Dismantling Diet Culture

Diet Industry booty callIn honor of No Diet Day, I wrote a blog post for the National Eating Disorders Association blog (I’m an Offical NEDA Ambassador!) about recognizing and resisting diet culture:

Diet Culture is dangerous and harms people of all sizes, including by perpetuating eating disorders and making a full recovery almost impossible. But when it comes to identifying Diet Culture in a world that is sadly rife with it, there can be plenty of confusion. If we truly want to prevent eating disorders and create a culture where full recovery is possible, we need to learn to identify Diet Culture and speak out against it. While this list certainly isn’t exhaustive, it covers some of the main tenets of Diet Culture, as well as some options for fighting back.

Here is the text:

Diet Culture is dangerous and harms people of all sizes, including by perpetuating eating disorders and making a full recovery almost impossible. But when it comes to identifying Diet Culture in a world that is sadly rife with it, there can be plenty of confusion. If we truly want to prevent eating disorders and create a culture where full recovery is possible, we need to learn to identify Diet Culture and speak out against it. While this list certainly isn’t exhaustive, it covers some of the main tenets of Diet Culture, as well as some options for fighting back.


Weight stigma is so firmly entrenched in our culture that even healthcare professionals often substitute fatphobia for actual diagnoses, and substitute diets for the evidence-based interventions that a thin person with the same health issues would receive.

Resisting Diet Culture

When you see someone pathologizing fat bodies, you can explain that there are healthy and unhealthy people of every shape and size, and that adding healthism to sizeism is not a good look. Point out that what’s important is that people of all sizes have access to ethical, evidence-based care, and that weight loss recommendations aren’t prescribed for health issues. As the brilliant Deb Burgard has pointed out, “We prescribe for fat people what we diagnose as disordered in thin people.”

This is dangerous for fat people who are prescribed disordered eating behaviors, for people of all sizes who live in a world where disordered eating behaviors are normalized, for not-fat people with eating disorders who are given the message that if they were fat their eating disorder behaviors would be not just be appropriate, but beneficial and doctor approved, and for fat people with eating disorders who are given behavior prescriptions that celebrate their eating disorders and make them even more entrenched. Pair that with body dysmorphia and/or an extreme fear of becoming fat and diet culture quickly becomes deadly. This is why a Size Acceptance/Health at Every Size® paradigm is the only acceptable paradigm.


Another aspect of diet culture is the use of food rules and restriction to manipulate body size—either to make sure one doesn’t become fat, or to try to make fat people thin. In addition to the fact that only a tiny fraction of people can manipulate body size long-term in this way, these are all red flag behaviors for eating disorders.

Resisting Diet Culture

When you see this suggestion, you can remind people that food has plenty of appropriate uses in our culture, including nourishment, celebration, and emotional eating, but trying to manipulate our body size is not one of them. If someone is looking for help around this, you can recommend a HAES-based dietitian.


The government-funded “war on obesity” is based on telling everyone that a fat person will ever meet, along with fat people themselves, that fat people should be stereotyped, shamed, stigmatized, and harassed. The result is that people actually believe that a thin body is more attractive, more worthy, and better than a fat body, and behave accordingly, leading to size-based oppression, including internalized oppression

Resisting Diet Culture

A great comeback to this is to point out that all bodies are good bodies and that, as anti-Diet-Culture warrior Marilyn Wann has famously pointed out,  “The only thing anyone can diagnose by looking at a fat person is their own level of prejudice toward fat people.”


If you expect that you can enter a restaurant, public transportation, roller coaster, doctor’s waiting room, Broadway play, or flight and find a seat that accommodates you, you have thin privilege. And that’s just one example. Thin privilege is created by a world that is based upon accommodating thin people, and seeing thin bodies as more deserving than fat bodies.

Resisting Diet Culture

Like all privilege, most thin people didn’t ask for it, and can’t give it away, but they can use it to fight Diet Culture. An excellent use of thin privilege is to find out what fat people want that thin people already have, and then ask how to help. For example, when someone says, “I can’t believe that a fat person thinks that they should get to travel from point A to point B on this plane for the same price as I do,” say “Why do we get seats that accommodate us, but other people are asked to pay twice as much for the same trip? That’s not fair.” Then do things from signing petitions and getting involved in activism, to interrupting fatphobia on planes and welcoming fat people to sit next to you.


