Let’s Get Real Here: Signs that You’re Still Listening to Diet Culture

You are preoccupied with how “healthy” or “unhealthy” a specific food is

Of course it’s awesome how many individuals are incorporating more nutrient dense foods into their lives. What ISN’T in fact awesome is how this incorporation seems to have recalled and prohibited any other food that doesn’t fit into the “healthy” category. And so I ask: is restricting specific foods even all that healthy in the first place?

Personally, I LOVE fueling myself with as many nutritious foods as possible. It’s what gives me sustained energy throughout the day, and I generally just feel a greater ability to concentrate at work. That being said, the benefits of nutritious foods are not intended to remove from any and all types of socially defined “unhealthy” foods.

One can’t argue that asparagus has more nutritious benefits than a candy bar. However, what this fails to recognize are other types of health benefits; primarily, mental health benefits. If we restrict ourselves from other food groups, we’re setting up the notion that food is attached to “good” and “bad” labels; and we, too, then become “good” or “bad” should we choose to eat the specific food.

Becoming preoccupied with the health content of food only leads us to restrictive eating patterns, and food guilt should we eat something that is “unhealthy.”


Our bodies are incredible at telling us what they actually need, IF we listen. This past weekend, I was lacking in the veggie department. I went out for a burger and fries Saturday, followed by eggs, bacon, and toast the next morning for brunch, and sushi for dinner. I had no greens for more than 24 hours. First off, I’m still surviving. Secondly, I began to really crave a salad! While I 100% enjoyed everything I ate, my body was telling me it needed some greens. All foods fit, and all foods are allowed in a balanced lifestyle.

Another reminder:

You do not need to justify eating the pizza or the burger. To anyone. Ever. You do not have to have an externally motivated reason to have eaten ____[some food]____. You have an endless amount of permission to eat the food that makes you feel physically and mentally healthy, in whatever way you define the word.

If you feel you are struggling with health obsession, you may be experiencing symptoms of Orthorexia. Get support for yourself.

Counting is still involved

This means that there is still some level of thought involved that “if I stop counting [macros, calories, points, WHATEVER IT MAY BE] then I will be out of control and lose control of my weight.” If you find yourself pulling out your phone immediately following a meal to input your calories on a calorie counting app, this is still a diet. If you find yourself choosing NOT to order the appetizer (you actually really want) out of fear of going over your daily calories, this is still a diet.

A reminder:

A calorie counting application is not aware of your actual hunger. By calculating a day’s calorie count, it’s ignoring the possibility that you’re a female who has a menstrual cycle once a month (and therefore has an increased appetite). It ignores the very likely chance that hunger can vary day by day.

Another reminder:

Intuitively eating doesn’t mean just eating endlessly and “losing control” as it so often is perceived to be. Intuitively eating is actually the opposite. It’s getting in touch again with hunger cues and fullness cues. Rather than relying on external restrictions to tell you how much you’re “allowed” to eat in a day, you learn to rebuild trust with your body to eat when hungry and stop when full.

You adopt new “lifestyles of eating,” for reasons that have to do with control of your weight vs ethical reasons

Hey, if you are all for animal welfare, by all means: take the [food] changes necessary to fully support. However, if becoming vegan or vegetarian are completely unrelated to ethical reasons, it’s still a diet. If we’re adopting a lifestyle that promotes the restriction of a certain food group because we perceive it as a way to lose weight or control our intake, then it is still a diet.

Of course, this is all individualized. What I mean is that you have every right to make food lifestyle changes and choices that are dependent on where you’re at mentally. If you’re recovering from an ED or actively still engaging in behaviors, I’d highly encourage you to consider revisiting the idea of veganism or vegetarianism at a later time when you’ve reached a stronger sense of recovery and stability.

A reminder:

You are no more of a good or bad person depending on what eating lifestyle you choose to adhere to. Food is often (stereotypically) associated with certain types of exercise. Just because you body build doesn’t mean you must only eat a high protein high fat (keto) diet. Just because you are a yogi doesn’t mean you must drink fruit and veggie smoothies on the reg. You are of course allowed to eat WHATEVER sort of food you’d like; I just encourage you to ask yourself… why? Is it because you enjoy it, or is it for other reasons that adhere to diet culture?

You have a list of avoided foods

Otherwise known as “fear foods.” The majority of the time, certain foods are avoided because we’re led to believe that we should be avoiding them. Why? Because a new diet fad or trend tells us so. And these messages are delivered over and over again in magazines, on TV, on social media, literally everywhere, and so consistently that we come to believe them.

If foods are avoided because they are claimed to be unhealthy, or to lead to weight gain, or are “bad” for us, then we are still adhering to diet culture messages.

