Shut out diet culture and rethink your approach to eating with these simple and effective tips
By Sara Jafari, registered dietitian, Medcan weight management program
We’ve all heard of the term “diet culture.” It’s that set of external cues that values thinness, and labels various foods as either “good” or “bad.” But what does diet culture actually do to one’s relationships with food? The answer is simple: It ruins it.
Diet culture puts so much pressure on us to look a certain way—just think of your favourite TV show. Somehow, it convinces us that if we’re as thin and sculpted as our favourite actors we’ll be happier, more successful and finally able to live our best lives. So we restrict our eating, perform detoxes or cleanses and follow fad diets in an attempt to lose weight.
Study after study has shown that shedding those “extra” pounds doesn’t actually make you happier. Instead, all it accomplishes is making food our enemy.
Managing our relationships with diet culture requires keeping a few things in mind. First, all food is nourishment. It doesn’t matter if you’re consuming healthy fats from salmon or getting a bolt of energy from a KitKat bar—any food you eat is fuel for your body. Second, it’s our food environment that perpetuates issues with food. It’s not a problem to want the occasional french fry; it’s that fries are easier and cheaper to access than most healthy alternatives. Third, remember that no two bodies are the same. We all have different appetite systems that we inherit. We’re taught to embrace one another’s differences, so why not body shape and size?
You’re not alone. We all struggle with this complicated issue at one point or another. Here are a few simple tips you can try at home to help you get started on your journey to redesigning your relationship with food.
Adjust your mindset. If you’re at a baseball game and want a hot dog, eat the hot dog—and don’t feel bad about it the next day. At the same time, remind yourself that there should be “regular foods”—leafy greens, for example—and “occasional foods,” like that ballpark snack. Strive for a balance that you can live with and enjoy. It is possible to have too much of a good thing, such as eating kale at every meal or multiple avocados every day.
Try intuitive eating. This practice allows you to make food choices without guilt, to honour hunger and fullness and to enjoy the pleasures of eating. However, intuitive eating may not work for everyone, particularly if you have difficulty tuning in to your hunger and fullness cues. You may need to relearn appropriate serving amounts or regulate your appetite with the use of medication.
Reconsider standard portions. Over time, standard portions have changed—which means our instincts are off. We order jumbo salads or a large soda without really knowing how much we’re consuming. Try to retrain your body by slowly changing your portion sizes. If, for example, you typically eat three scoops of ice cream in a sitting, try limiting it to two. This way, you’re still satisfying your craving without indulging in excess.
Focus on the food in front of you. Often, when we overconsume, it’s because we’re doing something else while eating: watching TV while snacking on chips, or squeezing in lunch while working at our desks. Take your eating habits off autopilot. Instead, slow down and pay attention to how your body responds to the food.
Scrap diet alternatives. When you’re craving ice cream, you may be seeking the richness of actual ice cream. When you pick up a “diet” version of a food, it may not satisfy your craving as well as the full-fat version, and you are likely eat more of that diet alternative because you believe it’s healthier, which also distorts your perception of proper portion sizes. Eating two scoops of ice cream will be 10 times more pleasing than half a pint of a low-calorie option. Opting for the real deal can actually turn out to be healthier in the long run.
Diet culture can inform many of our attitudes toward food. You have the power to change your relationship with what you eat by being more mindful of your consumption habits. The next time you plan a meal, think about your options and consider incorporating one of the tips above. Over time, your relationship with food is bound to improve.