How to tackle diet culture

You should stop following it

Diet culture is the internalized and general belief that losing weight to get a thin body is something everyone should do to be healthy. This wrong vision makes people think that reaching “the perfect body” is more important than their mental and physical well-being. How many times have you heard someone say that carbs make you gain weight, that you should restrict yourself from eating after the holidays, that you should go to the gym in winter to be in perfect shape for summer?

Well, this is all caused by diet culture, which has been around since ancient times. The ancient Greeks and Romans already represented in the statues the image of their ideal body, which had to be the reflection of an intelligent mind. During the Middle Ages, however, being overweight was a sign of wealth: the only ones who could afford to exceed in food were the wealthy people. Nowadays, we admire the models that parade on television, selected according to their height and built, wearing designer clothing. We haven’t understood yet that the “perfect body” ideal changes over time. Therefore, the right body shape has never existed: it is only our invention.

Stop counting calories

Calories are a unit of measure of energy. One single calorie is the amount of heat needed for one gram of water to heat up to a degree. On food labels, however, we find the value in kilocalories (1 kilocalorie is equal to 1000 calories). Since a body has to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight, some people start counting calories.

It’s fine to educate yourself about the energy a certain food can provide you, but you have to be aware that this habit could become an obsession. If you can’t enjoy a meal without thinking about calories, these are some points that might convince you to stop counting them:

– calories are just a number and don’t represent the nutrients you’re ingesting. For example, a slice of cake could have the same calories as a pasta dish, but the pasta will make you full for longer. That’s because it has more processed carbs, which take more to be digested, while the cake is going to transform into sugars more quickly.

– the numbers are not always accurate. The calories written on the food items are just average, and when you count calories of something homemade you can’t truly guess the number.

– all that maths is a waste of time. Worrying about calories all the time will deprive you of incredible moments. Think about all the dinners out with your friends, the holidays in wonderful places or the meals with your family. Shouldn’t this time be enjoyed without caring about a number?

– you don’t absorb all the calories you ingest: a part of them is burnt during digestion.

– when counting calories you aren’t listening to your body. The body t knows what you need to eat.

– at the end, calories are just fuel for your body: you shouldn’t deprive yourself of energy and always go with the lowest calorie option. You don’t leave your car without gas, do you?

Face your fear foods

I want you to do a simple activity. Take a piece of paper, your phone or whatever you can write on. Put down all the different food you love, the ones you crave the most. Now draw a line under them and write the ones you’re scared of eating maybe because they are higher in calories, or just because you have bad feelings about them. Those are “fear foods” and you’ve probably written them twice. The foods we love the most are usually the ones we are the most scared of.

You shouldn’t be frightened of something that makes you feel good. You shouldn’t fear food that brings you joy. If you don’t face your “fear foods”, when you eat them, you’re going to waste energy thinking about what you’ve eaten instead of enjoying your meal. The only solution to overcome a “fear food” is eating it. You don’t have to face all your fear foods at once, just try taking a little step every day. Remember that when you restrict yourself, choosing not to eat something, won’t help that thought go away. It’s like pretending you don’t have homework to do: it won’t disappear. Furthermore, if you don’t regularly incorporate a certain food into your diet, when the time comes to eat it you’re probably going to binge on that, because you don’t know when you’ll allow yourself to eat it again. Life is too short to be scared of food.

Learn more about Body Positivity and Body Neutrality movements

Your perception of your body can greatly affect your mental health, so you need to make sure that your mind is not overridden with negative thoughts. You may have heard, or seen on social media, information about body positivity. This movement was co-created in 1996 by a psychologist and a patient who had recovered from an eating disorder. It gained popularity between 2010 and 2011 through #bodypositivity, giving people the chance to share their point of view. The body positivity movement is supported by models, celebrities, scientists and companies, whose aim is to normalise unconventional bodies, regardless of their size, shape, skin colour, disability, gender, height or weight. The movement’s goals are:

– eliminate the “perfect body” prototype in the beauty industry.

– help people to love themselves regardless of their bodies.

– boost people’s self-confidence, arguing that everyone’s body is beautiful.

– share the message that each piece of clothing can be worn by anyone despite its body shape.

– stop body-shaming in any form.

– convince people to stop comparing themselves to others.

Loving your body despite everything can be hard. If you don’t feel like making this decision, you may prefer the body neutrality concept. This term was invented in 2015 and has a more neutral vision of self-love. It means that, instead of focusing on loving your body, you should appreciate it for what it enables you to do. Body neutrality convinces people to think about their qualities and skills, instead of how they look. Therefore, you should be grateful to your own body and stop considering it a part of your identity. Always be aware that people won’t remember you for how you look but for how you made them feel.

Stop weighing yourself

Ever since the invention of the scales, everyone has stepped on them at least once in their life. Weight is a value used by doctors to approximately check health conditions, but weighing oneself shouldn’t become an obsession. Excluding doctor appointments, I highly suggest stopping weighing yourself for the following reasons:

– Your weight fluctuates. Water, faeces, type of foods you’ve eaten, time of the day, stress, sleep, hormones or sport are all factors that could cause a weight change. 

– Weight doesn’t take into account body composition. Muscle is four times denser than fat, so two people with the same weight could have two different bodies. The scales don’t know how fit you are. That’s why, after training for months, your weight might not have changed at all, even though you may have noticed one. 

– It can become an obsession. Weighing oneself multiple times a week, even more than once a day, isn’t a normal habit. Your body takes months to gain or lose weight and it’s therefore impossible to put on weight after, for example, a night out. If you think you’ve developed a weight obsession, please consider asking someone for help.

– It’s a number, just like your grades, age or height. Numbers can’t describe you as a person: they don’t express your emotions, your personality, your ideas, the way you speak, your abilities, your hobbies, your kindness or your beliefs. You’re so much more than numbers: you’re yourself and that’s enough.

– No one cares about your weight. Would you ever judge your friends for their weight? Would you ever stop being close to someone because they’ve gained or lost weight? Would you tell your 9-year-old self to lose weight? Well, if you said no just know that others wouldn’t judge you either.

Try intuitive eating

Eating intuitively means eating without following anything other than your own body. Some people think intuitive eating means eating junk food non-stop, but it’s not like that: it’s trusting your body more than anything else. To adopt this mindset you should:

– Avoid any thoughts about diet and food restrictions. There aren’t “good” or “bad” foods, it’s all about the right quantities. Even if you’ve eaten something that you don’t consider healthy, focus on how that food made you feel, not just physically, but also mentally. Did it satisfy you? Did it make you feel happy and nourished? That’s all that matters.

– Honour your hunger and cravings. No one, other than your body, knows better what and when you should eat. If you feel like eating a specific food, it’s probably because your body is telling you it needs it. How many meals to have, and when you need to have them, is different from person to person: you don’t have to eat 3 times a day, or have breakfast at 8 o’clock every day.

– Listen to your fullness. The feeling of satiety is a neurological response, generated by the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that controls hormones. Low blood glucose levels stimulate the production of two hormones ghrelin and leptin. Once they have reached the hypothalamus, they make us feel hungry. Since these hormones take some time to reach the hypothalamus, the first signs of satiety show up after about 20 minutes. That’s why it’s good to eat slowly and enjoy the food.