What is Diet Culture and Weight Stigma?
Diet culture is anything that promotes weight loss 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). As well as true physical health (e.g. organ function, hormones, bloodwork levels, sleep patterns, energy levels, etc.) Diet culture goes way beyond weight loss/lifestyle diet programs. It’s where your learned fear of weight gain came from. 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 because of a sore throat. But 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.
The experience of someone in a smaller body.
Diet culture with weight stigma in healthcare is receiving different courses of treatment based on someone’s weight. Say a person in a smaller body goes to their doctor. They complain of stomachaches, gas, bloating, skin rash, joint pain, and brain fog. Their doctor likely orders blood tests and consider Celiac Disease a possible explanation.
Versus the experience of someone in a larger body.
But say a person in a larger body goes to their doctor. They complain of the exact same symptoms. Sadly, there are many healthcare providers who dismiss these as a result of a presumed bad diet. Thus re-emphasizing diet culture’s belief that fat bodies are only a result of unhealthy foods. The prescribed treatment is to “eat better, workout, and lose weight.”
Only until the larger patient has lost weight will their symptoms be taken seriously.
If this 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.
Lower Thresholds Benefit For-Profit Pharma
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. We are one of the few countries with for-profit health insurance and for-profit pharmaceutical companies. So it is no wonder these greedy institutions are finding ways to profit from baseless assumptions larger bodies are unhealthy.
Diet Culture & Weight Stigma in Insurance
Applying for most life insurance plans, requires you to go through a quick health assessment. This 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 larger bodies (including 67% of American women) are forced to pay a higher premium. This allows insurance companies to increase their profits.
The BMI Scale
In the 1830s, the BMI Scale was created by mathematician Lambert Adolphe Jacques Queteletan. It was intended to be a quick method to census the average size of white men. And assist the Belgian government in allocating resources. Some claim he explicitly said “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 rewards someone diagnosed with Anorexia who has low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts. But punishes 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 its unnecessary usage.
Diet Culture & Weight Stigma in Fashion
The fashion industry represents diet culture and weight stigma as well. 67% of American women are a size 14 or larger (and in some studies, size 16-18 is the average size.) Yet the majority of clothing is size 10 or smaller.
We continue to live in an era where point out when a company puts larger models in their advertising. It’s not just automatic or commonplace. The majority of bodies do not represent the average. Plus-size clothing is more expensive and harder to find. 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.)
Many of these decisions are to cram in as many people as possible and increase their profits. So while it may not intentionally be a bias against larger bodies, it is still a tone-deaf business decision that ignores the vast majority of people.
…And yet science shows overweight people live longer.
Studies continue to debunk the validity of the BMI Scale. Many studies prove people in the “overweight” category live longer than people in the “healthy” weight category. And those considered mildly or moderately “obese,” live at least as long as those in the “healthy” weight category. However, weight stigma remains prevalent. Even though the CDC published this study and results. They still tell 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.