, a clan where there is protection in numbers. A very primal part of our brains seeks this safety out. When you are told you don’t “fit in” that message connects with that primal need and we seek out ways to change who we are to fit in.
I know I am making women sound like Stepford Wives and that is not my goal. I am explaining how even the most independent, strong women still end up unsatisfied with their bodies. This is why. This is why toxic diet culture is so pervasive.
It creates a personal war between a woman and her body. Even the language used is combative. The war on weight, fighting my weight, weight loss battle … it’s no wonder it’s become so toxic. We’ve been fed, by mainstream media and social media, what the “acceptable body” looks like for women. It’s not even a static thing. When I was a teenager we were all told that Kate Moss’ heroin chic look was what we should strive for. Now the Kardashians impossibly tiny waist and large hips are in fashion. Imagine that … women’s bodies are a fashion trend.
The Effect Strategy of Distraction
Because hardly any of us fit into the fashionable body category we are looking for ways to get there. One thing the womens body trend has in common is slimness. Not only does toxic diet culture tell us we should be slim, so do doctors and healthcare workers. Yes, slimmer is healthier than overweight but very slim people simply don’t live as long as people with an extra 5kg or so.
With the daily bombardment of messages telling us to lose weight we become deeply entrenched in the toxic diet culture of restriction and doing whatever it takes to get slim and lose any excess weight. It’s been proven that excess calorie restriction doesn’t work for weight loss.
In the now famous Minnesota Starvation Experiment, Ancel Keys took 36 healthy young men and put them on a severe calorie restriction. What happened to these men is going to be so familiar to all of us who are victims of toxic diet culture.
Why Restrictive Diets Never Work – The Minnesota Starvation Experiment
During World War 2, 36 healthy young men were put on a calorie restricted diet. Ancel Keys wanted to study semistarvation in an attempt to help people who have been victims of food shortages during the war.
It did not go well. Soon the men became obsessed with food. It was all they could think about, talk about and they obsessively planned their next meals. During the experiment most of the participants lost 25% of their weight, and many experienced symptoms that you will probably be familiar with.
The symptoms of semi starvation they experienced were:
- Extreme weakness
- memory problems
- Edema (fluid) on the lower legs, ankles and feet
- Low mood/depression
- Food obsession
- Hair Loss
- Dizziness/lack of coordination
- Cold intolerance
- Muscle pain
They also reported an almost complete obliteration of sex drive. Some of them got desperate for more food and added water to bulk out their portions. Others would put each little bite and hold it in their mouth a long time to savour it. Food obsessions were so bad that several men collected cookbooks and recipes. One reported owning nearly 100 by the time the experiment was over.
It didn’t end with the experiment …
When the experiment finished, the recovery was just as problematic. The men gorged themself, binge eating tens of thousands of calories. For some of the men, this period was harder than the restriction period. One of the men, Henry Scholberg, remembered being taken to the hospital to have his stomach pumped because he “just simply overdid it”.
Many of them couldn’t satisfy the hunger, they just never felt full. Here is an extract from the study paper:
“Two volunteers broke their diet and were excused from the experiment; one stopped at various shops for sundaes and malted milks and later stole and ate several raw rutabagas and the other consumed huge amounts of gum and admitted to eating scraps of food from garbage cans.
Both also suffered severe psychological distress during the semistarvation period, resulting in brief stays in the psychiatric ward of the university hospital. Another participant broke diet and later suffered some urological complications that prevented his data from being included, but he was asked to stay on and help in the kitchen.
Initially the participants were allowed to chew gum, but some of the men began chewing up to 40 packages per day. One of the participants was later excluded because his pattern of weight loss was not consistent with the amount of food intake and energy expenditure, and there was concern raised about excessive gum chewing.”
It’s Time To Fight Back
If any of this sounds familiar to you, you might be feeling a mix of anger and sadness. My goal in writing this part of the guide is to show you that you too are a victim, like so many other women, of toxic diet restriction. These men did extreme semistarvation for a matter of months. Who among us has been dieting since they were teenagers?
So here we are, struggling to lose weight (weight loss resistance anyone?) no matter what we eat and how much fasting, workouts or healthy eating that we do. It really isn’t a surprise when you learn how detrimental restrictive dieting is. It’s no wonder so many of us struggle with eating disorders. This problem we have was not caused by an eating disorder we need to have therapy for. It’s actually semistarvation followed by manic refeeding because we are so hungry.
I am so angry on behalf of the women and girls everywhere struggling because of the toxic diet culture. I am angry on behalf of myself and the women in my community struggling with Toxic Diet Culture Syndrome and unable to be happy, healthy and at a weight that feels good. It’s time to stop. It’s time to take back control. You can join my free Metabolism Recovery Facebook community HERE and start your recovery today.