So, you’ve dieted what seems like most of your life…and you’ve finally said you’re “done” with dieting…you just want to be “healthy”…so you look to magazines, blogs, Pinterest, and social media influencer’s to help you…
“This” influencer tells you to take a bunch of supplements, fast once a week, and drink a herbal detox twice a month. You do what they say, after all – this is what it takes to be “healthy”, right?
Then, “that” influencer tell you it’s okay to eat “forbidden” foods, but only on cheat days. And, if you want to eat fruit, don’t eat more than 2 servings per day if you really want to be “healthy”.
…only eat organic, non GMO foods if you want to be “healthy”.
Oh, and don’t even think about touching any grains, legumes, beans or night-shade plants because, well…you want to be “healthy”, don’t you?
“It’s not a diet, it’s a healthy lifestyle”…
Do you see a pattern here? It doesn’t matter if it’s a “fad” diet or not…if someone tells you to completely eliminate one food item out of your “lifestyle” (unless it’s an allergy or legit medical condition) – it’s a diet!
Now, why are diets undesirable? What’s wrong with them?
Well, in short, 90-95% of diets don’t work in the long haul. They aren’t sustainable for life. People go on diets to lose weight, then within 2-5 years after that diet, all the weight that was lost is gained back, plus some extra pounds. Does this sound familiar to you? It definitely resonates with me. And I’m sorry…but if you are still demonizing food but you’re not on an official “fad diet”, you’ve got a poor relationship with food. And without a true healthy relationship with food, you’ll have a hard time getting out of that “diet” mentality – whether you’re on a formal diet or not!
Here are 5 ways you can test if your “healthy lifestyle” is in fact diet culture posing as “wellness” or “fitness” culture.
You have a “good food – bad food” mentality
You only buy the almond flour crackers because wheat is “bad”. You only buy cauliflower crust because it’s “gluten free”. You’ll only allow yourself to eat blueberries because other fruits are “fattening”, and blueberries are “super-foods”. You eat sweet potatoes over white potatoes because they are “healthier” according to diet culture. You’ll never touch anything with refined sugar in it, but eat the tar out of something made out of maple syrup or coconut sugar.
My friends, that is diet culture in disguise. “Wellness culture” is just modern day diet culture. If you find yourself forbidding these foods but you’re not on a “formal fad diet” – you’re still being affected by diet culture. Start by normalizing all foods. All foods provide your body with some sort of value, whether it’s nutrient dense or not.
Now, of course nutrient dense foods are nourishing for the body because they make our bodies physically feel good – packed full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber – but that doesn’t mean it’s “better” than other foods. Food does not hold a moral value – one food is not going to lead to weight gain or weight loss…food in excess leads to weight gain – regardless of what food it is.
You have to “earn” food
Wellness culture highlights the importance of intense exercise. And if you want to be healthy, you gotta exhaust yourself in your workout (according to fitness culture).
I’m totally on board with exercise – I love it! I love it because it makes my body feel amazing – inside and out. But, why are you exercising? Are you exercising to burn calories? Do you find yourself overly exhausted after a workout? Can’t sit on a toilet 2 days after a leg workout? You’re likely over-training.
I used to think I had to burn at least 500 calories in a workout if I wanted to eat for the day. And if I was “planning” on eating dessert or going out to eat, I’d push myself even harder so I could “earn” food. But you know what? Your body STILL deserves and physically needs nourishment even if you lay in the bed all day. You of course need more fuel the more active you are…but you need food every single day – regardless if you worked out or not. You don’t have to exercise to earn food. Your body needs it for survival. Period.
If you’re craving “this”, eat “that”
Have you ever seen those Pinterest graphics that say “if you’re craving chocolate, that means you’re deficient in magnesium. Eat some kale, it’ll curb your craving!”
I used to follow that stuff! And y’all – I don’t care who you are – if you’re craving chocolate, I can promise you eating kale will not satisfy that craving. I see this a lot from people’s experiences (and my own) – trying so hard to mask the craving by eating something “healthy” instead…
What happens is, when we don’t honor that craving and try to substitute with something else, our mind can’t stop thinking about that one food. You end up eating other things to “fix” the craving…but ultimately, those other foods don’t satisfy you. So, you end up “giving in” and eating the craving anyway…you likely feel over-stuffed and intense food guilt. You blame the craving, when really it was all the food leading up to the craving that over-stuffed you.
Has this ever happened to you? I’ve been there!
Tip: Always honor your craving in an amount that will satisfy your body to prevent a binge later on.
You have to “track” your food
This is probably my favorite one. Not too long ago, I did a “fitness challenge” hoping to work on my muscular strength. A big part of the program was tracking your food using MyFitnessPal. I did it for a few days just to see if I was hitting my macros…
Even though I thought I was “recovered” from diet culture at that point in my life (I wasn’t by the way…I was stuck in “wellness” culture), I found myself feeling guilty about food. I was so obsessed with getting my macros and calorie counts perfect, and when I didn’t count calories, I was worried if I was eating too much…”if I eat this, will I go over my allotted calories for the day?”…”am I allowed to have this?”…”is there too much fat in this avocado?”…”crap, I’ve gone over my carb count for the day, guess I can’t have anything other than water for supper…”
My “so-called” recovered diet-self was on a downward spiral back into diet culture, so I stopped tracking my food & quit taking “before & after” pics, and focused on how the workouts made my body physically feel. How the workouts improved my strength and flexibility. How the workouts improved my stress levels and mental well-being.
You CAN love fitness & exercise without tracking your macros. You CAN be “healthy” without tracking every little thing that you put into your mouth. Calorie & macro counting is meticulous and time exhausting – you can do SO much more with your time!
“Cheat days” or “cheat meals”
This is very popular in the fitness industry. More specifically, cheat meals. You can eat anything you want in an hour time frame. So, you’ve restricted all these “cheat” foods for at least a week, as soon as you gain access to those foods during your “cheat hour”, you’re going to cram that food into your mouth as fast as you can so you don’t waste any of it…so you can eat as much of this “yummy, terrible for you” foods before the hour is up.
This is wrong on so many levels. First, you have the “good-foods bad-foods” mentality. Second, you’re completely ignoring your hunger & fullness cues – a very instrumental step in mindful & intuitive eating. Our body was designed to tell us when we are hungry & when we are full – to prevent us from overeating. But, when we restrict “forbidden” foods from our “lifestyles”, as soon as we get access to them when it’s “okay”, we go all out! And then, as a result, feel like total crap after the meal- then we blame that food! It wasn’t the food’s fault, it was the food in excess…the decision you made to ignore your hunger & fullness levels because it’s a “cheat meal”. Third, you tell yourself “I’ll just go back on my diet tomorrow”, and it creates a diet-binge-diet-binge-diet-binge cycle. If you’ve been a chronic dieter, I know you’ve been there- I’ve been there too!
Did any of this resonate with you? Let me know in the comments section here or on Instagram. I know it’s hard to let go of the diet mentality – in both diet culture & the fitness/wellness industry. Know that your body is worthy of achieving health promoting goals that have nothing to do with dieting, weight loss, restriction, deprivation, or over-exercising. You CAN be healthy without falling into diet culture’s trap.
Jumpstart your mindful eating journey by downloading my 6 Steps to Mindful Eating guide here – it’s free!
Until Next Time,
Katrina Detter, RD, LDN
Follow me on social media for more food freedom + gentle nutrition + body respect material