50% off Strength programs

white woman with long brown hair wearing white tank top looking to the right

Diet Culture and the Patriarchy

Have you ever stopped to consider that dieting and the diet industry work to keep us busy and distracted as a result of the patriarchy?

The constant pursuit of body perfection tries to keep us spinning on a hamster wheel so that we do not have the time or energy for anything else, and that needs to stop now.

Listen To Your Body 317 Diet Culture and the Patriarchy

Click play to listen right on this page, no app needed:

Or, listen on your favorite app: iTunes (Apple Podcasts) | Spotify | Stitcher

The System Was Built To Keep Us Busy

When we are preoccupied with the scale and food restrictions, we shrink ourselves literally and metaphorically. The ideal body comes from decades of the patriarchy that is reinforced by everything around you.

The system is designed to oppress women-identifying folks, while the ideal body keeps changing.

The time, resources, and attention that pursuit of body perfection takes is just simply not worth it. It is about damn time that we get off this hamster wheel and focus on something other than our bodies.

Reinvesting Your Energy

How often do you compliment someone on their looks as the first thing you say about them?

Can you imagine how much time and energy you could get back if you started questioning the influence of the patriarchy on our endless pursuit for body perfection? 

Instead of focusing on what could go wrong or what you could miss out on if you start feeding into this internalized intersection of diet and the patriarchy, think about all the things you could gain if you stopped focusing on controlling the way you look. 

I truly believe that we were not put on this planet to work ourselves to achieve the perfect body.

Your energy, your spirit, and your magic could all be being wasted on the patriarchal view of body perfection, and you are worth so much more than that.

How are you working to stop internalizing and perpetuating the intersection of diet culture and the patriarchy? Let me know how your challenge went this week in the comments below.

In This Episode

  • Examples of ways that diet culture keeps us distracted from the world around us (6:10)
  • The role of the patriarchy and how it is woven into oppressive systems (11:50)
  • Why we need to tease apart health and weight and accept body diversity (17:42)
  • The problem with BMI and how it plays into body dysmorphia (20:00)
  • A special challenge for you to take away from this episode (23:23)


“Dieting for the sake of body perfection keeps us distracted from everything else going on in the world because it is all-consuming.” (6:15)

“We have this constantly being reinforced to us from a very young age that if we look the part if we look a certain way like these body ideals and beauty ideals, that we will be more worthy, that we will be better people. And it is absolutely a tool of the patriarchy.” (11:58)

“Because of body diversity, some people in larger bodies are in great health, just like some people in smaller bodies are in terrible health.” (19:06)

“We live in a patriarchal society, we live in a fatphobic society, we live in a white supremacist society, where all of these things are consistently reinforced. So it is not our fault.” (22:42)

“How can you take your idea of worth, your own worth or what you appreciate about someone else, and expand that? What energy would that buy you back?” (27:14)

Featured on the Show

More Than A Body by Lindsay Kite & Lexi Kite

Body Image With Bri Instagram

Follow Steph on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Pinterest

I’d really love it if you would take 1 min and leave us a rating and review on iTunes!

Related Episodes

LTYB 316: What Food Freedom Is (And Isn’t)

LTYB 214: 6 Reasons BMI is Bullshit

LTYB 313: How To Stop A Bady Body Image Day In Its Tracks with Brianna Campos

Diet Culture and the Patriarchy – FULL TRANSCRIPT

Steph Gaudreau

This is Episode 317 of the Listen To Your Body podcast. On today’s show, I’m taking a look at how dieting keeps us busy and giving you the listener a challenge at the end. The Listen To Your Body podcast has one bold mission, help change-making women like you give themselves radical permission to listen to their bodies get free with food and fitness, and channel their energy, and to be a force for good in the world.