If I had a nickel for every person who had a messy breakup with exercise because of a fatphobic gym teacher, I would be rich. Diet Culture throws things like joyful movement out the window in order to talk about movement as a way to manipulate body size. It also encourages people to stereotype fat people involved in movement, leading to fat people doing the workouts we’ve been doing for years interrupted by people gushing about how proud they are that we have “started a workout program” and how we’ll “lose that weight in no time.”

Resisting Diet Culture

Let’s be clear: nobody is obligated to participate in fitness of any kind, not everyone has the same access to movement options, and participation in movement is not a barometer of worthiness. As someone who has finished two marathons (and holds the Guinness World Record for Heaviest Woman to Complete a Marathon) I can tell you for sure that running a marathon and having a Netflix marathon are morally equivalent activities. When it comes to movement, we should work hard to make sure everyone has access to the information and movement options they may want, and then mind our own business.


Fat people who have health issues often find their healthcare practitioner recommending that they have their stomachs amputated or bound (also known as “bariatric surgery”) or prescribing diet drugs,  despite the fact that these can kill people, often have horrific lifelong side effects for those who survive them,  and offer no guarantee of effective treatment of actual health issues. Thin people with these same health issues are given evidence-based interventions and are never asked to risk their life and quality of life. Diet Culture creates a belief that it’s ok to risk the life of a fat person in order to make them a thin person. Diet Culture wants fat people to be thin or dead, and doesn’t seem to care much which.

Resisting Diet Culture

We can interrupt this by insisting that fat people receive the same evidence-based interventions as thin people, and by never suggesting that it’s appropriate to risk a fat person’s health—physical or mental—in an effort to turn them into a thin person.

Diet Culture is dangerous for people of all sizes, and particularly dangerous to those with a predisposition for, currently suffering with, or recovering from eating disorders. The eating disorders community needs to lead the dismantling of Diet Culture (including within our own community) and in transforming the world into a place that values all bodies.

Was this post helpful? If you appreciate the work that I do, you can support my ability to do more of it with a one-time tip or by becoming a member. (Members get special deals on fat-positive stuff, a monthly e-mail keeping them up to date on the work their membership supports, and the ability to ask me questions that I answer in a members-only monthly Q&A Video!)

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Love It! 234 Inspirations And Activities to Help You Love Your Body
This is filled with thoughtful advice from the authors Jeanette DePatie, Ragen Chastain, and Pia Sciavo-Campo as well as dozens of other notable names from the body love movement, the book is lovingly illustrated with diverse drawings from size-positive artist Toni Tails.
Price: $9.99 softcover, $7.99 Kindle, ($6.95 + free shipping for DancesWithFat Members)

Wellness for All Bodies ProgramA simple, step-by-step, super efficient guide to setting and reaching your health goals from a weight-neutral perspective.  This program can be used by individuals, or by groups, including as a workplace wellness program!
Price: $25.00 ($10 for DancesWithFat members – register on the member page)

Non-Members click here for all the details and to register!

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!  (DancesWithFat Members get an even better deal, make sure to make your purchases from the Members Page!)

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

I’m (still!) training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com or on Instagram.

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

One thought on “Dismantling Diet Culture

  1. All good points! I’ve spent some time thinking about the phrase ‘cheating on your diet’. Who are you cheating? Yourself? I suppose if you think dieting is morally good, then not-dieting would of course be morally bad, like cheating in a marriage. Except of course, you can’t actually lie to yourself about what you are or are not eating.

    I’ve seen the phrase used by people who talk about eating a food they have an intolerance too. Again, I don’t get it. You know you’ll have a reaction, so how is it cheating? If I choose to eat something I have intolerance to, I know full well what the consequences are and in no way do I think of it as ‘cheating’. I’m not trying to fool myself in any way. I am an adult and I made the choice. Is saying you are cheating meant to somehow minimize what you are doing? Because if you cheat on a spouse, you are doing something without their knowledge. You can’t intentionally eat food without knowing it. You can accidentally eat something hidden in a dish, but that is unintentional and never called ‘cheating’.

    Is it called ‘cheating’ with food because you are doing something ‘wrong’? Cheating in a relationship is wrong because you are lying to someone you are supposed to care about and potentially exposing them to disease. It’s breaking agreements and trust with another person.

    Cheating with food, well, I suppose you could be potentially damaging your health, but you can’t lie to yourself about what you are doing. I guess you consider it morally wrong to hurt yourself, but there’s no lying or trust-breaking.

    The whole concept of ‘cheating’ with food baffles me. I

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.