What is diet culture?

“Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history” - Naomi Wolf The Beauty Myth

Diet culture is a buzzword that has been going around lately. But what is it and why should you be aware of it?

First, what is diet culture? I boil it down to a system of beliefs that tie your health and happiness to your body shape. It elevates people who shrink themselves while robbing them of finding pleasure and purpose in life. Diet culture is woven into our society. You see it in overt ways like medicine still using BMI or primarily seeing thin people in media. Once your eyes open to diet culture, you’ll see it in sneaky ways like when someone praises you for resisting dessert or complimenting weight loss or even news of the next “superfood”. And then it can get twisted even further when people are promoting “lifestyle changes” for health or wellness, which are just diets in disguise. 

This means we’re constantly battling messages that our lives will be better in a smaller body. And remember that 95% of dieters will regain the short-term weight they lost if not more. In addition to not being able to sustain weight loss, the ups-and-downs of weight cycling (or yo-yo dieting) can cause harmful damage to your health. This can include higher blood pressure, higher risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome, even increases the risk of stroke or heart attacks. Diet culture tells us that we have to wait until we’re a certain size do all of those things we’ve been putting on hold. But in reality you can do all of that right now. You can find fulfilling relationships, you can apply to that aspirational job, or you can go on your dream vacation. Diet culture sucks the life out of us and preoccupies your mind with thoughts about your body and food. Imagine what else you could do with that energy?

Let’s get to the bottom line, diet culture profits off of people’s insecurities about taking up space in the world. The weight loss industries in America are worth about $72 billion (with a B) dollars! Do not mistake these corporations for people who are looking out for your health, they are in it for the $$$. The former finance director of Weight Watchers has even acknowledged this, “It’s successful because the other 84% have to come back and do it again. That’s where your business comes from.” Diet companies lure you in with another diet that they know won’t work long term in hopes to get a repeat customer.

Think about what would happen if everyone woke up tomorrow and decided to say no to diet culture.

Diet culture is all around us. Now that you know how to spot it you will see it’s ugly head pop up everywhere. Stay tuned for ways to remove diet culture from your life.