How To Fight Diet Culture At Home

Fight Diet Culture At Home

We live in what’s called “Diet Culture,” the belief that everyone can and should lose weight, but it’s time to fight back, and it can start at home. Diet culture is associated with worse physical and mental health outcomes, because a focus on weight loss results in weight cycling 95% of the time. Weight cycling is associated with greater weight gain, less physical activity, lower nutritional balance, and a higher prevalence of binge eating and eating disorders.

As an eating disorder professional, I suggest that all parents fight diet culture at home. Why? Because diet culture tends to be passed down in families. When moms and dads participate in diet culture, their kids are more likely to engage in dieting and weight loss efforts, which are the most important predictor of new eating disorders. Teens who diet are up to 18x more likely to develop an eating disorder.

Most people who diet learn how to do it at home. It’s not parents’ fault – after all, we live in a diet culture. We’re surrounded by it. But learning the facts about diet culture and the risks it poses to our kids is the best way to fight diet culture at home and protect your kids from its harms. 

Because make no mistake: diet culture has a net negative impact on our health both individually and at a societal level. While there are tremendous benefits to living a healthy lifestyle, doing so with the goal of losing weight leads to serious problems. 

Free Download: Non-Diet Approach To Health For Parents

Get the basic facts you need to start using a non-diet approach to parenting with this free downloadable PDF.

How to fight diet culture at home

Parents who fight diet culture at home provide their kids a safe space to grow up free from the toxic messages that weight loss is the path to health and happiness. Because the data is clear: it’s not. Parents should stop supporting diet culture and actively work against it in their homes. Diets aren’t healthy and can lead to serious health complications. Here are some ways parents can fight diet culture at home:

1. Start paying attention to diet culture

Notice billboards, magazine covers, social media posts and more that promote intentional weight loss. It’s important to pay attention to how pervasive these messages are.

2. Get rid of your scale, and stop dieting

I know this isn’t easy, but you can actually be healthier if you stop worrying about your weight. You can still pursue healthy behaviors like eating well, moving, and getting enough sleep. The only difference is that you’re not doing it in pursuit of a weight goal.

3. Don’t let your kids diet

Look for behaviors like skipping meals, cutting out food groups, counting calories, steps, or any other form of energy, and using diet foods. Dieting can be hard to spot, but mainly what you’re looking for is a focus on weight. Don’t be fooled by “eating healthy” as code word for diet.

4. Talk about diet culture as a family

Part of what makes diet culture so powerful is that we don’t examine it carefully. Talk about the dangers of diet culture regularly to expose its dangers to our health.

5. Learn about a non-diet approach to health

You can pursue health for yourself and your children without focusing on the scale. The core idea is to take good care of your body by getting enough sleep, movement, and food. A non-diet approach to health has proven benefits for cardiovascular, metabolic, and mental health.

How To Fight Diet Culture At Home

What is diet culture?

Diet culture is the belief that permanent weight loss is necessary, possible, and healthy for everyone. 

It’s driven and supported by the weight loss industry, which includes diet companies that offer books, videos, food, and programs, and medical companies that offer weight loss surgery and pharmaceutical drugs. 

Diet culture is rooted in anti-fat bias, also called weight stigma. This is the belief that fat bodies are bad, and that people who are fat are thus due to their own poor decision-making. Weight stigma is associated with serious negative health impacts, including increased risk of disease and eating disorders. 

Free Download: Non-Diet Approach To Health For Parents

Get the basic facts you need to start using a non-diet approach to parenting with this free downloadable PDF.

Examples of diet culture

To visualize diet culture, just close your eyes for a minute and think about the magazine ads, billboards, social media posts, and articles you have seen that promote weight loss as the path to happiness.

