Updated: Jun 22, 2021
If you're on literally ANY form of the internet, watch tv, read magazines, or go to a gym, you're almost certainly getting bombarded by diet culture from many different avenues. The media loves diet trends and many of us end up falling into the latest diet that an influencer (whatever that even means) or even nutrition professional or medical doctor is promoting on their channels.
While there are many form of "diets" that work anecdotally for people or are even backed by some robust research (always check the sources behind the research, i.e. are Coca Cola, Monsanto, or other huge food corps actually funding the studies being cited? Yes, this happens. A lot.), I always encourage people to take a step back and examine what's best for THEIR body, instead of getting hooked on the latest fad.
The reality of nutrition is: it's ever-changing, there are peer-reviewed studies that support many styles of eating (low carbohydrate diets, low fat diets, Mediterranean-style diets, vegetarianism, veganism, etc.), and there will always be some new trend that claims to be the end-all be-all of dieting. When you take away all of the bickering over which macronutrient we should have most of or which protein source is better than another, there is a common thread amongst most diets that tend to work well for folks: they incorporate a wide variety of fiber/nutrient-rich whole plant foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes, greatly reduce intake of processed and refined foods, ensure adequate protein from whichever source chosen, maintain balanced blood sugar levels, and include some form of health-supporting fats.
LEt's let go of SCARCITY
Diet culture labels foods as "good" and "bad" and makes us feel like we've failed ourselves when we choose to have some cake on our friend's birthday, or a bag of chips on a road trip, or a treat in the break room at work. It can create tendencies towards disordered eating patterns or attachment of self-worth to food and body image. It often promotes the idea that we should look a certain way to be healthy and that if we want some froyo, we'd better do that exercise first so that we can earn it. What if sharing that moment with your friends creates an experience that brings you joy and outweighs the nutritional breakdown of the dessert? Food is certainly fuel for our bodies, but it isn't JUST fuel. It's a way of connecting with ourselves and other people. If we do our best to eat things that support our bodies MOST of the time, and create a positive relationship with food and nutrition, we should be able to enjoy whatever feels right in the moment on those occasions.
The fact of the matter is, diets don't usually work well long-term for many reasons, but one huge issue is that they create a scarcity mindset. Diet culture often promotes restricting yourself from eating many types of foods at once or vastly restricting calories over a short period of time. More extreme dieting can even affect your hunger and satiety hormones over time, making it harder for you lose and keep off weight in the long term. Not only can dieting create a cascade of cravings and negative self-talk, diets are also generally focused on the short term, not the long term.
[Caveat: I'd like to point out that I'm not talking about eating plans designed for specific health challenges such as autoimmune protocols, eliminating allergens, etc. that can be incredibly healing for certain conditions/situations. Also some folks choose to not eat animal products for ethical/sustainability reasons - great! And if in the end, eating paleo or grain-free or ketotarian works for YOU and your body, hell yeah, get after it. I just always recommend doing so because you've done your research (preferably with a professional), and know it works for your body and needs, not because some social media influencer told you it was the 'magic pill'.]
Unfortunately, despite some great effort, folks who have a tendency to cycle through fad diets often do so for a finite amount of time and learn very little that actually translates to sustainable change. Once the diet or program is over, the weight, decreased energy levels, etc. end up coming back over time and they're left feeling a bit stuck. Good news: they put in some awesome effort to make a change! Even better news: there are some even better strategies to achieve those goals sustainably!
a better alternative...
What we can start focusing on instead of restriction is creating new, small, healthful habits that accumulate over time to create a shift in our overall health and well-being. A healthy and balanced lifestyle is created by the small choices you make consistently every day, instead of an abrupt, radical shift like a diet.
Here's how to start:
Evaluate your opportunity areas (lots of processed foods, not getting enough veggies, eating quickly, not getting enough exercise, hydration, etc.)
Choose one small thing to focus on and choose an easy habit to implement each day for a week or two. (Put your utensil down between bites, meditate for 5 minutes each morning, drink one glass of lemon water upon waking, add in one palm-sized serving of protein into your lunches, etc.)
Focus only on implementing that new habit, and then move onto incorporating something new once you feel consistent with that change.
We need to start thinking about the long game, and try to move away from the all-or-nothing mentality that dieting teaches us. You can still live a totally healthy lifestyle if you get that weird rolled ice cream with your friends after dinner or enjoy your favorite foods at Thanksgiving. That doesn't mean you've "fallen off the wagon" and now that you have, you might as well eat chips and hot dogs for every meal. (If you do, that's okay too - we all start where we are!) You are still making health-supportive choices most of the time! Shifting our thinking from "good" and "bad" foods to "a little bit better than before" is another a helpful tool that I use with clients.
One last helpful habit to incorporate into your relationship with food is to try actually tuning into how certain foods make you feel and if they are nourishing your body. When I started tuning into how I felt after eating certain things, I realized that dairy totally does not serve me well, and that I generally don't love many super processed foods because they just don't make me feel great physically after I eat them. If you learn to tune in, your body will let you know that it needs nutrients or hydration or more fiber. Consider starting a journal that focuses on how your energy levels, digestion, mood correlate with the foods you're eating.
Looking for more specific advice on upgrading your nutrition habits? I can support you with that! I offer in-person and online coaching options that revolve around learning the basics of nutrition and incorporating small habits that accumulate over time to help you move toward your goals.
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