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What is diet culture?

Diet culture has become so engrained in our society that it has become difficult to see exactly what it is and how it impacts us.



Let’s start by looking at its definition.


Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor and Dietitian Nina Mills from Feel Good Eating says it can be defined as “a system of beliefs, customs, messages and behaviours, that places value and focus on weight, shape and size over and above health and well-being.”


With that being said …

  • Diet culture is the reason why dieting has become the norm.

  • Diet culture is the reason why we would dedicate hours to a strict exercise regime to try to achieve a certain body shape or size.

  • Diet culture is the reason why foods are labelled as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. (1)

And you know what? Because of diet culture, there is a weight loss industry worth $66 billion selling people weight loss programs, diet foods, cookbooks and apps. (2) And the industry will continue to profit if we don’t give people the facts.

The fact is, diet culture is extremely harmful. It tries to tell us that there is only one way to “health” or one particular body shape of size. This leads to us thinking that we need to attain the picture of “health” that is presented to us and many of us stop at nothing until we achieve it. And if we don’t achieve it, we feel as though we aren’t good enough. This is not only harmful, but exhausting. Especially when we know that most people who diet will regain the lost weight within 2-5 years (3). Not only that, but there is physical and psychological harm associated with dieting including anxiety, irritability, preoccupation with food, disordered eating patterns, guilt, self-blame & decreased self-esteem (4).


The truth is, health is much more than what folks looks like on the exterior – it includes psychological health and wellbeing, as well as biochemical markers such as blood pressure, blood glucose levels and cholesterol levels. We should not be pathologizing larger bodies if there is no illness present.


As a HAES-aligned, non-diet dietitian, my goal is to continue to shine a light on diet culture. The truth is, you cannot tell a person's "health status" by simply looking at the exterior. There are a myriad of body shapes and sizes & all bodies deserve respect.


References

1) Willer, F. (2013). The Non-diet Approach Guidebook for Dietitians: A How-to Guide for Applying the Non-diet Approach to Individualised Dietetic Counselling.

2) Rothblum, E. D. (2018). Slim chance for permanent weight loss. Archives of Scientific Psychology, 6(1), 63-69. doi:10.1037/arc0000043

3) Anderson, J. W., Konz, E. C., Frederich, R. C., & Wood, C. L. (2001). Long-term weight-loss maintenance: a meta-analysis of US studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 74(5), 579-584. doi:10.1093/ajcn/74.5.579

4) Polivy, J., & Herman, C. P. (2002). If at first you don't succeed: False hopes of self-change. American Psychologist, 57(9), 677-689. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.57.9.677

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Kirsten Maier

Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD)

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