Toxic Diet Culture & Food Self-Righteousness

by | Sep 24, 2023

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I trust you to reject food dogma

It’s no secret that some people love to talk about how superior they are because they stick to a very hard-to-follow eating regime. This smugness can be unbearable for some, but for others goes completely unnoticed. Hmm…sounds like racism. Toxic diet culture and food self-rightousness are literally everywhere. And in my opinion, this is actually doing a lot of harm.

You can spot a smug eater in the lean 60-something white guy who preaches to his adult plus-size daughters about his workout routine, or in the ‘flawless’ 20-something bee pollen influencer who whips up a smoothie bowl – definitely no dairy – and obviously tops it with bee pollen, maca root, and chlorella. Gee, they really have it all together. 

The smug say no to dessert, adhere to an 18-hour fasting window, don’t need breakfast, don’t eat after 7, don’t need coffee, never eat sugar, don’t eat anything processed, are super happy with just salad

If these people make you feel like you’re doing something wrong, I’d like to let you off the hook.

They are the problem. 

A culture of relentless food anxiety 

America has a food problem. Turns out Americans are more anxious about the food they eat and simultaneously find less pleasure in it than any other major industrialized country. How embarrassing. We think eating is just as, if not more, dangerous than starving. Yikes. 

“Ironically, the Americans, who do the most to alter their diet in the service of health, are the least likely to classify themselves as healthy eaters.” 

Paul Rozin, PhD.

All this effort for nothing. We’re still blaming ourselves for not doing it good enough. And we’re not exactly healthier…

It’s hard to know exactly who to blame for this. The media churns out headlines, social media is FULL of functional medicine doctors talking about the harms of literally everything. I’m so sick of that anti-lectin guy I could scream. And our culture is terrified of fatness. Diet culture is toxic.

One especially harmful side-effect of this paranoia / self-righteousness perfect storm is that some (many?) of those who happen to be thin, and happen to be smug, also happen to assume folks who aren’t thin are to blame. Cue weight bias.

And just like stressing out about your job, or trying to measure up to society’s unrelenting expectations for perfect mothering, stressing out about food is not great for your hormones.

Stress raises cortisol and raises inflammation – things that following the perfect diet are supposed to fix. Food for thought.

The good news is, we can just drop the anxiety now! It’s good for you to enjoy your food, stop obsessing about the details, and prioritize the social and spiritual aspects of eating well, and eating together. 

As a side, one of the 10 principles of intuitive eating is to stop labeling foods as good or bad, to get rid of the finger-wagging food police. Yes, it’s scary. It can feel like you’ll just eat ice cream all day, every day. But in time, your body will start telling you it wants something else. I’m sure many of my past clients (or anyone who’s been through this stage) is nodding their head right now. Your body is smart.

How I think about ‘superfoods’

It’s not that food isn’t miraculous. It actually is. Blueberries, cherries, and other fruits have these compounds called anthocyanins that actually help regulate blood sugar and improve inflammation.

Fruits like citrus and apples contain pectins that can help with allergies and improve gut health.

Eating enough fiber along with probiotic foods can improve your gut bacteria, which has countless benefits for your body, including improving mood, lowering cholesterol, and regulating your hormones.

This stuff is cool.

Food is nature and humans are nature and the natural world is conspiring with us, not against us.

So yeah, adding nutrients to your diet is a great idea. But it does not need to be done in a dramatic, perfect, or self-righteous way. Don’t let it define you. You are more interesting than that. 

And try not to let the fact that it might not lead to weight loss prevent you from doing it. I know this is a loaded statement, especially coming from a straight-sized person with a considerable amount of privilege.

But here’s what I want you to know:

This is not your fault. The system that has been telling you to lose weight since you were a child, or scaring you into overly controlling you body, could have made eating well feel extremely loaded for you.

Folks who have tried to lose weight time and time again and it hasn’t worked often have a complicated relationship with eating “healthy”. This is because it’s nearly impossible for most people to stick to a rigid weight loss plan. Once your body’s starvation and deprivation protection system kicks in, you stop starving yourself, and you may binge. And blame yourself. That would be a pretty normal reaction, believe it or not.

