How Diet Culture is Racist AF

2020 is really shining a light on a lot of things that many privileged people (including myself) had not thought about before. The glaring inequality in access to adequate healthcare has been made more visible than ever – when we see that Black, Native American, and Latinx patients are dying from coronavirus at twice the rate of white patients, it’s no wonder we’re also experiencing a modern civil rights movement at the same time as the pandemic! The systemic racism in our healthcare system is, like I’ve said before, a whole public health issue to itself. (When we talk about systemic racism, it doesn’t mean “there’s a lot of racists in the system”. It means the system itself is built on racist/ white supremacist ideals, and even if we replaced all the people in the system, the system itself would keep on being racially biased.)

As a business owner in a healthcare-adjacent field, I’m committed to disrupting limiting beliefs and distinguishing my implicit biases in myself, my business, and with my clients, in order to create an inclusive and equitable learning environment in my coaching programs and online spaces. I am doing this by continually educating myself via anti-racism books, trainings and workshops, surrounding myself with a diverse community of practitioners, collaborating with practitioners from different backgrounds, and am working towards creating a curriculum that is accessible, equitable, and anti-racist.

 Throughout my own anti-racism journey, and especially in a training program I’m in where this document was part of the curriculum, I’ve had a few significant insights I’d love to share with you – particularly in regards to how diet culture is a logical offshoot of white supremacy culture. (I’ve pulled these bullet points from this document, and adapted the definitions to be specific to diet culture.) Tell me if any of these sound familiar to you:

  • Perfectionism perpetuates a focus on our inadequacies while overlooking successes. Our culture values an “ideal” body, a type that is thin, fit or able-bodied – without any focus on nutrition or what is truly healthy. These beauty standards that we have – including blonde hair with a tall and thin body –  are white-centered, and clearly Eurocentric. We’re encouraged to follow a specific diet type with the intention of always striving to lose more weight. It’s a battle of willpower to achieve an impossible ideal state. We focus on what’s wrong with us, never celebrating our victories or what we’re doing “right”.
  • Quantity is more important than quality; and measurable, numeric goals are the only ones that count. If you’re not losing weight you’re doing it wrong. Emotions and feelings are obstacles to overcome, creating a “mind over matter” outlook. The process itself is not valued, only the end result (which is obviously measurable weight loss). This is part of the “counting calories/points/macros” culture.  Another example, the BMI was created by a white man to measure white men. And when we apply that same measure, which is the standard of medical care when it comes to weight and size in America, to women or people of color, it isn’t applicable. It is literally like apples and oranges. So there’s some inherent systemic racism in how the medical community assesses “health”. (Weight isn’t a great measure of health in general, but that’s a topic for another day!)
  • There is only a one-size-fits-all approach, a single “fix-all” solution to the problem.  This diet worked for me, so it must be the “right diet”, and anyone who disagrees is wrong. People are on a never-ending search for a cure-all to weight loss and other wellness concerns. Our media boasts numerous solutions with products that promise unrealistic results. The reality is that we are all bio-individual, and respond to different foods and environmental factors in different ways. Throwing money at products that promises change without thinking about our unique individuality leads us to believe something is wrong with us when we don’t reach our goals. 
  • Paternalism: we allow experts to make dietary and other health decisions for us. When you listen to the experts over your own body, instead of learning to feel what foods make us feel best, you’re robbing yourself of learning how to intuitively tune in with your own body to make the decisions that work best for you. We’re taught to not question the reasoning or the science behind it, just follow instructions. Something that is incredibly harmful to me might be super nutritious for someone else. Eggs, for example, are my biggest allergen, while for someone else, eggs can be an amazing food with so many nutrients that we can’t get in a lot of other places. 
  • Either/Or Thinking: there are only good foods and bad foods and nothing in between. Either/or thinking implies that you are good if you are eating good food (but not too much) and bad if you’re eating bad food. This is closely linked to perfectionism. It makes it difficult to learn from our mistakes or to accommodate conflict because there is no room for curiosity.

These are exactly the types of beliefs, habits, and mindsets I’m committed to disrupting. These unexamined biases, habits and practices, rooted in white supremacy culture, are harmful for everyone; and BIPOC, differently-abled people, and those who don’t fit the gender binary are harmed even more. I’m dedicated to creating an inclusive and equitable learning environment in my coaching programs and in my online spaces. I’m continually educating myself and I would love to hear what you all think of this conversation so we can all evolve and do better together. 

If you have any thoughts, comments, or ideas to add, feel free to comment below!