what is diet culture?

03 February 2021


Let’s talk about diet culture for a second. Losing weight and achieving certain body related goals are both things many of us are pretty familiar with, particularly in the run up to Summer as people feel an increasing amount of pressure to look and feel a certain way. Unfortunately, this is down to us living in a dieting culture. It is a culture that never seems to be fully satisfied, it always feels the need to move on to the next best thing. When one trend fades, another takes the limelight, leaving us in an uncomfortable limbo of not knowing what to believe and being constantly overwhelmed with new information, urging us to stay up to date with the next best thing. Each new programme, ‘diet’ or even ‘lifestyle’ always seems to have some overly extravagant promises attached to them with equally outrageous behaviours to adopt in order to gain the supposed ‘guaranteed’ results.

These false promises are the reason so many people get sucked into the downward spiral of the dieting cycle and in turn develop disordered relationships with food. Certain food is labelled ‘bad’ and ‘naughty’, others ‘good’ and ‘clean’ and in the midst of all these labels we forget what is really important – to nourish our bodies with what feels good and to eat for enjoyment and satisfaction, not punish ourselves in the meantime. To put it bluntly, diet culture sells an unrealistic ‘dream’ and is itself a complete nightmare.

To understand why diet culture is something we should all make an effort to move away from, we thought it would be useful to go a bit into the nitty gritty and actually explain what diet culture is in more detail. Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CND is a leader in the non-diet movement and continues to voice her opinion and raise awareness on the matter, and her definition of ‘diet culture’ has been widely quoted, so who better than to reference here, right? Christy says that diet culture is a system of beliefs that:

Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”

Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.

Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.

Diet culture might actually be something you’ve never thought a whole lot about before, or not much at least, but once you tap into the language of it and realise how far and wide it spans as well as the impact it has, you’ll realise you may have been surrounded by it for years without even realising it simply because it is so ingrained into our everyday lives. Maybe it’s at your gym where they advertise a particular weight loss or body image after completing their 3 month programme or in your local supermarket where they are advertising ‘guilt-free’ foods, diet culture has well and truly taken its toll on us and we’ve decided to put our foot down.

So how can you start to make the move away from diet culture?

Start off slow

If diet culture is something that has a big impact on your life, don’t feel like you have to go for an all or nothing approach. Make small little changes that will eventually allow you to step away from the dieting cycle and maintain a happy, healthy lifestyle.

Celebrate victories

Although they may not seem like victories to you, trust us they are! Always celebrate the little things, it is so essential to include things in your daily life that bring you joy.

Social media

We definitely have a love-hate relationship with social media, it can be an amazing place with so much positivity but at the same time it can be the root cause of so many problems. We’d recommend having a social media spring clean (this can be done all year round, not just in spring). Remove any accounts that don’t bring you joy, anyone who might make you feel bad about yourself or those promoting diet culture. Then perhaps follow some accounts that focus more on body positivity and diversity. Trust us, this honestly makes such a huge difference.

Some accounts we recommend are: @lucymountain, @megan_rose_lane, @sonnyturner__ & @chessiekingg

Speak out

Allow yourself to be heard. Change the language you use to avoid slipping into the world of diet culture and speak out against it. Raise awareness for others who may not realise how damaging it can be and support those who are also speaking out.

Find a community

Having a support system and others around you who have the same outlook on life will do absolute wonders.

Let’s make 2021 the year we slam the door on diet culture.