“ Diet culture and white supremacy say that the ultimate aim is thinness and whiteness. The opposing truth says that we need to fight for safety, autonomy, and justice for every body that is not thin or white.” Corrie Van Horne
Diet culture is a system of oppression. It excludes all body types while endorsing the ‘thin white ideal.’ Diet culture ignores the fact of body diversity among humans. We have no problem accepting that some cats are fatter or thinner than others. We don’t try to get the fat cats to lose weight or try to get the thin cats to gain weight. Generally speaking, we accept the diversity within the species and that diversity is a good thing. We accept that the fats cats can be just as “healthy’ as their thin cousins.
White supremacy is the status quo. It’s woven into every fabric of our culture and life as we know it. White supremacy (the patriarchy) is a social system in where Caucasian males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege, and control of property.
We can’t deny that white supremacy, the patriarchy is the status quo. Dieting is a culturally acceptable behavior that exists within the patriarchy and is THE status quo.
White supremacy, colonialism, and diet culture sleep in the same bed together. The origins of dieting come from a white man in the mid-1800’sby the same of Sylvester Graham- as in the graham cracker! He created this cracker as a dieting tool and began to plant the seeds linking morality with eating. He was also somewhat of a control freak by feeling he needed to control what people ate which he believed would in turn control an individual’s weight, sexual desires and make them morally superior (For a more in depth look at the history of dieting, check out Christy Harrison’s book: Anti-Diet).
Unfortunately, it still feels like we are living in the mid-1800’s as the same diet culture belief systems are still embedded in our culture today. Diet culture has evolved and uses sneaky terms like “wellness” and “lifestyle change” to appear less harmful. But the act of dieting which is consciously seeking to reduce calorie intake in the name of “health” and, or to shrink one’s body size is alive and well. The message of diet culture is this: you must follow a set of food and exercise rules to strive towards worthiness and moral superiority. Diet culture wants to keep you distracted and disengaged from other activities that challenge the status quo, that is, white supremacy.
In order to truly dismantle diet culture, it’s important to look at the overall systems of oppression we live in. This again is the patriarchy. And, because of the Black Lives Matter movement, we can all agree that the dominant white patriarchy that has its roots in racism and white supremacy. The dominate white patriarchy upholds racist ideologies and endorses white supremacy. Now more than ever, we have evidence of this in every facet of our society, but it’s most obvious with the frequency of Police brutality against Black folks.
Diet culture conditions us to believe that fat bodies are unacceptable and dangerous. The origins of fat phobia reinforce white supremacy as fat black bodies were depicted as dangerous and out of control, and thin white bodies were seen as something to strive for as symbols of control, civility and good moral standing. The origins of fat phobia were a means to use the body to validate race, class, and gender prejudice. If you are curious to learn more about the origins of fat phobia, read Sabrina Strings, book: Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia.
Diet culture today continues to encourage us to focus on dieting and shrinking our bodies to fit the white thin ideal in the name of ‘health.’ This health obsession functions to scapegoat us from larger issues- issues like slavery, racism, and white supremacy. Instead of using our precious energy to fight racism, or to ask for a promotion at work or to go back to school for a career change, or to put yourself back on the dating market- your precious energy is spent towards the pursuit of controlling your weight, food and ‘health.’ Diet culture oppresses and controls your precious time, energy and resources, so that you keep drinking the status quo kool-aid.
If we want to dismantle diet culture, we need to dismantle systemic racism.
As an anti-diet dietitian, I look at health at the systems level- not just at the individual level. Health is so much more than how much kale you eat, or how many miles you log on your Fitbit. Good health is largely reserved for the privileged. Black folks are segregated to live in neighborhoods where the air and water sources are polluted, making them more vulnerable to developing asthma and other health conditions. They live in neighborhoods that are called, ‘food deserts’- areas where its impossible to access healthy foods. Marginalized folks don’t have the same access to healthcare for both prevention and treatment of all the major health conditions. And, we know that if a Black man wants to go out for a jog in this neighborhood, he might not come back alive. These are just a few of many examples that are the causes of negative health outcomes for Black folks.
Black folks also face higher rates of weight stigma. Weight stigma is holding judgments, beliefs and assumptions about people based on body size (including your own), which results in discrimination. Weight stigma is quite common in the medical field.
