The Hidden Dangers of Toxic Diet Culture: 4 Habits That Sabotage Your Health

In the age of social media, where health trends and diet advice go viral with a click, it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of misinformation. Open TikTok and you’ll be led to believe that Jello is a superfood and eating dog food is an appropriate way to hit your protein goals (I wish I were kidding). Or search ‘#cheatday’ on Instagram; you’ll stumble upon a casual 5 million posts.

Of course, toxic diet recommendations disguised as ‘healthy choices’ have been around far longer than social media has. As a registered dietitian who strives to help people optimize their health in safe and sustainable ways, I can’t help but highlight some of the common habits that may seem healthy but can actually hurt our physical and mental health.

The Illusion of Health: 4 less-than-healthy habits that are often the result of toxic diet culture

1. Eating the Exact Same Meals Every Day

Hear me out: There is nothing wrong with routinized eating. Cooking the same meals on repeat can be a great way to take the stress out of balanced eating, especially during busy workweeks. And to a certain degree, choosing to eat the same foods over and over again makes sense. After all, we like what we like.

But eating the exact. same. meals. day in and day out for a prolonged period of time can also be a form of restriction. I often find that an unwillingness to vary one’s meals stems from diet culture-informed food fears.

For example: Perhaps you know the exact caloric content of your usual breakfast, lunch, and dinner and therefore don’t want to mix things up out of fear that you’ll consume slightly more calories (or simply not know how many calories you’ve consumed). Or maybe it has nothing to do with numbers, but certain foods feel ‘safe’ to you and anything else feels strictly off-limits.

The diet industry has convinced us that we should rely on external factors (such as calories) to tell us what and how much to eat, instead of relying on internal wisdom, like our hunger and fullness cues, our cravings, and our personal preferences.

If you find yourself unable to mix up your daily meals, I encourage you to examine why. It may well be a love for your staples. I personally eat nut butter with my breakfast every single day and wouldn’t have it any other way. But if veering away from your go-tos feels downright uncomfy or even scary, consider working with a registered dietitian and/or therapist who can help you navigate this.

2. Subscribing to the Idea of ‘Cheat Days’

I once heard someone say: ‘Diets are like relationships. If you have to cheat, it’s probably not the right one for you.’ Cue the mic drop.

Jokes aside, the concept of a ‘cheat day’—i.e. the one day of the week that you allow yourself to eat whatever you want—is anything but healthy. For one, the practice fundamentally fuels the restrict/binge cycle by encouraging us to deny ourselves the majority of the time, momentarily overeat (often to the point of physical discomfort), and then restart the cycle all over again. Cheat days are also less than ideal for our digestion and blood sugar balance.

Contrary to what diet culture may have taught you, eating patterns that encourage deprivation do not serve us long term.

3. Eating Differently Ahead of Meals Out or Events

Consider this multiple choice question: You have a big event later this evening that will likely involve heavier eating and/or drinking. What does the first half of your day look like?

  • You fit in a serious workout and scrape by on a green juice for lunch to ‘save up for later’
  • You eat just like you would on any other day
  • You say, ‘Screw it, tonight’s going to be a blowout, so I might as well start the day with a donut and pick up pizza for lunch’

Most people fall into one of the two extremes, either ‘saving up’ or ‘falling off the wagon’ in anticipation of a more indulgent meal. Spoiler alert: Neither option works well. Showing up to a meal ravenous only increases our chances of overeating (remember that restrict/binge cycle?), while subscribing to the ‘screw it’ mentality, much like a cheat day, often leaves us feeling uncomfortable and regretful.

Because diet culture basically preys on our self-loathing, it’s convinced us that one indulgent meal (or weekend or vacation) will significantly impact our body. The truth is, what and how we choose to eat—day after day, year after year—is what truly shapes our health.

To that end, I challenge you to try and eat as ‘normally’ as possible ahead of your next big dinner out. Then, once you’re sitting down at your special meal-slash-event, notice how nourishing yourself earlier in the day changes your experience at the dinner table. You may just be more present, more satisfied, and less uncomfortably stuffed by the time the check rolls around.

4. Weighing Yourself Daily

I’m not against stepping on the scale if it feels helpful for you. While some people are deeply triggered by the practice, others simply appreciate the data. There is no right or wrong here.

What I don’t recommend is checking the scale daily. That’s because day-to-day weight fluctuations are simply not meaningful. How much water you drank, whether or not you had a bowel movement, and where you are in your menstrual cycle can all cause the scale to shift. Even just the meal you had last night could momentarily tick your weight up, as excess sodium promotes fluid retention.

My point? Checking your weight every day often brings more confusion than contentment. Plus, it contributes to that same reliance on outside factors defining our health. That is, if your weight ticks up a couple of pounds but you’re eating more balanced, or lifting heavier weights, or feeling more comfortable in your body than ever before…is the number on the scale really all that valuable? Just some food for thought.

In Conclusion

It’s crucial to recognize that health is not a one-size-fits-all concept, and the habits we cultivate should be sustainable and nurturing. Embracing a more holistic approach to wellness, one that respects our bodies and their unique needs, is the key to breaking free from toxic diet culture’s grip.


Are cheat days ever okay?

Cheat days can perpetuate unhealthy eating patterns and guilt cycles. It’s better to focus on balanced eating every day.

Should I follow a strict meal plan?

While meal planning can be helpful, it shouldn’t become rigid or inflexible. Allow room for variety and enjoyment.

How often should I weigh myself?

Weighing yourself occasionally can provide data, but daily fluctuations are normal and not necessarily indicative of your overall health.

Is it okay to have food favorites?

Absolutely! Enjoying your favorite foods is important. The key is to strike a balance and incorporate a variety of nutrients.

What’s the best way to break free from diet culture?

Seeking guidance from a registered dietitian or therapist can help you develop a healthier relationship with food and your body.