Diet Culture...Is It All That Everyone Claims It To Be?
This or that? How about both? Let's re-think diet-culture! Our ambassador Maya offers us some insight.
THIS OR THAT
HOW ABOUT BOTH?
"Wait! Stop! You're going to regret eating that tomorrow!"
Sound familiar? Welcome to a day in the life of...well, a lot of people. Today I want to talk about diet culture.
I would like to preface this post by saying that I am not a nutritionist, a psychologist, or a doctor. I am just a university student who is passionate about mental health and nutrition. We all have different experiences with dieting, so of course not everyone is going to share my opinion on the matter. That being said, I do hope that this post resonates with a few of you, as I believe that this topic is extremely relevant in our society today - where an unprecedented amount of people suffer from body image issues, eating disorders, and mental health issues. So, let's begin.
Can you think of a day where you didn't think about food? I highly doubt it. We are animals by nature, and we NEED food to survive. With this in mind, I must ask: why do we as a society try so hard to restrict what we eat? I mean, there is pretty much a diet for everything now: the ketogenic diet, the paleo diet, veganism, vegetarianism, intermittent fasting...the list goes on and on, but how do these diets affect our relationship with food?
Did you know that when we restrict a certain food, we subconsciously train our brains to view that food as 'bad' or 'unhealthy'? This perspective usually encourages us to feel bad about ourselves when we consume it in the future, and this may fuel the restriction; moreover, it can impact our mental health, particularly if we begin to align our self-esteem with what we eat.
In general, diets tend to foster harmful eating behaviors. For example, low-calorie diets deprive our bodies of the required nutrients and energy that we need; this simulates a famine for our bodies. So, when we decide to have a 'cheat day', we are more likely to overeat, as our bodies use this opportunity to 'fuel up' and prepare for the next famine. This mechanism is analogous to how other animals fuel up before hibernation; they consume as much food as they can to ensure that they have enough energy before they lose access to it.
So despite its popularity and its prevalence in society, we must recognize the downfalls of diet culture. We must be cognizant of the negative behaviors that it can reinforce, and we have to remember that we are BUILT to EAT! Now of course, eating 'fun foods' all the time isn't necessarily sustainable, but that's where balance comes in!
NOTE: The language that we use around food seriously influences how we view it. This is why I try to avoid the term 'junk food' and substitute it with 'fun food'. Try experimenting with different ways of referring to that nasty 'J' word!
Finding balance is always easier said than done, and it's always going to be a challenge to achieve it. However! It is possible. One way that I like to find balance is by ensuring that I get a certain amount of protein, greens, and fruits in a day; I do not count macros or calories. This framework allows for flexibility and enables me to have 'fun foods'! More importantly, this approach fosters a healthier relationship with food, and it allows me to enjoy social events that involve food (we love a good potluck or dinner out)!
I know that finding balance is hard and that our social media driven society only makes it even more so...but, remember! It is possible! And once again, maybe you don't agree with what I shared today, and that's okay. If you're following a diet and you're able to maintain a healthy lifestyle, good on ya! I honestly have a lot of respect for people who are able to do it.
Lastly, if you're going to take anything from this post, I would like for us all to remember that our bodies are meant to eat and that it's normal and OKAY to have 'fun foods'. More importantly, it's okay to veer away from the norm. You DON'T need to diet if you don't want to, and maybe it's not the best for you (or your mental health) anyways!
Take care of yourselves loves! Until next time.
Maya is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in Sustainability and Sociology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, NS. She enjoys spending time outside, going for walks with friends, and hanging out by the ocean. Maya loves coffee and is committed to going to as many coffee shops as she can in Halifax before she heads back to Vancouver for the summer. In her free time, she enjoys writing, singing, watching movies with friends, and reading. Make sure to check out Maya's 2021 adventures on Instagram @maya.macnab.