Anti-Diet Culture is the new Diet culture. What I mean is that there's now just a new set of rules for you to follow, to help you stop following the old "toxic" diet rules. It’s becoming almost as toxic (in some ways) as the culture it tries to denounce.
The culture that pushed grapefruit, cabbage soup and Atkins bars down our mothers’ throats for decades and made us believe that skinny and small were the best adjectives a teenage girl could be labeled with.
How can anything anti-that be bad, you might wonder?
Pretty much every time, when the pendulum has swung too far in one direction, it swings right back (too far) in the other.
These are the concepts in anti-diet culture that I believe we should challenge, because we've swung too far:
Detoxes are always "harmful"
Forcing ourselves to eat when we aren’t hungry means we love our bodies
Intuitive eating is the only approach that’s "healthy"
Weight loss is always the wrong answer
Loving your body means celebrating even poor treatment of it
Hear me out…
Concept # 1: Detoxes are always harmful
Let's challenge this:
No, I don’t want you to do a juice cleanse promising that you’ll shed pounds overnight. Those can still kick rocks. And yes, our bodies do detox on their own, when functioning properly. But they aren't always functioning properly. And sometime our choices play a role in that.
When you cut the skin on your finger while slicing open an avocado, your body “knows” what to do to heal. It gets a bit inflamed while your cells get to work fighting off bacteria and working to close up the skin. It does that automatically. But sometimes, the cut is a bit too deep or the opportunity for bacteria to enter is elevated (hello, subway rails), so we help our bodies be more effective at doing what they "already know how to do".
We use peroxide to assist in fighting off bacteria. We apply Neosporin to mitigate scarring. We may even need stitches, if the cut is so deep that it would be too difficult for our bodies to take on the healing burden alone.
In the same way, if we binged on sugar, processed foods and wine over a holiday season or a vacation, our organs might be overloaded with toxins that they need to get rid of. Detoxing in a healthy and productive way might be good advice to support our bodies at a time like this.
That doesn’t mean we can’t have those kinds of vacations, holidays and random Tuesday nights. We have to enjoy our lives, and that doesn’t mean focusing on what is best for our health at all times - at least to me.
But it does mean that we can assist our bodies in detoxification by focusing on healthy whole foods, lots of water, adequate vitamins and minerals, gut healing broths, fiber and sleep as a detox protocol.
The word isn’t supporting diet culture just by existing. It’s all about the context. So if influencers are telling you to "look out for that word" as a way of determining whether someone is supporting diet culture - quite honestly - I think they are looking for attention. They want to have the answers, go viral, get more likes, be praised. But that motive doesn’t help those of us doing our best to be healthy. In fact, it hurts us.
Concept # 2: Forcing ourselves to eat when we aren't hungry
Let's Challenge this:
This one has its merits, but I still think we need to dig deeper. Body-love influencers will come on your screen, dancing to the fad song of the moment and pointing at word-bubbles that tell you exactly what you should do... to stop listening to other people who are telling you exactly what you should do.
Wait, what? Exactly.
And I often see them telling us to force ourselves to eat, even if we aren’t hungry.
Now, before I get into why it’s important to challenge this concept - and really any concept you see hurled at you via text bubbles on your screen, I do want to call out some caveats:
There are medications that reduce appetite, certain illnesses that affect our hunger and appetite cues, treatments like chemotherapy, hormonal issues and changes in the body like pregnancy or breastfeeding that can also affect cues around eating. These things inhibit our ability to listen to the cues from our body, or may inhibit the cues from happening in the first place.
So, there may be times during which you need to eat, but you don’t necessarily feel drawn to. But that direction should come from a medical professional or health care professional - not a Tik Tok sensation talking to a sea of different people about what’s best for all of their bodies at once.
What I’m talking about in this section, and what really doesn’t jive with me, is when those people dancing and pointing at words on your screen are telling you (and everyone else who scrolls by, regardless of their medical conditions or other factors) that they have the secret of ‘what’s best’ for your body, that theirs is the only correct way, that any other approach to eating, exercising or thinking about those activities is “diet culture,” toxic, and promotes eating disorders.
On the one hand, I understand the desire to push this concept of eating when we feel compelled not to.
