All in the family: Learning diet culture

Posted by: Raquel Griffin

Time to read: 4.5 minutes

One of the most devastating things I hear as an eating disorder therapist is how many people have been put on diets as children. 

Diet culture can be so insidious that what a parent thinks is just trying to do the “right thing” or promote a “healthy lifestyle” for their littles, can really be the tee up of an eating disorder. These often well-intentioned parents can be predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating eating disorders in their kids. Not always, but often times, eating disorders begin in the home and in the family, normalizing the harmful all-or-nothing beliefs of “good” bodies and foods and “bad” bodies and foods. Research shows that kids begin equating “fat” with “bad” between the ages of three and five and one of the strongest precipitating factors in the development of eating disorders is dieting. Dieting is normalized disordered eating and the more this is modelled or expected in families, the more potential for harm.

Here are just a few examples of what I call “family food harms”, adapted from the book Intuitive Eating

  • Needing to clean your plate at mealtimes
  • Rules related to snacks, sweets, desserts
  • Food used as a conditioning tool (reward & punishment)
  • Encouraged/told to lose weight, put on a diet
  • Rules related to activity/exercise
  • Parent/caregiver engaged in dieting behaviours or disordered eating
  • Parent/caregiver criticized own body/weight, negative self-talk
  • Taking diet culture harms to the next level in families involves children being encouraged or instructed to limit their food intake for the purpose of losing weight or “preventing” fatness. To be told as a child that there is something wrong with your body and these are the measures you need to take in order to “fix” it is deeply disturbing. And yet, this is a common trauma experienced by many. And, yes I purposefully am referring to this as a traumatic experience for folks. To inflict the deprivation of an essential need such as food onto a child and encouragement of that child to disconnect from their body’s cues and needs is deeply traumatic. 

    It’s completely understandable to have anger toward the people that normalized diet culture to you as a child and taught you to dislike and distrust your body. Honouring those feelings is part of the grieving process. Remember, those who have done harm to us as it relates to food, eating, and our body relationship are also victims of diet culture themselves. Finding compassion for those individuals can be helpful in healing and helping us navigate what to do next, exploring how to provide ourselves the care we needed but didn’t receive. Virgie Tovar, fat activist and author, describes the challenge of this: “I can look back and intellectually understand that my family is made up of real, live, squishy people who are very hurt. […]  I can understand that they need compassion […] I can recognize that […] they actually did their version of their very best. But the body is not a creature of intellect.  It doesn’t care how damaged or hurt my family is because all my body knows is the very thing that has been beating like a drum in the pit of my stomach for as long as I can remember: I am not safe here.” 

    What I appreciate about what Virgie describes here is that we can’t always intellectualize ourselves out of a trauma response. We can intellectually have compassion for and validate the pain and suffering of our perpetrators while also making choices that prioritize our own inner peace. If you’re struggling with finding compassion for your parents and others who have sabotaged your relationship with food or body, you’re not alone. It’s never too late to begin to show your body its worth listening to, worth being respected, worth taking up space. Sure, maybe the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, but the second best time to plant a tree is today.

New Year New View: A Dietitian’s Take on Challenging Diet Culture

Posted by: Courtenay Vickers RD
Time to read: 8 minutes

What is diet culture anyway?

Diet culture can be defined in many ways. I’ve been an RD (short for Registered Dietitian) for the past 10 years, and adopted a weight-inclusive lens with my practice about 6 years ago. I’ll preface this blog (as I did in my recent webinar) that I am constantly learning more about what diet culture is, how it shows up, and what to do instead.

When asked this question (re: what is diet culture anyway) I often reply by saying something to the effect of: diet culture is the harmful belief that certain body shapes and sizes are better than others, and there’s a “right” way of eating. To which I typically get the follow up question of “but you’re a dietitian, isn’t there a right way of eating?”. My response from here can get quite nuanced, depending on the audience – in short, there is no one-size-fits-all way of eating, because bodies are meant to be incredibly diverse and different! Not to mention everyone’s unique relationship with food, cultural connections and traditions with food, access to food, etc.

One definition of diet culture that I keep coming back to is by Christy Harrison:

“Diet culture is a system of beliefs that:

  • – Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”
  • – Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.
  • – Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.
  • – Oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health.”
https://christyharrison.com/blog/what-is-diet-culture

Diet culture in the new year

So, now that we have a bit more of an idea of what diet culture is, here’s a short list of various ways I’m seeing diet culture show up so far in 2024:

  • Overemphasis on getting “strong”
  • Influx of “clean eating”
  • Overambitious fitness goals
  • Bigger emphasis on dietary supplements
  • More orthorexic tendencies
  • Orthorexia = an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating
  • Sudden removal of entire food groups
  • Increased use of calorie-tracking apps + smart watches
  • Health washing + green washing on food labels
  • X # of day challenges related to food and/or fitness
  • “Watching” what you eat
  • More labelling of foods as good/bad, healthy/unhealthy
  • Lifestyle changes and wellness journeys

Here’s an interesting fact to highlight diet culture’s prevalence: according to Forbes, the top New Year’s resolutions in 2024 include improved fitness, losing weight, and improved diet.

