Diet Culture 101

May 20th, 2017 by Sara Upson

Do you know what diet culture is? Most people don’t, yet we live in it daily! We have become so inundated with diet culture that it just seems normal. However, it’s time to end diet culture- or at least drop out of it- so that we can stop focusing on weight, shape, and size over health and well-being.

Yes, that’s right, diet culture is a society that focuses on and values weight, shape, and size over health and well-being. Variations of diet culture also include rigid eating patterns that on the surface are in the name of health, but in reality are about weight shape or size. Diet culture is really tricky because as we have learned that diets don’t work, they (diet culture) have transformed their message to say that they are all about health. Their definition of health though, is one that is synonymous with weight- that when you lose weight (by any means necessary) then you will be healthier. By restricting your eating and eliminating food groups you will feel better and be happier. This isn’t reality. The reality is- people do crazy, unhealthy, even dangerous diet behaviors in the name of health to lose weight. That isn’t health. That is diet culture- and that’s why I think it has to end. Furthermore, diet culture also reinforces for people who are thin that they don’t need to take care of their health (eating, exercise, sleep, stress management, etc) because they are already healthy. Again. This. Is. Diet. Culture.

Diet culture can be difficult to identify because it is so pervasive. Diet culture includes (but not limited to):

  • labeling foods as good or bad and internalizing the message to believe that you are good or bad because you ate a certain food,
  • eliminating entire food groups or certain foods within a food group
  • following external rules of what, when and how much to eat
  • avoiding foods that are high in fat, carbs, or calories.
  • feeling anxious about making the wrong decision of what to eat
  • feeling guilty after eating
  • ignoring internal cues from your body (hunger, fullness, and satisfaction)
  • believing that you have to take supplements, powders etc to be healthy
  • avoiding social situations because of the type of food that is served
  • focusing on appearance- including compliments on weight loss or gain
  • believing that you are better than others because you eat a certain way OR feeling that you are worse or lesser than others because you don’t eat a certain way
  • believing that you are unworthy because of your body shape or size OR believing that you are worthy because of your body shape or size
  • allowing the number on the scale or the size of your clothes to determine your happiness
  • exercising for punishment or compensation rather than for joy
  • eating more now because you feel like you have blown it- so what the heck- you will start over tomorrow or Monday
  • needing to read a label or find out what is in food so that you can see if it fits in your macros before you eat it
  • feeling the need to justify your eating
  • being praised about your vigilant eating/ praising others about how they are such a good eater
  • talking about food, weight, exercise, diets, etc constantly

Diet culture is difficult because sometimes we can’t even see it. When everyone around you talks about food in terms of good or bad, bonds over dieting and cleanses, celebrates weight loss at all cost- it can be difficult if not impossible to know that this isn’t healthy. Plus, when you go to your doctor and they reinforce weight loss at all cost, it’s confusing (to say the least). Diet culture wants it that way.

Diet culture is a 40 billion dollar industry that spends a lot of money on marketing to make you feel bad. Why? Because, when you feel bad you buy their products and services. When you feel bad you buy into the belief that if you lose weight- whatever it takes- you will feel better. This keeps you stuck in the diet cycle forever chasing the proverbial carrot. Diet culture says you should lose weight and keep it off, live a lifestyle of forever dieting, hate yourself and your body, talk bad about yourself and other people of size, feel worthless unless you are dieting or trying to lose weight. As a result people stay stuck in the cycle, and you cannot get out of diet culture unless you choose not to engage in the diet cycle. This means breaking up with, ditching, dropping out- whatever you want to call it- but ending diet culture. Because, when you do this you will feel better. You will begin to take care of yourself. You will begin to see value in you. You will begin to place your well-being and health over a number. Choosing not to engage in the diet cycle doesn’t mean that you give up or let yourself go. It means that you choose taking good care of you over taking good care of a number on the scale or a clothing size. There is a difference.


11 Responses to “Diet Culture 101”

May 21, 2017 at 2:47 pm, Jacquelyn said:

Thank you for sharing this, Sara. I just experienced a good/bad and healthy/unhealthy conversation with a friend over my dinner choices. As someone working towards recovery, it was hard to hear. We need more messages like this in our culture, and to take the opportunities to educate others.


May 24, 2017 at 3:17 am, Sara Upson said:

Thanks Jacquelyn! I hate to hear about your experience. It is all too common! Keep fighting!


November 09, 2017 at 3:06 pm, Our Bodies Are Soul Vessels | CHARIS said:

[…] value isn’t measured by your clothing size. So often, our churches are not these safe spaces. Diet culture is deeply entrenched in our church community and we are sort of okay with it. Even though […]


January 10, 2018 at 5:26 am, Could It Be a Diet In Disguise? – MySignatureNutrition said:

[…] am I telling you all this? Because diet culture has become sneakier and more manipulative. They tell you that their way of eating isn’t a diet […]


January 25, 2018 at 6:00 am, You Don’t Have To Diet – MySignatureNutrition said:

[…] really easy to feel like dieting is the only option when you live in diet culture, a system that values weight shape and size over pretty much everything else including well-being. […]


January 21, 2019 at 12:06 pm, What You Need to Know About Diet Culture - Fit Bottomed Girls said:

[…] Keep learning how pervasive diet culture is […]


January 20, 2020 at 6:39 am, Feeling anxious about quitting diet culture? That’s normal. (It’s worth it.) – MySignatureNutrition said:

[…] Sadly, it exemplifies the power of diet culture.  Diet culture is a belief system that values body weight, shape, size and dogmatic approaches to health or healthism (that health or the pursuit of health is a moral imperative and further reinforcing the value of appearing “fit” or “thin” as representative of health) over true well-being.  You can read more about diet culture here.   […]


January 27, 2020 at 5:58 am, It’s not you. It’s not the food. It’s diet culture. And you can unlearn diet culture. – MySignatureNutrition said:

[…] Diet culture is a monster.  And to be clear- diet culture is more than just dieting. It’s getting caught up in the culture that values body weight, shape, size and “wellness” or dogmatic approaches to heath over true wellbeing. […]


April 20, 2020 at 4:47 am, Food Is So Much More Than Fuel. – MySignatureNutrition said:

[…] often from new clients.  And while on the surface that might seem like a good thing- it’s 100% diet culture.  Food is so much more than just fuel for your body.  Yes, food provides sustenance and […]


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