What is diet culture and how can we detect it?
Understand the basic definition of “diet culture”
Understand how internalizing the ideas of diet culture hinders our journey towards health and wellbeing
Learn to recognize diet culture messages (even the sneaky ones!!) in the world around us
Defining diet culture
Diet culture, as defined by dietician Christy Harrison (@chr1styharrison), is a set of beliefs that equates small weight/shape/size with health and promotes morally-charged views of eating behaviors, foods, and bodies.
To put it simply, diet culture messaging leads you to believe that:
Being thin = being healthy
“Healthy” behaviors are necessarily the ones that lead you towards the goal of becoming thinner (and that all other behaviors which do not lead to the ultimate goal of weight loss are not as worthwhile).
People who pursue weight loss are “better” than those who don’t.
Recognizing diet culture messages
Sadly, you probably don’t have to look very far to notice diet culture messages in your everyday life. A very obvious example of this is when celebrities promote expensive “flat tummy detox teas” from brands lacking medical testing or long-term product research.
However, diet culture becomes dangerous when it is less obvious and hidden under the guise of “health promotion.” In other words, a lot of diet culture messaging convinces you that weight loss is necessary to achieve health and happiness.
Examples of sneakier diet culture messaging include:
Claims that certain foods are “better” than others, or messaging that indicates that you should feel guilty/naughty/bad because you consumed certain types of food.
Before or after photos, which suggest that one body type is better than another and weight loss is a moral obligation (i.e., that you would be a “better person” if you pursued weight loss)
Messages suggesting that health and happiness lie at a certain body size, and that there is only one way (i.e., weight loss!) to achieve wellbeing.
Another way to detect diet culture is to monitor your own feelings when you see something or interact with a person. Here are some questions to ask yourself when you face a potentially diet culture-y situation:
Does this image/message/person make you feel guilty or fearful for not engaging in a certain behavior?
For instance, being told that if you don’t exercise/eat in a certain way, you will become *insert scary outcome*?
Do you find yourself questioning the truth of these messages but feeling obliged to try them anyway?
For instance, being told that eating raw salads is amazing for your health, but noticing that raw vegetables always make you gassy?
Or, buying a certain product that promises a certain outcome, but realizing that it doesn’t work for you and feeling obliged to try another similar product?
Do you find yourself blaming yourself when you are unable to follow the “rules” that are set by these sources of information?
For instance, being told that there is a certain way to achieve health, but being unable to follow this method because of an incompatibility with your financial situation/amount of time you have/unique personal preferences?
Activity to try: Be a diet culture detective!
When looking into information about health and fitness, try to detect the diet mentality by using the list of red flags we’ve shown here. While this list is not comprehensive, this should give you a foundation to start detecting the diet culture mentality in your own life!
What is one product of diet culture that you can identify? Share in the comments below! ❤️❤️❤️