Food Psych #196: Diet Culture’s Racist Roots with Sabrina Strings


Sociologist and author Sabrina Strings joins us to discuss her new book, Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia; the history of how “race science” led to the development of diet culture; the many problems with using weight as a measure of health; how culture influences science; and so much more! Plus, Christy answers a listener question about how to tell the difference between diet-culture rules and intuitive observations about foods that help us feel our best.

Sabrina Strings is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine, and a former Berkeley Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology and the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Women in Culture and Society, The Feminist Wire, and Feminist Media Studies. Find her online at

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We Discuss:

  • How Sabrina’s grandmother influenced her relationship with food growing up, as well as her current sociology work

  • What is considered a “desirable” black body

  • Her decision to become vegetarian, and now pescatarian

  • The role of cooking in her and Christy’s relationships with food

  • Sabrina’s grandmother’s reaction to diet culture

  • The life-and-death situation that inspired Sabrina’s graduate studies

  • The problems with conflating weight and health

  • Her experience with fatphobia in the medical system, despite being within the “normal” BMI range

  • How weight stigma in healthcare worsens health

  • Her book, Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia

  • Why BMI continues to be used as a measure of health, despite evidence proving otherwise

  • Weight research, and its ties to the weight-loss industry

  • The racist roots of diet culture

  • The history of “race science”

  • The links between “race science”, politics, and capitalist interests

  • Why science is not completely objective

  • How culture influences science

  • Spreading the Health At Every Size® message to the mainstream medical community and education

  • The need for cultural competency in healthcare

  • The increasing acceptance of HAES® and anti-diet work

  • The role of religion in the establishment of diet culture

  • The coded ways we talk about race

  • How the racist origins of fatphobia affect white women, too

  • Intersectionality, and how racism reinforces other oppressive hierarchies

  • Why all body ideals are unattainable

  • How beauty is both empowering and oppressive


Resources Mentioned

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Listener Question of the Week

How can someone tell the difference between a diet-culture food rule, and what makes their body feel their best? How can someone figure out how much to eat without restricting, and also without eating too much so that they don’t feel well? What are some of the ways that diet culture can co-opt intuitive eating? Can our physical symptoms always be traced back to what and how much we eat? What are some other potential reasons why a “large” nighttime snack might leave someone feeling tired the next day? Where might diet mentality be showing up in self-judgments of eating “large” amounts of food? What are some coded words that diet culture uses to mean “fat” and reinforce fatphobia? How can internalized fatphobia and diet-culture beliefs contribute to struggles with intuitive eating? What are some of the subtle differences between unconditional and conditional permission to eat? Why is it normal to eat to the point of discomfort in the early stages of intuitive eating?

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