Diet culture is anything that promotes weight loss and/or thin bodies. Weight stigma is judgement and discrimination against bodies that are not thin. Diet culture and weight stigma together is the underlying message that you are only healthy if you are thin and therefore you are unhealthy if you are fat.
Diet culture and weight stigma bases your quality of life and your achievement of “health” strictly on appearance only. It ignores mental health (your thoughts, beliefs and behaviors) and true physical health (e.g. organ function, hormones, bloodwork levels, sleep patterns, energy levels, etc.) Diet culture goes way beyond weight loss/lifestyle diets, your learned fear of weight gain, and social media influencers vilifying food though. Diet culture messaging and weight stigma can be found in surprising places all throughout society.
Let’s talk through some of those surprising places today.
Diet Culture & Weight Stigma in Healthcare
Diet culture in healthcare is going to your doctor’s office because of a sore throat and being asked to step on the scale. What does weight possibly have to do with a sore throat? Absolutely nothing. It has become habit to weigh each and every patient, no matter their reason for being there that day.
Diet culture with weight stigma in healthcare is receiving different courses of treatment based on someone’s weight. For example, if a smaller person were to go to their doctor complaining of stomachache, gas, bloating, skin rash, joint pain, and brain fog, their doctor would likely order blood tests and consider Celiac Disease a possible explanation.
But if a larger person were to go to their doctor complaining of the exact same symptoms, there are many healthcare providers who would dismiss this as a result of their presumed bad diet (thus re-emphasizing diet culture’s belief that fat bodies are only a result of unhealthy foods.) The prescribed treatment would be to “eat better, workout, and lose weight.” Only until the larger patient has lost weight will their symptoms be taken seriously. If this larger person truly did have something serious, like Celiac Disease, they would continue to feel awful, damage their intestines and increase their likelihood of cancer. This is healthcare bias and, in my opinion, a form of malpractice.
Additionally, in the United States, we have the lowest thresholds for what’s considered pre-diabetes, diabetes and high cholesterol. Meaning, you may be diagnosed as pre-diabetic here but if you were to live in Canada you would not be considered pre-diabetic. As one of the few countries with for-profit health insurance and for-profit pharmaceutical companies (versus socialized healthcare), it is no wonder that these greedy institutions are finding ways to profit from the baseless assumptions that larger bodies are unhealthy.
Diet Culture & Weight Stigma in Insurance
When you apply for most life insurance plans, you are required to go through a quick health assessment that includes your blood pressure, bloodwork and—you guessed it—your weight. Why your weight? Well, life insurance companies get to charge you higher premiums if you’re considered “at risk” and due to the falsity of the BMI Scale, they get to pretend larger bodies are at higher risk for dying. The system is rigged so that larger bodies (including 67% of American women) are forced to pay a higher premium which allow the insurance companies to increase their profits.
In the 1830s, the BMI Scale was created by mathematician Lambert Adolphe Jacques Queteletan as a quick method to census the average size of white men and assist the Belgian government in allocating resources. Some claim he explicitly said that “the BMI could not and should not be used to indicate the level of fatness in an individual.” The BMI Scale takes NO account of your muscles, bone structure, activity levels, mental health or genetics. It would “reward” someone diagnosed with Anorexia who has suicidal thoughts over someone who eats a wide variety of foods, engages in joyful movement and has a good self-esteem.
Yet here we are in 2020 with doctors still using it and anti-diet people like me still fighting it’s unnecessary usage.
Diet Culture & Weight Stigma in Fashion
The fashion industry may be one of the more obvious places that diet culture and weight stigma are unashamedly represented. With 67% of American women being a size 14 or larger (and in some studies, size 16-18 is deemed average) it seems absurd that the majority of clothing is made in size 10 or smaller. We are still in an era where it has to be pointed out and celebrated when a company puts larger models in their advertising. It’s not just done automatically. The majority of bodies do not represent the average. Plus-size clothing is more expensive and harder to find. Styles are cut for smaller bodies. Not to mention the judgement many have against a larger body wearing more revealing styles. We have a long way to go in this area.
Diet Culture & Weight Stigma in Travel/Entertainment
Diet culture and weight stigma is also prevalent in places that we go. Airplane seats continue to get smaller and smaller. Amusement park rides have higher restrictions that prevent larger bodies from being able to comfortably fit. Updated sports arenas have tinier seats (my size 8 booty and knees can barely fit in Villanova University’s renovated Pavilion.) Most of these decisions are made so they can cram in as many people as possible and increase their profits. So while it may not intentionally be a slam against larger bodies, it is still a tone-deaf business decision that ignores the vast majority of people.
…And yet overweight people are found to live longer.
As studies continue to debunk the validity of the BMI Scale, there is also a significant increase of studies proving that people in the “overweight” category of the BMI Scale live longer than people in the “healthy” weight category. Also, those who are considered to be mildly or moderately “obese” by the BMI Scale live at least as long as those in the “healthy” weight category. However, weight stigma is so prevalent that even though the CDC published this study and results, they still told health professionals to focus on weight as a health issue.
Where do you see diet culture and weight stigma? Let me know in the comments if I failed to mention it.