Butterfly Collective: Lived Experience Insights for BIEDAW
For Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness Week (BIEDAW, 6-12 Sept), Butterfly’s lived experience network, Butterfly Collective, share their insights into diet culture and body image, with positive tools and strategies you can use to reduce the impact diet culture has on your life.
How has diet culture impacted your body image?
Diet culture can lead to the development of a body dissatisfaction, disordered eating and/or an eating disorder.
- “Initially, diet culture was the catalyst for swinging my eating disorder into action. I was fixated on all media that talked about types of diets and how to diet. Along with this type of media, I also found the promotion of ‘thin’ and underweight models a comparison for myself and something at the time that inspired to be/become. It felt like information about dieting was everywhere and it was all consuming.” – Kate, 37, NSW
- “I’m lucky to be recovered from my eating disorder now, but during my ED, diet culture made me feel as though I could only be a ‘good’ or ‘healthy’ person if I was a certain weight or shape and conformed to the ‘thin ideal’. Diet culture made my mood, worth and value as a person depend on my body size.” – Sophie, 23, NSW
- “Growing up in my social, cultural and economic context in an affluent demographic of the northern beaches of Sydney, heavily surrounded by social media & other forms of media, diet culture undoubtedly contributed to the development of my eating disorder. Having a (often unhealthy) ‘skinny’ body glamorised and worshipped in all forms of the media and presented as the ideal and pinnacle of beautiful, I always felt pressure to fit into that model and I therefore deemed anything outside that ugly & in need of change. Without being surrounded by a toxic diet culture, it is unlikely I would have developed an eating disorder.” – Zara, 20, NSW
Diet culture can make it harder to recover from an eating disorder
- “I think it makes recovery harder because you know that being in a restricted body means you have a restricted life but diet culture has almost criminalised weight gain. Weight gain and wellness are not parallels in diet culture. But life and weight gain are in ED recovery. I have been really sucked into the exercise = wellness phenomenon and being injured / having a disability meant that exercise wasn’t a possibility for me so I was made to feel lazy. In diet culture lazy is demonised. I felt like I needed to be in a smaller body so people didn’t think I was lazy.” – Ali, 26, NSW
- Diet culture glorifies the ideal of control. It demonises growth and perpetuates the lie that weight loss is a path to happiness. Diet culture is pervasive and insidious. It can be as obvious as fatphobia, but as subtle as a compliment of “You look great, you’ve lost weight!”. It’s taken me years to learn that restriction is not an accomplishment. It’s taken me longer to value “You look great, you’ve gained weight.” – Emily, 24, VIC
- “Unrealistic ideals and expectations. I work in fitness industry and am a former athlete and being in these environments has not only been extremely triggering but detrimental to remaining in recovery. Ads everywhere online. Fasting helpbooks in front of super market aisles. It’s every damn where. COVID pandemic and the stigma and shame attached around weight gain has also been a difficult narrative to navigate.” – Michelle, 33, VIC
But it is possible to overcome
- “Diet culture impacted the relationship I had with food and myself. I used to look at food and think that if I ate it, I would immediately gain weight and would be deemed as ‘unworthy’. It caused me to restrict my eating, over-exercise, and continuously think about my body and how others viewed me. Diet culture caused me to believe many lies that impacted the way I viewed food, weight gain, and body image – but I was able to realise that body size does not determine your worth, weight gain is normal and your body changing throughout your life is normal.” – Paige, 20, VIC
- “It’s like you’re never good enough. No matter how much weight you lose or how ‘close’ you get to the ‘ideal body’, it’s never enough. And your way of eating is never perfect, there’s always a food to cut out to get leaner, a new way to fast to “improve yourself” etc. But this “never good enough” also made me realise that diet-culture isn’t worth feeding into anymore and there is an alternative; body-positivity, self-love, body-neutrality, which ever fits you best.” – Preow, 22, VIC
What is the difference between body positivity, acceptance and neutrality? Read our blog unpacking the terms commonly used in the positive body image movement.
How can people reduce the impact that diet culture has on their lives?
