Ghosts of Diet Culture Yet to Come
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This is the third part of a three-part series looking at diet culture past, present, and future. In this week’s subscriber discussion we talked about what we wanted to see and do in the coming year to continue to move away from diet culture and weight stigma. I think that one of the most important things that we can do right now is to push back against the diet industry’s work to position being higher-weight as a “chronic, life-long health condition” and co-option of anti-weight stigma work to sell diets.
The first is an issue that I talked about in one of my very first pieces here. This has been a long game played by the diet industry. If they can make body size the diagnosis, then they vastly increase their market, their potential for insurance coverage, and they don’t have to prove that their products actually improve health. This, combined with the fact that studies showing short-term weight loss are considered enough (despite all the evidence about almost everyone regaining the weight, and the negative side effects) is a recipe for weight loss industry profits. Unfortunately, it’s also a recipe for doing massive harm to higher-weight people, with the most harm being done to those of the highest weights, and those with multiple marginalized identities.
As patients and consumers we can, in many cases, refuse to participate in this, and we can be public about our refusal, including sharing information within our communities. We also need healthcare providers and others in the healthcare industry to push back in any way they can.
The co-option of anti-weight stigma language to sell diets is absolutely insidious. Whether it’s Weight Watchers (which, according to the postcard they sent me, they are calling themselves again,) claiming that they are about body positivity, or shills for weight loss drugs and surgeries claiming that the real bias is that some people can’t access dangerous and expensive interventions, or finally being honest that intentional weight loss fails the vast majority of the time (after decades of fat activists and weight-neutral health activists pointing this out,) but only in the service of trying to sell more dangerous, more expensive drugs and surgeries that risk fat people’s lives and quality of life, there is no low the diet industry won’t sink to.
On an individual level as patients/consumers we can call this out when we see it and, here again, we need people within the healthcare establishment who have power, privilege, and leverage to use that to push back in any way that they can.
The weight loss industry will never stop, they will have to be stopped. As I look to diet culture yet to come, I’m grateful to all of the people who have been working to create a culture shift (many before I was born and/or with far less privilege than I have) and I’m grateful to be part of a vibrant community of people who are continuing that work.
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*Note on language: I use “fat” as a neutral descriptor as used by the fat activist community, I use “ob*se” and “overw*ight” to acknowledge that these are terms that were created to medicalize and pathologize fat bodies, with roots in racism and specifically anti-Blackness. Please read Sabrina Strings Fearing the Black Body – the Racial Origins of Fat Phobia and Da’Shaun Harrison Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness for more on this.