Oprah says she's 'done with' diet culture: 'I've been a major contributor to it'

Winfrey shared moments both public and private that led to her toxic relationship with her own body.

Oprah Winfrey in black and purple formal wear at the 35th GLAAD Media Awards.
Oprah Winfrey at the 35th GLAAD Media Awards in March. (Michael Kovac/Getty Images for GLAAD )

Oprah Winfrey acknowledges she's "been a major contributor" in perpetuating diet culture during a livestream event with WeightWatchers Thursday.

“I have been a steadfast participant in this diet culture through my platforms, through the magazine, through the talk show for 25 years,” she said during Making the Shift: A New Way to Think About Weight. “I cannot tell you how many weight loss shows and makeovers I have done. And they have been a staple since I’ve been working in television.”

During the three-hour livestream, the 70-year-old mogul worked to address that.

"I know we've been criticized, we've been scrutinized, we've been shamed, and we've been told that that unless we met a certain standard of size, that we didn't deserve to be accepted or even to be loved," she said. "What I know for sure is that I am done with it."

She mentioned the infamous “wagon of fat” moment from a 1988 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, which she called one of her “biggest regrets” as it “set a standard for people watching that I nor anybody else could uphold,” she said.

“I know now that that wagon-of-fat moment was set into motion after years and years of thinking that my struggle with my weight was my fault,” she said. “And it has taken me even up until last week to process the shame that I felt privately as my very public yo-yo diet moments became a national joke.”

Throughout the event, Winfrey shared moments both public and private that led to her toxic relationship with her own body, including her first national television appearance in 1985.

“One of the moments that has stuck with me for over 30 years was when I was first invited to appear on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson,” she said. She was interviewed by Joan Rivers, who was filling in for Carson. The pair discussed Winfrey’s time in beauty pageants, which she joked was “50 pounds ago.”

“[Rivers] said, ‘So how’d you gain the weight?’ And I was caught completely off guard,” Winfrey recalled. “I didn’t know what to say, so I just said, ‘I ate a lot.’”

The moment can still be found on YouTube, where Winfrey recently rewatched it herself. “I thought she would end it, and she did not,” said Winfrey, who recalled Rivers wagging her finger in her face and telling her that “you must lose the weight.”

The two made a pact to hold each other accountable in their individual weight loss journeys, with Rivers telling Winfrey she could come back to show if she lost 15 pounds.

“It had never occurred to me to be angry because I thought I deserved it. I thought her saying that to me, I deserved it. So my shame story happened to be on national television,” said Winfrey. “And that was the start of a vicious cycle of yo-yoing that ended up with that liquid diet where I literally starved myself for months. And the result was that now famous wagon of fat moment.”

Winfrey’s relationship with her body was integrated into more than two decades of her talk show, where she discussed different iterations of dieting and accepting her body.

“It’s hard to love yourself when the rest of the world is constantly telling you that what you look like isn’t enough,” she told the audience.

The scrutiny impacted Winfrey deeply, which she has been candid about in the past.

It even made her wary of sharing that she has been using a weight loss medication since fall 2023 to maintain the progress she’s made over the years. She says confirming that news to People magazine was unplanned.

Still, Winfrey admits that “acceptance and joy” are two different things when it comes to body image.

“I can tell you [in] any picture what weight I was” as a result of the time she’s spent being so conscious of her body.

Winfrey isn’t alone. Rebel Wilson and Busy Philipps also participated in Thursday’s conversation, in which they spoke about their own experiences with weight stigma as public figures.

Philipps shared the harsh reality of its impact on her career.

“I’m just gonna be so real with you; my opportunities are better if I’m a certain size,” she said. “That is just a fact.”

Busy Philipps, left, joins Oprah Winfrey, both seated, and WeightWatchers at “Making the Shift: A New Way to Think About Weight” live event with an audience around them.
Busy Philipps joins Oprah Winfrey and WeightWatchers at “Making the Shift: A New Way to Think About Weight” live event. (WeightWatchers)

She referenced her 2018 memoir, This Will Only Hurt a Little, in which she wrote: “I talk about the times I’ve been asked to lose weight, the jobs I lost because I was too fat after having my first daughter. … I want better for my kids, and I want people to stop talking about our bodies. And I want women’s bodies to be off topic.”

Wilson was also affected by stereotyping, in that she felt she got opportunities solely because she was in a bigger body.

“I mean why I got signed when I came to America [from Australia], day two of coming to America with one suitcase, was because I was plus-size and there was hardly anybody in Hollywood that was plus-size, so I was unique because of that aspect,” she said. “I used being overweight to my advantage and landed into comedy.”

The Pitch Perfect actress said she “made millions of dollars playing the fat, funny girl,” which made her fearful of what would happen if she lost weight for her health.

“It was put to me at the time by the team around me that if you do lose weight, you will lose your career,” she said. “Turns out, that’s not the truth.”