Diet Culture: Why It Is Wrong

What is Diet Culture?

It involves weight stigma–a societal belief that people in larger bodies are less intelligent, more self-indulgent, and less deserving of respect. It involves status judgements favoring people in thin bodies even though many people in thin bodies have done nothing to deserve that privilege. Internally, it involves shame. Diet culture believes everyone can achieve the same weight loss with the same effort. Christi Harrison, author of Anti-Diet, puts it this way:

Diet culture is a system of beliefs that worships thinness and equates it with health and moral virtue.

Christi Harrison

Weight Management and Diet Culture

Diet Culture Is Wrong

Unlike the rest of the diet industry and much of society, dietitians have long understood how difficult the problem of weight management is.

Science has only just begun to grasp an understanding of the complex physiology of weight regulation. Not only are there powerful appetite regulation hormones at work, but the body can adjust it’s calorie requirements to thwart weight loss.

Meanwhile, society’s ignorance continues to glorify thinness and devalue people in larger bodies. So many beautiful human beings have been devastated by psychological self-punishment prompted the diet culture in society.

Not All Discussions of Weight Involve Diet Culture

Just as a person with PTSD can be triggered by a loud noise, any person with a traumatic weight history might be similarly triggered when their medical provider brings up their weight.

And diet culture warriors may easily misunderstand and mistakenly attack medical providers who work to help patients/clients achieve health benefits associated with weight loss.

NutriScape articles will discuss the physiologic benefits of weight loss, and particular health behaviors and foods. As you read, understand that there is absolutely no motivation to moralize about these things. Dietitians just don’t think like that. Rather, we want to provide people with effective tools to address health issues.

Weight Loss Can Provide Metabolic and Quality of Life Benefits

Dietitians are the first to recognize that thin people are often far from healthy and people whose weight falls in the obese category are sometimes eat better and exercise more than their thin counterparts and truly are healthier.

Yet, metabolic and quality of life benefits of weight loss for many individuals is undeniable. Extra weight drives inflammation and diabetes. It is regrettable that sometimes in attempts to push back against diet culture, there is a denial of the benefit of weight loss.

We don’t advocate dieting. Most people who diet don’t lose weight, and most people who lose weight do not keep it off. Dietitians have known it since the 50’s, but the diet industry has conspired to keep it a secret.

The body always tends to regain weight–that’s why it’s so important to develop a positive relationship with food and a positive view of your body regardless of weight. It is absolutely critical that attempts at weight loss must not be associated with the psychologically harmful ideas of diet culture.

What makes something “diet culture” is the thoughts, NOT behaviors.

Most of the tools proven effective for weight loss and maintenance are the exact same tools used by people practicing toxic diet culture. A food diary can be used as a tool for mindful eating, but it could also be used with a philosophy of perfectionism which produces nothing but guilt and shame.

Likewise, weighing yourself can be part of a self-nurturing daily ritual with positive affirmations and an attitude of “what can I do to nurture myself today” or it can be done with a toxic diet culture psychology where the daily weight obsession leads to either immense pride or devastating shame.

NutriScape’s Bottom Line

While the NutriScape Project acknowledges the deep personal pain experienced as a result of weight stigma in our culture, we believe that effective weight management skills can be developed. We also believe that these skills can be developed in a way that is psychologically healthy.

Since our bodies are with us for life, giving up on weight management just isn’t a good option. This is why the NutriScape Project will continue to work to provide effective resources for weight management–without the baggage of diet culture.

About the Author

Stephanie Figon, MS, RDN, LD

Creator of Supplement Sciences and NutriScape.NET. As a dietitian since 1992, Steph has had experiences in consulting, 15 years in clinical, and has operated a private practice nutrition counseling office for since 2011. Log in to comment and save this article on your board or send your comments to