What Is Diet Culture?

If you're familiar with my work, then you know I'm all about dismantling diet culture. But what exactly is diet culture? It's a term that gets thrown around in anti-diet spaces without a lot of unpacking, but it's incredibly important to understand so that we can recognize how it's showing up in our lives and fight back. Here's how I define it:

My Definition of Diet Culture

Diet culture is a system of beliefs that:

  • Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”

  • Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.

  • Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.

  • Oppresses people who don't match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health.

Diet culture doesn't just mean “being on a diet,” because you don't have to follow any sort of official diet to be caught up in the culture of dieting.

Moreover, some people may eat in a way that they refer to as a diet for legit medical reasons (e.g. diagnosed celiac disease, diabetes, etc.) and not actually be engaging in diet culture (which, I should add, is very rare and hard to do, since diet culture has its tentacles all up in the medical field).  

I've worked with hundreds of people who think they're not dieting, but when we dig into their relationship with food, they realize that they're pursuing “wellness” or “health” in a way that looks veeeeeery much like a diet. 

That's a form of diet culture that I call The Wellness Diet, and it's rampant in the 21st century. “Clean eating,” detoxes, cleanses, the overuse of elimination diets, carb restriction, gluten phobia, “ancestral” diets, and performative health all fall under the umbrella of The Wellness Diet. The weight-stigma aspect of diet culture may be de-emphasized in some iterations of The Wellness Diet, but the moralization and demonization of food is front and center.  

There are many other forms of diet culture, too. It's a sneaky, shape-shifting thing that robs people of their time, money, health, happiness, and so much more, which is why I've nicknamed it The Life Thief. It can be hard to spot, and yet in Western culture, it's everywhere. 

To learn more about diet culture, how to recognize it, and how you can reclaim your life from it, check out some of my writing on the subject, and tune in to my podcast, Food Psych. I'm also working on a book about diet culture that's coming out in January 2020, so be sure to check back here for more info, or pop your email address in the form below to stay in the loop.

Diet culture is a form of oppression, and dismantling it is essential for creating a world that's just and peaceful for people in ALL bodies.

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