The 3 Biggest Crimes of Diet Culture

How many times have you overheard a heated conversation about food or the latest diet?

When I meet up with friends or family, the talk often ends up routed into diet gossip. This makes sense considering I’m a Registered Dietitian, yet my intuitive eating clients share similar stories.

I’ve spent the last 7 years of my career helping clients bury the diet mentality for good, yet I’m reminded how much work there is to do when people ask me questions like, “What do you think about that new diet that [insert celebrity name here] just published a book about?”

The worst part of Diet Culture (or more aptly, Diet Cult) is the potential harm to everyone involved. Diet culture is a system of beliefs that focuses on and values weight, shape and size over health, and it equate thinness with higher status and worthiness. The negative effects it has on both adults and children are criminal. Many times, these so called “healthy” diets are considered disordered eating or even full-blown eating disorders.

I am here today to call out the CRIMES OF DIET CULTURE.

Crime #1: Dishonesty

“Don’t eat carbs. They make you fat.”

“Dairy will keep you from losing weight.”

“Avoid gluten! It’s bad, bad, bad.”

When you look back at the history of food, Diet Culture has spent a great deal of time and money into criminalizing one food or another. This food is “good” for your health and weight, this food is “bad”.

When saturated fat was the offender, we saw an influx of fat-free, chemically altered foods. When sugar became the offender, we were bombarded with products containing sugar alcohols and messages to avoid sugar at all costs. Food fads are encouraged by Diet Culture with the support of the food industry. When scientific research is published, Diet Culture cherry-picks the information that best supports their agenda and launches campaigns to herd consumers to jump on their bandwagon, spending money on their products, lining their pockets.

Diet Culture never has your best interest in mind and it’s betting on the fact you don’t realize it. So they call their foods “healthier” than the others and has you thinking it’s better for you.

Crime #2: Disregard

Any eating pattern that emphasizes how you look over your mental and physical well-being is detrimental. Diet Culture thrives on black-and-white thinking. Eat foods on the “good” list and you’ll lose weight (“good”); eat foods on the “bad” list and you’ll get fat (“bad”). Thin = win!

Here’s the thing – people are literally dying to be thin and Diet Culture completely disregards this. Your body does so many amazing things for you every day, but Diet Culture has you focusing on how many calories you’re eating, pounds you lost or dress size you wear.

There is peace in accepting your body as it is at this very moment. But Diet Culture doesn’t want you to have this peace. So it influences you to keep striving for that “perfect” body, comparing yourself to celebrities, models and reality stars.

I remind my clients that what they see online and in magazines are not real. They are photoshopped images and even more, they are just the highlight reels of peoples’ lives. What they decide to post and publish are just snippets of their reality, particularly the snippets they want everyone to see. They edit out nearly a lifetime of moments, yet you use those carefully selected highlights as a comparison to your own life. This is exactly what Diet Culture wants – to keep you running back for more.

Crime #3: Destruction

Diet Culture’s most egregious crime is telling you that you’re not good enough. It doesn’t know you at all, but it’s making you question yourself, often calling attention to things you never considered flaws.

“Got a muffin top? Never eat these 5 foods again to get rid of it!”

“Do your thighs touch? Do this cleanse to fix that problem!”

Messages like these are toxic to women of all ages. It’s teaching them from a young age that they are nothing more than a sum of their parts and if those parts don’t add up to an unrealistic ideal, they need to do whatever it takes to get there. This has the potential to lead them into a dangerous relationship with food and exercise, twisting their self-perception. Diet Culture destroys self-esteem.

It’s Time to Defy Diet Culture

The truth is that body size doesn’t always equate with health. There are plenty of people who are in smaller bodies who have a plethora of health issues. On the flip side, there are people in larger bodies that have no medical issues at all. Why is the thin couch potato more culturally acceptable than the larger triathlete?

Diet Culture wants you to be at war with your body because that’s how companies who support it make their billions of dollars every year while young girls are skipping meals, ultimately missing out on nutrients critical to their growth and maturation. What’s even worse is that these diet messages often come from parents who suffer from disordered eating patterns over decades of being at war with their own bodies. It’s a cycle of abuse you are paying dearly for with both your wallets and your well-being.

Tune in next week for Intuitive Eating Wednesday when I share how to blaze a path to defying Diet Culture.

In the meantime, what other crimes of Diet Culture can you identify? Comment below.