5 min read

What is diet culture, and do I need to break up with it?

What is diet culture?

Diet culture is a deep-rooted system of beliefs that permeates our culture and society; it is the belief that thinness equals health and superiority. Diet culture promotes weight loss as a means of better physical, emotional, and social status, which leads to spending an enormous amount of time, energy, and money trying to lose weight in order to fit within the “thin ideal”. It also demonizes certain ways of eating while praising others, which can often result in shame around certain food choices. Many people feel as though they must be hyper-vigilant about their eating, and cannot make food choices that provide pleasure.

Why is diet culture harmful?

Three individuals at the beach

Diet culture promotes the idea that living in a thin body will result in emotional, physical, and social well-being. This belief oppresses individuals who do not fit within this “thin ideal”, which disproportionately

harms women, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities. Not fitting within this social norm can have extremely damaging effects on both mental and physical health. And in many cases, weight loss can actually be more harmful as it can result in nutrient deficiencies, body dissatisfaction, and a negative relationship with food.

Research shows that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years. Additionally, research is now showing that your health is not impacted by your weight, which is resulting in a shift with weight-inclusive doctors who are no longer measuring weights at physical check ups. Improvements in health are a result of positive lifestyle & dietary habits, regardless of weight/weight loss. Some examples of these positive lifestyle & dietary habits include not smoking, decreasing alcohol intake, daily physical activity, increasing fruit and vegetable intake, increasing antioxidant and polyphenol consumption, increasing dietary fiber intake and improving gut health.

How to break up with diet culture

If you’re feeling exhausted with trying new diets and having them continuously fail you, it’s time to consider breaking up with diet culture. Imagine the liberating feeling of not needing to worry about the number on the scale or calories, and still being able to improve your health and wellbeing! Here are a few tips you can try in your journey to improve your relationship with food.

1. Adjust your goals

Instead of having a weight loss goal, try changing this to “health goals”. These can include the following:

At the gym

  1. Add an additional 20 minutes of mindful movement per day (walking, stretching, weight lifting, etc.)
  2. Decrease alcoholic beverages by ___ per week
  3. Drink more water – aim for at least 2 L per day!
  4. Add a leafy green vegetable to your lunch & dinner daily
  5. Add more soluble fiber to your diet – have chia pudding for breakfast, make some oatmeal muffins as dessert, or add a handful of roasted chickpeas to your afternoon snack!

2. Ditch the scale.

The number on the scale ONLY tells you about how gravity is working on your body – it doesn’t tell you anything about your health, worth, or value. Stepping on the scale hardly ever brings feelings of joy (and never tells you anything useful), so it’s time to get rid of it!

3. Change your feed.

What you see regularly on social media is having a bigger impact on you than you may realize. The diet, cosmetic, and fashion industries have perfected their marketing to make us believe we need to spend money, time, and energy to match a certain beauty standard. This disproportionately harms women, young girls, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities.

Empower yourself to hit “unfollow” or “hide” on profiles and images that are causing you to compare yourself to the “thin ideal”. If you’re looking for new body inclusive and weight neutral accounts to follow, here are a few you can check out.

4. Set boundaries with others – and even with yourself!

Diet culture is so pervasive within our society, it’s not uncommon to find yourself in conversations around dieting and weight loss with friends, family, and even coworkers. If you don’t want to spend any more time or energy engaging in diet culture, don’t be afraid to set polite but firm boundaries with those around you. Here are some of my favourite ways to disengage with diet talk:

  1. “Food is such a joy! What’s your favorite thing to eat?” (When others express guilt around eating “bad” foods.)
  2. “What’s wrong with being fat?”
  3. “Life’s too short to get so anxious over one meal.”
  4. “I’m on a diet from diets.”

5. Work with a weight-inclusive team.

Your healthcare team should align with your values and goals, so don’t hesitate to express those to them. Tell your healthcare providers that you wish to focus on your health, rather than weight. If your healthcare provider insists on weight loss or dieting, ask them to see references of randomized, double-blind control trials showing weight loss as the sole determinant of health improvement.

If your weight needs to be taken for medical purposes (e.g. for medication dosing), ask the practitioner to take a blind weight and not make any comments about it. You can do this by stepping on the scale backwards and/or having the clinician cover the number.

Not fitting within the diet culture “ideal” can have extremely damaging effects on both mental and physical health. It is present in social media, movies, TV shows, advertising, conversations with friends and coworkers, and sometimes even negative comments to ourselves about our own weight and food choices. If you notice this pervasive thought pattern, or feelings of stress, fear, anxiety, guilt, and/or shame about your weight or food, this is a great opportunity to seek assistance from a weight-neutral health professional. Book an appointment with one of our registered dietitians or counsellors today by clicking here.