Oprah Winfrey shares 'biggest regret' during apology for her role in 'diet culture'

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey has received a mixed reception to her "apology" for perpetuating diet culture. Photo credit: Getty Images

Online commentators have been weighing in on Oprah Winfrey's apology for her role in perpetuating "diet culture" - including the infamous moment 30 kilograms of animal fat was used to illustrate her weight loss during an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1988.  

Speaking on her WeightWatchers three-hour 'Making the Shift' special on Thursday (local time), the 70-year-old talk show host admitted she had been a "major" contributor to toxic diet culture over the decades.  

"I've been a steadfast participant in this diet culture," Winfrey said. "Through my platforms, through the magazine, through the talk show for 25 years and online.

"I've been a major contributor to it. 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."  

Having the animal fat rolled onstage in a wagon to represent her weight loss on a liquid diet was one of her "biggest regrets", she confessed, revealing she had started to gain the weight back the day after the dramatic showcase.  

"It sent a message that starving yourself with a liquid diet set a standard for people watching that I, nor anybody else, could uphold," she said. "The very next day, I began to gain the weight back. Maya Angelou always said, 'When you know better, you do better', so these conversations for me are an effort to do better."  

However, Winfrey's apology has not been universally well-received, with many taking issue with her reportedly using the type 2 diabetes medication Ozempic to achieve her recent weight loss.   

Winfrey told People in December that her regimen now focuses on regular workouts and an unspecified medication. While the talk show icon stopped short of revealing the drug in question, she admitted she uses it as "a tool to manage" her weight and prevent "yo-yoing". 

"Oprah: so sorry I told you to diet… here, have some drugs instead," internet personality Mario Nawfal said in response to the special on X, while a second wrote: "So, #OprahWinfrey makes a public apology for promoting dangerous weight loss programs. Seriously? Any sane person knew exactly what she was doing. She knew how huge her following was, I was one of them... apology not accepted."  

"Oprah Winfrey is saying she's sorry that she took [part] in the diet culture, but she made [millions] of dollars doing it. Give that money back if you're really that sorry," a third said on X, with another tweeted: "Both Oprah and [broadcaster] Howard Stern will completely flip-flop on whatever issue to have any hopes of remaining relevant."  

"'I own what I've done... but I'm on Ozempic now so it's all good'," a fifth deadpanned on Reddit.   

Others have defended Winfrey's involvement in diet culture, noting how her weight has always been a topic of intense scrutiny in the media. One said they understood her desire to "take ownership of the narrative", while another criticised the idea that she herself was responsible for encouraging "self-loathing" among women.   

"She was so successful because her participation was genuine, and she became an avatar for all of the self-loathing women focusing on their imperfect bodies. I hate the quackery pseudo wellness industry that she unleashed, but that itself is a product of American diet culture as a whole. Oprah was able to capitalise on her self-loathing, [but] she didn't create it," a Reddit user mused.  

"There's nothing wrong with being healthy, I'm not apologizing for being on a diet or supporting people who diet - there are a lot of obese people in America, dieting is a good thing if you are overweight," another pitched in.  

During the virtual event, Winfrey also recounted her heartbreaking appearance on The Tonight Show in 1985, when the late comedian Joan Rivers implored her to lose 15 pounds on national television. Commenting on the incident, Winfrey said: "It’s really hard to love your body when the whole world tells you it’s not worth loving."  

Last week's WeightWatchers event - the focus of which was to help "dismantle the current diet culture" - was billed as a follow-up to Winfrey's prime-time ABC special Shame, Blame, and the Weight Loss Revolution, which aired in March. 

During her interview with People late last year, Winfrey also referred to the unspecified weight loss medication as "a gift" she didn't want to "hide behind".

"The fact that there's a medically approved prescription for managing weight and staying healthier, in my lifetime, feels like relief, like redemption, like a gift, and not something to hide behind and once again be ridiculed for," she said at the time. 

"I'm absolutely done with the shaming from other people and particularly myself."