Diet culture absolutely surrounds us. It is impossible to live in our society and not be immersed in diet culture. It is perpetrated on billboards, television, and social media, but it is also promoted in doctor’s offices, classrooms, places of worship, playing fields, workplaces, and, of course, in people’s homes.

fight diet culture

Diet culture promises

Diet culture is everywhere because it promises us that everything we’ve ever wanted—love, success, happiness, and health, are within our control. It says that if we just work hard enough, we’ll get everything we’ve ever wanted. This sounds amazing, and it would be if it worked. But sadly, diets don’t work, and they actually reduce our sense of being loved, successful, and happy. And they are even bad for our health. Ugh. Here are some of the most powerful diet culture promises: 

  • Beauty
  • Health
  • Satisfaction
  • An easy solution
  • A happier life
  • No pain or restriction
  • Success
  • Good citizenship

At any given time, about one-third of Americans are on a diet. The diet industry is currently valued at $72 billion. And yet, as we keep hearing, our weights continue to rise. So what’s up?

Well, it turns out that even though diet culture promises us that weight loss is possible and healthy, it’s not. In fact, dieting actually leads to both weight gain and eating disorders.

In other words, diet culture is based on lies.

Why is diet culture harmful

Diet culture presents a simplistic view of human biology. Most diets combine some variation of “eat less and move more.” But anyone who has intentionally lost weight knows it’s virtually impossible to intentionally lose weight without feeling hungry.

And hunger, a biological instinct, is the problem with dieting. Because despite what diet companies tell us, weight is not simply a simple equation of calories in and calories out. It is not solely based on our behaviors. Weight is actually a really complex combination of genes, environment, psychology, and (least of all) behaviors.

We have far less control over our weight than we’ve been led to believe. And the most likely outcome of intentionally trying to control our weight is weight gain (not loss). Pretty frustrating, huh? 

Diet culture statistics

  • Approximately 95-98% of all dieters who lose weight will regain lost pounds 2-5 years later.
  • About half of dieters will weigh more 4-5 years post-diet than they did before they dieted.
  • Dieting is strongly associated with lifetime weight gain independent of other factors (i.e. genetics, environment, and behavior).

Free Download: Non-Diet Approach To Health For Parents

Get the basic facts you need to start using a non-diet approach to parenting with this free downloadable PDF.

Why diets don’t work

So why don’t diets work? In its simplest form, our bodies are programmed to respond to intentional weight loss in exactly the same way as they do famine. Our metabolism slows down and we become preoccupied/obsessed with food.

While many people can lose weight in the short-term, most bodies will fight for – and attain – a return to the weight it was previously.

When we lose weight, our bodies fight to 1) regain the weight lost; 2) gain a little more to protect against the next famine.

Diet companies tell us that the problem with weight regain is that we lack willpower. But it’s actually that our bodies are far more powerful than our minds when it comes to weight control.

How do you break up with diet culture?

Most of us have played around with diet culture at some point in our lives. It’s fairly unusual to live in our society and not believe that we can and should control our weight with eating and exercise behaviors.

And while lots of us joined Weight Watchers or followed diet advice in a book or app, there are more casual ways to engage in diet culture. For example, have you ever:

  • Skipped a meal to be “good”
  • Set weight loss challenges with friends and family
  • Asked for salad without dressing or plain baked chicken at a restaurant
  • Done laps around your living room to try and meet your step goal for the day
  • Weighed yourself daily
  • Forced yourself to exercise when you’re sick, injured, or the weather is terrible
  • Purchased items to support weight loss (e.g. books, courses, memberships, magazines, food, apps, etc.)
  • Read weight-loss success stories

If so, you have participated in diet culture. Most all of us have. It’s normalized in our society. It’s OK, but I’d like to suggest that it’s time to break up with diet culture and fight back at home. Instead, you can use a non-diet approach to health. This focuses on healthy behaviors like getting enough sleep, moving your body, and eating well throughout the day. The only thing it leaves off is a focus on the scale. 

Diet culture is toxic

The problem with diet culture isn’t that everything about it is wrong; it’s just that the focus on the scale makes it toxic. We can be healthier and happier by pursuing healthy behaviors without focusing on weight. I know this is a major mindshift. But remember that focusing on the scale and weight loss has zero benefits and causes weight gain and long-term health harms. Weight cycling isn’t something that happens to just some people—it happens in 95%-98% of cases of intentional weight loss. 

Hopefully this review of diet culture has given you some insight into its risks. I encourage you to keep learning and thinking about how your family might want to fight diet culture at home.

Want some help?

Send me a message to find out how parent coaching can help you fight diet culture at home.

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Published by Ginny Jones

My mission is to help reduce body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders.