Moving Beyond Diet Culture

Each January brings an onslaught of articles, tips, and social media posts about New Year’s resolutions. And every year, losing weight is among the most popular resolutions. In fact, almost half of the respondents in a national survey named losing weight as a resolution last year, and a full 50 percent of people said that they planned to exercise more or improve their fitness in the new year.

With the ideals of thinness and weight loss so thoroughly normalized in our culture, it’s easy to forget how harmful they can be. Here are some easy ways to spot the signs of diet culture as well as ideas for moving beyond it towards a healthier relationship with your body.

What Is Diet Culture?

Put simply, diet culture is the cultural tendency to prioritize being thin over being healthy and happy. It’s more than just being on a diet, and lots of people who aren’t technically on diets are affected by diet culture. It’s a set of values that shows up in various ways through our thoughts, behaviors, and relationships to food, eating, and our bodies. 

Here are a few key features of diet culture and examples of how you might encounter them:

  • Internalizing rigid rules around eating and exercise.

      • Feeling guilty or ashamed after eating a “bad” food, like pizza or ice cream
      • Focusing on restricting calories and/or avoiding certain foods entirely.
      • Talking to friends about plans to lose weight through dieting.
  • Equating thinness with goodness and even moral virtue.

      • Deriving self-worth from our weight and/or believing that we’re only good if we’re thinner than other people.
      • Consuming advertisements that only show thin people as happy, successful, and desirable.
      • Spending lots of time, energy, and money pursuing thinness.
  • Normalizing fat-shaming.

      • “I shouldn’t have eaten that cake. I’m already too heavy.”
      • “I look so fat in these jeans.”
      • “You look great! Did you lose weight?”

On a broad level, diet culture stigmatizes and oppresses people who aren’t thin. From airplane and theater seats designed for thinner bodies to biases toward thinness in hiring practices, our culture consistently offers more opportunities to thin people. That phenomenon is often known as “thin privilege.” And this kind of discrimination is often compounded by race- and gender-based discrimination.

To learn more about diet culture, check out the National Eating Disorders Association’s detailed guide to recognizing and resisting it.

How to Resist Diet Culture

Moving beyond diet culture requires letting go of the idea that thinness is good or valuable in its own right. Here are a few facts to keep in mind as you encounter diet culture in your own life:

  • There is little scientific evidence that being thin is healthier than being “overweight.”
  • Research indicates that weight is largely genetic. It’s very hard to change one’s weight and sustain that change over time.
  • Internalizing the ideal of thinness has been shown to lead to disordered eating and body dissatisfaction.

A growing movement called Health at Every Size (HAES) is working to bring these insights to a larger audience and encourage all of us to prioritize health, happiness, and inclusivity over thinness. 

This new year, we recommend taking time to reflect on how diet culture affects you personally and consider ways to move toward a more realistic, compassionate perspective on health.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out to our team at to discuss treatment options, including our comprehensive DBT-ED.