I’m certified intuitive eating counselor, nutritional therapy practitioner and strength coach, Steph Gaudreau. This weekly show brings you discussions around dropping diet and exercise extremes, letting your inner wisdom lead, and taking up space from an inclusive body neutrality, health at every size, non-diet nutrition perspective. We’ll examine how diet culture and the patriarchy keep women busy and distracted by the quest for body perfection, and how we can break free to live life on our own terms. It’s bound to be fiery and ultimately, to make you think, hit subscribe on your favorite podcast app. And let’s dive in.

Hello, dear listener, welcome back to the podcast. Thank you for hanging out with me today. We are in episode number two of a brand new season, you’ll see the numbers continue on. But last week, I really kicked off a new season and sort of a new direction in focus, at least for the time being for the podcast.

Last week, I talked about how what food freedom is rather and what it isn’t. And if you haven’t yet heard that episode, I would cordially invite you to go back and listen to that show. Because it’s gonna frame out a lot of not only what I cover on this podcast, and the ways that you can work with me, and the things that I talk about on social media, for example, but I think it’s really important to start defining these things because we know labels can only get us so far.

How Dieting Keeps Us Busy

In this episode, today, I’m going to be talking about how dieting keeps us busy, what keeps us distracted from and why, and then end this podcast with a bit of a challenge for you to do in the next coming week. Before we go any further, though, I want to make sure that I reiterate a point that I made last week, which I think is really critical and that’s why I’m saying it again. And that point is that when I am critical of diet culture, and the way that diet culture manifests itself, especially in the diet and fitness industry, I am not being critical of the individual person out there, perhaps even you listening to this show who feels like right now, going on a diet or a food plan is the best option for you.

The first reason is, I don’t have your lived experience. And we can criticize diet culture as a tool of oppressive systems, while still respecting body autonomy. That’s number one. And then also saying you know what being, for example, a white cis-gendered, straight-sized body, individual able-bodied individual, for example, because of all of these things my lived experience will be different. And for somebody in a much larger body than me, for example, the way to for that person to feel safe in their body in this world that is so fatphobic and has so much weight stigma. Making the body smaller, might be one way to feel safer, just existing.

So I don’t have criticism for that in the least, I have so much respect for individuals and where they’re at. And on this podcast, my main goal is to present different ways of approaching food and fitness from that feminist angle, that intersectional angle, knowing that I’m not an expert in all of those things. That’s the other thing, I’m not an expert in intersectional feminism. I am not an expert in anti-racism. And there are so many incredible teachers who you can pay and compensate, who just have so many ways that you can go deeper on those topics.

But what I really feel like my main way that I can affect change is right now is as an amplifier and to bring these topics up to a community, especially the wellness community where a lot of these things are still not really being talked about. They’re still a very individualistic view of health and wellness. They’re still a very whitewashed view of health and wellness, a very elite view of health and wellness. So I expect this conversation to be highly imperfect. And yet, I’m going to do my best because I feel like that’s where I can make the most impact at this point in my business and with this podcast.

Diet Culture for Women

So today’s episode is how dieting keeps us busy. And the spoiler alert to hear or I guess the takeaway right off the top of the podcast is that dieting in terms of not I, I have a diet because I eat food and my diet is the things that I eat. But I’ve been dieting for the sake of extremes, restriction, really cutting down and slashing our food intake and denying ourselves any kind of pleasure or enjoyment. Dieting for the sake of body perfection keeps us distracted from everything else going on in the world because it is all-consuming.

I’ll give you a couple of examples. There was a time when I was on Weight Watchers. And my thoughts were preoccupied with that fucking slider with the points on it. I was always thinking about food. I was always worrying about food. I was always bargaining with myself about food. I was doing the math. I was doing the calculations. I was doing the trade-offs. This was before you could earn I think extra points for exercise, for example. But I was always trying to game the system, right? How could I get the most food for the least amount of points? How could I sneak in fun food or a treat, and kind of like ease that pressure of being on the diet?

And I will tell you what, I never went to the meetings I learned about Weight Watchers first or my grandmother in the 80s. And then from my first husband’s parents, and I never went to the meetings but I learned about the points I got a point number. I did it, I wrote it down, I weighed myself. And when I was really going through that intense period of time of doing Weight Watchers. I had no mental capacity for anything else.

