What is Diet Culture?
You’ve likely heard of diet culture, but you may not realize what it is or how it might be affecting your health.
With increasing growth of the non-diet movement over the last couple of years, we hear the term “diet-culture” discussed in news articles, social media posts, and day-to-day conversations more and more. You’ve probably heard of diet culture, but may be wondering what it is – and why are so many people against it? Before I can answer that question, we need to address question #1: What is diet culture?
Diet culture is a system of beliefs. One that:
Idealizes thinness, smaller body sizes and places an emphasis on body weight and body size as important health outcomes.
Diet culture equates smaller body size with not only better health, but also moral value. It makes one feel “lesser than” for not achieving the thin ideal that one may not be ever meant to achieve.
Heavily encourages the pursuit of weight loss and smaller body size through diet, exercise and other lifestyle habits.
By encouraging those “lesser than” feelings it leads us to attempts at weight loss via dieting, food restriction (from counting calories, eliminating sugar or carbs all the way to entire food groups) and other rules that may be disguising themselves as “lifestyle changes”.
Demonizes certain ways of eating and elevates others.
Diet culture not only places value on smaller body sizes, but also certain ways of eating – leading us to unnecessarily obsess over choices or feel guilty when we eat something less than the “ideal”. Diet culture is not necessarily a diet. “Clean eating” and other eating patterns that restrict certain foods all come from the same systemic beliefs.
Thrives on individual feelings of insecurity and guilt.
Not a certain size? Can’t seem to keep the weight off? Don’t have a small waist and a big butt? Diet culture – backed by the diet industry – thrives on you feeling shitty about it because you’re more likely to buy in when the next new diet, program, or supplement product rolls around.
Has recently begun to disguise itself as “wellness” online.
As more on more people catch on to the bullshit that exists in the multi-billion dollar diet industry, diet culture has had to disguise itself in a new way. Said disguise is the “wellness” industry. So instead of idealizing a specific size (while it ultimately still does that) it’s new vibe consist of the same old concepts (diets, food restriction, demonization of foods, expensive programs) but instead in the name of “health” and “wellness” rather than just weight loss.
Ultimately oppresses individuals who don’t fit its ideal.
Diet culture puts anyone who doesn’t fit within it’s “ideal” of health/wellness/body size at a disadvantage, in turn harming both their mental and physical health.
Diet Culture in The Wellness Industry
A recent article in the New York Times titled Smash the Wellness Industry called out diet culture in the wellness industry and went viral – rightfully so. The author discussed the damaging pressure we face to change our bodies and improve our “health” in order to achieve some wellness ideal – which is ultimately disguised as weight loss. She highlighted the lengths we go to like cleanses, clean eating, fasting, replacing carbs with cauliflower – which all happen to be ways to cut calories. She notes the fact that these lengths, often disguised as “wellness” practices, are much more unhealthy for us than if we just ate normally and stopped trying to micromanage our bodies, skin, gut health, inflammation, etc.
Diet culture ultimately steals so much from us – our health, happiness, time and money. It leaves us constantly feeling like we’re not thin enough, not beautiful enough, not trying hard enough, not “healthy” enough, and not happy enough. It’s sneaky and comes in many forms like advertising, social media, entertainment and yes, even healthcare providers.
So, if diet culture is everywhere, how can I ditch it?
Everyone experiences diet culture differently. I challenge you to reflect on where diet culture lives in your life, be more mindful of it, then start to weed it out if it’s bringing you down and impacting your body image/relationship with food (and there’s a good chance that it is), or just making you feel less than the badass that you are.
Reading magazines that talk about slimming down for summer? Stop, or at least skip the article.
Following a fitness page that posts frequent weight loss “transformation” photos? Unfollow.
Remove Yourself From Diet Talk:
Coworkers or friends talking about their latest diet? Change the subject.
Still have diet thoughts and behaviours of your own? I don’t blame you. Like I said, diet culture is everywhere. It’s not easy, but reminding yourself that you and your health are not defined by your size or how you look helps.
Seek Non-Diet Information:
You’re allowed to have an interest in your health and wellbeing without participating in this system of beliefs (it’s also okay if health isn’t your priority right now). I encourage you to engage with non-diet platforms online, whether it be healthcare professionals, body-positive influencers, blogs or websites, etc.
Pick up a book! If you want to learn more about dismantling diet culture and living your best life without it, I recommend checking out these books:
Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD & Elyse Resch, MS, RD
Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN
Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, PhD
The F*ck it Diet by Caroline Dooner
Also, if you’re into podcasts, I recommend tuning in to Food Psych by Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CDN.
Finally – stay tuned! I’ve got something exciting launching soon to help you tackle diet culture on your own and start eating and living without rules, restriction or obsession over food and your body. Make sure you’re in the loop by subscribing to my newsletter here.
Let’s ditch diet culture together – once and for all!