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What parents and educators need to know about diet culture

What parents and educators need to know about diet culture, by Dana Suchow

by Dana Suchow

Diet culture is a system that demonizes and hates fat. It tells us that even though 95% of diets fail, we should still maintain an endless pursuit of weight loss. Diet culture tells us that we’ll only be healthy if we’re thin, even though we know that thin doesn’t equal health.

The culture overrides our logic and scientific intelligence, and it makes perfect sense since diet companies make more than $66 billion per year by creating body insecurities where none existed before. They do this because an insecure person is an exploitable person. You’re just not going to spend money to fix your body if you don’t think your body was broken to begin with. They spend billions of dollars on advertising to create a problem that doesn’t exist so that they can sell products to solve it.

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population. isa tractable one.

Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth
Non-Diet HAES Parenting Tips

Non-Diet/Health At Every Size® Fact Sheets, Guidelines, and Scripts

  • Fact Sheets About Weight Stigma, Diet Culture, Kids and Diets, and More
  • Non-Diet Parent Guidelines
  • Non-Diet Parent Scripts About Responding to Fat Talk, Diet Talk, and More
  • What to Say/Not Say When Talking About Bodies and Food

What is diet culture?

Diet culture is literally a system that says that thinness and weight loss is more important than any quality a person can have. It says that thinness is more important than being kind. More important than being loving, empathetic, smart, or caring.

Diet culture says that being thin is more important than mental health your emotional health your physical health. It says that being thin is more important than education. It’s a system that demonizes and hates fat.

Diet culture is a system that marginalizes fat people. 95% of diets fail yet we are on an endless path towards weight loss. We do this because diet culture says that you’ll be healthy if you’re thin. And this is even though we know thin doesn’t equal health. Diet culture says that if you lose weight you’ll be healthy no matter how you lost that weight.

The risks of diet culture

Diet culture is directly linked to:

  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • Bullying
  • Drug abuse
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Binge partying
  • Suicide

If we didn’t have diet culture, I know that I wouldn’t have developed my own eating disorder, and that’s why I work to help parents, educators, and caregivers learn about diet culture so that we can reduce its terrible impact on kids, teens, and adults.

80% of teen girls are unhappy with their bodies

Dove Research, Girls on Beauty

Diet culture hurts all of us

Diet culture is hurting you and your children. It is having a direct impact on how our kids feel about themselves, and it is hurting their ability to live a life fully present life. Instead, they spend their time and energy protecting themselves against the fear of being judged by diet culture.

It is becoming normal for kids to diet and to worry constantly about their appearance. We have 5-year-olds who say they would rather lose a parent than get fat.

Eating disorder behaviors like dieting, restricting, and over-exercising have become so common – so normal – that it’s actually becoming difficult for researchers to say how many people actually have eating disorders. One recent study put the number as high as 65% of all girls and women.

65% of girls and women have an eating disorder

Dove Research, Girls on Beauty

All bodies deserve to be seen

Over and over again, diet culture tells children, teens, and adults that their exterior appearance is more important than anything else. We are a society that is so focused on the exterior that we have forgotten our interiors. And the problem is, that when we are focused on our exteriors and not our interiors, we’re not present for our life. When we are thinking about our external and not our internal, we are holding ourselves back.

All bodies deserve to be seen. All bodies deserve representation. And your kids’ bodies deserve to exist in the world exactly as they are, without dieting, restricting, and over-exercising. Without appetite-suppressing lollipops, laxative teas and juice cleanses. Your kids deserve to live a life free of diet culture.

There’s hope. We just have to work together. You have the power to fight diet culture and eating disorders. We have the power to create change. You have the power to help your children.

Dana presented on this topic in a TED-style talk – you can watch it here:

dana suchow

Dana Suchow is an award-winning speaker, educator, and coach. Since overcoming Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder and exercise compulsion that resulted in permanent injuries, Dana Suchow has become an expert in the field of body image and eating disorder prevention. Offering a nonclinical and holistic approach, Dana offers tools, talks, 1:1 training, and other resources to help parents, educators, and caregivers. You can find Dana on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Diet Culture And Eating Disorders

More about diet culture

Diet culture is a major concern because it’s directly linked to eating disorder development. The truth is that we live in a culture that promotes and admires dieting and food restriction. Yet this culture makes us sick. And worse, it makes our kids sick. Eating disorders continue to rise, and they are showing up in younger kids than ever. Learning about diet culture is essential to protecting your children from eating disorders and/or helping them recover from eating disorders.

Living in a society that is cruel and dominating towards bodies is hard. And it’s difficult to raise a body-confident child in this culture. But it is possible. You can raise a child who is free from body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders if you protect her from the worst impacts of diet culture.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery.

Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

Ginny’s most recent project is Recovery, a newsletter for deeply-feeling people in recovery from diet culture, negative body image, and eating disorders.

8 thoughts on “What parents and educators need to know about diet culture

  1. This is a great post!

    1. Thank you so much!

  2. […] Understand diet culture. This will help you see that dieting and intentional weight loss are products with a 95% failure rate. […]

  3. […] disorders have a multi-layered problem, but the problem on the very top of it all is living in a culture that is obsessed with body weight and dieting. We can do […]

  4. […] reason our children should not be weighed at school is that we live in a diet culture. This is the assumption that people can and should control their body weight through restrictive […]

  5. […] be truly healthy. We just have to learn how to think about food and bodies without the pressure of diet culture. This takes practice and effort, but it is entirely possible. This course will help you get […]

  6. […] was obsessed with trying to be ‘perfect’ and when diet culture entered my sights, my body became the target of my perfectionism. I later learned that eating […]

  7. […] Diet culture asserts that if we eat only “good” foods, we will be happier and more successful. It tells us that our food choices are either “good” or “bad.” Under this restrictive ideology we are constantly at risk of failure. […]

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