Diet Culture & Why It Is Toxic for Our Mental Health + How to be Healthy at Every Size
In this podcast (episode #377) and blog, I talk to RD and nutritionist Shana Minei Spence about the dangers of diet culture, the benefits of intuitive eating, nutrition and mental health, disordered eating, and so much more!
In her practice, Shana takes a non-diet approach to eating, which includes emphasizing health at every size, and getting people comfortable with their food and lifestyle choices so that they can live their best lives.
Unfortunately, modern diet culture has made many of us second guess ourselves and our worth, which has led to a lot of stress and confusion that is affecting not only our physical health but our mental wellbeing as well.This is why it is so important that we change the way we think about AND talk about food. Shana prefers the idea of nourishment rather than terms like “clean foods” or “good foods” or "healthy eating".
Nourishment looks different for different people. There is no one way or eating that works for everyone. It is about finding a way of eating that works for us as a unique individuals—this is what intuitive eating is all about!
Intuitive eating is more than just eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full. It is about learning what works for you and your changing needs in order to nourish your brain and body. It is about learning how your body reacts to different foods within the context of your life. As a practice, intuitive eating is about understanding your unique habits and the psychology behind your food choices, which will help you learn how to make food choices that make you feel free, comfortable and good in your own body.
Unfortunately, modern diet culture has impacted both the psychological and social aspect of food. For many people, modern diet culture makes eating less enjoyable; indeed, for many people it has made the act of going out or enjoying meals with loved ones very stressful. As Shana notes, our social connection to food should be enjoyed and celebrated, but diet culture makes this hard to do. Diet should just mean a way of eating but for a lot of people it has become incredibly restrictive way of life.
Today, many people learn ways of eating from a celebrity, online or something they have heard about that will make them look or feel a certain way. Yet, as mentioned above, we are all different and we need to find what works for us, or we will get stressed and frustrated when don’t get the same results. Our bodies are unique!
One way to start exiting the “diet culture mindset” is to watch how you spend your time online. Diversify your social media feed, mute accounts that trigger you, remember that there is more than one way of eating, and follow accounts that celebrate this diversity. When you do this, you will find ways to avoid comparing yourself to others, which can improve your own relationship with food and your own body.
It is also important to be selective when it comes to who you ask for help. Trainers and others health professionals often project their own insecurities and issues on their clients, especially in the food and nutrition space.
Indeed, we need to recognize that there is a very thin line between disordered eating and eating disorders, and it can be hard to tell when this line has been crossed. Disordered eating is when someone becomes obsessed with what they are eating and how they are moving. It can be hard to see or define, and often leads to eating disorders, which are treated in clinical settings and can be life-threatening.
Rather than focusing on a particular diet or measurement, we should be thinking about health at every size. Healthy at every size does not just mean health at every size. It means that whatever you have going on, it’s fine to work towards getting healthy. The key is to focus on actually being healthy, not losing weight or wearing a particular size. Thin people can also be unhealthy too, so it is important that we shift our focus towards health behaviors not weight loss, and avoid terrible guidelines like the BMI (body mass index). Your number will not be the same as someone else’s number! People can be healthy in larger bodies. True nourishment is about thriving and living, which is the definition of health.
We also shouldn’t discriminate against certain diets. There are so many different ways of eating that exist in the world, and each of these ways have value for different people. Foods may look or taste different, but this does not make them “bad”. We should not just focus on ways of eating like the Mediterranean diet, which is overemphasized is current diet culture.
Food is also about access to foods, healthcare, and education, among many other factors. It is not just about telling someone to “eat better”. We have to change the conversation and stop food shaming. We need to think about the words we use to describe food. For example, everything we eat is “processed”, so we can’t just say things like “avoid processed food”. And when it comes to how the food landscape has changed, it is also important to understand the cultural changes that accompany dietary shifts. It’s about looking at our lifestyle habits, such as how much we eat, how we eat, our cultural ideas around food and rest, not just foods.
For more on intuitive eating and mental health, listen to my podcast with Shana (episode #377), and check out her website. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
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1:55 Why Shana loves the non-diet approach to eating
2:30, 10:00 How diet culture affects our sense of self & ability to enjoy eating
4:00 A better way of thinking & talking about food
6:12, 16:30 What intuitive eating is
7:30 The psychological & social aspects of eating
12:55 A better way of thinking about & eating food
15:40 There is no one way of eating!
19:20 Social media & dieting
25:21 Eating disorders & disordered eating
27:35 Healthy at every size
33:10 Food shaming & discrimination
41:00 How should we understand how the food landscape has changed, including how society & culture has changed
55:00 Food preferences & food choices
58:30 Body dysmorphia
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