Deconstructing Diet Culture: Lessons Learned From a Lean Society

Diet culture is the water we all swim in. It is a system that supports thinness and says that the smaller your body, the greater your moral superiority. But there is no bodily form that is inherently good or bad.

Host Anita Rao unveils the science behind food culture with anti-diet dietician Christy Harrison and certified internal medicine doctor Dr. Louise Metz. She also hears from Mirna Valerio, ultra-sharp and author of “A Beautiful Work in Progress”, about how she fends off manifestations of diet culture in the doctor’s office and on the trails.

Ilya Parker, owner of Decolonizing Fitness, and Natalia Petrzela, associate professor of history at the New School, also join the conversation, to talk about the history of fitness culture and its intersections with the culture of fitness. food.

10 important lessons to learn about diet culture

1. Diet culture is rooted in racism and misogyny.

“The first evolutionary biologists who worked around [the 1800s] began to refer to being overweight as a mark of ‘progressive inferiority’, ”says Christy Harrison, registered dietitian and author of“ Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being, and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating ”.

This thinking has been used to justify the oppression of people considered to have “excess” body fat, including women and people of color.

2. The Body Mass Index (BMI) was not intended to be used as a health indicator.

In fact, this method of determining body mass was not even invented by a medical professional.

“It was actually originally created by a Belgian astronomer in the 1830s,” says Dr. Louise Metz, an internal medicine doctor based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “It was designed for populations – not for individuals – and was not designed to define health in any way.”

3. It is impossible to determine a person’s health or fitness based on their appearance.

Just ask Mirna Valerio, creator of the Fat Girl Running blog, who often worries about her taller size despite training for marathons almost daily.

“Questions are always on people’s faces,” Valerio says of the weight stigma she encounters on the track. “Questions of whether I really do the things I say I do – because I’m still fat, despite having done 14 ultramarathons and 10 marathons.”

4. Medical fatphobia prevents people of all sizes from receiving adequate health care.

For taller people, the prevalence of fat phobia means that doctors can quickly attribute their symptoms to their weight – a phenomenon that leads them to rule out other, often more insidious, explanations.

“The same goes for someone in a smaller body,” says Metz. “If we assume that they are healthy based on their body, we will misdiagnose a lot of people who have metabolic problems.”

5. Medical fatphobia means that you may also be refused treatment based on your height.

Ilya Parker, Assistant Physiotherapist and Founder of Decolonizing Fitness, describes the experience of being denied gender-affirming treatment due to weight stigma: – affirmative care or referring me to an endocrinologist, which is the person I needed to see for hormone replacement therapy.

6. Diet culture has always been about money, not health.

At the turn of the century, many physicians took inspiration from the burgeoning life insurance industry when deciding which organizations posed the highest financial risk. According to Harrison, doctors of the day began to encourage patients to lose weight “as a supposed way to reduce health risks, but in reality it was to reduce the monetary risks of the insurance industry.” .

7. Intentional weight loss is rarely permanent

“We see in research that up to 98% of the time when people embark on weight loss efforts, they end up regaining all of the weight they lost in five years,” says Harrison. “In fact, up to two-thirds of people who embark on weight loss efforts can regain more weight than they lost.”

8. The language used in fitness spaces perpetuates transphobia.

Based on her own experiences as a transmasculine participant in group exercise classes, Parker urges her fellow fitness instructors and trainers to reconsider their gender language.

“I’ve had countless group classes where language was so important, especially when you’re like, Hey guys can only do this exercise, women can only do this exercise. And then also make the assumption that you know who is in the room.

9. Diet culture claims fat is not American.

Historian Natalia Petrzela traces this connection back to the 1950s, when physical fitness began to be touted as a key component of American citizenship. “[Politicians] spoke about this in a shamelessly rude manner, ”says Petrzela. “I mean, JFK is giving this great talk about ‘The Sweet American’ and how an American who is physically gentle is a national responsibility.”

10. You can refuse to be weighed at the doctor’s office.

“Let your health care provider know that you want to receive medical care from a ‘health in all sizes’ perspective,” says Metz. “And if you don’t want to discuss weight or weight management during your visit, then you have the right to ask.”


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