Diet Culture

Diet Culture

Diet Culture

Written By: Sin Tze Ean Cyan (Clinical Psychology Trainee)

Verified By: Kelly Chan Jia Li, Clinical Psychologist (MAHPC(CP)00353)

"Follow this meal plan to lose 10kg in 2 weeks!"

"Low-Calorie Breakfast ideas for a slimmer waist."

"20 foods to avoid for a flat tummy."

Diet culture

If these statements sound familiar, you've most likely seen them somewhere on the Internet - whether casually scrolling through social media posts or looking for videos to watch on YouTube.

Understanding Diet Culture

The pervasive focus on dieting and weight loss to achieve health, happiness, and social acceptance has become a societal phenomenon. This is often called 'Diet Culture,' wherein thinness is promoted as an ideal body type and certain foods are glorified while others are demonized. While this may be beneficial in encouraging some individuals to adopt healthier lifestyle habits such as regular exercise and balanced nutrition, it may also have profound effects on mental health, contributing to a range of psychological challenges and adverse outcomes.

Diet culture
Promotion of Unrealistic Beauty Standards

It's almost infiltrated into the minds of many that for a woman to be considered beautiful, she has to have a skinny waist, a flat stomach, a thigh gap, and an hourglass figure. Meanwhile, for men, it often emphasizes hyper-masculine traits such as a muscular, chiseled physique with minimal body fat, perfect skin, and a full head of hair. 

"That fitness influencer with 10 million subscribers on YouTube who only eats chicken breast and hard-boiled eggs? That's probably how she earned her 11-line abs!" 

Diet culture promotes the idea that food restriction will help one to achieve such standards, no matter how unrealistic these standards may be. Although it is natural for our weight to fluctuate throughout the day, and bloating happens to all of us, diet culture has created a negative connotation surrounding belly fat and weight gain. The excessive online spread of dietary tips to "debloat," lose weight, or burn stomach fat reflects the widespread mentality that nothing but a flat stomach is acceptable and that to be perceived as beautiful; we must look like models we see on social media.

Impact of Diet Culture on Mental Health

Diet culture can often lead to various mental health concerns among individuals who do not conform to these standards. 

1. Low Self-esteem and Body Image Issues

Diet culture makes us hyper-focused on our bodies. When someone feels they don't measure up to the ideal body type (which is often unrealistic and heavily edited in media), it can lead to low self-esteem and poor body image. For example, when we unconsciously and constantly compare ourselves to Instagram models, we may feel inadequate and unattractive, even though we are perfectly healthy and beautiful.

2. Guilt and Shame Around Food

Imagine you are a dessert lover, but you feel guilty every time you indulge in your favorite ice cream. Your inner voice tells you only to eat salads and healthy foods to look like fitness influencers or models online. This guilt makes you feel bad about yourself whenever you eat something you enjoy. This feeling of guilt and shame can lead to unhealthy relationships with food, where eating becomes a source of anxiety.

3. Anxiety and Depression

Constantly worrying about food and weight can lead to significant anxiety and depression. Imagine feeling anxious whenever you eat a meal because you're worried about the calories or how it will affect your appearance. This can create a cycle of stress and anxiousness that severely impacts mental well-being.

4. Disordered Eating Behaviours

Diet culture can lead to unhealthy eating habits, including excessive dieting, overeating, or not eating enough. For example, skipping meals and exercising excessively to try to lose weight to look like the actresses or actors we admire. This extreme dieting and over-exercising are unhealthy and can lead to serious health problems, such as nutrient deficiencies, weakened immune systems, and long-term damage to the body. It also perpetuates a cycle of unhealthy eating habits that are difficult to break.

Challenging the Dangers of Diet Culture
1. Educate Yourself

If you're reading this article, you've already taken a big step in lowering your risk of falling into the mentality trap that diet culture promotes in society. Diet culture has popularized information about nutrition, exercise, and wellness and made resources accessible to a broad audience through media, books, and online platforms. Like a double-edged sword, this makes it easy to consume such media and absorb its content. However, merely being aware of the harmful impact that this dieting information and culture can have on mental health can challenge mainstream diet culture narratives.

2. Embrace Body Acceptance

Recognize that there is "Health and Beauty at Every Size." The world consists of people with bodies of all shapes, sizes, and abilities – all of which make us uniquely beautiful. Rather than measuring beauty by a number on a scale or the size of one's waist, why not measure beauty by self-confidence, uniqueness, and empowerment?

Appreciate and accept your body for what it has done for you, what it does for you, and what it can continue to do for you. When you can see the beauty of body diversity and create a more inclusive society regardless of appearance, weight, or shape, you can break free from the toxic mentality of judgment and comparison often made by diet culture.

3. Focus on Health rather than Weight

Before you decide to go on a diet or restrict certain food groups, take some time to reflect on why you've decided to do so in the first place. Is this diet meant to encourage more balanced nutrition and to improve overall health and well-being? Or is your focus more inclined towards thinness and weight loss as a measure of beauty?  Diet culture often leads us to believe that external appearance and weight are measures of health and self-worth. However, it's important to remind yourself that other aspects of well-being, such as mental health, regular physical activity, stress management, and holistic self-care, are more important than that number you see on the scale.

4. Foster a Healthy Relationship with Food

"Your relationship with food is one of your earliest and most meaningful relationships. It's also a relationship you will have for the rest of your life. It might as well be the best relationship that it can be."

When you think of food and eating, what do you think of? Does your mind automatically make you think about how much weight you may gain from indulging in dessert? Do you classify spinach, lettuce, and avocado as 'good foods' whilst burgers, pizza, and fried chicken as "bad food"? When choosing what to order from a menu, do you prioritise the calories each contains?  

The truth is that when you create rigid rules around food, restrict yourself, or give in to diet culture, you also inadvertently give these foods power. They will begin to occupy your mind so much that before you know it, every moment and every day of your life revolves around controlling your food intake and dieting.

Rather than thinking of food as something that needs to be strictly controlled or restricted, think of it as a simple basic need for all humans. Think of it as fuel that provides us with the energy we need daily. Think of it as not only food for the body but also food that nourishes the mind and soul. At the end of the day, a healthy relationship with food is more nutritious than any low-calorie salad recipe you may find on the Internet.

5. Seek Professional Help

If you're struggling with the impact of diet culture on your mental health, consider seeking help from a professional, such as a therapist or a dietitian who specializes in eating disorders and body image issues. They can help you develop healthier attitudes towards food and body image. For instance, a therapist can help you work through body image issues and develop coping strategies.

Reminder: If you or your loved one are struggling with body image concerns, please don't hesitate to reach out to us at Soul Mechanics KD or Soul Mechanics Ipoh.
Remember, seeking help is not a sign of weakness but strength!


Conversations about diet, weight, and body image are everywhere and unavoidable today—from social media feeds to advertisements to casual talks among friends. While these conversations can be harmless, they often perpetuate what is known as "diet culture," which can impact mental health in numerous ways. By recognising its impact and taking proactive steps to challenge it, we can foster a healthier relationship with food and our bodies. Everyone deserves to feel good about themselves and enjoy life without the constant pressure of diet culture. By making these changes, we can create a more supportive environment for ourselves.

If you enjoyed reading this, why not broaden the horizon of knowledge by learning about "Body Image: Issues Pertaining Dissatisfaction"?
You can read the blog here.

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