There is a difference between turning down the cake because you truly don’t like it, versus declining the cake out of fear of “what it’ll do to my body.” Side note: I love cupcakes but hate cake. Go figure.

A reminder:

Diet trends and fads are changing constantly. Seriously though. Remember the time that fat was given a bad rep? And now the keto diet (high in protein and fat) is praised? Yeah. I remember that too. Can you trace back to the time that fruit was claimed to be linked with weight gain? Yep, wish I could say I didn’t remember that one. Unfortunately I fell into that trap for a year and missed out on so many bananas. 

Point is: the only thing consistent is our ability to fuel our bodies with what we KNOW makes them feel well. Diet culture is generalized: it is never person-specific, and it is assuming that what “works” for one person will work for everyone. Hence, a list of avoided foods is created.

Another reminder:

Is it really sustainable to avoid food groups all together? When we talk about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, we also have to talk about realistic events, situations, and experiences that are likely to come up for you. Is it realistic or sustainable to turn down  your daughter’s cake on her 8th birthday? Is it realistic to avoid the non-gluten-free pancakes your significant other surprised you with for breakfast? Having a list of avoided foods only leads to missed opportunities and memories. 

You have time restrictions on when you’re “allowed” to eat

Cue the stereotypical image of a dieter who stops eating before 8 pm because diet culture told her to. Cue the stereotypical image of the #fitspo friend who has to eat every 3 hours on the dot to ensure #gainz. Also, cue in my past self who had to eat at exact times throughout the day while going through eating disorder recovery. Anything even 5 minutes past the hour wasn’t permitted.

If you spend your days planning the hour that you are allowed to eat your next meal, this is still living according to diet culture. If you do not honor your hunger cues because “no carbs after dark,” this is still a diet culture message.

A reminder:

Your body doesn’t know what time it is! Seriously though. Think about traveling to a new country or state with a different time zone. Your body does NOT change just because the time has changed! A day is 24 hours long; which means you have 24 hours to fuel yourself. And yes, even during sleep. You bet your bum I eat a nice carb filled snack before bed to ensure a sound sleep (and so I’m not a hungry asshole in the morning). 

You avoid eating at restaurants or social plans

For whatever reason, diet culture decided that eating at restaurants is automatically a “bad” thing for our health. And so we may find ourselves cancelling plans or eating before going out as a way to avoid the menu of death (exaggeration). This is still diet culture. This is still avoiding things that we otherwise would really enjoy or value doing, just for the sake of “maintaining our health.”

A reminder:

We have the ability to choose what our body needs in the moment, as well as what will satisfy us the most. If you’re really craving pizza, no amount of sandwiches will fulfill that craving. And no, this doesn’t mean every single time we’re at a restaurant we’re guaranteed to order a burger and fries. Likewise, it doesn’t mean that we’re always going to be ordering the salad. It’s a balance between the two. And what you ate today doesn’t need to impact what you decide to have tomorrow. Each day is separate from the next, which also means you may have different cravings and different nourishment needs each day. 

You rely on overexercise or restriction as a way to “redeem calories”

Raise your hand if you fell victim to the idea that calories could be redeemed. Yep, both of my hands are up. There will always be events that may have a bit more food present, and most likely a bit more consumption. AKA: every single holiday throughout the year. Personally, I now choose counting my memories versus counting calories. But I can understand completely how hard it is to fully enjoy holidays or other social events when we’re encouraged to “healthify” every dish, or to always choose “light.” There’s the constant message that less is better.

And so, when we do “over indulge,” we are left feeling like the only possible way to “get back on track” is to restrict or to overexercise as a way to make up for the extra calories we’ve consumed. I think you know what I’m about to say, but I’ll still say it anyway: this is diet culture speaking.

A reminder:

Sure, you CAN go “burn off” the extra calories you ate. Sure, you can spend another hour in the gym. But, my question to you is: what can you be doing instead? Likewise, remember that your body has a natural ability to just reset itself – and without the use of juice cleanses or detoxes. GASP.

Our bodies are pretty incredible; my guess is that following Thanksgiving dinner, your body naturally will urge you to eat some greens, may even eat a little lighter naturally (out of cravings/needs, versus wanting to restrict). This is your body speaking to you, and all it’s asking back is that your listen and honor it. 



Nicole works as a life and wellness coach through Nicole Leigh Coaching (www.nicolenessLPC.com) Nicole strives to empower women with similar struggles to redefine and re-identify themselves, separate from their eating disorder. Through her work, she empowers women to use balance in every aspect of life to maintain lifelong recovery. When Nicole isn't blogging or counseling, she loves spending her time traveling, eating burgers, and surrounding herself with positive people.