When you hear the phrase “diet culture,” you likely imagine a group of people who obsess over food, exercise, and their bodies. However, diet culture is something most of us in the western world take part in. It’s made up of deeply held beliefs about food, weight, and health which can shape our lives and our opinion of others.
While diet culture is usually spread with good intentions, it can actually cause more harm than good. In this post, I’ll explain diet culture, why it’s damaging to our health, and how you can learn to ignore it.
What is Diet Culture?
No one knows for sure when diet culture started, but over the decades, it’s become a huge part of our culture as a whole. Diet culture is the belief that everyone should keep a certain standard of eating, fitness, and body size. It perpetuates the idea that thinness equals health and goodness.
Diet culture causes us to see thinner people as more successful, moral, and attractive. Contrarily, we label larger-bodied people as unhealthy, lazy, and less valuable. Because of these beliefs, people begin to fear fatness and look for ways to prevent themselves from gaining weight. In the United States alone, $33 billion is spent yearly on diet products.
If you’re looking, you’ll find diet culture everywhere. It can be as sneaky as a remark from a family member about your weight. It can be as obvious as a billboard flaunting a woman who lost 30 pounds after taking weight loss pills. You will find it on social media, in children’s television shows, and in your own doctor’s office. Diet culture is unavoidable.
Why Diet Culture is Bad
People often share fad diets and hound people about their weight because they believe it offers some helpful advice. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Restrictive diets don’t make people healthy, rather, they cause fast weight reduction at the expense of your health. Losing weight quickly with fad diets can cause serious harm and is rarely sustainable.
However, the diets alone aren’t what make diet culture harmful. Dealing with the stigma of not fitting the desired body type puts a strain on one’s mental and even physical health. Even children can become dissatisfied with how they look, leading to depression, anxiety, and dieting at an early age.
Being overweight may be harmful to our health, but not nearly as much as the stress caused by fat-shaming and isolation. Stress from real or perceived weight discrimination can lead to higher blood pressure, chronic inflammation, and stress-related diseases. It can also cause people to eat more and avoid physical activity out of shame, increasing the risk for obesity.
People in larger bodies also deal with lower quality healthcare. Many medical professionals have strong beliefs about weight and draw conclusions without proper testing. Underlying conditions can go untreated while doctors insist on fixing a symptom with weight loss.
Then there’s the social aspect of weight stigma. Not only do people avoid and disrespect larger people, but they also have many limiting beliefs about them. It’s common for overweight people to be seen as lazy, unworthy, or lacking willpower. Overweight people are less likely to be chosen for jobs and are more likely to stay in abusive relationships due to low self-esteem.
Examples of Diet Culture
Diet culture is sneaky and can be easy to miss. Here are some examples of diet culture, so you know how to spot it:
- The use of the word “fat” in a derogatory way.
- Any talk about restricting certain foods or “clean eating.” Someone labeling food as “good” or “bad” or acting like the food they eat makes them superior.
- Comments about weight loss being positive or, contrarily, weight gain being negative. Keep in mind these types of comments can be harmful and are best kept to yourself.
- Anything suggesting thinness is necessary to be healthy. Fact: being underweight is more dangerous than being overweight.
- Someone refusing to hire a larger-bodied person or choosing a thinner, less-qualified person instead.
- A person calling themselves bad for having a high-calorie meal or setting “cheat meals.”
- Stores not providing inclusive clothing sizes, models, or mannequins.
- Doctors prescribing weight loss for any problem without further testing.
- When topics involving exercise are focused on weight loss or body shape, rather than improving health.
How to Ignore Diet Culture
Now that you’re aware of diet culture, you’ll start to notice it all around you. The first thing you can do to ignore diet culture is stop dieting or engaging in conversations about diets. Giving up dieting will send a message to the people around you, letting them know you don’t want to discuss food restrictions.
Next, challenge your own diet culture thoughts when you notice them. If you start to feel guilty about eating something or unhappy with your body, remind yourself those thoughts aren’t yours. Years of exposure to diet culture put them in your head. Over time, you won’t see food as good or bad. You’ll see it as something that either nourishes you or brings you happiness.
Learn to accept your body and focus on taking care of it rather than making it smaller. Avoid seeing larger bodies as less healthy, because weight doesn’t necessarily define someone’s health. If taking better care of your body causes weight changes (as it did for me), understand you are worthy no matter what size you are.
After looking inward at your thoughts, it’s time to notice the diet culture around you. Try to avoid any talk of appearance, food restriction, or weight. If the topic comes up a lot, have an honest conversation with the person about what subjects are off-limits. If the person doesn’t understand, you may want to distance yourself from them.
To be even more proactive, filter who you follow on social media. Remove the people who post about calorie counting or keto and follow anti-diet or body positivity accounts. Accounts that promote intuitive eating teach you to eat for nutrition and also for enjoyment. That’s where you find the perfect balance of eating for physical and mental health.
If You Need Help Giving Up Dieting
If you’re having trouble giving up dieting and want to have a good relationship with food again, I have the perfect recommendation! Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison is a book that shows readers how they can take back their power from diet culture. It teaches you how to master intuitive eating so you can stop overeating and dieting for good.
If you haven’t read Anti-Diet yet, I wholly recommend it. This book helped me finally stop the binge/restrict cycle and move on with my life. Christy herself reads the audiobook, which puts genuine emotion into the words you’re hearing. If you’d like more information on the book, I wrote an in-depth and honest review here.
Below are quick links to the book on Amazon!
Diet culture is the societal beliefs about how we should eat, exercise, and look. It encourages us to deprive ourselves of food and force our bodies into a specific shape. More often than not, diet culture is mistaken for healthy behavior. Sadly, it can cause more harm than good.
To ignore diet culture, we can become aware of it, then choose how to respond. We can put a stop to the spread of it and no longer feel shame about our food and bodies. As someone who’s suffered through many eating disorders, I know the trouble diet culture causes. Let’s all do our part so we can put an end to it!
What examples of diet culture have you dealt with before? Was it obvious or very subtle? Share your story in the comments!
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