Buonomo: Diet culture: more dangerous than it seems

Noelani Buonomo, Op-ed Contributor

Content warning: This article includes discussions of disordered eating.

If you want to know the calorie count of virtually any dish, from the 620 kcal in a Panera cinnamon roll to the 3.36 kcal in a pack of Splenda, I’m your girl.

This isn’t a fun party trick. It’s a side effect of having had an eating disorder — one, among many others, that is utterly exhausting. Numbers didn’t help me at my heaviest, and they didn’t help me at my thinnest. I’m tired of giving so much power to a number, whether it be on the back of a package or on a scale.

Most of all, though, I’m tired of the diet culture that pervades every aspect of our lives. In our conversations, on social media, in advertisements, the message is that we are not good enough as we are. Whether it’s a new supplement, the keto diet or gimmicky new exercise equipment, there’s always something to be done to get a little leaner, a little thinner, a little prettier. But the only ones profiting from your hatred of your body are the companies trying to sell you something.

It isn’t just the media that encourages unhealthy thought patterns. So many everyday conversations are tinged with self-loathing. How many times have you heard a friend refer to eating a donut as “being fat today,” or swapping breakfast for a workout as “so healthy”? The language we use isn’t insignificant; what may seem like harmless comments, over time, can lead to the development of true disordered thinking.

I once had a friend console me after a particularly rough breakup by saying, “Oh my god, you have nothing to worry about, she’s fat anyway,” in reference to the new girl my ex was seeing. Although intended to make me feel better, this actually had the opposite effect. Instead of building my confidence, my friend instead chose to tear down someone else’s, which only made me feel worse about myself. When fat is the worst thing you can be, your intelligence, your integrity, your personality are undermined.

Of course, this is an extreme example. But I don’t think a day has gone by where I haven’t heard a friend comment on someone’s weight, whether their own or another’s. Whether celebrating the loss of a pound with the same enthusiasm as a college acceptance, or referring to the opening of a tasty restaurant in town as “dangerous,” the conversation surrounding body image and food isn’t productive, and it isn’t healthy.

The language we use surrounding food and body image matters. Thirty million people in the U.S. have eating disorders, and chances are that many aren’t open about their journey. Personally, until very recently, I’ve felt too ashamed to open up to more than just my parents and closest friends about my struggles with eating. What may seem like a flippant, casual comment to one person could be triggering for another. It’s important that we remain cognizant of our comments as it’s impossible to know how they will be received.

I’m learning to let go of my tight hold on calorie counts, and I’m learning to open up a bit more about my struggles. I’m learning to gently point out problematic comments, which are almost always borne from the best intentions, when they arise.

I want a world where a brownie is just that. A brownie. Not 210 calories, not 12 grams of sugar, not “so unhealthy.” Fighting diet culture, even in simply rethinking our everyday word choice, is a step in getting there.

Noelani Buonomo is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.