The only other thing I was doing was my job. And my job at the time was teaching high school chemistry and biology. So I would have just enough energy to do my job. I was married to my first husband at this point. Very young, I was 21. And so a little bit of energy was going to the relationship. But that was about it. That was about it. Every Friday, I looked so forward to going to the Old Country Buffet. And if you know what Old Country Buffet is, it’s because you’ve been around for it.

In more recent years, it was Hometown Buffet, but I would be so excited for Friday. Because Friday was that day that I would really get to let loose, right? I’ll get to go to the buffet, I would get to eat what I wanted. It was kind of my cheat day if you will. But the preoccupation with the food and the counting and the logging and the tracking. And then the other preoccupation with the body weight, the scale, pinching these different parts of my body. Alright, pinching my stomach, pinching my thighs, and mind you looking? I am in a straight-sized body, okay.

So for me, a person whose body is in that straight-size category, even it was occupying all of my extra time and my energy. No matter what happened with the scale, the scale would go down. I would be elated. I would feel so good. And then the next day the scale would be the same or it would go up and it would ruin my day it would crush me I would feel like such a piece of shit. And I know that some people might say, well, that’s a function of how your relationship with food. And that’s yes, that is the case, right?

The Pursuit of Bodily Perfection

Your relationship with food, your beliefs about food, the framework with which you look at food, your food psychology, there’s so much involved in that. But the fact of the matter is if the standard or the I shouldn’t say standard, the ideal body was not, you know, some number in my head, where did I get that from? From decades of being reinforced by everything around me? And you?

And so the point is, that dieting and the pursuit of this bodily perfection, keeps us so fucking busy, and so distracted that we have no time and energy to do anything. We shrink ourselves, literally. And metaphorically, we pull back from living life because we think, Well, I haven’t earned the right to do this thing that I really want to do, because of the way that I look, I don’t look good enough, I don’t look the part, how are people going to see me.

And if you’re interested in that, that self-objectification angle, definitely go check out by PD redefines new book More Than a Body. That’s an incredible book, there are so many wonderful books, but that one’s a very new one. And I just wanted to mention it really quickly, about self-objectification. So we have this constantly being reinforced us since a very young age, that if we look the part, if we look a certain way, we have these body ideals and these beauty ideals, that we will be more worthy, that we will be better people. And it is absolutely a tool of the patriarchy.

I am not the world’s first and foremost expert on the role of the patriarchy and how it is interwoven in so many oppressive systems. So many systems that disenfranchise certain members of society to the benefit of others. But what I do know is that the patriarchy is a system. It’s a system of oppression, that results in particularly women-identifying folks judging their worth, and their value, and being valued based on their appearance based on our looks, so we can understand that it’s tricky.

Strength Training and Nutrition for Women

We’re in a system that is oppressive, particularly for women, identifying folks. And so the way in that system for us to gain notoriety or gain attention, or even feel fucking worthy. At the most basic level, let’s not even talk about like getting known, or, or whatever it is being famous, like, certainly, there’s, there’s beauty stuff in those areas and body stuff in those areas, without a doubt. But I’m talking about the most basic level of feeling like you have worth as a human. That is because of the influence of the patriarchy.

And then, of course, wrapped into that are things like white supremacy, racism, right, fatphobia, capitalism, as all intertwined. Here on this podcast, I can’t promise that I can give you solutions to all these things, but what I am committing to is to raise awareness of them. The other problem with this is that society is the ideal body, right? What society considers is ideal and Okay, and the goal and what we should be shooting for is extremely narrow. And it keeps changing.

That’s the fucked up part is that not only is it unachievable because of body diversity, but the ideal keeps changing. And so we have this culture of like, we’re never the goalposts keep moving. So we’re never able to kind of, quote-unquote, get there. And that is another way that we are kept small. We’re kept diminished. We are kept focusing on things that aren’t even really building true health, if we could say, Oh, well, this is about health, it’s not just about our body size.