I think it’s important to note that while there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with these resolutions, I find they are often fueled by diet culture and can perpetuate, worsen, or ignite eating disorder behaviours.

Why I’m concerned as a weight-inclusive dietitian in the eating disorder space

I’m concerned because diet culture can often be a precursor to eating disorders, and can perpetuate disordered eating behaviours. I think it’s important to mention that many factors can spur a full-blown eating disorder, such as genetics, food insecurity, trauma, and more (this is probably a topic for another blog post). And, diet culture is, unfortunately, a common piece that shows up along the way either in the development or recovery from an eating disorder. 

Challenging diet culture

Depending on where you are at with your journey to healing, you may have already started to challenge diet culture! I’ve compiled below a short list of ways I commonly find helpful to challenge diet culture (whether you’re starting this for the first time, or perhaps you are further along):

  • Learning more about the harms of diet culture
  • Setting boundaries (with yourself and/or others)
  • Stop labelling foods in binaries such as good/bad, or healthy/unhealthy
  • Take time to check in with yourself
  • Practice self-compassion
  • Get curious about a non-diet approach (or similar)

Here’s a short list of some keywords you may find helpful to guide your own reading and research as you start to learn more and challenge diet culture:

  • Anti-diet
  • Intuitive Eating
  • Body Liberation
  • Non-diet
  • Weight-inclusive
  • Health At Every Size®
  • Fat Positive

What to do next

A big (non-exhaustive) list of specific things you may or may not want to try instead of participating in diet culture this new year:

  • Eat regularly throughout the day. For some, this might look like multiple meals and snacks throughout the day. This might mean seeking help from a trusted support person, or a professional such as a dietitian. 
  • Integrate challenge foods, if you find there are foods in your life that are holding some sort of power over you. This might be foods that you are fearful of, foods you avoid completely, or foods that you often feel ‘out of control’ around. Integrating challenge foods is something that I typically only recommend once we are getting enough food in regularly first, and then slowly integrating the challenge foods one at a time in a structured way. 
  • Play with movement in a way that feels good for you and your body (only if this is medically appropriate and accessible for you).
  • Work on staying appropriately hydrated. What this might mean is ensuring you are drinking adequate fluids (or high fluid food sources) throughout the day. Watch out for overdoing it with caffeine as this can cause dehydration. 
  • Prioritize rest! And not just sleeping enough at night, but allowing space to rest during your waking hours. For some this might mean taking a nap, allowing yourself to ‘do nothing’ for an afternoon, or perhaps it’s pausing what you are doing for a few minutes periodically throughout the day to slow down and check-in with yourself.
  • Take time to explore your relationship with food and body. This might mean journaling, talking about this in therapy or with a dietitian, or reflecting on your own. 
  • Cultivate self-compassion ❤️ I truly believe we can’t talk about nutrition without talking about self-compassion. Nourishing ourselves and challenging diet culture is not always an easy thing to do. And at times, it can feel like a struggle. Can we work towards being kind and gentle with ourselves as we navigate all the sticky murky bits?
  • Challenge your food rules – especially if you find there are specific rules/patterns/or behaviours related to your eating getting in the way of recovery.
  • Re-evaluate your use of the scale and set limits around this. Many find it helpful to hide the scale, reduce the frequency of how often you use it, or get rid of it entirely. If it’s absolutely medically necessary to be weighed, consider these limits or have it done blindly at a clinic.
  • Put away diet apps and/or fitness trackers/watches. As a dietitian, I rarely find these pieces of tech actually helpful, and, if anything, they often cause an unnecessary focus and obsession with food/movement.
  • Curate your social media to better support your pro-recovery and anti-diet goals
  • Pick up a workbook or book related to ED recovery and/or an anti-diet approach
  • Improve your sleep hygiene. For some this might mean developing a bedtime routine, sticking to a sleeping schedule, or reducing caffeine intake.
  • Try a support group geared towards eating disorder recovery, body image, or intuitive eating (depending on where you are at and what fits best). 
  • Get professional help from an eating disorder registered dietitian, therapist, social worker, nurse practitioner, family doctor, or psychiatrist. 

I hope that by the time you are done reading this, something has stood out to you. Whether it’s a small takeaway, a new learning to ponder, or a new perspective on a familiar theme, I hope this has resonated with those reading. 

For anyone wanting to dig a little bit deeper, I’ll end with a few reflective prompts below.

Reflective prompts to help you challenge diet culture:

Whether or not journaling in a pen-and-paper way is your thing, these reflective prompts may be helpful as you work on challenging diet culture and healing your relationship with food and body:

  • How has diet culture shown up for you in your life?
  • What would it be like to step away from diet culture?
  • What’s the scariest part of challenging diet culture for you?
  • Who or what might be helpful to you during this process?
  • What’s one small thing you can do this month to challenge diet culture in your life?

