Start an Anti-Diet Culture Movement In Your Own Life – A Conversation with Jessica Setnick


Photo courtesy of My Signature Nutrition

McKenna Christy, Contributing Writer, Columbus OH


You’re a unique individual. If you can agree with that, I will get more specific.  You’re an individual whose needs for proper bodily function differ from those of your best friend or the social media influencer you adore. 

This just makes sense because each of our genetics are different. However, we are pulled too closely on a string by diet culture for this reasonable point to suffice my persuasion of you to not attempt a diet. It doesn’t magically fix any negative body image you are constantly at war with or how the market thrives off of such. 

We’re still climbing an uphill battle, so trust me, I know that preaching about how we’re all going to look different no matter what isn’t the end all solution. And so maybe the answer is not to try to cause the downfall of the diet culture empire. That’s okay, because the longer and more frequently we remind and respect each other’s varying needs to be healthy, the closer we do get to pulling out of toxic dieting messages. 

Jessica Setnick best put it when she said “it takes a long time for a movement to get going… changing hearts and minds takes a long time.” 

Setnick is a registered dietician, certified eating disorder expert, and is the co-founder of the International Federation of Eating Disorder Dieticians (IFEDD). She has also written the books The Eating Disorder Clinical Pocket Guide and Eating Disorders Boot Camp. 

We had a conversation digging into why we pursue diets, especially as adolescents, despite the health risks they can cause. Life would be easier if there was only one answer to this question but she informed me of the range of possibilities. 

Setnick mentioned that the first way to understanding the health risks we take to change our appearance stems from the desire to find your community, the people who you want to fit in with. 

“If your group is really focused on appearance, and if you live in the United States of America, you’re living in that group. Then it’s really tempting to want to change your appearance to sort of fit in with whatever the society norms are.”

The other reason is the cause of needing to fit in based on your appearance. Not surprisingly, it’s because of money….there’s so much of it to be profited off of insecurity. According to Market Research, “the U.S. weight loss market is now worth a record $66 billion,” for medical and retail products. 

“There’s always something, in other words, the message of this consumer advertising has to be there’s something wrong with you so that we can sell you a product that will make you better,” said Setnick. 

Since companies have gotten smarter at convincing consumers to purchase these products, we’ve become easily blinded to how stupid they are, and it’s never our fault. Weight loss companies, you know who you are (I hate you!) but that’s a story for another day. 

There are days where you aren’t immune to dieting messages that look you up and down until you question if you’re being told the truth. The truth being, this diet, weight loss technique, or product could be what’s best for me. 

“I’m a dietician and I know the facts. But if I read something that says ‘this food is really bad for you,’ on some days I might have this reaction that’s like ‘oh my god I can’t believe that celebrity said that, they’re sending really bad messages.’ And on other days I might have this momentary thought of like, ‘maybe I shouldn’t be eating that,’” mentioned Setnick. 

Evidently, our vulnerability to diet culture varies day by day with sometimes no reason at all. Each person’s susceptibility cannot be measured unfortunately. Setnick gave an example of two people losing weight in hopes it will gain them more friends at a new school. One might lose weight and notice no change in their social circle and move on while the other sees the same result. The difference is the second person thinks they just need to lose even more weight and then new friends will come flocking. 

“The second one is going to develop an eating disorder. So we really should be sending a message that weight loss is like smoking. It can be addictive and you shouldn’t even try it, but that’s totally not the message out there in society.” 

While the anti-diet culture movement continues to slowly strengthen, there are techniques to put in practice to avoid being overly drawn to dieting influences. The one that sounds the easiest requires the most will power: to scroll and analyze with your non-emotional brain when you come across toxic dieting messages.

Think to yourself “I don’t need your bullshit.” Also “you can watch it as an educated consumer and pick it apart in your mind. Look at it, watch it, but not in a sense of like “oh I’m interested in this product.” In a sense like, let me see how I can poke holes in this,” said Setnick. 

This takes practice. As someone in recovery from an eating disorder, I’m aware this is a learned process and not a snap of the fingers innate quality. However, when someone reminds me of the power I hold over the harmful information presented on my phone, I know that diet culture is toxic and nothing good can come of it for young impressionable teenagers. 

“That’s the thing, information can be used as a tool or a weapon. If someone stands on a scale and finds out their weight and is like oh that’s interesting, [and] moves on. It’s just information.” But when addressing weight, bodies, and food, “those topics are so emotionally loaded and we’ve been sort of pre-prepared to already think we’re doing something wrong,” explained Setnick.

That’s why although we have a ways to go before dismantling diet culture and our role in it, a manageable step to take is remembering how your individuality means that healthy for you looks different from any other person. You don’t deserve to restrict your needs when the outcome is harmful and dangerous, especially while you’re still growing. 




Photo courtesy of My Signature Nutrition


Courtesy of healthline. Quote by Alanna Massey for SELF.