What does "diet culture" mean and why is it harmful?

What does “diet culture” mean and why is it harmful?

These days, you can’t get into a conversation about nutrition and wellness without someone mentioning “diet culture.” It’s pervasive all over social media, in both counter-diet and general wellness spaces. celebrity He calls her. It was mentioned in academic research. Even the young teens I work with in my nutrition practice will use this term. They’ll talk about how their parents don’t keep certain foods at home, or their friend’s attempt to lose weight, or they’re told by their coach to avoid sugar, “because, you know, diet culture.”

But just because a term is ubiquitous does not mean that it is universally understood. While many people think of diet culture as being a diet okay, in reality it is much more complex and far-reaching. Diet culture is a complete belief system that links food, morals, thinness, and goodness, and is rooted in the (very colonial) belief that each individual has complete control and responsibility for their health.

Even worse, diet culture is so ingrained, especially in Western society, that we often don’t even realize it. That’s why SELF asked experts to address some common questions and misconceptions about the term: to give you a better understanding of diet culture truly I mean and why is it so problematic.

What is the definition of diet culture?

Although there is no official definition of diet culture, Christy Harrison, MPH, RDauthor Anti-Dietpublished great one In her 2018 blog, Harrison defines diet culture as a belief system that “worships thinness and equates it with health and moral virtue,” promotes weight loss and maintaining low weight as a way to raise social status, and demonizes certain foods and eating patterns while uplifting others. Harrison wrote that diet culture “also persecutes people who do not conform to its supposed image of ‘health’, which disproportionately harms women, women, transgender people, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities.”

We are all surrounded by — and influenced by — diet culture all the time. “There is an idea that diet culture only affects people who choose to diet, but that is not true,” Sabrina Strings, Ph.D.Professor of Sociology at University of California, Irvine, who studies diet culture and fat phobia, tells SELF. “Diet culture is the culture we all indulge in; it’s the belief that we can control our bodies based on what and how much we eat, and it places a moral judgment on food and bodies.” In other words, it makes us believe, consciously or not, that some foods and bodies (thin, usually white) are good, while other foods and bodies (fatty, often black or not white) are bad.

What are some roots of diet culture?

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, American Protestants began to equate deprivation with health and morality. The most famous example of this is probably the clergyman Sylvester Graham (its namesake from Graham Cracker, which was originally much less tasty than it is now), which promoted a bland vegetarian diet of whole-grain breads, fruits, and vegetables as a way to suppress sexual desire, improve health, and ensure moral virtue.

There is also a lot of racism and anti-blackness in this colonial idea that thinness and dietary restrictions equal good. in her book Fear of the black body: the ethnic origins of fat phobia, Dr. Strings talks about how white colonial thought used body size as a way of saying that blacks were inferior. “During the heyday of slavery in the eighteenth century, there were prominent Europeans who believed that being thin and controlling what they ate made them morally superior,” says Dr. Strings. “Consequently, Africans were by nature seen as inferior, because they tended to have larger bodies, which equated with laziness.”

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