Postpartum body image tips: from an ED therapist with ED lived experience

Posted by: Raquel Griffin

Time to read: 5 minutes

Originally appeared on: NEDIC.ca


At first, I thought I was successful in combating ED thoughts and the diet mentality that followed the birth of my child. Sure, my ear would initially be tickled with ED whisperings of fatphobia and diet culture. But just as quickly as they appeared, self-compassionate and comforting hums would replace them. But as time passed, I began to feel more stress about my new body shape and size. I had a number of friends and acquaintances who gave birth very close to when I did, and I really began to struggle with body comparison. Why was my body larger than theirs? Why did it seem like they were restored to their pre-pregnancy body sizes when I wasn’t? These fatphobic thoughts and expectations hung like a cloud as I squeezed my body into my too-small clothes.

At 4 months postpartum, I was horrified to come across a post in my social media feed from my local hospital’s pregnancy unit for an upcoming Q&A on C-sections. The post included a naked, very thin, flat-tummied, stretchmark-free, White person, from the navel down to the thighs. Laying on top of this body was a newborn baby, peaceful in slumber, blocking the birthing person’s labia but also positioned low enough down to wonder how this person had no pubic hair. It was a completely unrealistic picture of any body, let alone a postpartum body. I was so upset that a reproductive-focused medical facility was perpetuating such a harmful body standard (not to mention a weirdly sexualized one). I felt  shame about my postpartum body and at times bought into this diet-culture idea that my body should be getting smaller the further away I got from  my child’s birth date.

Pregnant people are often highly encouraged to try nursing at any cost (a whole separate conversation) and one of the “benefits” often included is weight loss. I hate to admit it… but when feeding/nursing was going well with my baby I was partially relieved, because in the back of my mind, I thought it would help prevent me from needing to adjust to a drastically new and different body. But, I was wrong. I was experiencing shame that my postpartum body was “too large” or differently-shaped. And, then I had shame about my fatphobia-induced shame, as that was not aligned with my values.

It’s a strange thing to hold reverence for the body that withstood such a major medical event and brought my treasured child into the world, while also resenting the bodily evidence left behind. To admire the softness and smoothness from stretched skin where my child was held in their first home, then to shortly thereafter hold disgust for new skin/fat folds and stretch mark scribblings. The good news is, with a lot of work, over time my relationship to my new body as a result of pregnancy and childbirth is becoming easier. If I’m being honest, I’m not yet at a place where I like my postpartum body and I’m willing to accept that maybe I will never be. But, I am at a place where my feelings toward my body are much more neutral and compassionate. My body has been and is capable of great things. My body is worthy. 


These are some of the things that have been helping me move toward body acceptance:

Remind yourself that eating is especially important during this time
Our bodies need energy in the form of food. Providing consistent and adequate nourishment following labour and delivery is extremely important—especially for postpartum bodies. The last thing your body needs right now is to have its starvation response triggered.

Whether your birth was vaginal or Caesarean, your body needs to recover and it needs food to do that. You will need the energy from food to help you combat the sleep deprivation you’ll be experiencing. I was able to have several family members and friends provide food and meals in the weeks after my birth so that I didn’t have to worry about cooking. This was an absolute life-saver. I also made sure I had Ensure and meal supplements on hand to quickly consume nutrients with little time/effort. Eating enough consistently and regularly will also help your milk production if you are nursing.

Respect your body by dressing in clothes that fit and are comfortable
Stop trying to squeeze into your old clothes. Wearing clothes that are too tight does not feel good. 

Pregnancy/maternity clothes are meant to accommodate a changing body. Your body may keep changing postpartum so just because you’re no longer pregnant doesn’t mean you should stop wearing pregnancy clothes if they are comfortable and fit. If it helps you feel better, stay away from the items that accentuate a “bump”.

If you find that your new body shape does not fit in any of the sizes provided in a store, consider buying a size that is too big and then taking to a tailor or a family member who has some sewing skills. Get familiar with thrift stores. I have bought some items new, but I have found most of my success with thrift stores. I’ve even bought a couple items with the tags still on.

Engage in re-embodying activities
With pregnancy, labour, child-birth, and nursing, there is a long period of time where you may feel like your body isn’t fully your own anymore. And, if you have a history of disordered eating and disembodiment, these feelings could be exacerbated. Where possible, engage in pleasurable activities that help you reconnect with your body in positive ways. For me, that was prioritizing walking, getting back to choir rehearsals and singing, and maintaining sexual intimacy with my partner. 

Reject the Diet Mentality
Shortly after giving birth, I completed my Intuitive Eating Counselling Certification. Immersing myself in anti-diet values, principles, and scientific research really helped me to reject the diet mentality and ED thoughts as they arose. 

There is no research to indicate that long-term weight loss is a realistic endeavour.
Speak out against harmful diet culture when you see it. For example, that Instagram post I mentioned— I commented something along the lines of “I’m really happy to see this event on C-sections will be taking place but I am very disappointed you chose to use a promotional image that perpetuates an unrealistic body standard”. Many other commenters followed suit and the account ended up removing that promotional image.
Consume weight-inclusive content, media, and literature that aligns with anti-diet values, fat-liberation, and Health at Every Size. Some of my favourites are:

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