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How to Resist Toxic Diet Culture

Diet culture prioritises thinness over well-being, which can be dangerous to both our physical and mental health. Here’s how you can reject it.

By Shreya Maji
05 Aug 2021

In July of this year, social media app Pinterest banned weight-loss ads from its platform. According to a statement released by the head of policy, it was for their users’ “emotional and mental health and well-being, especially those directly impacted by eating disorders or diet culture or body shaming.” Although a relatively small step in a world saturated with the fixation on bodies and weight, it is still a start in recognising the harm that diet culture perpetuates, and the big role social media plays in it.


What is Diet Culture?
Diet culture is the concept that equates health with thinness, and preaches that thinness must be achieved at any cost. It involves the preoccupation with physical appearance coupled with adhering to some definite eating standards. This concept is instilled in us through social media, advertising, marketing and the wellness industry. Diet culture is harmful because it propagates the existence of an “ideal” body that is considered healthy or beautiful. In reality our body size largely depends on genetics and social determinants of health, like age, employment and food security.

Toxic diet culture is hard to identify because it often comes hand-in-hand with suggestions for eating nourishing foods or taking care of your physical health. But it can quickly become an all-consuming lifestyle where you obsessively discuss calorie intakes and exercise goals, causing harm to your physical and mental health. In order to resist diet culture, it is necessary to understand the ways in which you take part in it.


Examples of Diet Culture:

  • Limiting or avoiding certain food groups like carbohydrates, dairy and sugar for being “bad”.
  • Participating in diets that give moral implications to food such as “guilty pleasure,” “cheat day,” or “clean eating”.
  • Attempting to suppress your appetite with caffeine, nicotine, skinny teas, or water.
  • Engaging in fat-shaming behaviours or talk, and praising others for weight loss
  • Avoiding certain social situations to avoid eating.
  • Encouraging talk about how you might be happier or more successful if you were thinner.
  • Weighing yourself frequently and changing your behaviours based on the number on the scale.


Why Should You Resist Diet Culture?
It is important to challenge diet culture, as it causes enormous feelings of self-consciousness, shame and guilt based on how someone weighs or looks. It not only propagates discrimination against people in larger bodies, but is also ultimately a set-up for failure: according to a study conducted in 2015 by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, weight-loss diets are unsuccessful in leading to any permanent results 98 percent of the time. Being resistant to diet culture does not mean being opposed to health or nutrition—it is the understanding that health is not connected to weighing a certain amount. Overall health is too vast to be judged by a single measure. But there are more reliable and accurate indicators of health than weight, such as strength, ability to do physical activity, getting enough sleep, and physiological things like blood pressure, blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels. 



How to Resist Diet Culture

  • Curate your social media. 

Social media is one of the biggest factors in your perception of things like body-image, self-worth or eating habits. Fitspo, before and after diet or exercise challenges, and glorification of weight loss can all contribute to making you compare yourself to others and try to achieve unrealistic body goals. Unfollow accounts that make you feel bad about yourself or make you want to engage in diet behaviour, and follow accounts that help you see your body in an honouring or respectful light.


  • Say no to fad diets.

There is a new trendy diet every month only because the earlier ones were unsuccessful. According to a study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, 95 percent of dieters regain the weight they lose within 1-5 years, and most negatively affect their metabolic system. Consider intuitive eating instead—an approach created by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995, through which you let your body guide you in what and how much to eat. In this approach, there are no rigid rules, only a respect for hunger cues and food preferences. 


  • Choose body neutral practices.

In 2018, British actress and activist Jameela Jamil started the “I Weigh” campaign, a social media based movement propagating body neutrality, or the idea that our achievements should be measured in terms of things beyond the “flesh on our bones”. Body neutrality advocates for the acceptance of our bodies as they exist, and encourages the pursuit of health without a focus on weight. 




  • Be wary of toxic “wellness” terminology.

According to the World Health Organisation, wellness means “…a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” But with the rise of diet culture, wellness has been imposed with a certain rigidity in terms of food and exercise. Terms like “detoxes”, “cleanses”, “cheat days” or “beach bodies” have come to be associated with wellness, while in actuality it is a much broader concept than just nutrition and exercise. Consider eating for pleasure, a balanced diet and flexible exercise schedules to live a happier and more fruitful life. 





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