For the next few months, my intern, Kenzy, will be taking over the blog bringing you supportive content related to Health At Every Size, Intuitive Eating, and the anti-diet, weight-inclusive frameworks.

This week, Kenzy is giving you the rundown on the modern ways in which diet culture and wellness culture are showing up. 

Take it away, Kenzy!

Diet culture is something that is a part of our daily lives, whether we realize it or not. While you may have never been on a “diet” or have never tried dieting at any point in your life, you may be more entrenched in diet culture than you realize. Christy Harrission, registered dietitian and author of Anti-Diet, defines diet culture as “a system of beliefs that worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, and oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health.”

The first principle of Intuitive Eating is Rejecting The Diet Mentality, more relevantly known as Diet Culture. This can be done in multiple ways, including filtering out weight loss content on social media or blocking out targeted “wellness” ads. For many, the idea of rejecting the diet mentality is new and refreshing, however, it can be difficult in practice.

So why exactly is it so hard to reject the diet mentality? This is the question that I’ll be exploring in today’s blog post. 

Diet Culture is Everywhere. Whether it’s targeted ads on social media, magazine covers, or billboards, it can feel as if everywhere we look, some form of dieting, weight loss, or “wellness”– which is really dieting in disguise–  is being advertised.

Here are 10 examples of some of the ways diet culture manifests:

#1 Wellness Product Placements 

On Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, many content creators like to post “get ready with me” or “day in the life” videos. In these videos, the creators are going about their day, and often include the product placement of wellness brands. An especially prominent current example of this product placement is the preparation and use of popular greens powder brands such as Athletic Greens and Bloom Nutrition. While having greens powders or other wellness products may be well-intentioned by the creators, it still elevates a certain way of eating, inadvertently demonizing others ways of eating that don’t include elaborate supplements or “superfoods” powders. Not to mention, the women in these videos mainly occupy thin bodies which indirectly sends the message that the green powders makes a person thin when in reality, body size is largely determined by genetics and other social determinants.

#2 The “That Girl” Aesthetic

The “That Girl” aesthetic became popular on TikTok and Instagram in early 2022, promoting an elitist, thin, euro-centric beauty ideal that emphasizes things like lemon water, green juice, pilates, and matching high-end athletic wear sets. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying any of these things, the “that girl” aesthetic sends the message that these lifestyle routines and products are absolutely necessary in order to attain “health.” Moreover, the “That Girl” aesthetic equates thinness to health, and is incredibly exclusionary to other demographics outside of the white, thin, euro-centric woman who meets the conventional beauty ideal. People of color, differently-abled people, folks of lower socioeconomic status, and folks in larger bodies are blatantly excluded from the “That Girl” aspirational image of health.

#3 People Constantly Making Comments About Food

Diet culture often manifests during social gatherings where food is involved. Phrases such as “a moment on the lips, forever on the hips” may come up just as you go to take a bite of your favorite holiday dessert. This is also a time where people add morality to food by making comments lamenting how, “bad” they’re being for eating “junk,” or conversely, praising those who are showing restraint by calling them “good” or “well disciplined.” Even outside of social events, comments about food are still made. “It’s just calories in, calories out” is often said in conversations about weight loss, (this saying, by the way, completely disregards the reality that the human body is more complex than a calorimeter). The famous phrase “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” has plagued our culture for multiple decades, adding fuel to the diet culture fire whenever it is quoted. What diet culture phrases have you heard over the years?

#4 Feeling Like People Are Judging You

Even if you have rejected the diet mentality and are working on your Intuitive Eating journey, you may still feel that you are being judged by your peers for doing so. Listening to your body’s cues and eating and moving how you want is a very counter culture idea. Rejecting the diet mentality goes against the grain, and it can feel isolating if everyone around you is still stuck in diet culture. People may also not understand why you are making this change and may make comments as previously stated.

#5 Comparison

Along with comments about food and feelings of judgment, diet culture also manifests as comparison. This comparison could either come from peers or from within. There is the comparison of body size, comparing if someone is larger to feel “better” about one’s self, or comparing if someone is smaller, making one feel worse. There is also the comparison of what and how much someone eats compared to what the people around them are doing, which adds morality and demonization of foods and appearances. Comparison can make it hard to listen to body cues. One might fear eating more than someone or struggle to take a rest day from movement because someone else didn’t. This comparison trap ultimately harms your ability to honor your own body’s needs.

