This might be one of the hardest relationships you’ll ever need to end – but I can almost guarantee that it’ll make you a much better version of yourself. As a non-diet-dietitian, it’s my job to help people move away from diet culture when that’s their intention.
Diet culture, refers to any factor in our environment that makes us want to change our food/drink, activity, medication or supplement choices in order to change our body shape or size.
Diet culture is rampant everywhere – permeating into our lives from the multi-billion dollar diet industry, the fashion and beauty industry and even through some health care providers. Diet culture messaging targets all ages – be it through my kids’ Berenstain Bears books, weight loss ads targeting teens or 96-year-olds in the dining room at the nursing homes.
Diet culture’s toxic message is “one size must fit all and one diet fits all.” It fails to share that weight is 80 percent determined by our genetics or that 80-95 percent of people on diets regain the weight they’ve lost and often more within three years. It also fails to talk about the dangers of yo-yo dieting or how it is okay (and can be healthy) to not be thin.
For most, these diets fight against our bodies’ intricate hormonal system, leaving us with intense cravings, feelings of deprivation and frustration. Whether this means restricting ourselves from food throughout the day and “giving in” at night, opting out of social events to “stay on track,” putting off going clothes shopping or getting a haircut. We may even deny ourselves relationships or the love we deserve.
The diet industry’s marketing strategy is to make you feel like there is something wrong with your body or your health and that this needs to be fixed before you can live your life.
Fatphobia is the systemic dislike or fear of being or becoming fat. It is at the root of our societal pressure to be thin. Weight discrimination causes limited access to health care, housing, employment, education and more and is a significant risk factor for depression, low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction.
Many of my clients avoid seeing their health care provider for fear that even their non-weight related medical issues will turn into a weight shaming session. Fat people’s health is often assumed to be bad and up for public debate. In reality, all bodies deserve access to fair and non-descriminatory health care.
In diet culture changing your nutrition is all about the goal of being thinner. Good nutrition can be a form of self-care, as long as it does not become unnecessarily strict. Changing your approach from weight loss to healthy eating can have benefits for your stress, mood, digestion and overall health.
Bodily autonomy is defined as the right to self governance over one’s own body without external influence or coercion. It is generally considered to be a fundamental human right. Check out Sonya Renee Taylor’s work for more on this. So where does this leave us? Firstly, you are welcome to your own body autonomy – know that you can own that.
If you want to move away from dieting, start to notice how it makes you feel. What does “dieting” mean to you? How did you feel when you were on the diet? How did you feel when the diet didn’t work for you? How has dieting affected you physically, emotionally, socially and psychologically? Did dieting give you a false sense of control? Did it distract you from other areas of your life?
For some, dieting is a distraction or one of the only areas they feel a sense of control over. Which is fine, but is this coping mechanism working for you or against you?
Try to remove scales, body measurement or diet tools and paraphernalia from your home. Pack away or get rid of clothes that don’t fit. Try to decrease your exposure to diet messaging on your social media feeds and magazines. Change negative dieting thoughts in your head to thoughts of body respect and self-care. Set boundaries with others around diet talk, change the subject, and/or assert that you are not interested in talking about dieting or changing your size anymore.
Eating is about health but also pleasure, satisfaction, satiation, food availability, access, culture and so much more. You need to find what works for you. If eating just doesn’t feel right it may be time to reach out for some help around this – dieting can move very easily into disordered eating and an eating disorder. Having an intense amount of anxiety about eating can affect other areas of your health.
Check out the work of Jess Baker, Ragen Chastain, Christy Harrison, Jill Andrews and Evelyn Tribole.
This recently popularized research-based, self-care eating framework which integrates instinct, emotion and rational thought, was developed by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. This 10 principle approach looks at eating, movement and our bodies with curiosity, rather than judgment. The approach focuses on an “all foods fit” mentality unless there are allergies or restrictions based on a specific health condition. It’s about letting go of unhelpful rules and allowing restricted foods back onto your plate, as slowly as you need to. Eventually, these foods become less powerful over you.
Intuitive Eating focuses on learning to recognize and trust your body’s hunger and fullness cues – but with a side of eating beyond this at times for fun, keeping in mind that illness and stress can alter these cues. Mindful eating is another skill acquired through this. This approach is also documented as useful in the end stages of eating disorder recovery. If you’re curious you could start with their workbook to give it a try.
Remember it’s a process, and for many, it’s challenging to do on your own. Reach out to a professional who is trained in this approach and uses a weight inclusive framework if you feel you need help because unfortunately this term is also being co-opted by diet culture.
Life is about Balance
I like to use Dr. Kristen Neff’s approach on this – be kind to yourself – this is an easy way to soothe yourself. Then recognize you’re not the only one who does this, be mindful of your feelings and don’t be afraid to feel them. Seek out help to work through these feelings if needed.
With nutrition, try to approach it as one of the many aspects that influences your health and wellbeing – not the only one. Do the best to balance your meals with some carbs, fat, protein and veggies – not every meal will look like this, mine oftentimes don’t, and that’s ok. For most people, three meals/day and two to three snacks/day work well to keep blood sugar and moods in a good spot. No need for calculations or tracking.
Breaking up with dieting is hard to do. It’s really an inside job, that moves away from the external noise around eating. It requires reflection and risk. There is no rule book to follow, but an amazing gift of inner wisdom within you that needs to have permission, and sometimes guidance to be let out.
Suzanne Dietrich is a Registered Dietitian and the owner of Gut Instincts Nutrition Counselling in uptown Waterloo.