Diet Culture is Ruining America

Photo Illustration by Lauren Margit Jones for TIME

Photo Illustration by Lauren Margit Jones for TIME

I have this vivid memory of second-grade when my classmate’s mom, who was a rep for SlimFast — one of several iconic diet brands of the early 2000s — distributed a sample of the brand’s chocolate milkshakes to our entire class.

I took the milkshake home; it’s thin, hourglass shape rested perfectly in my seven-year-old hands. Upon seeing my spoils, my mom took the sample from me, wondering aloud, “what teacher in her right mind would give a diet shake to a second-grader?”

When I asked what she meant, she explained that it was a weightloss program for dieters who didn’t want to give up sugar or desserts. She went on to illustrate that healthy diets aren’t measured by calories, but rather the quality of vitamins and minerals.

This from the same woman who packed cookie dough in my lunch and let me eat cake for breakfast? I was confused.

Why couldn’t people just be healthy by eating a little bit of everything? Naive, sure, but I wasn’t entirely misguided.

Fifteen years later, I am convinced that the modern-day Slimfast shakes come in the form of juice cleanses. Beautifully packaged bottles in every shade of green, yellow and black, but nothing can cover up the rank taste of kale and self-deprecation. We don’t have hoverboards in 2017, but we’re drinking liquefied charcoal — @science, please advise. These bottles, with their promises to detoxify and purify my life, exhibit everything that is wrong with diet culture.

A quick fix, an empty promise, a blatant attempt to attract the short-lived investment from young and middle-aged women who will chase a wellness trend for all but a month, only to jump on the next bandwagon that comes along (looking at you, Whole 30).

The problem, in my eyes, is not when people feel pressure to be more healthy, but rather the idea that there is a “right” way take care of yourself, a right way to look, to eat, to live. This simply isn’t true. It’s just another way for the wellness industrial complex to convince you that you need fixing.

I’m not talking about diets for medical reasons, I’m talking about self-diagnoses that cause women to say “I’m not eating carbs right now.” So… do I need to save a slice of pizza for you or not?

Everywhere I turn, I see ads that promise to fill the wellness void in my life with new diets or cleanses or supplements that really only result in expensive pee. I’ve watched friends take on diets for mere weeks at a time, only to wind up with horrible side effects once they “reintroduce dairy” after a whole month of no cheese, yogurt or butter. I pray that I will never become a stranger to cheese.

Drastically changing your diet isn’t a meaningful way to inspire consistent, healthy choices in the long term. It lets people believe there’s something genuinely wrong with the way they are, and feeds into a complex that makes people obsessed with the way they look.

If it’s not about looking good, it’s about feeling good, yet so many dieters fixate on the visual representation of their “feel-good” lifestyle. Even if it’s not about losing weight, dieters still Instagram their juice cleanses and paleo meals. Call it wellness if you want, but I see through this facade.

Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t know your body better than you, so please, for the love of God (not Goop), stop with the extreme diets. Your body needs carbs so that the synapses in your brain fire when you make decisions. There’s a reason you feel groggy and irritable halfway through a new diet. You need all the parts of the food pyramid.

I won't take for granted that I’m fortunate enough to have nutritious, colorful food each day, but I will say that being allowed to eat a little bit of everything as a child shielded me from the urge to binge-eat all of my Halloween candy before the night was over. It taught me that moderation feels good. I had a donut for breakfast, but I also had a banana and some peanut butter for “second breakfast.” I plan to eat vegetables at some point today too.

Extreme dieting isn’t going to make you healthier or happier; it’s just making us sad and dissatisfied with our own bodies and destroying our sense of self. If you really want to make a change, make a meaningful one. Take a nutrition course, buy some produce, talk to a doctor.


You look fine.