Diet: A dangerous 4-letter-word

These days one can’t go anywhere without hearing nutrition chatter. You’ve probably heard things like:

  • “Don’t eat gluten.”
  • “Eat more coconut oil.”
  • “Fat is bad.”
  • “Bananas are too high in sugar.”
  • “Eat clean”
  • “(Insert food rule here).”

These and many other rigid suggestions are being tossed around casually and though each statement might seem a bit different they all portray the same underlying message that what you are eating is wrong and you should be doing it differently.  Harsh, isn’t it? Consider yourself introduced to diet mentality and the diet paradigm. More formally, the diet paradigm includes patterns of eating that are:

Inflexible, quantitative, prescriptive, rigid, perfection-seeking, good or bad foods, rules, deprivation, time-based, fear-driven, guilt-inducing, shaming, body hatred, hunger, struggle, rationalising, temptation, thought-consuming, punishing (Willer, 2013).

If the way you are eating and your relationship with food feels like the above, then it is diet behavior. You are not alone in thinking the above is what you should do to “be healthy.” We live in a diet culture where dieting to lose weight or change body shape has been normalized. Our society promotes weight loss diets, puts thinness on a pedestal and advocates the belief that weight loss is the way to improve self-esteem, become respected, feel effective and in control, and avoid criticism (Mehler, 2010).  The messages, strict weight loss strategies, rule driven diets, and marketing that saturates us with these ideas come from a 60 billion dollar industry. You read that correctly, the diet industry is worth sixty billion dollars. The pushers of  “Weight is the problem and dieting is the answer” are making bank off of our insecurities and drive for thinness. That doesn’t sit well with me.

Furthermore, while this industry rakes in the dough and promotes the diet paradigm as the “norm,” clinical practice and research tell us that these messages and eating patterns are dangerous. Eating disorder specialist, Phillip Mehler, MD, and Psychiatrist, Arnold Anderson, MD, (2010) state that dieting is the most common contributing factor to eating disorders. Wow. Dieting also leads to being obsessed with food, nutritional deficiencies, increased psychological stress, impaired social functioning, increased intake of substances, food and body preoccupation and distraction from other personal health goals, reduced self esteem, weight stigmatization, discrimination, weight gain, and – because it is worth mentioning again – an increase in the risk of developing disordered eating.

You haven’t failed your diet, diet culture has failed you!

For more information check out the links below and stay tuned for Courtney’s future follow-up posts including topics such as non-diet nutrition and the Health at Every Size approach.  If you are looking to further explore your relationship with food and your body seek out a non-diet dietitian or therapist that specializes in eating disorder treatment.




Mehler, P. S., & Anderson, A. E. (2010). Eating disorders: A guide to medical care and  

     complications. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press.

Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2017). The intuitive eating workbook: 10 principles for nourishing a

     healthy relationship with food. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Willer, F. (2013). The non-diet approach guidebook for dietitians: A how-toguide for applying the non-diet approach to individual dietetic

     counseling. Raleigh, NC: Lulu Publishing Ltd.

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