We live in Diet Culture
Let's chat about diet culture. It's got a perverse set of characteristics and yet most us don't know we're affected. Like a fish who doesn't know it swims in water, you can be inundated by diet culture even if you're not on a "diet." ⠀
Diet culture, or 'lifestyle changes' as some diets disguise themselves, include these characteristics, among others:
Require participants to follow a set of rules (a meal plan, yes/no lists of foods, etc.)
Restrict certain food groups (encouraging participants to avoid fruits, for example)
Often use numbers to fix eating choices (calories, macros, points, pounds, etc.)
Often include a financial commitment
Often (almost always) include unrealistic expectations of participants
Often (almost always) blame participants for failing
Often create a label/category and identity/following for the specific style of eating
While marketing for these types of diets leads you to believe you're investing in your health and enhancing your nutrition, you're in the process of warping your relationship with food. By categorizing some foods as "bad" or "good,” for instance, you may start to take on the idea that you yourself are bad, or good, based on what you eat. In my coaching practice, I often hear clients say things like: “I was so bad this weekend. I went to a party and indulged too much. I had wine, dessert, the works!” This line of thinking is problematic, because it allows you to believe that value judgements of yourself should center around what you eat and how disciplined you can be around food. What’s worse is that these beliefs have powerful mental and physical impact (to say nothing of the emotional and spiritual degradations these beliefs cause, but I’ll leave that discussion for another post).
Mentally, thoughts of food and eating constantly plague these types of clients. To dub yourself “bad” or “good,” or “healthy” or “unhealthy,” based on every food interaction is exhausting. This territory comes with a justification process for indulgence and ‘on-track eating,’ but not much support for food choices that are somewhere in-between. This causes depletion through the heavy traffic of thoughts, planning, modifying, re-setting, and binging (all of which swirl around diet culture). The mood swings based on our most current food choices alone are draining.
Physically, and from an Ayurvedic perspective, believing that you ate “bad” food actually influences how that food will be digested. When we eat food we love and are excited about, for example, our digestion process responds accordingly (efficient nutrient transfer, digestion, waste prep, effective energy expenditure, etc.). When we respond to our cravings, we even allow our bodies to gain nutrients they were likely lacking. In contrast, when we believe the food we ate was bad, or the wrong choice, our powerful brain – gut connection registers those feelings that our food was sub-par, and perhaps, even a threat to our survival. Stress hormones kick in and we end up with suppressed digestion (mainly because prioritizing survival during times of threat does not typically involve digesting food). You can see how feeling badly about your food can make you feel lousy mentally, but physically, that response becomes amplified (at times confirming your initial belief that the food was “bad” and that you are thus a bad decision maker/person/etc.).
Humans have had a relationship with food for near the entirety of our existence. We don't need external food science, calories, or experts, to tell us how to eat. It is convenient, however, that we forget our bodies’ internal cues on eating, because then we’ll hire external programs – aka diet culture – to inform us on how to eat. The industry is worth tens of billions of dollars annually, so you can venture to guess diet culture does not want you to know you have free resources within.
The body knows how much, when, and what to consume. Cravings are nature's perfectly designed nutrition information system. Turning inward and trusting your body enhances your health and your relationship with food (mentally, physically, and otherwise).
If you feel you’ve been overwhelmed by diet culture’s merry-go-round and want off this crazy ride, but don’t know where to start, I get it. I was brought up in diet culture too and have spent many years and my entire career detangling myself from the mess. I do, however, know that peaceful, joy-filled, and nourishing relationship with food is not only possible, but it’s both healing and empowering. It’s available to you too. In fact, it’s your birthright to have a relationship with food. If you need support in returning to yourself and your body’s wisdom around food, I offer 1:1 and group holistic health coaching. Email me to get started and we’ll start the important work of making space for you to be at peace with food.