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80+ Examples of Diet Culture[From Baltant to Sneaky]: Identifying The Insidious Impact of Diet Culture

Examples of diet culture are everywhere – from transformation pictures to TikTok videos of uncredentialed influencers standing in grocery aisles fear mongering fruit. 

In this article, I’ll explain what diet culture is, provide over 80 sneaky and blatant examples that impact your daily life, teach you how to spot it, and explain why challenging diet culture is so important.  

Let’s get started!

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What is Diet Culture?

Diet culture is a set of widespread and pervasive myths about food and bodies that (1): 

  • Promotes the idea that weight equals health
  • Views foods in simplistic terms of “good” and “bad”
  • Creates unsubstantiated and unnecessary food rules
  • Portrays thinness as an indicator of health, attractiveness, and moral value while demonizing and shaming weight gain 

Diet culture sells us the illusion of a ‘perfect body’ and turns normal anatomical features into ‘flaws’ that only their snake oil can fix, creating a multi-billion-dollar market.  In 2019, the weight loss and diet industry was valued at a staggering $192.2 billion (2), and is projected to keep growing. 

Diet culture creates and then exploits insecurities, promises fake solutions, and consistently repackages the same promises [that never worked in the first place]  to keep people coming back, creating a lucrative business in our capitalistic society.

Diet culture is so ubiquitous and normalized that many people accept it as truth and adopt dieting as a standard way of life. It is not only considered normal but is also highly praised.

Because diet culture worships thinness and pathologizes fat, it directly causes stigma and weight bias. 

Diet culture discriminates against and oppresses people that don’t fit the narrow standard and disproportionately affects people with marginalized identities. It turns body types into a social currency and a way of obtaining societal privilege. 

Diet culture is driven by systemic and structural inequalities, but emphasizes individual responsibility for health, thus overlooking more significant factors like systems of oppression, equitable and accessible healthcare, wealth distribution, safe living environments, and food apartheid. 

Why Diet Culture is a Problem

Diet culture praises weight loss even at the detriment of psychological, financial, social, and physical well-being. 

Diet culture perpetuates harmful stereotypes, stigmatizes and oppresses body types, sets unrealistic beauty standards, and drives consumerism through the commercialization of dieting. 

On an individual level, diet culture can lead to disordered eating, low self-esteem and self-worth, negative body image, anxiety, and depression, and ironically reduced health-promoting behaviors (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).

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Examples of Diet Culture In the Media

  • Extreme Celebrity Diets for High Profile Events and Glorification by the Media: Celebrities often turn to extreme and harmful measures to prepare for red carpet events in order to fit into designer clothing. Media coverage of these practices not only highlights but glamorizes the severe lengths out-of-touch celebrities go to perpetuating dangerous and unrealistic body standards.
  • Reality TV Weight Loss Shows: Programs focusing on competition-style weight loss that may promote dangerous and extreme methods, shame contestants, and set unrealistic expectations.
  • Unrealistic Body Portrayals: Movies, television, and social media platforms feature primarily thin actors, which creates skewed representation of normal body diversity.
  • Fat-Shaming and Comedic Tropes: Movies and sitcoms using fatness as a source of ridicule or a character flaw to get laughs, further perpetuating harmful biases.
  • Diet Product Endorsements: Celebrities and influencers promoting diet teas, appetite suppressants, or restrictive meal plans, with false claims and little regard for potential harm.
  • Product Placement in TV Shows and Movies: Integration of diet foods, weight loss supplements, and exercise gear into popular media, subtly suggesting that these products are essential for maintaining a socially acceptable and unrealistic body standard.
  • Celebrity Diets and Fitness Routines: Magazines and TV shows often highlight the diets and workout routines of celebrities, which normalize and praise disordered eating and exercise. 
  • News Segments on ‘Obesity Epidemics’: These often use alarmist language, reinforce weight stigma, and frame weight as a moral or personal failing rather than a complex societal issue.