Okay, but it’s not even helping us with that, because it’s turning us so toward an individualistic pursuit of health and wellness. Away from community, away from things that really honor our cultures and body diversity, and so on and so forth. And the fact that health is not a moral obligation, it turns a soul far away from that, that we just spin our wheels. And if we’re, if we are distracted, we can’t use our voices, we can’t use our inherent power, our strength, our ability to create connections, and lean on each other.

That keeps us isolated and siloed. And focusing on if we were just more perfect, we would be bet we would be better, people would love us more, it’d be more acceptable. And then it’s going to be some if then, if I achieve this body, then I will do that thing. It’s a way to keep us complacent. We are kept complacent.

Radical Permission to Listen to Your Body

Bring it in for a minute. If you are ready to get free with food and fitness, and I mean true freedom, not just going back on another reset. If you fall off the wagon, if you’re ready to explore radical permission to listen to your body and to live life on your terms, the Tune In membership is ready for you. Inside of this monthly membership, we learn how to drop extremes when it comes to diet and exercise.

You’ll learn how to let your inner wisdom lead, how to take up more space, and ultimately to take the energy that you were spending on the endless quest for body perfection, thanks to the patriarchy, and channel that into being a force for good. All of that happens in a supportive judgment-free community via mobile app, not on Facebook, and the doors are open for you. So if this sounds like you, please head over to StephGaudreau.com/Insider, we would love to welcome you to the tune in membership.

The other issue here is that health and weight must be teased apart. I won’t go into it on this episode. But suffice to say we have conflated weight and health to the point where even in well-meaning circles where people aren’t going out and saying you know what, I’m going to be fatphobic today. There is still such a push for weight to be a specific number, regardless of what is going on with that person’s health, not just from a health markers perspective, but their physical health, their mental health, their emotional well being, their spiritual well being, their social well being, or community connection, right?

We boil it down into a fucking number on a scale. And I’ve talked about the scale before and it was a long time ago. But suffice to say, we get those two things confused, or we say that, you know, if you’re a certain weight, then you must be unhealthy. And so we turn around say, Well, if you are a lower weight, are you automatically healthy? And people say? No, of course not. And yet our fatphobia is so entrenched, that we just cannot abide that because of body diversity. Some people in larger bodies are in great health, just like some people with smaller bodies are in terrible health. So that is also an outcome.

Skewed Perceptions of Being ‘Fat’

The third thing I wanted to mention in all of this is that the perception of being larger-bodied, or in a fat body has been so skewed. And I want to say this delicately for people who do identify as fat or for people who are in larger bodies, that a lot of the studies that have been done on us, things like BMI to get an insight into how women view themselves, in other words, do they have a dysmorphic view of their bodies? So I wanted to help did this particular statistic, and if you’re, if it’s triggering for you to hear these sort of statistics, then you may want to turn away or fast forward from this particular section of the podcast.

But there’s there was a 2012 study. And I can put the number of the PubMed ID in the show notes. It says a high percentage of college females considered themselves overweight. Despite having a BMI in the normal range. Again, I understand that overweight is a problematic term and that BMI is fucking bonk, did a whole podcast episode about that a long time ago. But it says dieting was practiced by 43% of these college women, and 32% were avoiding weight gain, despite 78% having a quote, healthy BMI. The study goes on to say women classified themselves as overweight, while only 11% fell into those BMI categories.

Again, I don’t want to sound like I’m glossing over the fact that the terms overweight or obese are a huge problem for so many reasons, or that BMI is a huge problem. But what this tells me is that we don’t even have accurate views of our body size. And we’ve mixed up. If we’ve mixed up the idea that if we’re in a certain size body, then we’re unhealthy automatically, and therefore we need to do something about it. I think that’s really telling. And of course, body dysmorphic disorder is a thing. And you can have a dysmorphic view of your body without having the full-body dysmorphia disorder.

