International No Diet Day: Ways diet culture manifests in the workplace

Posted in : Blog
Posted on : May 6, 2024

by Miriam Chiasson

Did you know that May 6 is International No Diet Day? It was first observed in 1992 when British feminist Mary Evans Young, who had struggled with body image and eating disorders her entire life, invited her friends to a picnic to “Ditch that Diet”. Evans Young was dedicated to making the event an international holiday. The very next year in 1993, women in various countries joined in to celebrate what quickly became International No Diet Day. It is now a global movement, and an integral part of the National Eating Disorders Association’s campaigns.[i]

International No Diet Day aims to challenge diet culture, celebrate body diversity, and encourage people to shift their focus away from dieting and shaming themselves towards other things that can improve their lives in different ways. also provides a great opportunity to reflect on how diet culture manifests in our workplaces. Workplaces are microcosms of our society, and dominant narratives are therefore present. Diet culture is no exception.

Diet culture is a societal notion according to which fatness is always bad and unhealthy, and one’s weight should be a constant focus. It insists that:

  • People must control their bodies, particularly their food intake, by constantly being aware of and feeling guilty about their eating habits,
  • Eating habits and foods are either always good or always bad,
  • The individual is always responsible if weight loss attempts fail, because they must not be doing it right or trying hard enough.[ii]

However, reality is much more complex (check out CCDI’s blog post on diet culture myths), and diet culture can in fact be detrimental to our wellbeing.

Diet culture shows up in the workplace in different ways. Some ways are very direct, with discrimination in hiring, a pay gap between fat people and -sized people that affects fat women disproportionately, bullying, and harsher discipline. Some are more subtle.[iii] Here are some examples of how weight stigma and diet culture manifest in the everyday life of workplaces.

Diet talk at work

For fat people, diet talk at work can be a tricky situation to navigate. In fact, some fat people feel uncomfortable eating in front of others. They might face comments about their food choices that reinforce diet culture and weight stigma, or hear such comments directed at others and even at the speakers themselves.

Fat people might face comments like:

  • “Are you sure you should be eating that?”, implying that their food choices are unhealthy and that, because they are fat, they should not eat unhealthy foods.
  • “Are you trying to slim down? Good for you!”, suggesting that there are correct food choices, and that these choices are necessarily made to control or reduce one’s weight.
  • “You’re resisting temptation, that’s great!”, if a fat person decides to not partake in treats to celebrate birthdays or project milestones, which suggests that it is commendable to avoid eating certain foods viewed as bad.

Straight-sized people might also hear these comments. Then, the implication remains that fatness is bad, and we should do what we can to avoiding becoming fat. These comments marginalize fat employees and reinforce toxic diet culture tenets in the workplace.[iv]

Let’s remember that there are no universally bad foods. All food provides nutrients. We may choose to eat because it is enjoyable. Eating can also be a social behaviour, such as sharing a meal with friends or coworkers, taking part in a celebration, or feeling a connection to our heritage and loved ones. There are many valid reasons to eat all sorts of food.

Also, other people’s eating habits are none of our business. We should simply avoid commenting on what others are eating or not eating. Moreover, diet talk can be triggering for folks recovering from disordered eating. We might cause more harm than good with diet talk.

Avoiding diet talk contributes to a more inclusive workplace, where everyone feels safe to make the dietary choices that fit their own needs.

Comments on coworkers’ appearance and changes in weight

In addition to diet talk, the workplace is rife with comments on coworkers’ appearance and changes in weight, particularly weight loss. Coworkers who lost weight are praised, celebrated, and hailed as examples to follow. Others might express jealousy or bemoan their own failed attempts to lose weight and ask the coworkers who lost weight what their “secret” is.

While people may not comment on someone’s weight gain to them directly, people might talk about them in their absence. They might use euphemisms like, “She’s a little plumper than before,” or question their eating habits, like “Looks like he’s been pretty indulgent lately.” Well-meaning coworkers may suggest weight loss tips to their “plumper” friends. Not-so-well-meaning coworkers may engage in harassment or bullying.

Whether they are compliments or jeers, well-meaning or not, subtle or overt, and whether they are directed at fat people or straight-sized people, such comments reinforce diet culture and weight stigma in the workplace. They create environments where fat employees may feel inferior, ashamed and less-than.

Let’s remember that we don’t know about other people’s health or what they are going through. Thin people are not necessarily healthy and weight loss is not necessarily a good thing. Fat people are not necessarily unhealthy and weight gain is not necessarily a bad thing. Also, many elements impact someone’s weight beyond eating and exercise habits. For example:

  • Someone may be struggling with disordered eating or may be recovering from disordered eating. Comments about weight may encourage people to continue or deepen their disordered eating, or cause feelings of shame, guilt, or thoughts of relapse for people in recovery.
  • Someone may be dealing with an illness causing weight loss or weight gain. For example, treatments for cancer can cause weight loss, and entering remission may cause weight gain.
  • Someone may be facing personal struggles, such as loss of a loved one, a breakup or financial difficulties, which may impact their mental and physical health, including changes in weight.

Finally, our coworkers’ appearance and changes in weight are not ours to comment on or ascribe moral value to. If we want to compliment our coworkers, let’s compliment something over which they have control, such as their achievements or their character. Looking beyond appearance can help us connect with others at deeper, more meaningful levels.[v]

Competitiveness around health and wellness

Another way diet culture manifests in the workplace is with an atmosphere of competitiveness around health and wellness. Diet culture moralizes health and weight and encourages us to judge ourselves and others based on weight. This leads us to make assumptions about our coworkers and to compare ourselves with others. While we may not always voice these assumptions and comparisons, they nevertheless impact our perceptions of others and of ourselves, and our behaviours.

Employers sometimes reinforce this atmosphere of competitiveness and judgement. Many employers offer workplace wellness programs as part of their benefits package. These programs can include free gym passes or exercise classes, meal plans or wellness challenges. These programs are sometimes presented in a prescriptive manner, by not only encouraging people to participate, but also by insisting people should participate and that failing to participate is shameful.

Wellness challenges particularly feed competitive and judgemental attitudes. These challenges can include:

  • weight loss challenges, where individuals or teams compete to lose the most weight or meet a weight loss goal.
  • fitness challenges, where people must go to a number of fitness classes or exercise for a certain number of hours.
  • healthy eating challenges, where people must make recipes or eat certain foods perceived as healthy.

There may even be prizes for those who meet the goals of the challenges or perform the best. These competitions reinforce the idea that there are winners and losers when it comes to health and health-promoting behaviours.

Competitiveness may lead to people making others feel guilty for skipping a fitness class or eating certain foods, praising others for skipping lunch, bragging about diets and exercise habits, or one-upping others with their knowledge of foods or fitness. These behaviours bring a sense of superiority for some and inferiority for others.[vi]

However, health is not a competition. looks different for different people at different times, and different people need different things to enhance their health. Diet culture creates expectations to partake in certain behaviours that may not be healthy for everyone. Comparing ourselves to others based on these expectations does not account for these individual differences and is therefore counterproductive. Competitiveness and judgement do not contribute to a healthy and inclusive workplace.

Strategies to respond to manifestations of diet culture in the workplace

International No Diet Day is a great occasion to learn more about diet culture, reflect on how it impacts our workplaces, and think about strategies to respond to these impacts. There are individual strategies and team strategies that we can adopt.

When individuals are faced with diet talk and comments based on weight stigma, it can be destabilizing, and we might not know how to respond in the moment. It is important to identify our own boundaries to reduce the harm that we might experience because of weight stigma. It is okay to be direct and request that people not make such comments, to change the subject entirely or to remove oneself from the situation. Individuals must treat themselves with compassion and recognize that shame and guilt are undeserved and unproductive.

Individuals can also reach out to potential allies for support. Allies can help shut down diet talk and harmful comments and speak up so that people directly affected do not have to. Allies can listen to their colleagues’ experiences and validate them. Allies can also contribute to educating the whole team about weight stigma, the unnoticed harm and the behaviours to avoid in order to foster an inclusive work culture.[vii]

Employers play an important role. Leaders should listen to their employees’ concerns and work towards making workplaces safer for people of all sizes. Employers can encourage people to have lunch together, not alone at their desks. This can help foster safety around eating, allow staff to take a break and nourish themselves, and develop connections and friendships beyond assumptions brought about by diet culture.[viii]

Diet culture is pervasive. Its tenets are things we take for granted and are often not aware of. We need to educate ourselves and give ourselves permission to move past expectations and rules that do not contribute to our wellbeing. Unlearning diet culture is lifelong work. As we celebrate International No Diet Day, let’s remember that it is not our place to comment on the eating habits, health and size of others, that health looks different for everybody, and that health is not a competition. We can all contribute to a more inclusive work environment for everyone of all sizes.


References (click here to review the sources)

[i] Edwards-Gayfield, Paula. No Diet Day: Free to be me (you), National Eating Disorders Association, 2023,

International No Diet Day – May 6, 2024. National Today, n.d.,

No Diet Day, National Eating Disorders Association, n.d., 

[ii] Dieting Myths Debunked, Center for Change, n.d.,

The Biggest Diet Culture Myths, According to a Dietician, The Everygirl, 2021,

What is Diet Culture? Very Well Fit, 2022,

[iii] Accommodation options for overweight employees, HR Daily Advisor, 2019,

Unfit for Work: Weight Discrimination in the Workplace, Obesity Canada, 2021,  

Weight Bias in the Workplace: Information for Employers, Obesity Action Coalition, 2015,  

[iv] Diet Talk Has Absolutely No Place At Work – And It’s Time We All Stopped, Girlboss, n.d., 

Navigating toxic diet culture conversations at work, A little nutrition, n.d.,

[v] 20 Things To Compliment Someone On Other Than Appearance, Rachael Hartley Nutrition, n. d.,

Navigating toxic diet culture conversations at work, A little nutrition, n.d.,

Diet Talk Has Absolutely No Place At Work – And It’s Time We All Stopped, Girlboss, n.d.,

[vi] Weight Bias in the Workplace: Information for Employers, Obesity Action Coalition, 2015,

Navigating toxic diet culture conversations at work, A little nutrition, n.d.,

Diet Talk Has Absolutely No Place At Work – And It’s Time We All Stopped, Girlboss, n.d.,

[vii] How to resist diet culture in the workplace, Elise Burley for, 2023, 

The impact of diet culture on employee well-being, Altis Recruitment, 2023,

[viii] The impact of diet culture on employee well-being, Altis Recruitment, 2023,

6 Ways Employers Can Make the Workplace Safer for People with Eating Disorders, Michelle Konstantinovsky for Equip, 2023,

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