Examples of Diet Culture in Fashion and Clothing 

  • “Problem Area” Solutions: Shapewear and other clothing marketed to hide, squeeze, or alter body parts deemed ‘undesirable’ by diet culture.
  • Limited Size Ranges: Many brands focus on smaller sizes, excluding a large portion of the population, limiting options and making shopping difficult for people in larger bodies, even when it’s the average size. 
  • Size-based price discrimination: Charging higher prices for plus-size clothing.
  • Vanity and Inconsistent Sizing: Inconsistent sizing across brands or even within styles, creating frustration and reinforcing the idea that our bodies are “wrong” if we don’t fit a certain size.
  • Trend-Driven Designs: Focus on styles that are flattering primarily to thin and young bodies, limiting options for those with different shapes and sizes.
  • Lack of Representation in Advertising: Models in clothing campaigns predominantly representing thin, fit, young, able-bodied, and often white people.
  • Weight Loss Reward Shopping: The concept of buying clothes in smaller sizes as a motivation for weight loss.
  • “Fitspo” as Marketing for Workout Clothing: Using images of only hyper-fit or muscular bodies to sell clothing.

Diet Culture Examples in Social Media 

  • Viral Diet Misinformation: The spread of unsubstantiated and usually harmful diets and tricks that promise quick weight loss or ‘health hacks’.
  • Curated ‘Perfection’: Users that post only the most flattering angles and highly edited photos which creates  unrealistic expectations about body image and everyday appearance.
  • Influencer Promotions: Influencers (often with no credentials) that endorse weight loss supplements, detox teas, or meal replacement products, etc. presenting these as essential tools for achieving a genetic (and usually edited) body.
  • Beauty and Slimming Filters: The widespread use of filters that alter body shape and facial features to fit more closely with conventional beauty standards.
  • Trend-Driven Body Modification: Promotion of artificial and homogenized body standards through cosmetic procedures that creates manufactured ideals and drives insecurity, pressure to conform, and diminishing diversity of natural appearances. 
  • Body Shaming Comments: The prevalence of body shaming in comment sections under posts can perpetuate a culture of judgment based on body size and appearance.
  • Transformation Posts: Posts celebrating weight loss with side-by-side “before and after” photos that insinuate the “before” body is unacceptable or unhealthy.
  • “What I Eat in a Day” Content: Videos or posts meticulously detailing food intake, encouraging calorie-counting, restrictive eating, and comparison to others’ diets.
  • Fitness Accounts: Accounts featuring predominantly lean or hyper-muscular bodies that set an unrealistic and unsafe standard of what bodies should look like. 
  • Body Checking Trends: Videos or photos that subtly (or not so subtly) draw attention to specific body parts and fuel comparison (i.e., thigh gap)

Food and Beverage Industry Diet Culture Examples 

  • Guilt-free” Treats: Products marketed as indulgences without the consequences, perpetuating the idea that certain foods are morally bad and enjoyment is tied to body size.
  • Health Halo Claims: Labeling products with terms like “gluten-free,” “organic,” “non-GMO,” or “natural” to imply they are healthier regardless of their actual nutritional content.
  • Portion Control Packaging: Offering smaller package sizes marketed as solutions for controlling overeating.
  • ‘Diet’ or ‘Light’ Products: The marketing of foods and beverages as “diet,” “light,” or “zero” to appeal to consumers looking to reduce calorie intake as part of weight management.
  • Fad Diet Ingredient Trends: Capitalizing on the popularity of fad diet ingredients (like keto-friendly or paleo) to attract consumers interested in trendy weight loss diets.
  • Nutritional Scoring Systems in Grocery Stores: Grocery stores that use nutritional scoring or rating systems to categorize foods based on their perceived health benefits which promotes oversimplification and black and white views of nutrition.
  • Meal Replacement Products: Promotion of shakes and bars as replacements for whole food meals in order to lose weight. 

