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What is Diet Culture and How to Navigate a World Full of It?

Per anti-diet force of nature, Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CEDRD, “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.

  • Oppresses people who don't match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health”.

If this feels like it sounds like you completely or even partially, I would invite you to be curious about it. A big part of coming away from diet culture and its influences asks of someone to be more neutral and compassionate towards themselves than might be typical. However the first step towards cultivating a belief system that shifts away from diet culture is that awareness. Some other helpful ways to shift away from diet culture or Reject the Diet Mentality as Principle #1 of Intuitive Eating is called, can be found in this blog post: Intuitive Eating Principles Summarized - #1 Reject the Diet Mentality.

But even after you feel as though you’ve embarked on this journey away from diet culture it’s typical to find it everywhere. TV shows, movies, magazines, advertisements, conversations with a parent, best friend, colleague, even a stranger on the street, just to name a few places where diet culture can sneak up. And this can feel daunting, exhausting and downright upsetting.

First, it’s important to validate all feelings throughout the process and normalize having multiple coexisting feelings at the same time. You can feel excited about your process to shed diet culture and be angry or sad for those around you who are still stuck. While all feelings are valid and normal, remember to hold grace and space for others wherever they may be in their process, just the same as you should do for yourself. And remember, the goal of coming away from diet culture is to also build up your own resiliency so things that might’ve previously felt triggering, upsetting, etc. don’t cause the same emotions or feelings. The stronger your own appreciation, understanding and therefore conviction is in the fact that diet culture ultimately only harms and never helps an individual, the less likely these things will bother you.

Setting boundaries is another very important and helpful part of this process. While you can hold compassion for someone wherever they may be in their own food and body image journey, you can decide that spending time with them is not helpful for your process. Boundaries are a clear way to communicate your expectations for someone and your relationship. A common example of this could sound like: when others begin to discuss diets, I will try to change the subject; if this is unsuccessful, I will remove myself from the conversation. More information on that topic can be found here: Shifting the Conversation Away from Diet Talk.

If you feel like you are in a place where you’d like to step away from diet culture, working with a trusted professional can ensure that you are getting the most support. Please visit the website if you’re interested in virtual nutrition counseling or speak with your insurance to find a provider in your network who can help.


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