But I think that it gets to a bit of a point, which is there are so many women out there who are in straight size bodies, much like myself and are so focused on the last five pounds, the last 10 pounds. And I understand it’s because it’s what we’re told to value and how we’re told to focus on things. And what we’re told is important. And that we make meaning about that because we live in a patriarchal society, we live in a fatphobic society, we live in a white supremacist society where all of these things are consistently reinforced. So it’s not our fault.

And yet, if we can see that we’ve been putting so much time and energy and resources and attention into body perfection. And like, why are we even doing? Is it even worth it? Why do I believe this and start questioning these things, I hope you can see that. It really keeps us on this hamster wheel where we never get anywhere. And the only thing that really does is serves to keep us quiet. And looking away because we’re so focused on ourselves.

Diet Culture is a Tool of the Patriarchy

The last point I wanted to make in this episode, and this is a bit of a challenge for you. And for me, I think about this all the time; it’s really easy to think about a system of oppression like the patriarchy. And to say diet culture is the tool of the patriarchy, and just say, See how bad it is, see how bad everybody else is seeing how bad diet culture is. And when I was first learning about white supremacy and white privilege, and white fragility, and learning from amazing teachers out there, and one of the first things that they would say is, but where is it in you?

The one thing that it’s easy to do is to point at every point in the world and say patriarchy. But where is it in us? Where is it in me as an individual? And what are the steps? What are the things that I can even do to notice it in me, just like fatphobia can be internalized these oppressive systems can be internalized? So how do we and I mean, say we as women folk here, how do we perpetuate the intersection of diet culture and the patriarchy knowingly or unknowingly? And then how do we uproot it? And I don’t have a perfect answer. So that’s the spoiler on this one.

What I’d like to challenge you to do is just notice in the week ahead, how often do you compliment someone on their looks as the first thing you say about them? Or their weight? Because obviously, beauty ideals go hand in hand with body ideals. But how often is the first thing you say about somebody? How they look? There used to be a wonderful gal at my gym. And I didn’t see her very often. And it seemed like every time I would see her the first thing she would say to me, again, super well-meaning would be, did you lose weight, you look smaller. I don’t think for a second that that was meant to be malicious, unkind, mean, or anything.

But there’s also an impact on those words. And it’s interesting to notice, how often does the conversation center on looks? How often does the conversation center on weight? We’re probably seeing fewer people in person these days. But think about how often what when I would see someone casually would the conversation go to our weight, the newest diet that we’re on? What we don’t like about ourselves picking ourselves apart? How often do we see it in films, or in TV shows, or on social media?

And we can’t always control those things. But it’s interesting to notice. Is my first gut instinct when I see someone and they do look smaller, to say something? Or do I challenge myself and say, you know, what, what else can I say that I like about this person? How can you take your idea of worth your own worth? Or what you appreciate about someone else and expand that? What energy would that buy you back? If your sole focus on body perfection, and controlling your body, and making it look a certain way, what else could you do with that energy? What else could you do with that time?

Diet Culture and the Patriarchy for Women Athletes

I really want you to noodle on this this week. One of the things that the quotes that I love from Beauty Redefines book is positive body image isn’t believing your body looks good. It is knowing your body is good, regardless of how it looks. So I think that there’s room here to just consider this week. How? How do beauty ideals or body ideals live inside of me. Or you the listener? What do you notice in the world when it comes to people’s bodies? Whose bodies get shown? Whose bodies are valued? Whose bodies are treated with respect or not? Whose bodies become the brunt of jokes? Question your motivations for what you do regarding beauty and body ideals?

Look, questioning this stuff isn’t the same thing as saying, well, this is just a license for you to treat yourself like shit. You’ll stop trying because that’s what the system wants us to think. Is that if we question or we decide to reject these ideals that will stop caring, and that’s just patently not true. So if you do enjoy makeup or you do like working out and moving your body or dancing or whatever it is, doing your hair or dressing in a certain way, there’s nothing wrong with those things. But it’s interesting to question Where does it come from? What am I trying to achieve here? Who am I doing this for?

