Debunking five diet culture myths

Posted in : Blog
Posted on : January 19, 2023

At the start of the year, my social media feeds are particularly full of advertisements for weight loss programs, workout apps and diet foods, probably because getting in shape is a common New Year’s resolution. I would like to suggest an alternative resolution this year. Let’s learn more about diet culture and debunk some diet culture myths.

What is diet culture?

Diet culture is a deeply entrenched societal notion that weight and body shape should be top priorities for people, even more important than physical and psychological wellbeing. It encourages the idea that controlling our bodies, including our intake of food, is normal, and even good. It expects individuals to constantly be aware of, feel guilty about, and modify their eating habits.

Diet culture perpetuates a number of myths that people often take for granted and don’t take the time to examine critically. You will probably have heard of many of these and might even believe some of them. I invite you to keep an open mind, remember that human beings are extremely diverse, and that what might be true for ourselves might not be true for others.

 

1. “Diets work! You’re just not trying hard enough!”

There’s a reason why weight loss is a common resolution year after year. Folks might start off the year with good intentions and then not obtain the results they wanted. Diet culture reinforces that the problem when diets fail is the person, not the diet. The person didn’t try hard enough, didn’t cut out the right foods in the right amounts or didn’t work out enough.

In reality, many studies have shown that dieting often does not result in weight loss at all, and if it does lead to weight loss, about 90-95% of people will regain the weight lost at some point. Simply put, diets rarely work in the long-term. It’s not the fault of any individual.

There are many factors that impact someone’s weight, including normal weight fluctuations or other aspects of someone’s health. In fact, experts are increasingly recognizing that willpower and lifestyle factors only constitute about 25-30% of the factors determining someone’s weight. The rest are things like genetics, other health conditions, socioeconomic factors, and many others.

 

2. “Cutting out [insert bad food of the day] is necessary for weight loss.”

If you use social media, you might come across the “bad food” du jour. You might hear about it in conversations with friends, too. There’s always a new culprit, a change we can make to our diet that will solve all our problems. It will work for everybody, it’s very simple, and if it doesn’t work for you, then you must be doing something wrong. Different diets point fingers at different culprits, too. For Keto or Adkins, it’s carbs. Genetically modified foods and convenience foods also get a bad rap.

But nobody really agrees on what that “bad food” is. It might be because there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and we may not actually need a solution in the first place. So, let’s be wary of “miracle” solutions advertised online.

 

3. “There are good foods and bad foods.”

These foods are described with different terms. Good foods may be “clean,” “natural,” “low-calorie,” “low-fat,” “low-carb,” and so forth. Bad foods are “processed,” “indulgent,” “reserved for cheat days,” or foods to feel “guilty” for eating.

However, there are no such things as universally good foods. Any food that nourishes and fuels you, any food that you like or makes you happy, is a good food for you. Some people have dietary restrictions, say, gluten-intolerant folks or folks who are allergic to peanuts. That’s a different story. Generally, unless it’s for a specific medical reason, a cultural reason (like religious dietary restrictions), or because of preferences, there’s no such thing as a universally bad food. Even a hamburger contains useful nutrients like protein and carbs . All foods can fit in a varied, nutritious diet that meets the needs of each individual.

 

4. “All weight loss is good weight loss.”

You may have noticed the compliments that people get when they lose weight. Yet, no one stops and thinks further. Not all weight loss is good weight loss. Weight loss as a result of serious medical treatment like chemotherapy is not good weight loss. Weight loss through disordered eating or obsessive exercising is not good weight loss. Any weight loss that interferes with other aspects of one’s health is not good weight loss. Likewise, not all weight gain is bad weight gain.

 

5. “Thinness is healthy and fatness is unhealthy.”

Finally, it is assumed that all fat people need to lose weight for their health. But health is much more complex than factors related to size. It is entirely possible for thin people to experience health problems, while it is possible for fat people to be healthy. Healthy habits, like drinking plenty of water and exercising a reasonable amount, bring great benefits for one’s health even if they do not result in weight loss.

Remember that health looks different for different people. We cannot know everything there is to know about someone’s health just by looking at them. The assumptions we might make stem from diet culture and unconscious biases we have picked up along the way. Let’s remember to pause and question our assumptions.

 

A new resolution

Diet culture is not rooted in fact. It comprises of over-simplified and biased “universal” principles that support a specific agenda. Weight loss is a big business. And people who are content with their bodies don’t make a resolution to change it every year, nor do they spend lots of money and time to meet that goal.

I invite you to make 2023 a year of learning about your body, listening to what it needs and doing what works for you, a year of respecting other people and choosing not to judge, and a year of questioning the harmful messages that we hear every day.

I wish you all a healthy 2023, whatever that may look like for you.

 

Sources:

What is Diet Culture? Very Well Fit, 2022, https://www.verywellfit.com/what-is-diet-culture-5194402

Weighing the Facts: The Tough Truth About Weight Loss, Michigan Health, 2017, https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/health-management/weighing-facts-tough-truth-about-weight-loss

Weight Management: State of the Science and Opportunities for Military Programs, Institute of Medicine, 2004, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK221834/

Supporting employees with obesity starts with recognizing it’s a chronic disease, Benefits Canada, 2019, https://www.benefitscanada.com/news/supporting-employees-with-obesity-starts-with-recognizing-its-a-chronic-disease/ 

The Biggest Diet Culture Myths, According to a Dietician, The Everygirl, 2021, https://theeverygirl.com/dietician-talks-diet-myths/

Dieting Myths Debunked, Center for Change, n.d., https://centerforchange.com/dieting-myths-debunked/

When dieting doesn’t work, Harvard Health Publishing, 2020, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/when-dieting-doesnt-work-2020052519889#

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