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Fearless Steps: What is Diet Culture?

Have you ever wondered why we are driven to control, shrink, and distrust our bodies? It’s a complicated story, but at the heart of it is diet culture.

You might be confused though… what on earth is diet culture?

“Diet culture is a system of beliefs driven principally by economic gain

that presupposes three basic tenets:

~ weight loss necessarily means better health and longevity;

~ weight loss is possible/sustainable with willpower and eating less/exercising more; and

~ higher weight is associated with less beauty, moral fiber, and/or intelligence.

This system of beliefs directly results in thin privilege,

and the trauma of weight stigma-related bullying and internalized shame.

This system of beliefs is unsubstantiated by research and current data.”

~ Amy Pershing LMSW, ACSW
Founder, Bodywise Binge Eating Disorder Recovery Program LLC and The Hungerwise Program;
Author: Binge Eating Disorder: The Journey to Recovery and Beyond, Routledge, 2018

This powerful, relentless, Diet Culture message that links worthiness and weight, worms its way into our consciousness, gets locked in our heads, and over time we buy into this harmful story. It takes root, creating in us a “Diet Mind.” An endless loop of fearful, critical thoughts about food, body and weight.

This MIND perpetually scolds us about what we ate yesterday, last week, warns us about what we better not eat tomorrow. We become caught in an endless, exhausting battle.

Does it often feel as though you’re fighting against your body and you aren’t even sure why? Diet culture is why; wanting to feel valuable and loveable and worthy.

Here’s the question: Has weight loss ever actually helped you to feel worthy? More lovable? It’s possible that yes, in the short term, weight loss did make you feel better about your body and how you occupy space in this world. In the short term, it’s a quick fix for self-esteem that doesn’t actually hang around for very long, because long-term weight loss is statistically impossible.

97% of people who pursue intentional weight loss will regain all of the weight they lost, and two-thirds of those folks will actually end up gaining even more weight than they initially lost. Is there any other medication or intervention out there that doctors consistently recommend with a 97% failure rate? Why would we persist at something that’s almost guaranteed to fail? We persist because we think we have a shot at worthiness if we do.

“…living a life that doesn’t involve hating yourself,

where you actually even loved yourself,

despite the cultural pressures and messages —

wouldn’t that be better? Imagine.”

~  Margaret Lyons, Review, Shrill

What Does the Diet Culture Message Mean For Us?

Diet culture seriously compromises our ability to trust ourselves. To love ourselves.

To feel at home in our bodies.

Living in this Diet Culture we can:

  • Feel bad about ourselves/not good enough.
  • Feel there is only one “right way” to be: THIN.
  • Become trapped in dieting, deprivation, despair.
  • Caught in endless thinking/hyper-vigilance about the “right” foods to eat.
  • Distrust our choices, our hungers and appetites. Our GUTS.
  • Disconnect from our true selves, our bodies, our voices/intuition.
  • Focus all of our attention on this unattainable goal of thinness.
  • Miss out on a joyful life.

So if the real goal is to feel worthy, and weight loss isn’t a sustainable path to that worthiness, where do we go from there?

We must find that inherent worthiness within ourselves.

We must work to change our own internal narrative around what we bring to the table as human beings.

We must learn that despite what diet culture may tell us, we are enough.

How can we let go of the Diet Culture Story?

In Mindfulness, we work with all critical, fearful thoughts as, “The Story.”

We can consider Diet Culture Story, one of these stories. Albeit a powerful and pervasive one.

Mindfulness is a way we can, over time, learn to challenge and Doubt the Diet Culture Message/Story, rather than doubt ourselves. Learn to doubt, “Diet Mind” messages and instead, trust ourselves–our intuition, our insides. We can become aware of the messages we’ve internalized, experience how they make us feel, how they harm us, and slowly, with patience, practice and compassion, interrupt and dismantle them.

When we hear stories inside us like:

That’s too fattening, or, You better not eat that!

We can close our eyes, take a breath, and:

Notice how we feel when we hear this message.

What are the sensations in our body in response to it?

We can label these messages, “Thinking.”

We can ask: Is this message loving? Kind? Is this message helpful, useful to me?

Or ask, Where else could I be focusing my attention right now?

We can practice redirecting our attention from–

worry about food, body and weight,

to attention to–

What we love, what lights us up,

brings us joy, nourishes us?

Stepping away from Diet Culture Mind and towards

kindness, self-love and self-care is a powerful, essential process.

One we pursue moment-by-moment.

Go forth into the new with love, my friend.


If you’re struggling to heal your relationship with food, I want to help!

For over 30 years, as a Mindfulness Specialist and a Certified Holistic Health Coach, I’ve been helping others who have felt just the way you do now, create happier, calmer, more intuitive lives. I have a gift for helping you shift your experience from shame, frustration, frenzy and self-doubt–to clarity, calm, confidence and compassion. I can help you free yourself from your rules, fears, doubts, critical stories and the behavior that stands in the way of you living your best life.

Learn more about my coaching options here:  susanweissberrycoaching.com