Editor’s Note: This article delves into disordered eating and diet culture. Please practice self-care if these topics are triggering for you.

Many of us struggle with wanting to alter our bodies instead of embracing them. We may desire to conform to societal beauty standards by being thinner, taller, leaner, or more toned – ideals perpetuated by a culture fixated on appearance. While making decisions about our bodies is a personal choice, it’s essential to recognize the deeper influences at play, such as diet culture. However, we can actively distance ourselves from the grasp of diet culture and adopt a kinder, more compassionate way of inhabiting our bodies and navigating the world.

To shed light on the subtle manifestations of diet culture in our lives, I sought insights from a group of dietitians. Let’s uncover the diet culture myths they urge us to discard immediately and the healthier habits we should embrace instead.

What is diet culture?

Diet culture promotes the notion that conforming to specific physical standards grants acceptance and privileges. It reinforces social norms dictating that we must fit into specific molds to earn recognition and opportunities (especially in a society marred by anti-fat prejudices, affecting aspects like healthcare, employment, and respect). A concerning study highlighted in a 2022 article by The Cut revealed a resurgence in the obsession with slender celebrity figures and the fashion industry’s failure to provide inclusive sizing, suggesting a potentially worrisome return to valuing thinness.

Diet culture, with its emphasis on thinness as an ideal, has pervaded various facets of our lives, presenting a challenge to entirely break free from. Even if you haven’t encountered disordered eating, you’re likely familiar with terms like “clean eating” or post-holiday detoxes. While these practices may masquerade as wellness strategies, they are designed to keep us preoccupied with our appearance. If you’re frustrated and ready to take a stand, you’re not alone. Let’s dispel the myths, discard diet culture, and initiate positive change today.

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Myth #1: Food is either good or bad

We’ve been conditioned to label food as either good or bad: vegetables are good, sugar is bad, smoothies are good, ice cream is bad. Erin Reeves, a registered dietitian at Equip, emphasized that this mindset is profoundly harmful. It can breed feelings of shame, anxiety, guilt around eating, and potentially lead to disordered eating patterns.

“It’s crucial to recognize that our value as individuals is not contingent on what we eat,” Reeves stressed. She underscored that health is individual, and everyone has unique dietary needs for optimal well-being. Rather than categorizing food in black and white terms, it’s vital to acknowledge that various foods offer different forms of nourishment, beyond just their nutritional content. Reeves urged us to release shame and embrace the nourishment, connection, and joy that food brings.

Myth #2: Detox diets lead to weight loss

Alyssa Wilson, a registered dietitian and metabolic success coach at Signos Health, advocates abandoning detox diets and cleanses. While these practices may result in temporary weight loss, they can be more detrimental than beneficial. In reality, “Detox diets can do more harm than good.” Rather than pursuing drastic cleanses, Wilson recommends focusing on a balanced diet incorporating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, which support the body’s natural detox mechanisms.

Myth #3: Avoiding or limiting carbs

Many films from the 2000s featured protagonists swearing off carbs in a quest to fit into specific outfits or prepare for reunions, under the misconception that carbs lead to weight gain. Reeves highlighted that our bodies require at least 50% of daily caloric intake in the form of carbs. “Eliminating carbs from your diet might lead to weight loss initially, simply due to depriving the body of essential nutrients,” she cautioned. However, this approach can be risky, potentially resulting in weight fluctuations as the body compensates for lost carbohydrate reserves.

Moreover, eliminating any food group entirely, including carbs, can trigger a cycle of bingeing and restriction, fostering fear and loss of control around specific foods. Reeves emphasized, “Carbs are essential, and everyone should include them in their daily diet.”

Myth #4: Fast food is inherently unhealthy

Despite being convenient, flavorful, and satisfying, fast food has long been stigmatized in our society. Wendy Lord, a registered dietitian and medical content author at Health Reporter, acknowledged that while fast food may lack the nutritional value of other foods, occasional consumption won’t jeopardize your health or lead to weight gain. Trying to restrict fast food consumption can trigger intense cravings. By adopting a more lenient perspective on fast food (following the All Foods Fit model is a useful guide), we can appreciate fast food and its flavors from a different viewpoint.

Myth #5: Intuitive eating is universally easy and advisable

Initially hailed as the antidote to diet culture, intuitive eating isn’t a simple fix. While the concept promotes eating when hungry and stopping when full, Reeves highlighted additional factors like beliefs, cultural influences, habits, and medical histories that complicate matters. She emphasized that intuitive eating isn’t a quick process; rather, it may take years to develop.

Reeves advised critically examining your motivations for pursuing intuitive eating. If your goal is to distance yourself from diet culture, alleviate food-related anxiety and shame, or enhance your relationship with food, proceeding with intuitive eating is recommended. However, it’s crucial to note that intuitive eating shouldn’t be a guise for weight loss ambitions. Achieving intuitive eating mastery can be a lengthy journey, requiring assistance from specialized professionals like nutritionists, therapists, or physicians to rebuild trust in your body’s cues, needs, and hunger patterns. In essence, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to dietary habits.


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