Wellness Versus Diet Culture: How Do I Know What’s What?

Diet culture has long ruled over the fitness and health industry. So, how do you know which companies care about self-love, body positivity and acceptance and which ones are just trying to profit by making you feel unhealthy? Look for these telltale signs to determine if a company embraces wellness or if it’s rooted in diet culture.

By Dr. Lisa N. Folden, PT
Mom-focused Wellness Coach

With the topics of body positivity and self-love becoming more popular over the last few years, it’s no surprise that the world of wellness has been bombarded by diet culture vultures in an effort to sell more products, teas, shakes, workout plans, etc. And for the everyday consumer, the line between diet culture and wellness may seem pretty blurred. 


Obviously we all want to be healthy, right? So, why is it a bad idea to achieve that through the latest fad diet? Can’t you address total wellness while restricting calories or counting points? The short answer: not really. But let me give you more context and some reasons why.


Let’s be clear. Diet culture has been the boss of the fitness and health industry for decades. However, body positivity, self-love, total wellness and, now, even “fat acceptance” have come along. As more people become aware of these topics and concepts, many die-hard dieters are divorcing their diets. 


So, like any good business, companies that encourage and financially profit off of diet culture are reframing their programs to appear more focused on wellness. They are adding meditation to their programs or telling clients to read a self-help book to round out their fitness program. And while it’s a cute effort, please beware of the wolf (diet culture) in sheep’s (wellness) clothing. The end goal is the same: Get you to think you’re unhealthy and then GET YOUR MONEY.

Wellness will focus on simply changing mindsets to help you believe that you are enough and that your weight does not define your health.

Here’s how you can sort through who’s REALLY about self-love, body positivity and acceptance and who’s just blowing smoke.

  • Diet culture is rooted in the idea of changing your body. If you are bombarded with before and after pictures, it’s diet culture. The premise is that your ‘before’ picture is somehow inferior. You were fat then…which inherently means unhealthy, and now you are thin (or at least less fat; therefore, less unhealthy). But don’t stop. Keep going, because at any point you can be fat again or simply plateau because you’re not working hard enough.
  • The ownness is always on the individual without regard to genetics, lifestyle, hormones or anything else. If your new “wellness program” focuses on weight loss…. IT’S A DIET. Conversely, wellness will focus on simply changing mindsets to help you believe that you are enough and that your weight does not define your health.
  • Diet culture profits off of you disliking yourself. Look at the leaders and spokespeople for the “program.” If they are all in the same size demographic, chances are they’re sending you a clear message that the people who can help you be healthier are thin (which for them is synonymous with healthy). Furthermore, if the ads ask questions about your need to “lose weight,” “look better in your clothes” or even “have more confidence,” they’re essentially feeding into the body shaming that you’re probably already engaging in. That is NOT body positivity.
  • Wellness will encourage you to love yourself EXACTLY AS YOU ARE, no questions asked. Starting a wellness program may result in weight loss and body changes for some, but that will never be the focus. Praise for weight loss is counterproductive to true wellness because our bodies are always changing and that is not something to seek. The REAL measures of health are things like blood pressure, cholesterol, endurance, flexibility, strength, bathroom habits and more…not how much you weigh.
  • Diet culture reinforces restriction. The entire premise of any and all diet programs is to “cut back on,” “limit,” or “stop” something for the purpose of losing weight. Becoming smaller requires less calories in (eating less) and/or burning more calories off (exercising more). Unbeknownst to most who engage in diet culture, these habits encourage many forms of disordered eating…including binging, starving and shaming.
  • Wellness will support ideas like eating intuitively (not fasting), slowing down to enjoy your food and take inventory of how it is making you feel (physically and emotionally) and using exercise to make you feel good, rather than to lose weight. If you’re not seeing AND feeling this in the language, guess what? It’s a diet.

Remember, wellness wants all of you to be well…your mind, your soul and your body. Diet culture wants you to lose weight, decrease your waistline and become the smallest version of yourself, by any means necessary. Who wants that? Not me…at least not anymore. Hopefully, you don’t either. Life is too short to spend it dieting. It’s time to live and live WELL.

Dr. Lisa N. Folden is a licensed physical therapist and mom-focused lifestyle coach. As a movement expert and women’s health advocate, Dr. Lisa works to help busy moms find their ‘healthy.’ The owner of Healthy Phit Physical Therapy & Wellness Consultants in Charlotte, NC, Dr. Folden works with clients recovering from orthopedic and neurological injuries. Additionally, she assists busy moms seeking a healthier lifestyle by guiding their food, exercise and wellness choices through optimal organization, planning strategies and holistic goal setting.
A regular contributor to online and print articles on topics related to health, wellness, self-care, motherhood, pregnancy and pain, Dr. Lisa has had the distinct honor of being featured in Oprah Magazine, Shape Magazine, Livestrong, Bustle and several others.

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