Diet Culture Marketing Tactic Examples 

  • Before and After Photos: Utilizing ‘before and after’  photos in advertising to promote the effectiveness of weight loss products and programs and implying that the before body is worse than the after body.
  • Creating “Problem Areas”: Marketing normal parts of every body as undesirable (ex: belly fat, wrinkles, cellulite, arm jiggle) and a problem that needs to be fixed with their product.
  • Celebrity or Influencer Endorsements: Leveraging the popularity of celebrities/influencers to endorse diet products and suggest that these products are key to achieving their look.
  • Targeting Insecurities: Using language and imagery that plays on people’s anxieties (or even creates it) about their bodies and positioning their product is the solution to feeling confident and attractive.
  • Pseudo-Science & Misinformation: Using scientific-sounding terms or distorted research to make products seem credible or effective (when they are neither).
  • Preying on Life Transitions: Marketing to people experiencing life changes (postpartum, breakup) when they might feel more vulnerable.
  • The “Quick Fix”: Promising rapid and effortless weight loss or body transformations, preying on the desire for instant gratification.

Examples of Diet Culture in Fitness and Wellness

  • Weight Loss Challenges: Gyms promoting short-term challenges focusing solely on weight loss, rather than building a sustainable and positive relationship with movement.
  • Body Measurements as Success Indicators: Regular tracking of body measurements and weight as primary indicators of progress in fitness programs.
  • Diet-Centric Fitness Coaching: Personal trainers and fitness influencers with no nutrition education that heavily promote dietary restrictions, meal plans, or macro-counting alongside exercise routines.
  • ‘Fat Burning’ Fitness Classes: Classes and programs labeled specifically as “fat-burning” to attract individuals looking to lose weight, often emphasizing calorie burn over physical health.
  • No Pain, No Gain Mentality: Promoting the idea that pain and extreme exertion are indicators of a successful workout, rather than listening to your body’s signals, taking needed rest days, or finding joy in movement.
  • Body-Shaming in Group Classes: Instructors using weight-based humor or making disparaging comments about certain body types.
  • One-Size-Fits-All Workout Plans: Promoting generic exercise regimes that neglect individual needs, abilities, preferences, and health history.
  • Body Composition Changes as the Primary Focus: Marketing exercise primarily as a means to change body appearances rather than promoting all the mental, social, and physical benefits of movement.
  • Bikini Body Bootcamps: Fitness programs specifically designed to help participants achieve a so-called “bikini body,” promoting the idea that only certain body shapes are suitable for swimwear or that you have to “get in shape” before summer. 

Examples of Diet Culture in Personal Relationships

  • “Compliments” Based on Weight Loss: Praising someone for losing weight reinforces the idea that thinner bodies are inherently better and doesn’t acknowledge that not all weight loss was intentional or desired. 
  • Commenting on Eating Habits: Family or friends frequently commenting on what or how much someone is eating
  • Expressing Concern for Health as a Cover for Body Shaming: Masking discomfort with someone’s body size under the guise of concern for their health
  • Sharing Diet and Weight Loss Content: Sending articles, memes, or videos about dieting and weight loss to others, which can perpetuate diet culture norms within social circles.
  • Bonding Over Negative Body Talk: Engaging in conversations that focus on body dissatisfaction or comparing body flaws, which normalizes self-criticism and reinforces negative body image.
  • Commenting on others’ bodies: Making unsolicited remarks about someone’s weight loss, gain, or appearance, regardless of whether the comments are intended as positive or negative.
  • Judgment of Food Choices: Criticizing or scrutinizing food choices during meals or gatherings.
  • Romantic Partners Influencing Habits: Partners pushing their own diet or exercise habits on you or exerting appearance expectations on you.

