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Diet culture has many definitions and nuances. In sum, it’s a set of beliefs that glorifies a so-called “perfect” body size and vilifies people who don’t reflect it.
It plays a significant role in perpetuating disordered eating, food-body preoccupation, and weight stigma, which can rob people of their time, health, happiness, and money. In fact, in 2021 the weight-loss industry was valued at $72.6 billion in the U.S. and that number is projected to continue to go up each year.
The industry promotes diets and weight loss as a ticket to attaining the “right” body size, health, higher self-esteem, higher status, and positive body image overall.
1. There is no “right” body size and structure. Healthy looks and feels different on everyone.
2. The diet and weight-loss industry often fails to address personal needs, circumstances, and preferences that are in play when it comes to nutrition — things like culture, genetics, food access and affordability, health conditions, food sensitivities, flavor likes and dislikes, activity levels, and more.
3. Diet culture focuses on scarcity and restriction of calories, certain foods, or entire food groups. Most diets fail because this kind of rigidity is unsustainable from a physiological and psychological perspective. Researchers found that people with a tendency to overeat who were told to not eat their favorite snacks for 24 hours ended up consuming 133 percent more compared to those who were given no instructions.
Develop an abundance mindset around what you eat. Adopting this kind of mindset can help you establish a healthy way of thinking about the foods you add to your lifestyle rather than focusing on taking things away. It puts all foods on a level playing field and helps you make nutrition choices based on motivation rather than fear.
Here are some ways you can implement a mindset shift.
Abundance in nutrition is personal. Your hunger, fullness, desires, and habits are all specific to you. What one person sees as abundant may feel like scarcity to another, and vice versa. Make a list of all your favorite foods and why you love them — flavor, how they make you feel when you eat them, how they impact your overall health, memories they drum up, etc.
For example, I’m part Italian, and I absolutely love pizza. Specifically, I love thin-crust, Neapolitan margherita pizza. I love how it tastes and how it reminds me of my family. My grandfather on my dad’s side made homemade pizzas during holidays when I was growing up. The smell of yeast, garlic, oregano, basil, and tomatoes filled the entire house. To this day, if I eat Neapolitan margherita pizza, the nostalgia, smell, and flavor evoke a feeling of abundance. To tap into this, I go to my favorite local pizza spot or make my own pizza when I crave it.
What are your favorite foods? Once you have your list, make a conscious effort to add them to your meals.
I feel the medicinal effects of food when I regularly eat a wide variety of foods. Lean proteins, fats made by Mother Nature, vegetables, and fruits make me feel my best, so I focus on adding things like salmon, chicken, beans, nuts, seeds, olives, leafy greens, bananas, citrus, and berries to my regular meals. Also, I have a fast metabolism passed down from my mom and I’m an athlete, so I have learned through experience that I have to eat regularly throughout the day, or I don’t feel or perform optimally. I keep snacks on hand and try not to let myself enter the “hangry” zone.
One way to get in tune with how food makes you feel is to keep a food journal. Write down when you eat and how you feel after eating certain foods. You may be surprised by the connections you discover.
Diet culture puts some foods on pedestals while others are relegated to a naughty list. It labels foods as “good” or “bad” and aligns food choices with morality. So many recipe names are laden with words like “no-guilt,” “sinful,” and “healthy.”
Food isn’t moral; it’s just food — a basic, human need. Nutrition is gained from a wide variety of foods and, as mentioned before, “healthy” is different for everyone.
It can be tough to avoid food marketing, confusing food labels, judgement-ridden recipe titles, “What I Eat in a Day” videos and edited images on social media, and people saying things like, “I was bad today and ate X,” but with some mindful practice, you can learn to tune it all out and add foods to your lifestyle that align with what’s best for you.
Put simply, intuitive eating calls on you to trust your body to tell you when, what, and how much to eat.
There are tons of free resources that delve deeper into how to become an intuitive eater. For example, dietitian Bonnie Roney hosts a podcast called Diet Culture Rebel, where she helps people learn how to live a lifestyle in which they enjoy food and eat without guilt, obsession, or fear of losing control.
Although it can be beneficial to set goals and practice consistency around the things you do for your health, be mindful not to be hard on yourself. You will have days when you don’t eat the foods your body truly wanted and/or needed. Practicing self-compassion is the antidote. Self-compassion stems from a place of abundance.
Life is fluid, your body’s needs are fluid, and the unexpected happens. That doesn’t mean anything is lacking; it means you’re human. And when you focus on what you add to your life, be it food or anything else, you create an abundance mindset.
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