Today a new blog reader asked me “I’ve heard you talk about “diet culture” but what do you mean when you say that, I mean, what are the downsides?” Well, unless you are one of the people profiting from diet culture, it’s pretty much nothing but downside. Still let’s look at some specifics:
Conflates size and health, pathologizes some body sizes
Diet culture sells the lie that weight and health are the same thing (despite the fact that it’s plainly observable that there are healthy and unhealthy people of all sizes – knowing, of course, that health isn’t an obligation, barometer of worthiness, or entirely into our control.) Diet culture seeks to pathologize body sizes (with terms like “overweight,” and “obese”) because it creates a greater market for diet products that don’t work.
Encourages following external rules about what, when, and how much to eat
Diet culture tries to convince us that we can’t be trusted to choose what to eat or how much as if what they suggest instead isn’t completely ridiculous.
Suggests that people are more or less good/moral/worthy based on their body size
Creates thin privilege – makes thinness a gatekeeper for jobs/benefits/comfort/accommodation
In telling us that thin people are worthy and fat people are not, diet culture creates a culture where fat people are not seen as “deserving” of the same basic accommodations as thin people – chairs, blood pressure cuffs, seats on a plane, safe restraints on amusement park rides, etc. It also makes being thin the gatekeeper for being hired and paid fairly. It tells us to assume that someone’s size can tell us how good a singer, actor, or dancer they are, or you in a way that makes being thin a privileged identity (even though, yes, bad things still happen to thin people, and diet culture still hurts people of all sizes.)
Suggests movement as punishment for, or prevention of, being fat, rather than for other reasons like fun, or personal goals
Nobody is obligated to participate in fitness, and participating in fitness doesn’t make someone better than those who don’t. But for many of us, things that could be fun hobbies get ruined by a culture that suggests that the only reason to exercise is to punish or bodies for being fat, or prevent them from getting that way. That’s total crap. Many a messy breakup with exercise could have been avoided if people weren’t given such messed up ideas about movement.
Views fat people as less valuable – more risk-able
A thin person goes to the doctor with type 2 diabetes. They are given interventions that are shown to control T2D with minimum risks. A fat person goes to the doctor with the exact same symptoms. They are told that they should have a surgery that amputates part of their stomach and creates disease in the small bit that remains, even though organizations who advocate for this procedure claim that it kills 15 out of 1,000 people who have it (likely a low-balled number because of the tendency for blaming the patient for dying because they are fat.) Those who do survive can be left with horrible lifelong side effects and require many more surgeries, many people gain their weight back, and many people end up seeing their T2D return. Not to mention that fat people are prescribed (highly profitable) medications that could literally kill us, for the small hope of losing just a few pounds. Fat bodies are seen as infinitely more riskable than thin bodies. Doctors seem to believe that the misery that is created by fatphobia means that we are better off literally dying to be thin than trying to live our best life in a fat body (rather than, you know, ending fatphobia.)
Diet culture creates a world that is permeated by discussions of food, weight, exercise, diets. The supposed “right” to discuss these things in every environment is fervently defended.
In diet culture you can’t turn on a radio, television, look at a billboard, open a magazine (or look at the cover for that matter,) without hearing diet and weight loss talk – this is significant because weight loss talk reinforces the idea that thin bodies are better than fat bodies which reinforces all the downsides we just talked about. Diet culture means that you can’t have a Facebook group with a no weight loss talk rule, without needing an army of moderators to delete all the posts of people who insist that, even though they know that the rule is no weight loss talk, they feel that their weight loss talk is special and that they should be able to talk about it.
Diet Culture Perpetuates Eating Disorders and Prevents Full Recovery
In a culture where hating your body and being terrified of being or becoming fat or gaining weight is considered normal, eating disorders can be expected and full eating disorder recovery can be impossible.
Nothing good comes from diet culture. If we want a world where people can actually pursue health by their own definition, prioritization, and path – then they need people to be able to get honest information, we need people (and their families, friends, and healthcare providers) to have the opportunity to see their bodies as worthy of care, and the access to the things that they need to pursue their goals. Diet culture (and the for-profit healthcare system it rests upon) will never allow that to happen. So we need a paradigm shift to a Health at Every Size and Size Acceptance paradigm.
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