Workplace and Corporate Diet Culture Examples

  • Wellness Programs Focused on Weight: Corporate wellness programs that emphasize weight loss as a primary goal, rather than overall health and well-being.
  • Limited Time for Breaks: Rigid schedules and a lack of adequate breaks making it difficult to nourish yourself properly and listen to your body’s hunger cues throughout the workday.
  • Lunchroom Diet Talk: Co-workers fixating on their diets, calories, or “good” vs. “bad” foods
  • Office Weight Loss Competitions: Organizing weight loss challenges among employees, often with prizes, which can create pressure to participate and reward extreme/unhealthy weight loss. 
  • Body Size Discrimination: Hiring, promotion, and workplace treatment being influenced by body size
  • Health Assessments Tied to Body Metrics: Mandatory health assessments that focus heavily on body measurements like BMI rather than actual measures of health. 
  • Comments on Employees’ Bodies or Eating Habits: Workplace culture where commenting on what coworkers are eating or how their bodies look is considered acceptable.
  • Lack of Support for Diverse Body Sizes: Uniforms, office furniture, or company travel that doesn’t accommodate larger bodies

Examples of Diet Culture in Educational Settings

  • Health Class Curriculum: Lessons that focus primarily on calories and weight management as the main components of health, rather than a broader understanding of wellness.
  • Weight-Based Bullying: Students facing teasing, harassment, or exclusion based on their body size, with inadequate intervention by educational staff.
  • Disordered Eating in Competitive Athletics: Coaches or environments within sports teams that push restrictive eating,excessive exercise, or pressure to manipulate weight.
  • Cafeteria Food Labeling: Labeling foods in school cafeterias as “low fat” or “healthy” 
  • Nutrition Assignments: Homework that requires tracking food intake or calorie counting

Impact of Diet Culture on Medical and Health Professional

  • Weight-Centric Health Advice: Medical advice that prioritizes weight loss as the solution to various health issues without considering other factors 
  • Prescription of Weight Loss Medications: The quick prescription of weight loss drugs without thorough health assessment and screening for disordered eating.
  • Stigmatizing Patient Experiences: Healthcare providers making assumptions about lifestyle, diet, or exercise habits based solely on a patient’s appearance or weight.
  • Limited Training on Weight Stigma: Insufficient training for health professionals on how to address weight without stigma
  • Overlooking Symptoms Due to Weight Bias: Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis because symptoms are attributed to weight rather than being investigated properly.
  • Medication Efficacy and Dosage Concerns: Some medications may be less effective for individuals over a certain weight, highlighting gaps in dosage recommendations and research inclusivity.
  • Weight Loss Surgery Promotion: Encouraging bariatric surgery as a primary option for weight management without comprehensive discussions on potential risks and long-term lifestyle changes.
  • Inadequate Sizes for Medical Equipment: Lack of appropriately sized medical tools and equipment (like blood pressure cuffs and hospital gowns), which can compromise patient care and comfort.
  • Fatphobia in Healthcare Settings: Patients experiencing judgment, disrespectful treatment, or inadequate care due to their body size.
  • Dismissive Attitudes Towards Eating Disorders: Doctors overlooking or minimizing eating disorder symptoms, especially in patients who don’t fit the stereotypical presentation.
  • Research Exclusivity: Medical research often focuses on smaller body types, potentially limiting the effectiveness and safety of treatments for larger-bodied individuals.
  • Surgery Eligibility Based on Weight: Some medical procedures require patients to lose weight before they qualify, potentially delaying necessary medical interventions.

Examples of Diet Culture in Policy and Public Health Messages

  • Public Health Campaigns: Campaigns that focus primarily on obesity prevention, using weight as the main indicator of health, rather than promoting diverse aspects of health and fitness.
  • Insurance Premium Incentives: Health insurance policies that offer lower premiums for lower BMI measures or participation in weight loss programs
  • “Anti-Obesity” Campaigns: Public health messaging primarily focused on weight loss and obesity, which often stigmatizes larger bodies and ignores systemic factors contributing to health disparities.
  • BMI as a Primary Health Indicator: Government agencies and public health campaigns over-relying on Body Mass Index (BMI) as a measure of health
  • Taxation on Sugary Beverages: While well-intentioned, policies like “soda taxes” can disproportionately affect low-income communities and promote the idea that individual choices are the sole cause of health issues.
  • Lack of Funding for Eating Disorder Research & Treatment: Limited government funding and resources allocated to eating disorder prevention, research, and treatment access compared to funding for weight-loss-centric initiatives.

Covert Diet Culture Examples

  • “Wellness” as a Disguise: Products, trends, and programs marketed as promoting “wellness” but with an underlying focus on weight loss, restrictive eating, or vilifying certain foods, or using a food rating system (such as Noom and WW). 
  • “Clean Eating” Initiatives: These promote dietary styles that eliminate certain foods labeled as “impure” or “unhealthy.” Often not based on scientific evidence but rather on fear-mongering, these initiatives use emotionally charged, ambiguous claims to subtly impose moral judgments about food choices. They rely on catchall terms that evoke strong emotional responses but lack clear, evidence-based definitions.
  • Mindful Eating / Intuitive Eating / Anti-Diet Co-opted: Mindful or Intuitive Eating or  being marketed alongside weight loss programs
  • Wedding Weight Loss Pressures: The pervasive expectation that individuals, especially brides, must lose weight to fit into their wedding attire, often promoted through bridal magazines, fitness boot camps, and crash diets for weddings. This not only reinforces harmful body norms but can also make the occasion less enjoyable and more stressful. 
  • Body Positivity in Advertising: Brands using body positivity messages but still labeling normal parts of bodies like cellulite or fat rolls as flaws (i.e., ‘embrace your flaws’)
  • Normalizing Disordered Eating and Exercise Behaviors: Subtle praise for restrictive eating habits (“I wish I had your willpower”) or disordered exercise routines that are disguised as dedication.
  • Fear-Mongering about Ingredients: Promoting unfounded fears about specific ingredients, additives, or food groups,leading to unnecessary restrictions and anxieties.
  • “Bounce Back” Culture After Pregnancy: The pressure for new mothers to prioritize rapid weight loss and regain their pre-baby bodies, often neglecting the immense physical demands and emotional stress of caring for a newborn and neglecting the importance of recovery from childbirth.

How to Spot Diet Culture 

While these are some of the more prominent manifestations of diet culture in our society, this list is far from exhaustive. Diet culture is deeply ingrained and pervasive in our society, it subtly influences many aspects of our daily lives. Learning to spot it is the first step toward challenging and dismantling it. Here are some tips for recognizing diet culture:

  • Focus on Weight Loss: If a product, program, article, or conversation primarily emphasizes weight loss as the ultimate goal, it’s rooted in diet culture.
  • “Good” vs. “Bad” Foods: Any messaging that demonizes entire food groups or labels foods in moral terms is a red flag.
  • Valuing Appearance as Worth: Notice when personal worth or success is heavily tied to looking a certain way or fitting a specific body image, suggesting that appearance is more important than other qualities or achievements.
  • Rigid Food Rules: Be aware of diet plans or health advice that imposes strict rules about when, what, or how much to eat and promotes a rigid approach to eating.
  • Fear-Based Food Messaging: Identify messages that instill fear about certain types of foods or ingredients, suggesting that avoiding them is crucial for health. Nutrition is way more complex and individualistic to make broad sweeping recommendations like that. 
  • Focus on Appearance Over Health: If the emphasis is on changing how you look rather than improving overall well-being, it’s rooted in diet culture.

Final Thoughts 

I hope this helped you to identify examples of diet culture in your life and why it’s important to recognize and challenge it. Rejecting diet culture doesn’t mean ignoring health; but rather prioritizing well-being over weight loss to cultivate a positive relationship with food and your body.

On a societal level, by challenging diet culture, we work to dismantle the systems of oppression it upholds and pave the way for a more just and equitable world where all bodies are respected and valued beyond appearance. We shift toward a culture of respect and compassion, and promote health practices that honor individuality, autonomy, and informed choice without shame. 

If you’re interested in learning more about body image or Intuitive Eating, be sure to check out some of these other blog posts: 

If you’re looking for personalized support,  I offer one-on-one body image and Intuitive Eating counseling services to help you find food freedom and body confidence. My one-on-one services are tailored to your specific needs and concerns. We work to develop a plan together that will help you achieve your goals and fit into your life. Whether you’re looking to break free from the diet cycle, overcome emotional or binge eating, or start treating your body with respect and kindness, I’m here to help!

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