What is Diet Culture?
Amanda Marciano - Indiana State University Dietetic Intern
Maybe you’ve seen an ad that says, “Lose 10 lbs. in one week and become a confident, better, healthier you!” Or maybe you’ve heard someone say any of these things: “Cauliflower pizza is much healthier for you”; “you need to watch what you eat if you want to stay in a healthy weight range”; “close all your rings on your Apple Watch to feel accomplished for the day”; “I’m not dieting, I’m making healthy lifestyle changes”; “buy these jeans, they will give you a more slimming figure”; “America has an obesity problem”. These are all examples of diet culture!
(For the purposes of this blog, we will refer to diet culture as “Jillian”.)
What exactly is diet culture?
Diet culture is a system. Jillian believes that thinness equals health. And to be healthy, you should live in a thin body. Jillian believes that if you live in a thinner body you attain a level of higher status in society. She will demonize certain foods, promoting the restriction of those foods to achieve the “ideal” shape and size. See, Jillian loves buzzwords like “guilt free”, “fat/sugar free”, “protein-packed”, “healthy”, and “antioxidant”.
She sees food as a way to shrink oneself, instead of seeing eating as a pleasurable experience, cultural tradition, or a way to induce memories. Lastly, Jillian oppressions those that do not match the “ideal” look, that unrealistic beauty standard.
Diet culture is all around, making it impossible to untangle yourself from. Diet Culture thrives in health-care settings, gyms, retail stores, grocery stores, and anywhere else that is promoting this idea of shrinking our size to better ourselves.
How did diet culture start?
During the Renaissance period, being at a higher weight meant status. It was beauty. It meant you were well-nourished and was desired by all, both men and women.
So, when did that change? When the Spanish settlers came to this country, they wanted nothing more than to look like and eat like the indigenous people that were already settled in America. This, along with the Greeks emphasizing a “proper” and “improper” way to eat and how much to eat, was the start of diet culture. (HARRISON, 2020)
It was not until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century that body shaming and creating power and dominancy regarding health status became mainstream. Essentially, our outlook on beauty and food changed long ago, only to continue becoming more mentally and physically damaging.
What can you do to ditch diet culture?
Examine and clean your social media feed.
Studies have shown that the increased concern and hatred of our bodies comes from us comparing ourselves to those who we follow on social media. The longer we view others’ bodies, the more we compare, resulting in more unfavorable thoughts and feelings.
Do NOT speak of Jillian and her beliefs.
This is a tough one because while, yes, it maybe easy for you to remove the discussion of bodies, weight, or diets out of the conversation and remove trigger words from your vocabulary, you cannot control others. It is okay to change the subject or ask someone to change the subject.
The great thing about avoiding Jillian is that thousands of others are avoiding her as well. There is a large Anti-Diet Culture community out there willing to guide you through, or walk with you out of, diet culture. Search for Anti-Diet and Non-Diet health practitioners and/or therapists if you decide to seek professional guidance.
Read/listen/speak to anti-diet resources.
Becoming educated is one of the best ways to fight against diet culture. You’ll eventually be able to call BS on all things diet culture – and what a rewarding feeling that is!
It is important to know that diet culture was most likely instilled in you at a young age. Whether you heard your parent or sibling talking about food or their weight, you were trying to fit in during middle school or high-school, or even if you heard your doctor say they “concerned for your health” and prescribed weight loss, believing the falsities of diet cultures and engaging in it is NOT your fault. You are not to blame.
Are you ready to ditch the diets for good and toss out that scale? Are you ready to break up with Jillian and regain your time, money, and well-being? At Renovate Your Plate, we are ready to guide you along. We take an Anti-Diet, Health at Every Size, and a mindful/intuitive eating approach to nutritional therapy.
HARRISON, C. (2020). ANTI-DIET: Reclaim your time, money, well-being and happiness through intuitive eating. Place of publication not identified: YELLOW KITE.