Unveiling a New Study: Derailing the Cycle of Food Shame

“Food should be affordable, nutritious, and enjoyable.” Not such a radical idea, right? According to our recent survey, 72% of registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) tell their clients this. But only 29% of consumers have heard this phrase. Consumers are much more likely to be familiar with catchy, but arguably unhelpful, phrases like “no pain, no gain (78%)” and “eat clean (47%).” 

These simple phrases make us think that meeting our fitness and nutrition goals should be easy. But real life is not as simple as a pithy catchphrase, and consumers quickly find themselves struggling to meet their goals, then falling into guilt, isolation, and shame. Desperate for a solution, we latch on to the simple-sounding advice: Everything in moderation! Listen to your body! Processed foods are bad for you! And the cycle goes on.

There’s a lot written about body shaming (making people feel bad about how they look), but virtually no published research on food shaming (making people feel bad about what they eat). Last year, General Mills commissioned us to conduct the first ever comprehensive study on food and fitness shaming among 2,003 consumers, 250 registered dietitian nutritionists, and 251 fitness professionals. Here’s what we found: 

•  Over 4 in 10 (44%) consumers and almost ⅔ (62%) of RDNs report having personal experience with shame.

•  Experiencing food shame leads to long-term impacts, including low self-esteem and isolation. One of our research participants admitted:

“When I get shamed for what I eat, I get defensive. I tend to begin fasting or switching it up when I go to the grocery store.”

  • As skilled communicators with nutrition expertise, dietitians are uniquely poised to help combat shame. By acknowledging the realities of consumers’ complex lives (97% of consumers name at least one barrier that keeps them from reaching their fitness and nutrition goals) and sharing their own experiences with shame, dietitians can use their expertise and empathy to derail the cycle of shame.

Intrigued? Want to learn more about our research and the work General Mills is doing to #derailtheshame? Check out some thoughts from our collaborators Amy Cohn of General Mills and mindfulness facilitator JC Lippold, and contact us.

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