The Toxicity of Diet Culture

Sarah McMahon
5 min readMay 9, 2019

​Diet culture is defined as a system of beliefs that worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue. Since thinness=health=moral virtue, losing weight is a means of attaining higher status while simultaneously demonizing certain foods or ways of eating. Diet culture is why we consider some foods, such as pizza or cake or butter “bad” but consider other foods, like kale or salmon “good.”

According to diet culture, the ideal body is a thin body, thereby oppressing and shaming people who don’t fit into the thin ideal. Diet culture heavily perpetuates the belief that our physical appearance is inextricably tied to our happiness and worth.

One interesting, though insidious, characteristic of diet culture is that it’s everywhere. We are obsessed with becoming smaller and prettier, without really understanding why. We are told we can always fix something, and we can always do better. There are constantly new products being marketed to us in the name of health: goji berries, kelp, tumeric, kombucha, mushrooms, detox teas, smoothies, vitamins, protein powders, workout plans, surgeries, et cetera.

Each new health tonic is a product someone made to turn a profit. Very rarely are these products necessary. Very rarely do they provide any concrete benefits. Mushrooms, smoothies, kombucha, et cetera will probably not harm you, but the simple act of ingesting them doesn’t make you measurably healthier, either. More importantly: consuming foods you consider healthy does not grant you the social capital to condemn those consuming foods you consider unhealthy.

Such judgement is everywhere, and stems from a place of privilege and fear. Privilege, because not everyone can afford a $5.00 bottle of kombucha or a $7.00 package of airy kale chips. And fear, because the underlying reason we categorize foods is the fear that food will harm us in some way. I’ve been working with an Intuitive Eating Dietitian, who has introduced a “food neutral” approach to eating. I had to slowly let go of the idea that food was “out to get me.” I had to trust that my body would know what to do with the food I gave it, and that was a profound and enlightening realization. Worrying about food serves absolutely no purpose.

Since diet culture idealizes thinness, those who live in larger bodies- that were…