How Do We Promote Healthy Eating Without Promoting Diet Culture?
Diet culture. I grew up with it and you likely did too.
Growing up and well into my 20's, I thought my body should look different than it did. It should be a different shape, my waist should be longer, my hips less boxy, my stomach flatter. My "ideal" body shape was narrow and willowy. Literally structurally different than my own, but I couldn't see that.
Several years ago, I decided that I needed to get serious about healthy eating and losing weight. I was experiencing symptoms that were in part due to stress, but also related to the fact that I tend to gain weight in my abdomen and that made me feel unhealthy. I was also coming o
ff of significant trauma from my husband's first bilateral lung transplant where he almost died prior to receiving those lungs, raising young children, one with Down syndrome, and feeling as though I HAD to be healthy. I was the only parent in control of that and I needed to be healthy and alive for my children.
When I changed my eating habits I slowly lost 30 pounds and people began to comment on my "diet". I would tell them I am not on a diet, I have changed how I eat. This was the beginning for me of transforming my relationship with food and my "why" for eating healthy. Along the way I realized that if my goal was weight loss, that I would give up. It wasn't happening quickly, but if my goal was to healthier overall, that I could keep my momentum.
Unfortunately as much as we want to promote body positivity for all body type
s, we also have concrete data to show that certain statistics, such as waist circumference, can increase our risk factors for certain chronic diseases. We also know that 80% of chronic illness is preventable through lifestyle choices and changes.
I personally am prone to insulin resistance. Having a diabetic husband who's diabetes is related to him having Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disease, I knew that I did not want to develop a preventable version of that disease.
The only time I ever talk to clients about going on a "diet" is when we discuss an elimination diet. This is a temporary option to allow clients to identity foods that may be exa
cerbating their symptoms and allow their gut to heal, especially when they have not felt well for an extended period of time and traditional medical recommendations are not working. I personally have found elimination diets have taught me a lot about what my body likes and responds best to, as well as foods that my body is less tolerant of.
Otherwise, we talk about sustainability. We discuss what healthy eating can look like and what their goals are. We talk about healthy, whole foods carbohydrates, fats and proteins. We also talk about white refined carbs and sugar and the impact that they have on the body, while also talking about how they can be eaten occasionally and in moderation. I never expect a client to never eat white bread, crackers, pasta, cookies or ice cream ever again as that is not sustainable for most people. If that is their own goal for themselves, I am here to support them in that.
We also discuss realistic goals and the "why" beyond weight loss. If s
omeone wants to look like they did at 20 when they are 50, I will challenge whether or not that goal is realistic for example.
Supporting health, especially weight loss, is a complex process to support while also not feeding into diet culture and the idea that a body should look a specific way. Some are naturally very thin, some are more of an athletic build, others are curvy and all of those bodies can be healthy or unhealthy exactly as they are. My goal is support clients in becoming a version of themselves that feels healthier. Sometimes that includes losing weight, but more often than not, that includes fueling their bodies in a different way and changing their relationship with food.