Everything You Should Know About Diet Culture

Parul Dube

December 6, 2022

Diet culture is the self-deprecating, harmful assumption that appearance and body shape are more necessary than psychological, physical, and general well-being. It is the idea that controlling your body, especially your diet, is normal by restricting what and how much you eat. Diet culture frequently stresses ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ foods, encourage calorie counting, and normalises rigorous standards that prioritise thinness. So not only is food tagged, but people tag themselves as bad or good for eating these foods. 

People who accept diet culture as a natural way of life may have a bad self-image, regularly contribute to negative self-talk, and think that being thin makes an individual better than somebody who is not. They may also have an all-or-nothing psyche. But along with downsides, there are certain benefits that a person can gain if they follow a diet culture under expert supervision. Therefore, getting a clear picture and detailed information on diet culture is essential.

What Is Diet Culture?

Diet culture is a summation of beliefs that worship thinness and equates it with health. It assumes that certain foods are “bad” and that we are bad for eating them. In addition, diet culture believes that eating in a certain way will result in the right body size or the perfect body type. However, there is no “right” body size because your body varies considerably based on genetics, family history, race, ethnicity, and age. 

What Are Some Signs of Diet Culture?

Diet culture can be insidious, primarily because it frequently is lumped in with recommendations about optimal food and disease prevention. However, it is crucial to understand that diet culture expands beyond eating low-calorie foods and taking care of your body weight. Diet culture can rapidly become a consuming lifestyle that negotiates your emotional and physical well-being.

Illustrations and signs of diet culture include:

  • Tagging foods as good or bad.
  • Working out to “burn off” a particular amount of calories or “earn a treat.”
  • Restricting or avoiding entire food categories for being “bad” (e.g., dairy carbohydrates, sugar).
  • Feeling shame or guilt for eating.
  • Suppress your appetite with nicotine, caffeine, skinny teas, or water.
  • Avoid certain social situations to avoid eating.
  • Feeling unattractive or unworthy due to your body.
  • Weighing yourself and altering your behaviours based on the quantity on the scale.
  • Worshipping thinness and weight loss
  • Thinking that your body is responsible for good or bad things occurring
  • Immersing in fat-shaming or body-shaming talk or behaviours
  • The feeling of jealousy of others for their weight or self-control

Benefits of Diet Culture

Promotes Healthy Eating Habits

Dieting does not have to be food deprivation. Therefore, altering your typical eating habits can be helpful, mainly if you focus on removing unhealthy foods. In addition, some diets motivate you to adopt healthy food options, enabling you to maintain a healthy diet in the long run.

Allows Proper Nutrition

Another characteristic of why dieting is helpful to a healthier life is that it motivates you to be more familiar with what you put into your body. For example, understanding the fundamentals of food, such as how much protein you should eat and knowing how your body responds to different foods, is helpful. In addition, it is crucial to read labels to ensure that you are following your calorie budget and obtaining the protein, fibre, and other nutrients you need.

Boosts Overall Well-being

Pursuing a diet plan can considerably boost your physical self-confidence. Sticking to a diet requires willpower, which can enhance your physical health and enable you to make better judgments in other areas of your life, such as finances and relationships. In addition, others are more inclined to notice and praise you if you have a more toned figure as an outcome of your diet, boosting your self-esteem and feeling of achievement.

Diet Culture and Body Image

Diet culture views thinness as ultimate health. But unfortunately, the techniques to attain weight loss are not always beneficial. Social media and magazine stories frequently glamourise celebrity weight loss tales. However, it is done without saying whether the methods used were healthy or endurable. This method creates the idea that thinness and weight loss are the way toward happiness, acceptance, and health. However, appearance does not provide a detailed picture of an individual’s health. 

