The Diet Culture, What's The Deal?
Chances are that even as a child, you knew what “going on a diet” meant. In high school, you probably even know of a few girls who were dieting. Maybe you had parents of friends doing Weight Watchers or the South Beach Diet.
When I was little, I wasn’t extremely tall, but I was lanky, and with my name being Jen, the boys in the grade above me all dubbed me “Jenny Craig.” Hilarious. We were in 5th grade, and boys were already able to relate the Jenny Craig diet with “skinny.”
Not too mention, as a 10 year old child, I was already being exposed to body shaming. Fortunately, I was faster than the boys and I knew it, so I didn’t let it bother me too much.
More than anything, as children we were all already exposed to concerns about food, weight, and body image. Dieting was a part of our lives, whether we wanted it to be or not.
Diets and the diet culture has existed in our world for a while. If you ask anyone what it means to diet, chances are good that they will respond with something along the lines of reducing food intake, or losing weight.
The word diet itself, actually refers to a way in which a person, community or culture habitually eats.
Habitually; by way of habit.
What if instead of “dieting,” we learned by habit, to eat nourishing, whole foods and changed the diet of our culture. There would be a significantly decreased need for food elimination, or weight loss. Dieting would be a thing of the past, and diet would instead refer to the way in which you nourished your body.
So where does that leave us? It means we need to approach health from a very different aspect.
People often ask me, “what diet would you recommend?” Or “what are your thoughts on dieting?”
Every diet that I have ever encountered has both positives and negatives. Even what we could consider a “healthy” diet by today’s standards, will still have some negative aspects.
I do think that currently, the wellness industry is making great strides to overturn some of the negative ideas surrounding real food.
However, we still have a long ways to go - because as a country, we need to eliminate the concept that dieting = health. We eat food to stay alive, and yet the food we’re eating today is killing us. It really is the most ironic thing.
If you’re an 80-90’s baby, then there’s an excellent chance you grew up eating boxed cereals, white bread, crisco, slim milk, fruit snacks, boxed cookies, freezer meals and so much more.
It’s no wonder that today’s generation of adults struggle with understanding what’s healthy and what isn’t. Our perception of healthy foods is so limited. We place foods on a good versus bad spectrum that we don’t even understand. Aside from that, most American’s have no concept of a healthy diet beyond our own culture.
I’ve counseled patients who were instructed to eliminate steaks, eggs, and full fat milk and so they traded high quality proteins and fats for inflammatory soy burgers, low-fat sugar laden yogurt, and protein drinks.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is so disastrous, that the government created a processed food plan to replaced whole foods in an attempt to fix it. And our percentages of chronic disease, obesity, ADHD, depression, anxiety and overweight children are steadily increasing.
As I mentioned above, any diet has both positive and negative aspects.
You will hear your neighbor tell you that they lost 50 pounds on the Keto Diet. What they may not be aware of, is that their hormones and electrolytes are fluctuating, due to the stress of ketosis on their body.
A co-worker excitedly shares that they lost 2o pounds on the Atkins diet, but their diet largely consists of shakes, bars, and freezer meals - topped with a highly processed bacon.
The truth is, almost anyone can lose weight by reducing food intake and cutting processed foods. MOST of the time, when someone initially sees success with a “diet,” it’s because they were forced to reduce all of the unhealthy, processed foods they were consuming on a daily basis.
It does not necessarily mean, they have adopted a healthier way of eating overall.
Adopting A Lifestyle
A diet is a way of eating, it’s a lifestyle. However, with all of the ways that we can change society’s mindset around food, we’ll probably never eliminate fast food, freezer meals, and all that goes along with it because of the fast paced culture we live in.
Instead, we need to learn to incorporate real food into our daily meals. We need to learn to be intentional with our time and set aside moments of our days for planning, prepping, and preparing nourishing food for our bodies and our families.
We need to understand our personality, our mindset, and our current habits. By doing so, we can have better understanding of how we as individuals should approach a healthier lifestyle.
Some people change their eating patterns slowly, over time. First by eliminating one habit, and then another. They may plan 2-3 meals a week, and steadily increase it.
Other’s will take an all or nothing approach, eliminating all processed foods and find their way in the kitchen, learning, creating, and experimenting with food.
The best thing that we can do for ourselves is to just start. Here are a few of my favorite ways to take action:
Read a book, but not a diet book. Pick up a real food book and understand the nourishing benefits of food versus “food-like” products.
Meal plan this week for next week and plan to make 1-additional meal at home compared to your normal.
Read food labels. No, not the calorie section - the ingredients section! Before you even start eliminating, take a peak at your food labels and see how often you find sugar in it’s many forms (plus all the other add-ins you can’t even pronounce!)
Now start reducing sugar. It’s literally everywhere…and I mean everywhere. Start by cutting it out of your morning coffee, you CAN have coffee black or with milk.
Find a deep, deep why. Will cooking in the kitchen allow you to teach your child something? Can you attempt to cure your IBS? Can you finally stay within your food budget by eating in?
Adopt A Food Philosophy
Because of the SAD diet and the idea surrounding a “normal” way of eating, there will always be feedback from someone on your food choices.
If you refuse a donut in the break-room, peer pressure may start to creep in. If you politely turn down ice-cream at a birthday party, someone may ask if you’re “dieting.”
The beautiful thing about not following a diet, is that you get to determine your standards surrounding food. However, with that will come some outside feedback. Call it curiosity or a social aspect, it will happen. I actually love answering questions about why I will or will not eat something. I also love that people view me as a “healthy” person, but I’m not afraid to eat cake at a party - if I want to.
Your body is different than anyone else’s body. Your response to certain foods is different than anyone else’s response to the very same foods.
Adopting a food philosophy will help you to navigate the challenges that come with following a real-food lifestyle in today’s society. Your philosophy should allow you to enjoy food, enjoy life, and nourish your body in your own way.