Updated: Oct 8, 2020
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What is Diet Culture?
Diet culture is hard to explain because the concept is complicated. The simplest definition of diet culture is a set of made-up rules surrounding health and beauty like the misconception that skinny individuals only eat salads. It is a way of thinking that promotes thinness and weight loss. Diet culture pushes overnight solutions to lifelong problems.
Diet culture says there is a particular way of eating that will make you skinny. This philosophy is legalistic, in that it requires strict adherence to laws. Laws that aren't necessarily true. It teaches that eating certain foods and doing certain activities are harmful. For example, carrots are good, but carrots with ranch are bad. Or you have to stop eating at seven o'clock to lose weight.
A staple of diet culture is fad diets or what I like to call overnight eating disorders. Fad diets are typically extreme eating styles and/or workout plans that aren't sustainable, but enable significant weight loss. A good example is a juice cleanse. There is no scientific evidence that cleanses benefit your body in any way as soon as the diet is over, the individual gains all the weight back.
Diet culture says it's easy to succeed on these fad diets; that everyone is effortlessly losing weight. They had ample willpower to achieve their goals. When you can't possibly stay on these unsustainable diets, it's because you don't have enough willpower.
Diet culture says you need to do a particular workout program to be skinny. This is where the fitness industry makes an appearance. The fitness industry is any business that involves fitness, whether it's space, equipment, or programs to work out.
Certain types of workouts cycle in and out of popularity depending on what diet culture considers effective for weight loss. A staple of diet culture within the fitness industry are fad workouts like the Penalty Box or the trampoline workout. There is a product that the individual needs to buy but is not necessarily needed to exercise.
Diet culture says there is a particular product you have to buy that will make you skinny. This concept is the key to the complexity of diet culture. Losing weight and being healthy is a huge industry and is a great place to make money. Greed corrupted the community.
Companies wanted to have the magic formula, but there isn't any magic, so they made it up and tried to sell it for millions. This desperation spread misinformation and lead to diet culture. All the fake news is part of what has messed people up.
Does anyone remember Brittany Dawn? She was a fitness influencer who didn't issue refunds to clients who were disappointed in the products they received from her. Dawn inspired many women to workout, eat better, and ultimately lose weight to look better, more muscular, more toned, etc. She promised personalized workout plans to about 5,000 people and didn't deliver. Her clients asked for refunds, and when they didn't get them, they spoke out. The scandal ruined her career, and Dawn still hasn't apologized.
Brittany Dawn is part of the toxic fitness industry and the definition of diet culture. She pushed a specialized workout and diet program that arguably didn't work so that she could make money. Dawn might have helped a few people, but scammed thousands more. It also came out later that Dawn represented weight loss and health products without disclosing that information to her followers, which is illegal.
If you want the full story on Brittany Dawn, check out:
Why are we talking about diet culture? Research has shown that eating disorder patients often have a history of yo-yo dieting. So we can assume that diet culture leads to eating disorders, not every time, but more often than not. Fad diets, a staple of diet culture, push extremes, and by promoting those extremes, a person is more likely to develop disordered eating.
Diet Culture has been around and will be around as long as there are beauty standards for men and women. It's taken different forms over the years (wouldn't we all kill to go back to the height of Marilyn Monroe's fame?). I think it accumulated in the late 20th century with airbrushed magazine covers, modeling, and popular television shows like Friends.
It's time to break up with diet culture.
Check out Christy Harrison's Book Anti-Diet. I haven't read it so I'm not going to say if I would recommend it, but I think it is worth checking out. It's on my to-be-read list for sure.
Diet culture is why I hesitate to use the word "diet" on this blog or anywhere else. Diet has a negative reputation and when I talk about diet, I mean a lifestyle. I mean the patterns and choices that you make in regards to food intake on a regular basis. It's not a diet; it's a sustainable lifestyle choice.
I also hesitate to use the word normal or healthy, because the past has construed those words too, and they are different for different people. Normal for a 5'7" twenty-year-old bodybuilder is different from normal for a 5'0" sixty-year-old individual who walks regularly.
I want better words for diet, normal, and healthy, but I don't have any. If I could, I would like to replace a diet with eating habits, and I would like to substitute normal and healthy with "what is best for you."
Other Definitions of Diet Culture
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