Does This Sound Like You?
Years ago, I was deep into diet culture and weight loss. I always worried about the weight on the scale, regardless of how my body felt. I stuck to foods that fit my diet plan and my daily calorie goals. I hung out on weight loss forums reading every single tip or story someone had about what worked for them. And I tried most of the tips that I saw.
Even the out-there ones.
I share with others what I was trying in my pursuit of weight loss. No one thought it was over the top. No one suggested that I stop.
You know why? Because everyone else was doing their version of a weight loss plan, they all thought it was normal.
Why did I do all these things? Because I didn’t like my larger body. I felt like I need to be smaller. No matter what.
But my behavior might have been common but it wasn’t “normal.” It took me years to realize that I wasn’t doing these things because I enjoyed them. I wasn’t counting calories and over-exercising because these things were healthy for me. These habits were actively harming my physical and mental health.
I was doing them because everything I saw told me I should. Once I realized that there was another way, I was able to break free.
Have you noticed that you have rules and habits that aren’t serving you? But you keep doing them?
Well, this is the effect of toxic diet culture. Not sure what it is?
Let’s dig in to diet culture and the harmful effects it can have on you.
What Is Diet Culture?
Diet culture is bad for you.1 Diet culture is what tells you that you need to lose weight, count calories, over-exercise, and so much more to be “good enough.” It tells you that a smaller body is always healthier, more attractive, and better in every way than a larger body.
I hope you are thinking, “this sounds like total BS.” Because it 100% is.
I’m sorry to tell you that diet culture is in every part of your life.
You can also think of diet culture as weight loss culture. Because, really, that is the ultimate goal of weight loss rules, getting you to lose weight with zero regards for the fact that it is nearly impossible.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look.
Diet Culture In Your Everyday Life
Unfortunately, it is true. Diet culture is found in every aspect of your life. It is found in places that you never even thought about. It may be not be noticeable as diet and weight loss culture. Diet culture rules might look like “healthy habits.” Make no mistake, diet culture is unhealthy.
Here are some examples of toxic diet culture.
- When you watch TV and the characters say, ” A minute on the lips, forever on the hips,” that is diet culture.
- When you eat lunch and someone comments, “I can’t believe you are eating that. I haven’t had carbs in a week because that influencer is doing it, ” that is diet culture.
- When your office starts a no weight gain holiday challenge, that is diet culture.
- When you go keto because you’ve heard that it will help you lose weight, that is diet culture.
- When you are in line at the grocery store and you read a magazine headline that says, “lose 40 lbs in two weeks with these tips”, that is diet culture.
- When you go to a restaurant and want french fries but you choose a salad instead because it is “better”, that is diet culture.
Basically, diet culture is toxic and it is everywhere. Your work life, your social life, and your home life.
Finding that you participate sometimes? That is okay. Give yourself some grace. You are just now learning how much diet and weight culture is a piece of your life. You didn’t know.
But now that you do, you might ask, why is diet culture everywhere?
Why Is Diet Culture So Pervasive?
Great question! Dieting is a huge part of our lives. One study found that approximately 60% of women ages 35-65 are dieting.1 This means at least half the women that you know are currently on the diet train.
Our society is afraid of being fat and the diet industry uses that to make money.
What is fatphobia? Fatphobia is a fear of being fat or fear of fatness in others.
Think that fatphobia isn’t that common? According to this diet culture statistic, about 70% of females 16-25 fear weight gain.2 That is a staggering number. Hearing that, it is no surprise that so many women are obsessed with weight loss and dieting.
No judgment hear about your fears. It is a normal fear. Our culture has emphasized the message that thin bodies are “good.” It isn’t true that thin bodies are better than fat bodies
Sadly, it doesn’t matter to most people that it is false. The fact is when you hear something over and over you are likely to believe it. And you’ve been hearing fatphobic messaging your whole life.
Ultimately, fear of being fat is the main reason that you are tied to diet and weight loss culture. But it isn’t the only reason that dieting is a huge part of our culture.
Why are fatphobia and weight loss culture hard to end?
Short answer? The diet industry is to blame.
Have you heard about how much the diet industry makes off of you hating yourself? It is a lot.
Diet and weight loss culture is worth approximately 71 billion dollars to the diet industry.3
That is a whole lot of money. How would these companies make money if you stopped heating yourself? They’d have to come up with something brand new.
So for every weight loss culture shift we experience, companies follow. For example, diet bars have lost the word “thin” because now “fit” is more culturally desirable than “thin.”