Listen to experts
- “I believe that hearing factual information from a trained professional such as a dietitian was very helpful for my own recovery. Understanding that what is read or heard in the media is not always correct was a wake up call. Understanding what a true body type and what a ‘normal’ or untouched body actually looks like is also relevant. Following positive social media accounts that do not glamorize ‘thinness’ and dieting has also been very helpful for me. Most of all, understanding that changing your body shape or losing weight is not what determines your value as a person has helped to minimize the impact of diet culture on my life.” – Kate, 37, NSW
- “Remember that 95% of diets do not work. Most individuals gain the weight back and more. Research into the set point theory and let go of the idea that weight loss and the “perfect diet” makes you worthy. You are worthy just as you are, your diet and weight do not change that. Remove/mute unhelpful social media accounts and advocate for yourself when people in your life are engaging in diet culture or talking about it. You can make a change in their life by sharing your knowledge.” – Claire, 19, VIC
- “People can reduce the impact of diet culture by removing themselves personally, educating themselves on the truth behind diet culture, and not engaging in dieting.” – Lara, 17, NSW
Curate your social media feed
- “Stop following “influencers” on socials. Follow stuff that actually drifts away from this culture entirely eg HAES informed practitioners. Try to not engage in diet talk. Shut convos down and create boundaries where necessary.” -Michelle, 33, Vic
- “I would encourage people to learn about the anti-diet and Health At Every Size movements. These movements have really helped me to unlearn a lot of what diet culture teaches us about food, exercise, weight, health etc. Curating your social media and unfollowing any accounts that make you feel insecure or inadequate is a powerful step you can take to ‘unsubscribe’ from diet culture. For me, it was all about slowly building up my own anti-diet culture beliefs over time and then consciously reinforcing them when I was exposed to diet culture. e.g. if I see a person on social media who conforms to the ‘thin ideal’, telling myself that I know nothing about how they have attained that body size and if they are a celebrity, reminding myself of all the camera tricks and behind the scenes help they receive in order to look like that.” – Sophie, 23, NSW
- “Filter your social media, block accounts that feed into diet culture, you owe those accounts nothing and your peace is priority. Disengage in conversations around diet culture, feel free to walk away from a conversation or simply say you’re not interested in discussing diets. Find community/friends that are anti-diet culture. Finding people that you can talk to about your struggles, or to vent to about how much diet-culture SUCKS, is a real relief.” – Preow, 22, VIC
For more tips on managing your social media feed to be positive for your mental health, read our blog, ‘Navigating Social Media: Now and Beyond Lockdowns’
- “Start conversations around the toxicity of diet culture. Talk with people you trust about how you feel and how you can support each other. Create microcosms of cultural change that are healthier for you and those around you. Focus on yourself and reflect on what is important to you. Challenge and question what you’ve been taught. Individuate yourself from society’s expectations. Set goals for your happiness, regardless of your weight.” – Emily, 24, VIC
What are some kind things that people can do for themselves to ensure they are looking after their body image?
Have a wardrobe spring clean & learn your triggers
- “When you’re in a relatively stable place with your body image, go through your wardrobe and (if you’re able to) donate/throw out old clothes that no longer fit you and buy new ones. It’s really important that we have clothes that fit the body we are in NOW rather than hanging on to old clothes as reminders of our past bodies.
Remove full length mirrors from your bedroom/house. Since entering recovery over 3 years ago, I still don’t have a full length mirror in my room and I don’t think I’ll buy one any time soon!” – Sophie, 23, NSW
- “Take note of the triggers in your environment and try and limit them. For example it’s not a need to have a full length mirror in every room of the house. Listen to podcasts or read books or blogs that dismantle diet culture. Talk to a professional if available to you. Buy clothes to fit your body, don’t shrink your body to fit the clothes.” – Ali, 26, NSW
Daily Affirmations – “I’m loved, I’m worthy, I’m enough”.