#6 Social Media

Social Media is a breeding ground for diet and wellness culture. Just scrolling for a few seconds, it is easy to encounter multiple posts about weight loss, fitness, wellness, and diet culture that all contradict one another. No matter how much you try to block out these diet culture posts, you can’t control the algorithm and will likely encounter them again. There are also buzzwords co-opted by diet culture that spread around social media. For example, gut health is important, especially if you have IBS or other gastro-intestinal related issues. However, “gut health” has been co-opted to praise certain foods and demonize others, along with a prescription restrictive diet in the name of “health,” when in reality, restriction can actually make gastro-intestinal issues worse. Between targeted adds for programs like Noom, influencers touting wellness products, and comparing body sizes and lifestyle routines, social media can make it difficult to reject diet culture unless you are extremely intentional and equipped with the right tools to spot diet culture in disguise.

#7 Inherited Diet Trauma

For many people, diet culture messaging comes from what they are told growing up (i.e the way families talk about food). Since we are so impressionable at a young age, comments that we hear about food and bodies are carried with us into adulthood. The “almond mom” meme trending on social media is the perfect example of how harmful diet talk can be growing up. While this meme originated from mothers telling their children to “just have a handful of almonds” when their child says they are hungry, the “almond mom” shows how many of the food rules we grew up with still affect us today. Inherited diet trauma can also come from family members making comments about others appearances, which can also be internalized at an early age. If you grow up hearing family members making negative comments about someone else’s appearance, it can be natural to worry about what they think of yours.

#8 “Healthified” Recipes

Diet culture creates the misconception that in order to be healthy, you must make multiple ingredient swamps in order to “healthify” your favorite foods, in turn suggesting that one would be unhealthy for eating the regular versions. This leads to substitution of regular ingredients for trendy “wellness” ingredients— like swapping plain flour for almond flour, or subbing coconut sugar for regular sugar, despite them both being metabolized the same. This could also occur with adding protein powder to baked goods, making gluten free, dairy free, and refined sugar free versions of desserts while not having a gluten or dairy allergy. These “healthier” versions of desserts are not as satisfying and can lead to overeating the dessert instead of just having the real version and moving on.

#9 Tracking Macros

While there have always been people counting their caloric intake, it has become more prevalent than ever before with apps like MyFitnessPal encouraging users to track their daily macronutrient intake. This encourages weighing out and measuring portions of everything eaten throughout the day, to then be logged into the app. Tracking macros creates rigidity in one’s life as food is turned into numbers instead of fuel or enjoyment, all for the sake of appearance over quality of life. Once you’ve been in the world of macro counting, it can be hard to be aware of body cue’s as you’ll likely still have those numbers lingering in your brain, even months or years  after giving up tracking.

#10 Health Being Determined By Body Size

With the rise of the “Obesity Epidemic” in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, we have been told that being in a larger body automatically means someone is unhealthy. This “epidemic” created an even bigger push on weight loss and dieting for the sake of “health.” However, this idea that body size determines health completely disregards other factors such as social determinants of health, genetics, illnesses, or disabilities. It is impossible to look at someone and decide whether or not they are healthy. There are also thin people that do not partake in health promoting behaviors, but because of their body size, their behaviors are not always considered to be unhealthy. In the last few years there has been a hopeful shift towards Health At Every Size (HAES), but we still have a long way to go for our culture to catch up with this new body of research.

Final Thoughts

As you navigate your Intuitive Eating journey, notice different ways diet culture shows up in your own life. The first step is having the awareness that something you’re consuming even is diet culture un the first place. This could include questioning preconceived beliefs about someone’s health based on their appearance, or challenging food rules you’ve had your entire life that were implemented in childhood.

Did you hear the news? We launched a podcast here at Leah Kern Nutrition! Shoulders Down Podcast is a podcast designed to teach you how to harness your intuition to govern not just how you eat but also how you live. New episodes get released every Tuesday!  Click here to listen to our latest episode, “Finding The Courage To Follow Your Intuition with Erica Stanzione.” 

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