Diet culture also uses exercise as punishment for being fat, causing an unhealthy view of fitness. Diet hacks and quick workouts are constantly featured in our feeds on social media, encouraging negative body image views rather than a positive self-reflection. More than ever, teens struggle with their bodies because they fail to meet unrealistic body standards set by diet culture. A study shows that 77.6% of girls experience body image dissatisfaction. Unfortunately, many don’t see their body types in diet culture, and if they do, they are in a poor light.

Diet Culture and Mental Health

Diet culture can accelerate enormous feelings of guilt, fear, shame, and embarrassment. At the same time, it can significantly impact your mental health. You start to get anxious food thoughts. For example, being obsessed with what you should have to eat and feeling guilty over your diet mistakes. It influences your relationships and distracts you from your work, school, or other obligations. 

The emotional discomfort from diet culture leads to psychological distress. Over time, feelings of helplessness, frustration, and continuous emotional stress can cause or worsen mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Reach out to family and friends for support if you’re struggling with the negative impact of diet culture.

Other Cons of Diet Culture

Negative Eating Patterns

Exaggerated dieting can cause starving and cause negative eating habits or other repercussions. For example, dieting might compel your brain cells to eat themselves up to retain energy, making you feel hungry. As a result, you tend to overeat, or binge eat. Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are exclusive diet-culture-bound syndromes. 

Hard to Follow

Too much appetite regulation might be hard to maintain. If you are continuously restricting your favourite foods or suppressing your appetites, it can make you feel overwhelmed, leading to you leaving the diet.

Nutrient Deficiency

There are many telltale causes of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. However, it is more common while you follow the eating plans proposed by diet culture. Many people choose diets that avoid specific foods in the desire for weight loss. Before jumping into a special diet, speak with your doctor for more information about maintaining a healthy life while abstaining from certain foods.

Ways to Combat Diet Culture 

While altogether avoiding diet culture is difficult due to its stubborn nature in society, there are paths that you can try to restrict your exposure to diet culture.

Avoid Media

Prevent any forums, social media, online groups, or programming that makes you think that you are not good enough the way that you are. For example, a study shows that media advertising female beauty and thinness leads to confusion and dissatisfaction for many young people. And sociocultural factors, specifically media exposure, play an essential role in diet culture. 

Practice Body Neutrality

Body neutrality is the notion that you should concentrate on what your body can do right now, in the present, instead of how you want to look. It is the idea that you can exist without overthinking your body, positively or negatively. Practising body neutrality can help you to step away from diet culture. 

Educate Yourself on Health

Educating yourself and reading what overall health is might help you understand how concentrating solely on thinness and calories can be destructive to your health. It also enables you to understand the wide range of ways to be healthy, comprising diverse body types and eating habits.

When to Talk to a Therapist?

Eating disorders are severe mental diseases that often require professional treatment. Below are some cautionary signs that usually signal that you might need professional support:

  • You’re constantly thinking about food and your weight. It includes overthinking what you’re currently eating, the next meal, or your weight. 
  • You’re worried about eating in public. So you don’t want to eat in public because you are afraid of being criticised.
  • You focus on only eating healthy foods. An obsession with only eating foods deemed fit in diet culture could signify an eating disorder.
  • Your lack of an appetite comes with mood changes. For instance, consistent change in your hunger with mood fluctuations like sadness, low energy, and loss of pleasure in life is not healthy. 
  • You feel like you can’t control how much you eat. A lack of control over eating is a hallmark sign of binge-eating disorder. 

If you find that most of this list applies to you, it may be time to bring this up with someone you trust. That might be a friend, a family member, primary care doctor, or a therapist. Of course, every therapist is different, but there’s no harm in going and meeting with someone. 


A diet should not compromise nutrition, but diet culture frequently stresses thinness and appearance over physical health and emotional well-being. It is necessary to know that dieting is not the only means to pursue health, and being thin does not automatically mean health. Speak to a competent healthcare provider if you struggle with disordered eating or are worried about your fitness, body image, or eating patterns.