So you can certainly like to look put together and wear certain outfits or do your nails or whatever it is and have it come from a place that is truly enjoyable for you versus trying to fit a certain mold or believing that it’s the way you should show up looking for the shoulds. And if you are someone who’s working on food freedom, it’s easy to feel like we always are thinking about what’s going to go wrong.

When you’re moving from restrictive dieting, or cleanses or resets or detoxes, it’s easy to think about what’s going to go wrong. What am I going to lose out on? And there could be a period where you feel like, gosh, the things that I used to do like gossiping with somebody about and it would just naturally go to other people’s bodies, or it’s natural to feel like you’re losing something because you’re changing the way you do things. It’s almost like going through a bit of a grieving process. And if you want to get more into body grieving, definitely check out body image with Bri Campos, she was on the podcast just about a month ago. She does a beautiful job with that.

But just think about instead of what am I going to lose? What is there to gain? By choosing to work on intuitive eating or working toward food freedom or just being more mindful with my eating? or looking at movement from a place of what can I? What can I do instead of it being about controlling the way that I look? What energy can you buy yourself back? Because you’re starting to question the patriarchy has influence on our pursuit, our endless pursuit of body perfection.

Start Rejecting Diet Culture

You are not here to, you are not put here on this planet, to try to achieve the perfect body, and then you die. That’s my personal belief. Like that’s not what we’re here for the human experience for this is just try to get the perfect body and to try to bend and mold and shape ourselves into something that we don’t even enjoy, or it takes us so much away from us just living life. That’s not what we’re here for. And maybe we don’t even think that we have an exact purpose. There’s a difference between having a like living with purpose and having a purpose. But I cannot abide that.

We’re here to get to that end of a long life. Having been so focused on our bodies and why they’re terrible. And if we just made them perfect, then we could live our lives. It’s easier said than done. But I really do believe that if we start working on these things together, and we start rejecting diet culture together, or at least questioning it, gosh, can we at least question why we do the things we do? Is it respectful and fair to people in all sizes of bodies? The way we treat ourselves in them? Is it is it right?

How can we do better with that? How can we take the focus off of just our physical container and celebrate the other things about ourselves that are fucking amazing? Because you are amazing. I think that things would be different. And that change might not happen overnight. And I see some of it happening. I think things would be very, very different.

So today in this episode, I talked about how dieting keeps us busy and distracted. As a result of the patriarchy. I talked about how society’s ideal body keeps shifting, and how our focus on health equals weight is a problem. And we have to start tearing that apart. I talked about how our perceptions of our bodies are so skewed. And I challenged you along with myself. It’s an ongoing process to continue to think about how do I perpetuate diet culture in the patriarchy? And how do I take steps to actively do something different?

That’s the end of this episode today. I would love it if you would hit the subscribe button. Tell a friend or a loved one about the listen to your body podcast. Remember also that you can grab my mindful eating tool if you’re ready to start, just start. You’re like I don’t know where to start with any of this. You can check out my mindful eating tool at StephGaudreau.com/mindfuleating okay to buy next week’s episode, and until then, be well.

Share this post

Steph Gaudreau

Hi, I'm Steph Gaudreau (CISSN, NASM-CPT)!

Nutrition and fitness coach for women, Lord of the Rings nerd, and depending on who you ask, crazy cat lady. My mission is to help you fuel for more: bigger muscles, strength, energy, and possibilities. We’ll do it with my signature blend of science, strategy…and a little bit of sass.


Purpose built for strength, fitness, and athleticism. This is a templated, app-based 12-month progressive strength program for women over 40.


Strength Nutrition Unlocked

For athletic women 40+ who want to get stronger, build muscle, boost energy, and perform better. Implement evidence-backed strategies to fuel, train, and recover smarter with the support & accountability you need.

free workout program