“Eat lots of fruit. Don’t eat fruit, it has a lot of sugar. Eat balanced meals three times a day. Eat 6 small meals a day. Starvation slows down your metabolism, but 16 to 18 hours of fasting can be good for your body.”

If you’re confused about nutrition, it’s because the information we get about nutrition can be misleading! Why do we have all these opposite messages and where do they come from?

Diet culture is everywhere, emphasizing the relentless pursuit of weight loss and fueling the belief that there is a right and wrong way to eat and look. Not only does it promote a misguided belief that thin means healthy, but food culture tries to enforce the idea that there is a superiority associated with being thin, and conversely the sense of shame attached to larger bodies in our society.

Maybe you’ve done the research and now know that all bodies are different and your body size doesn’t reflect your health. How do you stop falling back into the food culture cycle?

Where diet culture is seen

Nix the “cheat days”. Most of us have heard of the concept of cheat meals or days. It’s fairly common, but referring to it as cheating implies that you’re doing something wrong—reinforcing that there’s a right and wrong way to eat. Cheating can also bring a heavy dose of guilt and shame, neither of which is conducive to health.

Ditch the diet culture: You can’t cheat on your diet if you’re not one. Consider an All Foods Fit mindset and philosophy instead. You can try an intuitive eating approach. It is backed by research and has helped many people find food freedom.

No need to “make up” for food. One way some people combat their cheat meals is to “make up” for the food. For example, one might deliberately choose a low-calorie meal the day after or during the day of a cheat meal, even if you’re not in the mood or don’t really feel like it.

Ditch the diet culture: You don’t need to keep a mental measuring scale. Nourish your body every day with foods that fuel your personalized needs and goals and that you enjoy.

Stop using exercise as overcompensation. Exercise is amazing for your physical and mental health. However, when it’s used to overcompensate for eating “badly,” it can go into an unhealthy place. Warning signs are exercising when you don’t feel like it and/or in a way you don’t enjoy because you believe it burns more calories.

Ditch the Diet Culture: Find a way to move your body that you enjoy! You’re more likely to maintain this behavior long-term, and you get a double boost of serotonin by doing something that makes you happy while you’re moving.

Reflect on your reasons for avoiding certain foods. Avoiding certain foods or food groups is necessary for some. If you have an allergy or a specific condition where your healthcare provider has advised you to avoid certain foods, this is not a food culture. But if you’ve suddenly decided to avoid sugar, gluten or dairy, for example, due to an unnecessary medical condition, it might be something to reflect on.

Ditch the food culture: Remember that everyone’s health needs are different and try not to be swayed by trends versus what makes you feel your best physically and mentally.

Language matters. Consider these marketing labels: “innocent”, “guilt free”, “sinful”, “joyful”, and of course, one of the most popular words of late, “clean”. These conditions continue to perpetuate the harmful idea that there is a right and wrong way to eat. And they can keep people stuck in a food culture mindset.

Ditch the food culture: Talk about food as it should be – neutrally. They are named for what they are. Chips aren’t junk, they’re just chips. Broccoli isn’t clean, it’s just broccoli.

Idealizing thinness is one of the hallmarks of food culture. A secret way it shows itself is to appreciate the weight loss of others. There are multiple reasons and ways through which a person can lose weight. An important consideration is that weight loss may not be intentional and may be the result of illness, depression or bereavement. Additionally, intentional weight loss may involve methods that are unhealthy and even potentially harmful. Praising it not only reinforces the idea that thin is more attractive, it can also reinforce some harmful behaviors.

Ditch the Diet Culture: Want to impress someone? Talk about how wonderful they look. How much you appreciate their company. How funny, or clever, creative or thoughtful they are to you.

Watch out for sneaky appetite suppressants. Although most appetite suppressants have gone out of fashion, there are still hidden ways that food culture allows for suppressing hunger in ways that are considered more “normal.” This may include drinking extra water, tea or coffee.

Ditch the food culture: Remember that your body needs fuel and a variety of foods. And much of the fun of experiencing new things can include trying new foods and recipes.

Focus on enjoying the things you love instead of how you look while doing them. One of the cruelest parts of food culture can be how it can convince a person to avoid social situations altogether. This can include avoiding pool parties or the beach to avoid wearing a bathing suit, or even avoiding going out to dinner because there aren’t enough “safe” items on the menu.

Ditch the diet culture: Remember that people care about you not for your body shape and size, but for who you are. Don’t avoid meaningful experiences because of unrealistic standards of food culture. Create your own standards and be sure to include joy and fulfillment.

Keep in mind that if you’re like many and have had a diet culture mindset for decades, it won’t change overnight. Give yourself patience and grace as you work to learn some of the trappings of food culture. On the other hand confidence and well-being and improved quality of life.

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