SO WHAT IN THE WORLD IS DIET CULTURE (& why should I care)?
For my first blog post, I wanted to take a quick minute to define something that I’ll likely be referring to fairly often in my writing—and that thing is diet culture. This is an important term to understand, because it’s something that surrounds us all and is constantly influencing our lives. And since we’ve all grown up more or less immersed in it, it’s very possible that without knowing what diet culture is, we can’t even recognize it, let alone resist or fight back.
Diet culture is defined as “a system of beliefs that collectively focus on and value weight, shape, and body size over health and well-being.” And no, you don’t have to “be on a diet” to be exposed. As one of my favorite diet-culture-warriors Christy Harrison says, “diet culture is the water we swim in—there’s little to no way to see or realize it.”
Diet culture is the societal value of thinness, and equates HEALTH with BEING THIN (despite the ever-widespread knowledge that this is NOT THE CASE)
Diet culture promotes diets (aka Keto, Paleo, etc.), “clean eating”, excessive exercise, and any other behavior that promotes weight loss or thinness.
Diet culture praises and privileges those who are in small bodies and shames those who are not.
Diet culture demonizes certain foods, while elevating others, and assigns moral value to certain foods and/or ways of eating. Referring to food using terms such as “cheat”, “junk”, “healthy”/“unhealthy”, “clean”, “zero-guilt”, and the like is a direct manifestation of diet culture.
Diet culture praises those who pursue weight loss, labeling them worthy, valuable, and acceptable, and those who are not trying to change or shrink their body as lazy, bad, and/or worthless.
Diet culture pays no attention to the presence of health disparity or privilege, assuming that everyone “should” be able to eat and move a certain way that will ultimately lead to a “healthy” (read: thin) body.
Bases decisions about food and movement entirely on rules and external messages, instead of allowing us to focus on our internal sensations (i.e. hunger, energy levels, relative desire to engage in a behavior).
DIET CULTURE STEALS OUR BRAIN SPACE, MAKES US FEEL INADEQUATE, AND LITERALLY TAKES AWAY FROM OUR LIVES.
OKAY, I GET IT. SO WHY SHOULD I CARE?
I wanted to write this post to spell out what diet culture is and the subtle ways it affects us, because this recognition is foundational in understanding how to FIGHT BACK, and also to start doing the work to FREE YOURSELF. I mean, if you want to.
Diet culture is incredibly harmful and damaging—normalizing things like food rules, disordered eating, overexercise, and the obsession with controlling body size and shape, even though we KNOW that bodies come in ALL SHAPES AND SIZES. And in reality, we have very little control over what we look like.
SO even if you can’t actively remove yourself from diet culture, you CAN, at the very least, start to notice it. You can begin to see how it invades your everyday life (and the lives of those around you), how it subliminally influences your actions and choices, and how it affects the way you view and relate to yourself. And if you need to go through a period of mourning, or even one of shock, that’s okay—you should do that. Once you’re done with that, though, you can join me (and a growing number of other humans) in getting mad at diet culture, in calling it out for what it is—a pervasive, insidious, system of oppressive beliefs that has been distracting us all from living our best and fullest lives, and for getting yourself OUT of there. Once you realize that your body size, food choices, and exercise routines do NOT equal your health, you’ll be able to start down the path of freeing yourself from the rules, the guilt, and the self-deprecation, because you’ll begin to realize that you’re ENOUGH, and your body is just fine the way it is.
My challenge to you is to start to notice. Start to recognize, and start to become aware. And then, then you can start to fight.