6 Clear Signs to Distinguish Between Diet Culture and True Wellness

May 06, 2024

It can be difficult to disentangle diet culture from wellness. Now more than ever, I see diet culture infiltrating our conversations about health, the advice we get (even from medical professionals) and the marketing messaging we are drowning in 24/7 (the average person is exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day). This can make it very confusing and hard to understand what healthy habits actually are. and how to take care of your health in a sustainable, healthy, and essential way.

It is so important to learn to separate the two and focus on what truly matters for our health and well-being. So here’s the six recommendations I give my clients to help make it easier to distinguish between diet culture and true wellness. It helps to start with each one’s definition.


Diet culture is a term used to describe the set of beliefs and values in our society that place a strong emphasis on thinness and weight loss and equate it with health and beauty, often promoting restrictive eating patterns and weight loss at any cost.

Diet culture often involves:

  • an obsession with counting calories,

  • eliminating certain foods or food groups (gluten free, vegan, paleo, no carbs, etc)

  • relying on external rules to govern eating behaviors.

Diet culture can be harmful to physical and mental health, leading to disordered eating patterns, a negative body image, and a preoccupation with weight and appearance. It is almost universally perpetuated by media and advertising, as well as by certain health and wellness industries that profit from promoting restrictive diets and weight loss products. In short, it’s everywhere.


True wellness can be defined as a state of overall well-being, encompassing physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual health. It involves taking an active role in maintaining and improving one's health and making choices that support a healthy and fulfilling life, not just a thin body.

You will see an emphasis on:

  • not just about the absence of disease, but rather about achieving a balanced and fulfilling life that allows for growth and personal development.

  • encouragement to adopt healthy habits beyond diet and exercise, including mental health, stress management, personal growth, self compassion, and social connections.

  • an increase in the awareness of and addressing of any physical or mental health conditions.

Ultimately, true wellness is about living a life that is meaningful, purposeful, and joyful, and will give advice that supports the whole person.


The best way to determine if a message or piece of health advice is diet culture or wellness is to hold it up to these six lenses:


Wellness is a holistic approach to health that encompasses all aspects of an individual's life, including physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Diet culture, on the other hand, focuses solely on the food and body / body size.


Wellness emphasizes self-care and self-love, while diet culture is often characterized by shame, guilt, and a negative self-image.


Wellness allows for flexibility and balance, recognizing that everyone is unique and has different needs. Diet culture is often very rigid and promotes strict rules and guidelines for eating and weight loss.


The intention of wellness is to promote overall health and happiness, while the intention of diet culture is often to achieve a specific body shape or size.


Wellness encourages long-term habits and behaviors that can be sustained over time, while diet culture often relies on short-term fixes and quick fixes that are not sustainable in the long term. They are most likely extreme and focused on achieving things fast.


Wellness approaches health and wellness from a positive, non-judgmental perspective, while diet culture is often filled with judgment and criticism of bodies and food choices.


Many companies have realized people are more aware of the downfalls of diet culture, so they are taking phrases and messaging that sound like wellness and look like wellness on the outside, but are still giving diet advice on the inside. You’ll see things like "we teach you that self-care is important" or "learn how to take care of yourself" to make their products appear to promote wellness, but the actual advice is still focused on weight loss or your body.

To spot the difference, it's important to look beyond the marketing slogans and buzzwords. Here are some tips to help you:

  1. Do Your Research: Look up the company's history and mission statement. See if they have a history of promoting diet culture or if they truly value whole person wellness.

  2. Trust Your Gut: If a product or company feels too good to be true, it probably is. Listen to your intuition and don't be swayed by marketing hype.

  3. Seek Out Professional Help: If you're struggling to spot the difference between marketing and real wellness, seek out professional help. Registered dietitians and therapists can help you navigate the confusing world of wellness marketing and find true whole person wellness.

The line between diet culture and wellness is blurry when they start to sound like each other, but they lead to two different places. One is freedom and the other is restriction. Wellness is always a more holistic and positive approach to health that promotes self-care and self-acceptance, while diet culture is focused on strict rules and negative self-image and unrealistic expectations. When you begin to use these six lenses above you’ll start to distinguish between diet culture messages and wellness messages more easily.