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by Nia Patterson

May 2, 2024

Debunking Harmful Diet Culture Myths

Diet culture is everywhere in our society – a pervasive focus on dieting, weight loss, looks, and toxic wellness standards that have persisted for years. Living in a diet-culture-obsessed world can take a serious toll on our mental and physical health. In this blog post, we’ll debunk some of the most harmful and pervasive myths perpetuated by diet culture.

Diet Culture Myth 1: Thinness automatically equals health

One of the biggest lies diet culture tells us is that being thin automatically makes you “healthy.” This is simply not true. Healthy bodies come in diverse sizes and shapes. The BMI chart often used as a health indicator is highly flawed and wasn’t even intended to assess individual health. Yo-yo dieting and weight cycling in pursuit of thinness often lead to more health issues than maintaining a steady weight, whatever that weight may be. We need to decouple the idea that thin equals healthy.

Diet Culture Myth 2: Strict food rules are necessary for health

Diet culture pushes the idea that we need rigid food rules and restrictions to be healthy. In reality, restrictive diets often lead to nutrient deficiencies and disordered eating patterns. Labeling foods as “good” or “bad” and attaching morality to eating is a slippery slope into an unhealthy relationship with food. A more balanced approach of moderation, flexibility, and intuitive eating can better support long-term well-being. Strict food rules do more harm than good.

Diet Culture Myth 3: The primary purpose of exercise is weight loss

Diet culture frames exercise primarily as a tool for weight loss and earning food rather than for joy and overall health benefits. This mentality breeds an unhealthy relationship with movement, making it about punishment and burning calories. Compulsive over-exercising becomes a risk. We need to reframe movement and exercise as joyful and fun – something we do to reduce stress, support our mental health, and feel good, not as penance for eating or existing in our bodies.

Diet Culture Myth 4: Everyone should strive to “optimize” their health

While “optimizing health” may sound positive, holding everyone to the same unrealistic standard of perfect health is harmful. Health exists on a continuum and fluctuates for everyone. Wellness is not a moral obligation. We need to recognize and accept diverse health statuses, disabilities, and abilities. Pushing unattainable health ideals fuels feelings of failure and shame. Health doesn’t look the same for everyone, and that’s okay.

Moving Beyond Diet Culture

Recognizing the harms of diet culture and toxic wellness standards is an essential first step. We need to shift the focus from unattainable ideals to overall well-being. This means rejecting the lies that our worth is tied to our weight that we need to earn food through exercise, or that health only looks one way.

It also means extending more compassion to ourselves and others. Diet culture breeds judgment and self-loathing. Choosing self-compassion instead creates space for us to heal our relationships with food and our bodies.

This healing is an ongoing, personal journey for everyone. Unpacking the beliefs and thought patterns that diet culture instilled in us takes continual work and reflection.

Key Takeaways:

  • Thinness does not automatically equal health. Healthy bodies are diverse.
  • Strict food rules often backfire and lead to poorer health outcomes.
  • Exercise should be for joy and mental health, not punishment or earning food.
  • Holding everyone to unrealistic “optimal health” standards is harmful.
  • It is vital to shift the focus from diet culture to well-being, self-compassion, and healing our relationships with food and our bodies.
Diet culture myths run deep, but we can choose to reject them. Embracing the truth that we are all worthy and enough, exactly as we are, is liberating. Our health is not determined by the size of our bodies. Food is not good or bad. And we all deserve to move our bodies in ways that bring us joy, not punishment. Letting go of diet culture’s lies opens up space for true well-being – for ourselves and each other.


by Nia Patterson

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