Often, we - especially women - feel guilty eating when we’ve had a day full of “indulgences” or a big meal last night, even though today is a new day.
Often, we feel we have to count calories and stop eating when we hit some number, even if we are still hungry.
Often, we feel like we have to cancel out desserts, wine and other treats by eating far fewer calories the next day, or by skipping meals entirely. A caloric deficit isn't the answer to all of your problems.
And these problematic pressures are worth addressing and fixing.
But we can solve this problem with more education and more questions about what our bodies truly need - not more absolute statements. If we understand the mechanisms behind cravings, hunger and satiety we will be less afraid of the behaviors that follow.
Sometimes when we aren’t hungry after eating a large meal the night before, it's because our bodies truly aren’t in need of more fuel yet. It is giving us a sign that we don’t yet need to find and consume calories for energy... And it’s okay to listen to that. It’s okay to wait until later in the day to break the fast.
Just like it’s also okay to eat after a large and/or indulgent meal if we are still hungry. It’s normal and natural to eat a large breakfast after a day of large meals and desserts if we really are hungry and in need of more energy the next day. Everyone is different and each of our bodies have different needs at different times.
But sometimes our cues are not firing correctly because of hormonal issues or medications and we can’t rely on them fully. We can use our ability to reason, paired with the cues that are working and make the call on what is best for ourselves in that moment.
And that doesn’t necessarily mean running to the fridge the minute our feet swing off of our beds to the floor, simply because we crave a bagel (more on this later). It doesn’t necessarily mean staying in a constantly ‘fed’ state (read: snacking all day) until we lift them back on the bed at night.
Concept # 3: Intuitive eating is the only healthy approach
Let's challenge this:
It’s great, in theory. It’s great for some people. But others need the guidance that comes with having a plan. Yes, maybe even a meal plan. *screams heard in the distance*
Everyone is different. We have different needs, different brains and different triggers/cues. While some of us may benefit from the freedom that concepts like intuitive eating provide, others may thrive with structure and planning.
Some of us may have chronic illnesses or health risks that require us to eat in a very particular way that is prescribed by a doctor and/or dietitian. Intuitive eating can fail us here because we will very likely be drawn to highly palatable, highly processed foods, but fiber and fat may be better options for filling our plates.
Some of us have signals that are a bit jammed up by hormone imbalances, medication or any number of other complications that may cause our intuition with regard to eating not to work so well.
With intuitive eating, some health coaches or dietitians will tell you that if you crave a cookie, just have a cookie now. The reasoning is that if you restrict and don’t allow yourself to have a cookie, then later you will binge and have 5x more.
But here’s the thing: all of our brains don't work in exactly the same way. I know from my own experience, that if I personally have one cookie now, it will lead to more cookies now. But if I successfully avoid one cookie now, I will be more successful in passing them by for the rest of the day. That first satiating taste, for me personally will keep me coming back for more. We're now developing healthy habits.
The same thing happens for me with wine or cocktails. (And please note: I am not talking about addiction here, that is outside of my scope of practice. I am strictly talking about my own experience with alcohol, which for me is not an addictive relationship). If I have one glass of wine at dinner I’m more likely to have two or three over the course of the night. However, if I say "I’m not drinking tonight" and have no glasses of wine with dinner, that doesn't lead me to binge later or the next day. I simply crave it less when I don't have any of it.
So my point is not to compare cookies to alcohol or say that my way is best. My point is to remind you that everyone is different. Things that work for one client or coach or nutritionist on the internet, may work for you but it very well may not.
The danger is in assuming that just because one person you see while scrolling your feed has overcome an eating disorder, and they come from a genuine place of wanting to help others do the same, doesn't mean that they have the right plan for you. Further, they may or may not be qualified to even guide you in this journey. Above all, they should not be using these blanket statements and telling you how you should eat, when they don't even know you.
If you are like me, you may need guidance rather than just relying on your body's cravings. You may benefit from structure and a plan that helps you determine the right foods, times and quantity to eat.
Concept # 4: Weight loss goals always = harmful
Let's challenge this:
This is simply not true.
