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Yoga and Diet Culture

May 12, 2023

There is so much chatter about diet culture. It’s been getting louder and louder over the past couple of years and I can see why.

Diet culture is kind of the worst.

It makes you feel less than, not good enough EVER, and disconnected from how fabulous you are from the moment you arrived here on the planet.

But, before I get ahead of myself, let’s get into the basics, so we’re all on the same page.

What in the heck is diet culture?

Diet culture is anything that promotes restriction and obsession over food and exercise.

It sets unrealistic body ideals and makes you feel like you are never going to get to the finish line of acceptance and, ultimately, perfection.

It ties weight to moral value - the thought being if you’re skinny, you’re somehow better than if you’re not.

It creates guilt and shame around food – demonizing some food and elevating others.

It promotes weight loss at any cost.

And, It tells you that food is only earned through physical activity.

So, where does diet culture show up in the yoga world?

It mostly shows up in ads for yoga products, such as yoga clothing, mats, classes, blocks – you name it.

And, diet culture when used in this way makes you think that yoga is only for the thin, already flexible, completely mobile and strong person. Usually, young.

But, it can also show up in your studios or through the people you follow on socials.

Here’s how:

Have you ever been at a studio where they have a community wide juice cleanse?

I have. And, honestly, as someone that does drink green juice daily, I never understood why you needed to restrict yourself to only juice all day long.

But, if juice cleanses are your jam and you find some benefit from it, cool.

It just IS diet culture when you decide to put pressure on an entire community to participate in it together, regardless of what each individual might need in their diet to feel good in their own body.

In fact, this a one of the main ways to spot diet culture – using sneaky words to substitute “dieting” such as clean eating, detox, reset, or wellness protocol.

Another way it finds its way into the yoga world is through this mantra that the more yoga you do, the less you’ll want to eat. Does this thought pervade the classes you attend?

And, it is true. I do a ton of yoga and it does curb my appetite. Who wants a huge meal after a ga-zillion backbends? Or, after doing inversion work for an hour? Not this yogi.

BUT, if you feel hungry after these activities you are absolutely fine and normal and acceptable in every way.

That’s the difference. Diet culture mentality says you are not. That you should do a ton of yoga and, therefore, not want to eat.

Another thought that happens so, so often in the yoga world that really is diet culture is that you’re not a real yogi unless you practice a minimum of 4 times a week. Even if it’s completely joyless.

So, here’s the thing. You should love the activities you choose to do. And, if possible, do them because they bring you joy and make you feel empowered in your life.

You ARE a “real” yogi if you practice once or twice a week – most people don’t even do that.

And, if you’re really centered and focused on what you’re doing during those sessions isn’t it better than spacing out, hating what you’re doing, wishing you could take a break, and eventually completely falling out of the practice?

This next one always makes me groan because it immediately turns people off who would be interested in trying yoga out.

Have you had a yoga teacher take pictures or video of their abs or to post to social media? Yes, selling their classes, but no, not sending you the message that the body you possess right now is good enough for the yoga they teach.

Listen, I can hold a Boat pose longer than most people – ask my students, but I have yet to see my ripped abs underneath my perfectly normal midlife stomach (And, I love my stomach. I look in the mirror at it and think, "hell, yes" daily. Because it supported my practice and all the movement I do all day and it deserves that kind of accolades.)

Does this mean that because you can't count my ribs or abs that I shouldn’t teach yoga?

According to diet culture – the answer would be yes. (Like I said, it's the worst.)

So, now that we know what diet culture is and how it sneaks into yoga places and spaces. What do we do about it?

Focus on what your beautiful and, honestly, amazing body CAN do.

I’ll never forget the first time I stopped hating my thighs for their perceived hugeness and looked at them while I was in Side Angle Pose and thought, “My thighs are so strong and awesome.” It was a life-changing moment for me.

And, that is what yoga CAN do combat diet culture. Yoga, when given enough time and space in the practice will show you how incredible you are and what a gift your body is, instead of it’s perceived flaws.

Unfollow places and spaces that make you feel like shit about your body.

Do it today.

If you follow someone on the socials that makes you feel inadequate in your practice, dump them. Follow people that inspire you to keep going, give you tips that make you want to get on your mat and move, and make you feel like any fancy yoga pose they are doing, you can do too.

Stop labeling foods good or bad. And delete words like detox and “clean food/living” from your interactions.

In the yoga world, we LOVE to use the word “detox.” I used in class last week. But, I’m learning and growing, too and I’m trying to shake it from my classes.

This is the thing. Yoga makes your bodily systems super efficient.

If you are doing yoga you are clean enough.

You are sweating, working through breathing exercises, and I bet your digestive system is on track (and if not, keep practicing – it will get better. And, if it doesn’t please go see a physician to help you.)

Those are the only ways you can detox – to breath, go to the bathroom, and sweat. So, don’t worry about “detoxing” – you are already doing awesome!

And, most of all educate yourself on the different types of health.

Every body is beautiful. Skinny does not equal healthy. Do not assume that someone is better at yoga than someone else because of their body type.

Every person should be accepted for who they are in that exact moment when they step on their yoga mat.

The reason for the practice is to get to know yourself better, not to beat yourself up about what you’re not.

Remember that, and we’ll banish diet culture from our yoga world in record time.

Big Hugs,
Tori ♡

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