Connection over control

I spoke of one of my favorite food writers recently, M.F.K. Fisher. I know that if I were able to engage her in conversation about this, she would delight. The way this woman speaks about the place where any person and any food collide is incredibly poetic. And so I just wanted to put this here.

One damn good sauce

When I talk to my clients about ways to improve their diets, it comes in little tidbits instead of meal plans, long lists of things to avoid, and judgment. Sometimes I suggest folks play around with adding lacto-fermented food to their repertoire and one extremely delicious way to do that is with miso.

This is sauce or a dressing. A dip or a drizzle. It’s perfect on side salads when the main dish is something like chicken and rice (go ahead and put it on the chicken and rice too). It’s so savory and tangy drizzled on roasted vegetables (would be great on brussel sprouts I bet), and the perfect sauce for some soba or udon noodles, snap peas, avocado, and radishes. The world is your miso.

Adapted from NYT Cooking


  • 1 tablespoon white miso (this is the most mild and adaptable)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar (you could also do 2 tablespoons vinegar OR lime if you don’t have both)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (or 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger)
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed or avocado oil (or olive oil)
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt (I always choose whole milk, but you do you)
  • pinch of cayenne

*** honestly, you could just do white miso and lime juice and it would be great, so do try this too ***


Put in a jar and shake, pour on all your goodies to your heart’s content. It’ll keep for about a week, maybe 10 days.

You are doing enough

Many people I talk to, who are making huge strides to eat more fiber, be more mindful and balanced, and more prepared to eat well throughout the week, still feel like they’re not doing enough. Shouldn’t they be making the marinade themselves? What about superfoods??!! Isn’t buying pre-chopped cauliflower bad?

No, darling, No it is not. 

If you try to follow all the nutrition guidelines, toxic diet culture demands, and magic cures out there, you will lose your mind. I think this particular brand of tmbi (too much bad information) can create a real sense of overwhelm.

Because the bar can feel so high, giving up can feel easier. And I get it! If you are unhappy with the way you are eating, try and take just one tiny step forward. Remember that those people who make gorgeous beet hummus or make their own almond milk might not have another job. They also might have an assistant, a camera person, and an advertising budget. 

Some people are going to be more interested in cooking from scratch. It’s okay if you are not one of those people. That doesn’t mean you don’t care about your health. You have other hobbies. Spend time doing those. You are a wonderful person with a whole life to live. 

Try focusing on connection

I know it’s anti-American, but I think that if you choose to enjoy your food more, and worry less, you’d be doing a really good thing for yourself.

Eating well doesn’t have to mean eating clean, or eating all whole foods. It could mean eating with love and intention. Prioritizing the experience of the meal, like lessening distractions or putting your takeout on real plates.

  • Intentionally eat meals with people you love – with an eye toward connection. And if the person you eat with is yourself, wonderful. Love yourself.
  • Check out this L&L from last month about how to love yourself the way bell hooks thinks you should. Have a date with your dinner.
  • Buy the fancy cheese to have as an appetizer before dinner at home, make your favorite family dish from childhood.

I think these moments are so deeply calming and soothing, they might just counteract the headlines. Sign up for my biweekly newsletter, Lunch & Liberation, to get notes like this delivered to your inbox twice a month.

About Emily

Emily Van Eck, MS, RDN specializes in intuitive eating, mindfulness-based eating practices, embodiment with food and movement, and healing from years of weight-bias and disordered eating. She helps womxn find balance, consistency, and peace with their eating habits so they can feel confident to get outta their heads and into their bodies. Emily is a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor with a master’s degree in nutrition science. Read more about her here.

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emily on couch intuitive eating counselor near me

Hey there, I´m Emily

A non-diet and weight-inclusive dietitian, nutrition therapist, and body image healer. Here on the blog, I share recipes, tips on living a healthy life without the oppressive, fear-mongering diet culture rhetoric, and get fired up about the subtle ways the patriarchy has harmed womens’ health. I want us all to be free to own our appetites, our desires, and eat really, really well. 


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