- “It sounds lame before you start but once you get into daily affirmations it changes your perspective on how you feel about yourself. My affirmation during mediation is sometimes “I’m loved, I’m worthy, I’m enough”. Challenge negative thoughts. Once we critique our thoughts for a spectator view, we can find the cause of them. If you’re thinking “I hate body”, think “why do I hate my body”, if it’s a specific area of concern, continue to dive, you’ll see a lot of your body image issues come from diet-culture, societal standards, the billion-dollar beauty industry etc. Speak to your inner child, tell them they are enough. The things we say to ourselves we would never repeat to our child self, so speak kindly. Buy clothes that fit, throw out clothes that don’t fit. Your clothes are supposed to move with your body and be comfortable. And move your body in a way that honours you. Don’t force loathsome exercise onto yourself because you think something provides “better results”. Find something you enjoy that will make you want to move out of kindness and care for your body, not because you hate it.” – Preow, 22, VIC
- “Time is going to continue passing, whether you like it or not. Do you want to look back a month, or even a year from now and think about how much you could have done and think “I’ll start tomorrow”? Or would you rather begin to make changes now so that you can look back and be appreciative of how the experience helped you grow, each day moving closer to unconditional self-acceptance? It’s a daily choice. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it… But if you have the support you need and give yourself the time and patience you deserve, you can conquer it. Such a level of self-empowerment is indescribably extraordinary – trust me, I know.” – Kayla, 27, VIC
Body appreciation and respect
- “Remind yourself of all your body does for you. It allows you to walk, breathe, laugh, cry and carries through your day to day life and hardships. Reminding yourself of all the capabilities of your body and how strong you are, are great ways to focus on body positivity when things feel tough. Positive affirmations can really help, those small reminders that emphasise the beauty of your body in all forms and reduces the toxicity of diet culture.” – Bridget, 23, NSW
- “Your weight might fluctuate, but your worth will not.
Your happiness is so much more important than the size of your clothes.
This is the body that has carried you through your hardest and happiest days. Trust it’s cues and needs.
Recovery is possible.
You are not alone.” – Emily, 24, VIC
Engage in some self-care & seek support if you need it
- “Self-care! This can look different for everyone. It can range from a bubble bath to doing puzzles etc. Look into different self-care methods and find what works for you. Put up positive affirmations on your mirrors or reminders on your phone to remember to embrace your body as it is. Remember what your body can do for you rather than what it looks like. Our bodies are incredible and are so much more than just how they look. Follow body-positive individuals online. Lastly, reach out for help. You do not have to go through this alone.” – Claire, 19, VIC
- “People can ensure that they look after their own body image by practising self-care, have positive self-talk and unfollowing/removing themselves from people, channels or accounts that encourage diet culture. If you are struggling with body image and the impacts of diet culture please reach out to a trusted adult, friend, doctor or therapist and remember diet culture is full of lies, you are amazing the way you come.” – Lara, 17, NSW
- “Practice self-care and always remember that your health is always the number one priority. Health should always be the goal – not a size or a number. Also, look up to influencers that spread body and food positivity to help create social media platforms as a safe place.” – Paige, 20, VIC
Don’t always focus on your body
- “Think of the people in your life that you truly admire and value. I’ll bet that what you admire about these people is not related to their appeal and weight but rather the person they are and their qualities such as kindness, intelligence, reliability, humour, etc. Find something in your life that means more to you than weight and shape. Maybe it’s a career ambition, your family or a passion. Focus on that and remember that your body shape and weight doesn’t affect these things.” -Kate, 37, NSW
Join the Butterfly Collective
If you have lived experience of an eating disorder or body image concern, or care for someone who does, we want to hear from you!
Lived experience of eating disorders and body image concerns lies at the heart of Butterfly’s work as it connects us to our origins and the communities we serve. By drawing upon lived experience wisdom and embedding it across all our work, we can ensure that our advocacy work, programs, projects, and services represent the diverse nature of our community and their needs.
The Butterfly Collective is an online community of people across Australia who either have a lived experience of an eating disorder or body image concerns, or are a carer, family member or friend of someone with a personal experience. This community is designed to help Butterfly to amplify the voice of people with a lived experience by inviting its members to take part in activities which will help to shape our work.