Doctors often tell fat people that dietary control leading to weight loss is the solution to their health problems. But many studies show that the stigma associated with body weight, rather than the body weight itself, is responsible for some adverse health consequences blamed on obesity, including increased mortality risk.
Dieting is also a privilege. And, dieting is a great distractor from other areas of our lives that need attention. We cannot fight racism and do the hard work of dismantling our own internalized racism if we are too busy counting calories and spending hours at the gym. Diet culture like white supremacy wants to keep you distracted which results in bypassing you from the real work.
The real work is getting comfortable with discomfort and radically owning up to our lived experience as privileged white folks. The real work is feeling our feelings- all of them, but especially the ones that make us uncomfortable. Doing this work is hard. So take your time, go slow, be gentle, and let’s keep talking about it.
Intuitive eating is also a privilege. It’s a process of un-learning and re-learning. It’s a process of getting comfortable with discomfort as well. It’s about deeply listening and honoring our bodies. And our bodies store our emotions and feelings- all of them, the pleasant and the not-so-pleasant ones. The more inner work we do to listen to our bodies and increase our awareness of these inner states, this will expand our capacity to feel discomfort in other areas of our lives.
The core of my work with clients is to get them to listen and trust their bodies so they can re-define what health means to them. I focus on helping my clients to quiet the noises (from the inner critic and from diet culture) that prevent you from listening and trusting the signals of your own body. When you can hear your own signals, you can honor your body’s needs and you become your own ‘nutrition expert.’ This work is essential to heal our disordered relationship with food and our bodies.
This work is hard and can be painful at times. But imagine feeling trapped in your own body, hating it daily and worrying constantly about what foods you ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ eat. Living with this type of ongoing fear and oppression is unhealthy for us on so many levels. We know that this mentality causes us to feel shame and guilt which leads to depression and anxiety. And this negatively impacts our overall physical, emotional and spiritual health.
Doing the work of dismantling our own white privilege parallels the hard work of intuitive eating and learning to un-diet. It’s a similar process of learning and un-learning. It requires that we face our inner demons head on and resist the temptation to go back to the scapegoat of blaming our bodies or the food as the problem. We work on getting comfortable with discomfort. Over and over. And, we are never done. We don’t arrive anywhere; it’s an ongoing process of self-exploration.
When someone talks to you about your own white privilege, notice how you react? Do you want to defend yourself and say things like, “All lives matter – not just Black lives.’ Notice what comes up for you around this. Notice it in your body. Notice your self-talk. Is it overly critical or defensive? Is there room for you to soften into the space in between the noticing and the reacting? Can you soften just a little? This is the slow, painful and messy work of healing.
So, take your time, get curious and go slow. But go. Don’t sit back and stay silent. That is what we’ve all been doing for far too long.
I invite you to listen more intently, ask more questions, and be more compassionate by trying to imagine what it would be like to always be frightened for your life just because of the color of your skin.
Now more than ever, it’s important to connect the not-so-invisible dots between diet culture, white supremacy and racism. I care about having a more inclusive practice where all my clients feel safe to show up. It’s my duty to serve with compassion and dignity and to do less harm. I am actively working on becoming an ally and doing my ant-racism work. I’m hiring Black women to help me with this and I know that this work will not stop after the protests are over. This is a lifelong journey.
Last but certainly not least, I want to acknowledge that I am not an expert when it comes to the topic of white supremacy! I am just now waking up and learning like so many of you. I feel deeply committed to learning more about this area and how it intersects with diet culture.
It’s also important that I acknowledge the many privileges I have: I am white, thin, able-bodied, cisgender female, educated and living in California. I hold a lot of privilege and potential for implicit bias that I will continue to strive to uncover with myself.
With that said, I will make mistakes and say the wrong thing. I will do my best to acknowledge this, apologize and re-direct this energy towards growth and learning. Making mistakes is part of this process and I won’t let my perfectionism or fear of saying the wrong thing keep me from speaking out. I hope it doesn’t stop you from speaking out either. We can call in and call out each other with respect.
Our world does not need us to remain silent and complacent for fear of saying the wrong thing. Let’s all dig in and do this work together.
Join me in my private Facebook group: Intuitive Eating Warriors to join the community of dismantling diet culture! https://www.facebook.com/groups/intuitiveeatingwarriors/
Here is my link of anti-racism resources.https://www.mindful-nutrition.com/anti-racism-resources/