Article Review: “Demystifying Diet Culture”

Written by Judy Crandall | Reviewed by Fit with Food Dietitians Emily and Michael

The term “diet culture” is thrown around often, and you probably have some sense of what it means. However, the term is broad, encompassing a range of complex concerns, and there are a variety of perspectives on the issue. How can diet culture be combatted effectively when we can hardly define it? 

Researchers Natalie Jovanoski and Tess Jaeger attempted to solve this problem in their 2022 journal article “Demystifying ‘diet culture’: Exploring the meaning of diet culture in online ‘anti-diet feminist, fat activist, and health professional communities.” 


Before explaining the study, the authors provide information about the three main facets of the anti-diet movement. Below are brief descriptions of each:

  • Feminist Researchers: This group relates diet culture to the thin ideal and the objectification of women’s bodies. The patriarchy is viewed as a primary component of the context in which diet culture and eating disorders occur.
  • Fat Activists: This group relates diet culture to fat phobia. Issues of concern include discrimination toward larger bodies, weight stigma, and the oppressive nature of dieting toward fat people.
  • Weight-Neutral Health Professionals: This group consists of health professionals such as dietitians, counselors, and clinical psychologists. These professionals (within the anti-diet movement specifically) challenge the idea that weight is the only or greatest indicator of health. They emphasize the prioritization of overall wellbeing over weight alone.

These three perspectives sometimes conflict, and the division of the anti-diet movement into separate parts weakens it. The researchers’ goal was to summarize diet culture under one definition drawn from all three parts of the movement, in turn highlighting the underlying ideas about diet culture shared by all members of the movement.


This study consisted of a survey of 118 participants who identified themselves as having been affected by and/or challenged diet culture. The participants’ ages ranged from 18 to 63 years old, and none of the participants were diagnosed with an ED or being treated for an ED. The group was majority heterosexual female, and about half identified as anti-diet activists

The data was collected through an online, six-question survey. The three questions addressed in this article were:

  • “What does diet culture mean to you?”
  • “What do you believe is behind diet culture?”
  • “In an ideal world, how would you like to see diet culture being tackled?”

Responses to these questions were analyzed for “common semantic references” which were then grouped into three broad themes.


The first of these themes was “Diet culture as health myths.” This theme can be seen in the mentions of “healthism,” or the misconception that weight is the most accurate indicator of wellness. If only one were thinner, they would be healthier and happier. “Health myths” can also refer to myths about food. Many respondents brought up the idea of “bad,” guilt-inducing food as well as the issue of dietary choices being regulated by external rules perpetuated by diet culture rather than internal cues from the body.

The second theme drawn from the responses was “Diet culture as a moral hierarchy of bodies.” This hierarchy is defined by the glorification of thin bodies and people’s constant pursuit of the thinner and, in turn, “better” version of themselves. Conversely, it is also defined by weight stigma, fear of fat, and the misconception that being fat is the result of poor personal decision making.

The final theme was “Diet culture as a systemic and structural problem.” The three social structures included under this theme were patriarchy, racism, and capitalism. The issue of the patriarchy was related to diet culture through the sexualization of the female body, the pressure placed on women to be attractive to men (appeasing the male gaze), and the expectation that women be smaller and weaker than men. Respondents who touched on racism noted the lack of racial diversity in the media and medical settings. They also discussed how, historically, white bodies were distinguished from bodies of color through the idealization of the thin, white body and the stigmatization of “unruly” bodies of color. Finally, respondents pointed out how diet culture supports the profitable diet industry, which has pervaded the media, advertising, porn, beauty, fashion, fitness, and medical industries. They also discussed the exploitation of women’s insecurities.

All three of these themes could be discussed with much more nuance, but for the purposes of this review, these briefer summaries will suffice.

Main Takeaways:

  • You are not alone. Diet culture is referred to as a culture for a reason. It is pervasive and complex, which means that it is incredibly harmful, but it also means that it is something that you are not grappling with alone. Struggles you might have with guilt about food, beauty standards, etc. are not an isolated problem but rather can be linked to greater structural issues and combatted.
  • Diet culture makes money. One point brought up by many respondents that is important to remember about diet culture is its profitability. An effective way of resisting diet culture in your daily life is being conscious of the fact that most of the products and ideas promoted within diet culture are not intended to benefit you but rather to get you to fork over money.
  • Weight is neither the most accurate nor the only reflection of your wellbeing. Yes, in some cases, for some individuals, weight can be a helpful tool, but there are so many other ways to measure health beyond a number. You are not defined by the number on the scale. Countless other factors contribute to overall health, and an obsession with weight can only impact you negatively. 

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