A Deep Dive into Diet Culture with author and therapist Judith Matz on the Psychology of Diets

Just a quick content warning: on this episode and in this post, we’re going to be discussing eating disorders and diets. If that’s not a topic you’re ready to listen to, skip this one and come back. We get it.

We’re in our second week of our deep dive into diet culture on our podcast, #WeGotGoals. And this week, we’re speaking to Judith Matz, LCSW, ACSW. In terms of our deep dive, think of this episode as an intro to what diet culture is and a 101 on how to get out of it.

Judith Matz is a therapist and nationally recognized speaker on the topics of diet culture, binge eating, emotional eating, body image, and weight stigma. She has her own journey with dieting and she shares on the episode how she inevitably broke up with her scale and made a professional choice to dedicate her professional life to undoing what diets have done to human beings.

Matz is the co-author of the books The Diet Survivor’s Handbook and Beyond a Shadow of a Diet. She also co-created two card decks that are meant to make an anti-diet and body positive lifestyle more accessible – The Making Peace with Food card deck and the Body Positivity card deck. 

We looked to her for her expertise in diets and diet culture for us. Read that as, I asked the stupid questions so you don’t have to.

You’ll hear her define a diet as “Any time you make a change in how you eat for the purpose of weight loss.” I’ve been reading anti-diet books in public this month as I prepare for these interviews, and I’ve heard from a lot of people about their systems that aren’t diets – they’re more like do’s and don’ts. According to Matz, your system is a diet if you’re doing it to lose weight.

And you’ll also hear her define diet culture, which might as well be, “well, it’s in the air you breathe,” but for the purpose of this conversation, it’s “a belief that thinness is a moral virtue and thinness is health. Therefore, it’s worth doing anything to achieve that status and when you get to that status, you’ll be happier and healthier.”

So, as we dive deeper, I’m convinced that diet culture is basically the matrix – our minds are so occupied with the illusion in front of us that if we just lose weight, we’ll have the life of our dreams. We’re so occupied, in fact, that we’re willing to ignore the fact that you’ll hear from several experts this month on diets and diet culture. Diets simply do not work.

As Matz puts it, there’s only a 3-5% chance that a diet will work – and there isn’t a single program or plan that has the research to support sustained weight loss over 2-5 years. 

Resources:

Past episodes in this month’s deep dive:

Here are some of the frequently asked questions I’ve heard since talking about this project as well as some resources (you’ll also hear other experts speak to these this month):

  • What’s a diet? Any time you make a change in how you eat for the purpose of weight loss.
  • What is diet culture? A belief that thinness is a moral virtue and thinness is health. Therefore, it’s worth doing anything to achieve that status and when you get to that status, you’ll be happier and healthier.
  • What exactly is obesity? And should you use that word when talking about someone else’s weight? In short, it’s complicated, based on the BMI *which has its own problems* and no. Here’s more research on the words we use and weight stigma.
  • How do we know what our set point is? Ugh, it’s complicated. But, you’l hear Dr. Bacon speak about how a body behaves when below it. (see the Keys’ study “During the semi-starvation phase [about 1,500 calories a day] the changes were dramatic. Beyond the gaunt appearance of the men, there were significant decreases in their strength and stamina, body temperature, heart rate and sex drive. The psychological effects were significant as well. Hunger made the men obsessed with food. They would dream and fantasize about food, read and talk about food and savor the two meals a day they were given.”) 
  • How are we supposed to eat? That is literally the question that started this all and you’ll hear more specific answers to this question throughout the month (From both Judith Matz and Dr. Alexis Conason, who you’ll hear from next week), but when I spoke with Dr. Conason, it was clear that the question itself was rooted in diet culture. Damn it. Our bodies have cues that we’ll speak to in the coming weeks that we’ve conditioned ourselves to ignore.

Let us know!

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About Jeana Anderson Cohen

Jeana Anderson Cohen is the founder and CEO of asweatlife.com a premiere wellness media destination that creates content and community to help womxn live better lives and achieve their goals. Before founding health-focused companies Jeana earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison - and fresh out of college she worked on the '08 Obama campaign in Michigan. From there, she created and executed social media strategies for brands. aSweatLife fuses her experience in building community and her passion for wellness. You can find Jeana leading the team at aSweatLife, trying to join a book club, and walking her dog Maverick.