I agree that weight loss goals have become out-of-hand. For women especially, the desire to be thinner, smaller and somehow curvier at the same time is not only unattainable for many, but mentally damaging for most. It’s also not ideal for health. A strong heart and well-functioning lungs, sturdy bones and strong muscles, healthy blood and lymphatic systems and cognitive health are some of the many markers we should be focusing on.
But sometimes, chronic illnesses exist and need to be reversed. Sometimes in overweight people, the best way to support those organs and systems and reverse or prevent the development of chronic illness is to focus on reduction of fat stores. Other times we need to increase body fat to ensure proper hormone function.
We can be healthy at many shapes and sizes but not at every or any size. This concept is simply untrue. There are points where weight, and specifically the amount of excess fat tissue on a person is either too low or too high for our bodies to function properly.
If we silence any discussion about healthy weight and body fat levels, we are ceasing education about these topics and potentially really harming people in the process.
Of course we should be cognizant of mental health as well. Those who have struggled with or may be susceptible to eating disorders need a different kind of support than those who have and likely will not. Mental health is critical, and so is physical. And rather than shying away from discussing weight at any cost, we should look for supportive and sensitive ways to broach the topic of weight instead of ignoring it all together.
Concept # 5: Loving your body means celebrating even poor treatment of it
Let's Challenge this:
“Yes” to loving our bodies. Right now. No matter their size, shape or capabilities. "Yes" to wearing the shorts, owning who you are, feeling good in your clothes and the ease of finding sizes that fit you at brands you like. "Yes" to all of that.
But it’s a hard “no” from me when I see the glamorization of obesity and the label of health as subjective. It is most certainly objective. We can measure it using various medical markers. It is dangerous to promote smoking cigarettes, excessive alcohol consumption, eating peanuts if you are allergic to them and - yes - also obesity.
Love your body. Dress it up in things that make you feel good. Don’t apologize for how it looks. Celebrate whatever stage of getting or being healthy you are in as long as you are trying.
Nourish that body you love with whole foods, often. Hydrate that body with the water it needs. Move that body you love to help keep it mobile and functioning optimally. Look for ways to reverse and prevent chronic illness with your doctor and sometimes, yes, use a plan rather than just intuitive eating to accomplish these things.
Are we seeing eye to eye yet?
My point is, we shouldn't arbitrarily force-feed ourselves, just to prove a point that our bodies deserve to be fed. Of course they do. Of course they deserve love. Of course they deserve to be treated well.
But treating our bodies well doesn’t always equate to feeding. Treating them well doesn’t mean pumping more unnecessary glucose into the bloodstream, keeping insulin levels elevated for a prolonged period and not allowing those levels time to return to normal.
It doesn’t mean refusing to help the detoxification process because some silly diets are also labeled “detoxes”.
It doesn’t mean allowing our natural cravings for highly palatable food to dictate all eating decisions. Just because we crave carbs and sweets, doesn’t mean that the healthiest breakfast for us is toast with peanut butter, honey and bananas. Cravings can be a way for the body to tell us what we need, but they may also be coming from hormone imbalances, or the fact that the cue is right in front of us (open the pantry, see the chips, crave the chips).
I am in full support of loving our bodies, nourishing them and enjoying the tastier things in life at the same time.
I am all for defending our minds against the judgments and influence of a diet culture that does nothing positive for our bodies or minds.
But simply knocking down an idea (that might actually be based in science) in order to support one concept for the sake of opposing another you don't agree with is also not helpful.
It doesn’t teach us how to truly care for our bodies.
All it teaches us is how to avoid discomfort at any cost.
My goal as a health coach is to help my clients and anyone else who cares to listen, to love their bodies and because of that, make choices that support health and longevity.
That means mental and physical health.
That means no diets for the sake of getting smaller, thinner or fitting some societal ideal. The anti-diet culture.
But that also means making informed choices about your well-being based on research - not based on the advice of some person on Instagram or Tik Tok who overcame disordered eating and now calls herself an expert. Her approach may work for her (and maybe some others), but there is no one-size-fits-all approach to health.
Let's be objective, and leave our feelings out of discussions about health. If you're looking to have a more personalized conversation with a health coach, reach out to me any time.