Marketers know that, as a woman, you feel pressure to be perfect, healthy, and successful. The diet industry knows that you feel an almost moral obligation to be everything that is expected of you.4 So, now their bars may use buzz words like “clean”, “healthy choices”, or “balanced.”
But it is the same diet bars that they’ve always sold.
The same goes for healthy diet and habit change programs. These programs continue to use diet and weight loss culture-based strategies to get you to lose weight. Don’t be fooled when they market good and bad foods under the guise of health. Good and bad foods are a primary component of toxic diet culture.
The diet industry has a stake in you hating your body. Be aware of this as a reason that diet culture is unhealthy and isn’t just going to go away.
How Is It Bad For Your Mental Health?
No question about it, diet culture rules can do a number on your mental health.
How? Dieting can lead to:
When you are obsessed with your weight, you think about it all the time. Maybe you weigh yourself multiple times a day. If the scale shows a larger number than you want, you feel bad about yourself. It feels like you failed.
You get harder on yourself. For you, gaining weight just means that you need to be “better” at your diet. But, really, you didn’t fail. It is the diet that failed. Most diets fail.
Even so, you cut your calories more. You feel worse and are tired all the time. But as long as the number on the scale goes down, you are satisfied.
Following diet culture rules means watching out for bad foods and only eating good foods. This leads you to obsess about foods that you “can’t” or “shouldn’t” have. You think about these forbidden foods all the time. When you do let yourself enjoy them, you may feel out of control.
Food obsessions can even progress to orthorexia, a more severe form of obsession with healthy foods to promote health or weight loss.5
Diet and weight loss culture tell you that your body is wrong even though it isn’t. It says that you need to weigh a certain amount to be good enough. It says that a smaller body is infinitely better than a larger one.
When your body doesn’t fit this standard, it can lead to body shame. You feel bad about your body. You may feel like you don’t want to have intimate experiences with a romantic partner because they will see you undressed.6 You may not want to go to the gym because you don’t feel like you have a gym body.
You see, feeling shame in your body is hard on you. The negative self-talk you use can cause real harm to your health.
But know that your feelings are valid. I know that it feels like you aren’t good enough, but your body is just fine.
You can see how diet culture is unhealthy. You may ask, “how can I get away?”
Start To Separate From Toxic Diet Culture
The first step in separating from weight loss culture is realizing that it exists. Also important is realizing all of the ways it is a part of your life.
Don’t be surprised if you feel irritated when you notice all of the sneaky ways it impacts your life.
I was irritated at first, even angry at times. Once I started noticing these things, I couldn’t stop. All I could think was how dare the diet industry control my life and body for money. How could diet culture make me think that I wasn’t good enough unless I was in a smaller body?
I was also mad at myself for going along with it for so long. But I didn’t deserve that. It wasn’t my fault I got suckered in to diet culture. It isn’t your fault either.
Unfortunately, separating from your years-long obsessing with dieting isn’t something that is done overnight. This site is full of tidbits that can help you in your journey of freeing yourself from diet culture.
- Faw MH, Davidson K, Hogan L, Thomas K. Corumination, diet culture, intuitive eating, and body dissatisfaction among young adult women. Personal Relationships. 2020;28(2):406-426. doi:10.1111/pere.12364.
- Slof-Op ‘t Landt MC, van Furth EF, van Beijsterveldt CE, Bartels M, Willemsen G, de Geus EJ, Ligthart L, Boomsma DI. Prevalence of dieting and fear of weight gain across ages: A community sample from adolescents to the elderly. International Journal of Public Health. 2017;62(8):911-919. doi:10.1007/s00038-017-0948-7.
- How dieting became a $71 billion industry, from atkins and Paleo to noom. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/video/2021/01/11/how-dieting-became-a-71-billion-industry-from-atkins-and-paleo-to-noom.html. Published February 3, 2021. Accessed October 13, 2021.
- Bouvier G, Chen A. Gendering of healthy diets. Gender and Language. 2021;15(3). doi:10.1558/genl.18825.
- Depa J, Barrada J, Roncero M. Are the motives for food choices different in orthorexia nervosa and healthy orthorexia? Nutrients. 2019;11(3):697. doi:10.3390/nu11030697.
- More KR, Phillips LA, Eisenberg Colman MH. Evaluating the potential roles of body dissatisfaction in exercise avoidance. Body Image. 2019;28:110-114. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2019.01.003.