Why the focus away from diet culture or diet mentality?

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

Diet culture is ingrained within our healthcare/educational systems, research lens and society, heavily contributing to weight and body shape bisases, stigmas, discrimination, disordered eating patterns and body image issues. It is so prevalent, that it is often even present within eating disorder treatment protocols and interferes with weight restoration for individuals with anorexia who live in larger bodies.

What exactly is diet culture/diet mentality?

Seattle Times Columnist, Naomi Ishisaka nicely sums up what diet culture is in her article; 2020: The Year to Ditch Diet Culture, “Diet culture is a system of values and beliefs that permeate our society and instruct us that shrinking ourselves into smaller bodies will lead to better health outcomes. It believes that those who are striving to make their bodies smaller are more disciplined and more worthy than those who don’t.” In addition, diet culture also normalizes disordered eating patterns such as skipping meals, avoiding food groups and using compensatory strategies which commonly and unfortunately lead to binge eating in the long run; perpetuating the cycle of restrict-binge.

Diet culture insists that the route to health can only be achieved by changing our body size and disregards the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) as factors that impact people’s health, well-being and quality of life. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines social determinants of health as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age.”

Social determinants of health are grouped into five domains: economic stability, education access and quality, healthcare access and quality, neighborhood and built environment, social and community context. Access to nutritious foods and physical activity opportunities are only a small fraction of the conversation regarding health as presented by the SDOH and represented only 5 of the 114 Healthy People 2030 Objectives.

Here are some examples of how diet culture shows up in our lives:

  • Praising people for vigilant eating and or weight loss

  • All the advice friends, family, strangers and the media give about what you should do to be in a smaller body in comparison to where your body settles with age, medication, life stress, disease and hunger cues

  • Feeling like you cannot escape conversations about weight, diets, good/bad foods, cutting carbs, detoxing, cleansing, calories, macros, etc

  • Exercise is advertised as a mode for weight loss, a means to become more attractive or punishment for eating

  • Weight loss challenges in workplaces, amongst family members or friends

  • A healthcare provider that focuses on BMI and overlooks assessing other health markers such as Blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, reproductive function, fitness level, mobility, psychological well-being

  • Before-after photos, thin ideals, fit ideals, anything that generates a fear of fat or positions large as less valuable

Begin to notice today where diet culture shows up in your life and if you invited it in intentionally or if you have never been given another option regarding your relationship with food.

Recognize that diet culture is over a $70 Billion dollar industry and has a 95% failure rate.

Recognize that diet culture is based on thin ideals and perpetuates weight stigma. Recognize that bodies are diverse.

Recognize that there is no long term sustainable method proven by research to keep the weight off after dieting without having severe mental health consequences driven by deprivation, guilt and shame.

Recognize that diet culture perpetuates weight cycling (yo-yo dieting) that has been shown to increase mortality risk; and to increase the risk of hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, heart disease, gallbladder disease and osteoporosis.


“What is Diet Culture?” Beautifully Broken Journey, Posted February 20 2019, Spark Media Concepts, https://beautifullybrokenjourney.com/what-is-diet-culture/

Ishisaka, Naomi. “2020: The Year to Ditch Diet Culture” The Seattle Times, December 30, 2019, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/2020-the-year-to-ditch-diet-culture/

Kalm, L.M., & Semba, R.D. (2005). They starved so that others be better fed: Remembering Ancel Keys and the Minnesota Experiment. Journal of Nutrition, 135, 1347-1352. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/10/hunger#

Puhl, R., Heuer, C. Obesity Stigma: Important Considerations for Public Health. American Journal of Public Health 100, 6 (2010). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2866597/pdf/1019.pdf

Bacon, L., Aphramor, L. Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift. Nutr J 10, 9 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9


O’Hara, L., Taylor, J. What’s wrong with the ‘War on Obesity?’ A narrative Review of the Weight-Centered Health Paradigm and Development of the 3C Framework to Build Critical Competency for a Paradigm Shift. Sage 8,2 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244018772888

Healthy People 2030, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Retrieved from: https://health.gov/healthypeople/objectives-and-data/social-determinants-health

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