Disrupting diet culture

By Samantha Shepherd, MSW, LICSW • JFCS Therapist

Food brings people together, gives us sustenance, plays an integral role in both secular and religious traditions, and is even seen as medicine. While food is used in so many connecting and healing ways, diet culture has interrupted this connection for many people and changed their relationship with food and their bodies.

While the term “diet” originally referred to the total amount of food and drink consumed, in the early 1900s it came to mean a way to restrict food intake, lose weight, or change one’s body. Dr. Nadia Craddock, a research psychologist who specializes in body image, describes diet culture as a “collective set of social expectations telling us that there’s one way to be and one way to look and one way to eat, and that we are a better person, a more worthy person, if our bodies are a certain way.”

During the winter of 2022, NPR featured a segment called “Diet culture is everywhere. Here’s how to fight it,” where Bay Area-based psychologist Sand Chang posed the following questions to start reflection on one’s relationship with this topic:

  • What is causing me to feel this way about my body right now?
  • Is my body that different from what it was yesterday? 
  • What external factors are impacting my feelings?
  • What choice do I have in terms of how much I want to respond to them?

If interested, you can listen to the full episode here:

It’s important to explore where our unhelpful narratives began. This reflection can occur on a variety of levels – individually (how diet culture makes you feel in your body); relationally (how it shows up in your relationship); and even institutionally (i.e., policy/procedures that perpetuate fatphobia). If you find yourself saying something along the lines of “good thing I exercised today” when reaching for a sweet snack, or considering participating in another juice cleanse, it’s worth taking time to explore your internalized messages from diet culture.

Here are some resources to help get you started:










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