As a nutritionist, I get a lot of questions about diet culture – what the perfect diet is and what I think about the latest fad diet. My answer is always the same and you can scroll to the end of this post to read it (psst it’s probably not what you think).
Now, first of all, I just want to say that I get it. It’s tempting to seek out that quick fix or meal plan that will get you to your goals ASAP. And to think that the secret to being healthy is about eating perfectly and achieving your ideal pant size. I know this because I too used to have these thoughts.
I used to believe that if I knew all of the secrets to healthy eating – the best diet, the right portions, which oils to use – I’d reach my ideal weight, balance my hormones, glow from the inside out and be the best version of myself.
Through a variety of diets, obsessing about weight and learning more about nutrition I only seemed to be moving further away from the calm, glowing image that I was trying to achieve. Basically, I was stuck in diet culture!
Diet Culture Defined
If you haven’t heard about diet culture yet, I recommend checking out this blog post by Christy Harrison. Christy is a Registered Dietitian devoted to dismantling diet culture, which she defines as a system of beliefs that worships thinness and equates it to health and moral value. Diet culture isn’t necessarily about being on a specific diet, but rather caught up in the culture of dieting and putting massive amounts of energy into shrinking your body.
Freeing yourself from diet culture and eating more intuitively doesn’t mean that you’re “giving up on yourself”. Instead it’s about fostering a healthy relationship to food. And creating space for both the salads and the brownies. It’s about not letting a number on the scale determine your mood for the day, but instead choosing an outfit that your current body feels good in. And most importantly, it’s about creating a nourishing life for yourself that you actually enjoy.
Shifting away from diet culture takes a lot of time and effort because its messages are everywhere! I want to share five strategies that I use on a daily basis to quiet the noise of diet culture and actually tune into my own body.
1. Bring awareness to the grasp that diet culture has on you and your goals.
Recognizing and acknowledging diet culture is the first step to dismantling it in your own life. I recommend doing some exploration by reading and listening to a few experts on the topic. Here are some resources to help you get started:
- Intuitive Eating by, Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch
- Anti-Diet by, Christy Harrison
- Food Psych Podcast
- Nutritiously Yours Blog
- This episode from the Wellness Glow Up Podcast
2. Quit the numbers game
Diet culture tells us that we must shrink our bodies in order to be worthy and beautiful. However, fixating on weight will only lead you further away from tuning into your body’s needs. If you’re in the habit of weighing yourself daily or even weekly, I recommend taking a break — or better yet, throw out the scale altogether.
There are countless factors that come into play with weight from water retention to where you’re at in your cycle to the time of day you weighed in. So why let the number on the scale dictate your perceived success? Instead, create a habit of noticing how you feel in the morning and making a mental note of how you’d like to feel.
For example, if you wake up feeling bloated and sluggish, make a choice to start your day with a large glass of water, a walk and a healthy breakfast. My guess is that you’ll continue into your day feeling a whole lot better than if you would have just hopped on the scale.
3. Less judgment more curiosity
When it comes to changing your habits around food and leaning into a healthier and more intuitive way of eating, it’s all about putting your detective hat on and getting curious! Diets tell us to follow a strict plan and ignore our hunger cues and cravings. Then when we eventually feel deprived and binge, we feel guilt and shame. And the cycle goes on and on!
But what if instead we got curious about these cues and cravings and observed them without judgment? Take notice of your stress levels, your eating environment and what’s going on in your week. And then take action to nurture yourself. To get started, choose a mantra to go back to whenever you’re feeling guilt and shame about food:
I listen to my body and respond to its needs.
I choose to eat foods that will nourish my mind, body and spirit.
I allow myself to indulge without guilt.
I am in charge of what I put in my body
4. Determine your true food joys
Another reminder for you that dismantling diet culture is NOT about giving up on your health and wellness goals. It doesn’t mean that you should only eat pizza and candy bars. Or that salads are off the table forever. Establishing a healthy relationship to food is all about finding balance and discovering the foods that truly bring you joy and pleasure. And creating space for them!
So grab a pen and paper and brainstorm the foods that you consider to be your favorite indulgences. For me, fresh homemade bread, chocolate chip cookies, and dark chocolate will always have a place in my diet. But everyone is different! Truly think about what YOU love and make room for those things. This way you won’t feel deprived and tempted to grab the donut just because it’s there.
5. Create a habit of showing up for yourself
Ok, lean in because this is the KEY to it all. Making room for non-negotiable healthy habits on a daily basis is so important for creating lasting changes in your health and well-being. It all starts with recognizing diet culture and becoming more curious about your eating habits. However, without the daily practices of feeding yourself well, tuning in to your body and speaking to yourself with compassion and care, nothing will change. I recommend starting with one small shift at a time and slowing build up.
Here are a few ideas to try out:
- Take 3 deep breaths before each meal
- Cook 1 new recipe each week
- Practice enjoying your favorite indulgence without guilt
- Start each day with a 20-minute walk
Circling back to my promise to share my thoughts on *the perfect diet.*
Eating well is all about finding what truly works for you and your body. Eating foods that bring you joy and energize you. Being present at meals. I also believe that a healthy diet should flow into all aspects of life – how you connect with others, how you talk to yourself, how you feel in your body, and most importantly, how you show up in your life. I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this and invite you to comment below with one way that you’d like to quiet the noise of diet culture in your own life.
If you’re excited to start moving away from diet culture and are looking for some inspiration in creating colorful, nourishing meals that you are actually excited to eat, you can follow me over on Instagram @the.wildflower.kitchen or sign up for my newsletter here.
Need help tuning in to your body? Download these journal prompts to rediscover your definition of nourishment!
Chelsea Fechtner is a Certified Nutritionist with a Master of Science in Nutrition who is on a mission to help the nurturers of the world learn to prioritize their own nourishment, one cozy home-cooked meal at a time!