Don't Let Diet Culture Spoil Your Holidays

three tips from an Eau Claire native and registered dietician to enjoy your holiday season – and food – to the fullest

Isabel Markowski

EAT AND BE MERRY. The holiday season is riddled with all things sugary and salty, twinkling lights, family gatherings, and New Year resolutions. Typically a time of year where exercise and diets are at the top of such resolutions, a Chippewa Valley native and registered dietician talks how to avoid letting diet culture ruin your holiday season. (Photo via Unsplash)
EAT AND BE MERRY. The holiday season is riddled with all things twinkling and snowy, family gatherings, and New Year's resolutions. Typically it's a  time of year where exercise and diet are at the top of such resolutions, so we spoke with a registered dietician on diet culture.  (Photo via Unsplash)

It’s as ubiquitous as the sandhill cranes along the Chippewa River, peppering our lives whether we notice it or not. It’s in every greeting with family during the holidays (“You look good, did you lose weight?”), every Google search with a side-page headline for juice “detoxes,” every workout completed in order to “earn” food. It’s everywhere, especially during the holidays: diet culture.

While this “health” focus may seem good on the surface, diet culture has infiltrated daily life and sits at the core of society’s claim that thinness is morally good, that fatness – in any form – is sinful, and that the only way to be happy is to get thin through short-term, magical solutions.

Diet culture is a $72 billion industry, with an estimated 45 million Americans dieting every year. Yet, research shows that dieting doesn’t work, and that 95% will regain all the weight back in one to five years. In addition, falling short of these unrealistic expectations can lead to significant mental health and eating disorder behaviors. Diet culture label or not, tying appearance and weight with morality in the guise of “health” permeates people like the bitter cold of Chippewa Valley winters: long-lasting and to the bone.

But this is the holiday season, so how do we celebrate, be with people we love, and just be happy?

First, notice where diet culture appears in everyday conversations. Look up common phrases and behaviors. Identify so you can pause and evaluate if demonizing a cookie is really leading to the misery that diet culture wants you to think it will, or if the real misery is ignoring life, your body, and something delicious.

Second, relearn to trust and respect your body and its needs. This is a deceivingly difficult task, especially as the body initially recalibrates from a restricted, craving state (prone to overeating and elevated levels of stress). However, when we rebuild our self-intuition, food turns back into just food and we can honor our own needs over a set of external rules made with money, not us, in mind.

Third, progress, not perfection. Your health is not determined by one thing you ate. It’s a multitude of factors that you can’t always control like where you live, your job, genetics, etc. There’s also a relearning of a whole relationship here. Meaning, take the steps to heal from and guard against diet culture, but give yourself enough wiggle room and forgiveness to remember the goal: happiness. 

Isabel Markowski, RDN, LDN, was born and raised in the Chippewa Valley before heading off to Madison where she earned a degree in nutritional sciences and environmental studies at UW-Madison. She currently is operations manager at Common Pantry, Chicago's oldest continually operating food pantry.