Blindly following any diet can do no good to your body. Instead, focus on healthy weight management rather than fast weight loss goals. Therefore, whether diet culture is good or bad depends on how you perceive it.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What is diet culture, and why is it harmful?

A. Diet culture is that communal set of social intentions telling us that there is one path to be and one way to eat and that we are a better person if our bodies are a specific way. Diet culture is dangerous because labelling yourself as bad or good based on the foods you consume can lead to unhealthy eating habits and may lead to an eating disorder. In addition, diet culture is harmful because it can lead to body dysmorphic disease and other mental health problems.  

Q. Why is diet culture good?

A. Many people in our society currently suffer from being overweight or even obese. Therefore, dieting can be an excellent way to lose those extra pounds. Of course, it helps people change their physical appearance, but it can also improve the overall quality of life since they will feel much better. In addition, many people will lose weight and stay lean and fit if they eat healthily.

Q. What does diet culture teach us?

A. Diet culture teaches the idea that thin bodies are the most desirable, valuable, and healthy. Therefore, it diverts you from your pleasure, goal, and mental power. In addition, diet culture notifies you that your body’s fundamental function is to look a specific way, preventing you from trusting, honouring, and celebrating your body. 

Q.What contributes to diet culture?

A. The act of controlling your body and diet by restricting what and how much you eat naturally contributes to diet culture. The all-or-nothing mentality is one of the primary contributing factors that push you towards diet culture.  

Q. How can we prevent diet culture?

A. Probably the most critical step in preventing diet culture is to connect with others on the same journey or in an anti-diet community. It would be best to avoid things that keep you stuck in the diet mentality, like low-calorie cookbooks and your weighing scale. Instead, you could nurture your relationship with nutrition and exercise as self-care.  

Q. Where does diet culture come from?

A. Diet culture can be traced back to as early as Ancient Greek society, in which moderation and regulation of food consumption was a means to attain “calmness” and a characteristic of supreme self-control. Diet culture became part of the cultural revolution when people disliked being fat or living in a larger body.  

Q. What is social media diet culture?

A. Social media feeds into diet culture. Social Media diet culture trends are particularly concerning for many Gen Z-ers, as social media is frequently part of their go-to news openings, making them more vulnerable to being influenced. You get an interactive but manipulative algorithm that pulls you into the dieting industry with social media. Regardless of the platform you’re browsing, every new diet and fitness trend from celebrities and influencers, hashtags and curated images of food or fitness poses can cause more harm than you think.  

Q. Who is affected by diet culture?

A. The diet culture affects everyone. Nonetheless, it has historically targeted women and teenage girls at higher rates. Six out of ten women and girls opt-out of daily actions, including speaking or socialising in school, due to impoverished body image. In addition, around 10%-20% of women and 4%-10% of men in college suffer from an eating disorder due to obsessively following diet culture.  

Q. Who invented the diet?

A. In 1863, William Banting popularised one of the first weight-loss diets in the 19th century. He circulated the first diet brochure, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the public, documenting his high-protein and low-carbohydrate diet. But the ancient Greek influence on diet culture is still prominent. 

Q. What was the ancient diet?

A. The Paleo diet is the most ancient diet derived from what Paleo men ate during their time. These included tubers, seeds, nuts, and wild-grown barley pounded into flour, legumes, and flowers. They ate what was accessible in their environment, from animals and plants, and did not eat refined grains, reduced sweeteners, canned foods, or artificial elements.

About the Author

Parul holds a Masters of Medical Science in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and has worked across the globe from the U.K to New Zealand (NZ) gaining her License with the Health Professionals Council (HPC, UK) and the NZ Nutrition Council. From being a Gold medalist in Clinical Nutrition to being awarded an internship with World Health Organisation (WHO, Cairo, Egypt) and Contracts with CDC Parul has had a wide spectrum of work experiences. She is very passionate about Nutrition and Fitness and holds strong to her guiding mantras ‘ Move more’ and ‘Eat Food that your grandmother can recognize’!

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