Here’s another post from my favorite guest blogger, Julia Klein.
It’s a new year. For many of us, that means New Year’s resolutions. People resolve that this year is going to be the one where they “get healthy.” Although striving to improve our health is a worthy cause, it is often twisted by diet culture.
Our cultural rhetoric around health has shifted. In recent years, diet culture has faced criticism in the media for endorsing unhealthy weight loss practices, restrictive and unsustainable diets, and body negativity. Many of us have come to recognize the harm that dieting can do to a person’s health.
But now wellness culture has stepped in, and dieting and weight loss are portrayed as health practices. Wellness culture spreads the idea that a person’s health is entirely their responsibility. This makes us feel morally obligated to eat the “right” foods and be at the “right” weight.
Diets in the traditional sense tell us that to lose weight we should eat certain foods and stay away from others, take various types of diet pills and supplements, and follow a meal plan. Now, we are told we must do all those things not to lose weight, but to be healthy. Wellness culture promises that if we just eat and exercise in the “right” way, we can heal ourselves and prevent all ills.
The diet industry is a 70+ billion dollar a year industry and has learned how to rebrand itself to target those seeking to better their health. Programs and practices like Whole30, “clean eating,” tracking macros/calories, Noom, 45 Hard, and even WW (formerly Weight Watchers) all claim to be about health. In reality, they place restrictions on the amount and types of foods you are “allowed” to eat. Certain foods are considered “good,” whereas others are “bad.” Instead of selling us weight loss pills or diet shakes, the wellness industry sells us juice cleanses, supplements, and “lifestyle plans.”
Restricting what we eat isn’t just about losing weight anymore—it’s about becoming the picture of health. We feel morally superior when we have been “good” and followed the rules set by these “lifestyles.” Conversely, we become ashamed of our food choices when we feel we have broken the rules. Our new lifestyle (aka diet) ends up distracting us from our joy and purpose in life.
Other Factors Impact Health
Wellness culture and diet culture ignore other factors that impact our health such as poverty, weight stigma, access to healthy food, social well-being, access to health care, stress, racism, genetics, and many more. Despite what wellness culture tells us, the truth is that a person’s health and weight are not entirely within their control.
The way we nourish our bodies is important for our health. But we don’t need to make it an issue of morality. Processed foods are not evil, enjoying dessert is not a sin, and you are not a better person for eating kale. There is a plethora of research that shows positive health outcomes from tuning into our bodies’ cues, honoring physical and mental hunger, and following the principles of intuitive eating. Our bodies are smart and will signal to us what they need.
If you are thinking about making a diet or lifestyle change, consider the following before you do: Does this change cut certain foods or food groups from your diet? Is there a set of rules you are supposed to follow? Does it promise “healing” or a specific outcome? If any of these are the case, you should be aware you are likely embarking on a diet, not a lifestyle change.
Try These Suggestions
If you are looking to make the way you eat more nourishing, focus on nutrient-dense foods that you can add, rather than foods you should cut out. For example, try adding broccoli to pasta for some extra fiber and vitamin K, or having peanut butter with an apple for some protein and healthy fat.
Learn to honor your body by allowing yourself to eat what you really want, whether it is a slice of cake or a stalk of celery. Remind yourself that one choice is not better than the other. If you notice that food and nutrition are a constant source of stress in your life, reach out to a registered dietitian who specializes in health at every size and intuitive eating, and check out the resources provided below.
- Food Psych Podcast
- Book: Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
- Journal Article: “The Weight-Inclusive versus Weight-Normative Approach to Health: Evaluating the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being over Weight Loss”
- NY Times: “Smash the Wellness Industry”
- Maintenance Phase Podcast