Killing Us Softly: How Diet Culture is Sabotaging Motherhood

postpartum-mom-diet

Whether we are aware of it or not, our society is saturated in diet culture.  Permeating everything we interact with, our lives are infiltrated by it, and unless you are mindfully aware of countering it, it is difficult to avoid.  

Perhaps it is because I am an eating disorder survivor or mothering young children in this season of life, but it is sickening to observe the powerful and overtaking force that is diet culture.  

In the most subtle ways, diet culture calls, whispering fantastical promises of happiness and a carefree life, only to ensnare the vulnerable into the viciousness of what it really is.  Among the most susceptible to the beckoning lure of diet culture are mothers.

Mothers, Body Image, and Dieting

Sadly, a majority of the billion dollar dieting industry is targeted toward mothers.  Think about it.

Have you seen these headlines screaming across magazines, trending on social media, or splattered across TV commercials?  

“Shred the baby weight!”, “Get Bikini Body Ready!”, “Real Ways to Lose the Weight While Breastfeeding”, “Lose Weight, Be Happy!” 

This is not anything new in our culture - this is something that has evolved over decades; same messages crafted in different manners.  Check out this advertisement from the 1920s, showing the deep roots of a diet culture:

dieting-advertisement

 

Mothers are a primary target of the vicious dieting industry, with an estimated 90% of dieters being women [1].  

Weight-loss businesses in the dieting industry are cashing in on many deep-rooted fears that mothers may commonly experience, such as the fear of being rejected, unwanted, unloved, or perhaps feeling unseen or isolated by the mothering experience in general.  

Dieting is packaged like a “fix”, with weight-loss facilitated as a superficial solution for many of these unspoken fears.  

It is not uncommon for mothers to feel a sense of vulnerability when it comes to their own bodies following pregnancy and childbirth.  

Research has shown that women’s body satisfaction worsens from 1 to 9 months postpartum, with negative body image being directly correlated with poor mental health and abnormal eating behaviors.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the obstacles mothers are facing in postpartum that influence poor body image and increases that ever-so enticing call of dieting.

Lack of Postpartum Support

Sadly, most women go from having regular prenatal care during pregnancy to absolutely no support once transitioning into postpartum.  Aside from one check up appointment 6-8 weeks after delivery, a woman is disconnected from support and care during a time in her life when she needs it most.  

In other developed countries around the world, it is not uncommon for women to have extended postpartum care, where new mothers and babies are attended to while healing from childbirth.  Sadly, in America, our culture is utterly lacking in postpartum care, leaving countless mothers isolated during a vulnerable time.

Obsessiveness With the “Pre-Baby” Bounce-back

The media goes crazy over celebrities after they give birth, obsessing over their ability to return to a pre-pregnancy shape.  Let’s call this out for what it is, shall we? This is not normal, people!  In our culture, postpartum bodies are not celebrated or honored, but rather spoken about in disdain and disgust.  

Why is there even comparison between a woman’s “pre-pregnancy” and “postpartum” body? Last time I checked, we have the same ONE body that miraculously changes to grow, birth, and nurture a new human being.  Yet we are bombarded with the idea that our postpartum body is a “bad” thing, something that we should try to change as quickly as possible. 

Unrealistic Portrayal of Women’s Bodies

When everything we see has been photoshopped or altered in some form or fashion, we are brainwashed to believe that our bodies should look like the unicorn that doesn’t exist. Most advertisements are carefully crafted to remove any revealing signs of motherhood, including stretch marks, postpartum bellies, swollen boobs and more.  This perpetuates the idea that these hard-won badges are a negative thing.   

Reclaim Motherhood, Find Freedom From Dieting

When you take a closer look at our values and priorities as a whole society, it is easy to see how diet culture is indeed sabotaging mothers today.  

Overall lack of postpartum support, the disregard for a woman’s postpartum body, along with a powerfully-driven dieting industry leads many innocent women into a trap, believing that dieting will somehow help them “fix” their bodies, when there was nothing broken in the first place.  

My hope and desire is that women, mothers especially, will continue to find support throughout their motherhood journey in whatever season of life they might be.  I hope too that women lost in the dieting culture can learn to resist, reclaiming motherhood in its rightful form; one that should be untainted by the notion that we somehow need to change our bodies in order to love and be loved.  

The truth is that our bodies are capable of the miraculous, and we should celebrate this truth, refusing to dwell in angst and miss out on precious moments in our children’s lives because of the lie that our bodies are not good enough. May we be the change we want to see.

“Giving birth and being born brings us into the essence of creation, where the human spirit is courageous and bold and the body, a miracle of wisdom.” – Harriette Hartigan

 

References:

[1]: MarketingProfs, “A Weight Watchers Case Study: How Smart Marketing Pays Off”, http://www.marketingprofs.com/articles/2013/10422/a-weight-watchers-case-study-how-smart-marketing-pays-off Accessed 22 May 2017

Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC

Crystal Karges Nutrition

Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a San Diego-based private practice dietitian helping others embrace their health for themselves and their loved ones.  Focusing on maternal/child health and eating disorders, Crystal creates the nurturing, safe environment that is needed to help guide individuals towards a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies.