Anti-diet culture casts a new perspective on overall health, rather than focusing on how much the scale moves. In this Heathline article, Mindpath Health’s Christie Melonson, LPC, discusses her perspective on doing things that make you feel good and don’t have an explicit connection to how much you weigh.
With the holidays coming, you’re likely to receive digital ads and flyers in the mail about weight-loss program discounts. Or, resolution-focused programming that centers an assumed desire for body changes when it gets closer to the new year.
Rampant and unsolicited ads to push folks to focus on weight loss, particularly around the holidays, is just one example of diet culture, or the idea that weight loss is more important than your overall well-being.
It can show up in our lives in subtle ways we don’t realize, like through our language (like the word “fat” being negative instead of just a description) or in the ways we respond to food on a daily basis (like feeling the need to “make up” for eating “bad foods.”)
It can also be more grandiose, leading to healthcare avoidance or connecting to weight bias in harmful ways, such as mistreatment at the doctor, impacting employment and adequate payment opportunities, or affecting your mental and physical health.
A response to the ways that diet culture has infiltrated much of the health and wellness space is the anti-diet movement — an approach that centers the whole person and their overall health, rather than solely focusing on how much the scale moves.
Incorporating an anti-diet framework
How does your work push against the norms?
Melissa Alazraki RD, CDCES of Culina Health: I specialize in diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and most of my patients are told that weight loss is a cornerstone of disease prevention and management for them.
I am often the first person in a healthcare setting to suggest that they can meet their health goals (such as improving glucose, decreasing blood pressure, decreasing risk of heart disease) without focusing on weight.
Evolution of ideas
Experts share that a body neutral perspective and explicit anti-diet practices were not always cornerstones of their work, partially connected to ways healthcare professionals are often taught antiquated rhetoric around weight and the need for food restriction.
Even these staunch supporters of body inclusivity had to grow in their understanding, showing that pushing past diet culture is a journey — it’s okay if you’re still growing in the relationship you have with your body.
Has an anti-diet framework always been part of your work?
Alazraki: No, it’s something I came to over time after having many conversations with people about their relationship with food and weight.
I saw the ways in which diet culture and weight stigma interfered with their ability to sustain healthy behaviors and negatively impacted their mental health and I’ve found it’s about striking a balance.
My patients need to understand how food choices can affect their medical conditions, but I usually see greater long-term success when I can help them do this without moralizing certain foods or creating rigid food rules.
Christie Melonson, LPC and Regional Psychotherapy Director with Mindpath Health: I have always encouraged my patients to learn about the type of eating and nutrition that works for their bodies, and to look into the science around food and how nutrition impacts their mood and anxiety levels.
I have also encouraged my patients to eat what is culturally appropriate for them in their family and cultural contexts. I have not been pro-diet, but more pro-what-is-healthy-for-the-individual.
Why are diets harmful and ineffective?
Moore: Diet culture is pervasive. It’s entrenched in our society, and it can be difficult to spot or recognize its influence on our everyday decisions and interactions. A driving force is a privilege that comes with being thin.
Melonson: Slim people are often portrayed as happy and loved in advertising, and this really speaks to our insecurities.
Agyeman: Mainstream media has a tremendous impact on how people think their bodies should look. It’s everywhere: in magazines, TV shows, on social media.
Whether or not we realize it, many of us are negatively affected by diet culture.
Society has done a great job of pushing us to center our lives around losing weight or changing our bodies, but these nutrition experts have shown through their careers that being health-centric is possible without reducing your worth to the numbers on the scale.
Read the full Healthline article with sources.