NUTRITION VERSUS DIET CULTURE
‘Diet culture’ versus actual nutrition/nutrition advice is something that I’ve wanted to discuss on my blog for a while. In my experience, the two are so intertwined and often confused. I will start by saying I love nutrition. As you probably know, I think food is super cool and I really think it can make you feel great, and is a component of a total healthcare system. However, food is majorly complex. How, what, when, where and why we eat is influenced by so many factors; availability, access, education, personal preferences, culture, economics, societal pressures, mental health and more. The study and practice of nutrition is vast, but in practice much of it takes into consideration these various factors, influences and the individualized nature to eating. Many practicing nutritionists often know that food is not simple.
In comes ‘diet culture’. Caring about nutrition, talking about nutrition and advocating for proper nutrition can often be confused with dieting and ‘diet culture’. Nutrition education and information, especially what we see through media, is also heavily influenced by ‘diet culture’. But what is ‘diet culture’?
From my understanding, ‘diet culture’ is a culture in which dieting, or eating a certain way is seen as morally better than other ways of eating. Diet culture values thinness as the ideal, and is unsupportive of all body sizes. Diet culture is literally everywhere, and constantly sending us the message (through magazines and advertisements etc.) that we are not enough – that we need to look a certain way and be a certain way to be “better”.
Many things fall under the category of ‘diet culture’. For instance, wanting to lose weight is often influenced by diet culture. Now, I am not saying you shouldn’t lose weight if you want to, but truly think about why you feel that way and what is influencing you. The language we use when we talk about food also falls under ‘diet culture’. Using language like “good” and “bad”, or “falling off the bandwagon” is all connecting a certain morality to food- you are good if you eat a certain way and bad if you do not. When we use language like this we are often comparing ourselves to some non-existent ideal of a perfect diet, that simply does not exist.
To offer their insight and to help us understand a nutritionist’s approach a bit better, I asked some of my nutritionist friends and colleagues to include their thoughts.
“As a nutritionist, I like to offer a realistic approach to eating that honours the mind and body. The body knows best when it comes to food, eating, nutrition, movement, rest, weight and self-care. Encouraging someone to follow a restrictive diet leaves that person isolated from society and unable to honour their natural hunger cues or cravings. It promotes a disordered mindset that can lead to food guilt, food anxiety and feelings of unworthiness. The moment you let go of food being “good” or “bad” is when you find that all food has it place. Some foods make your body feel amazing and some foods nourish your soul. It’s all about honouring how you feel in your body, living in balance and letting go of guilt and negative feelings around food.”
Holistic Nutritionist and Skin Therapist
“As a nutritionist, I strongly believe in taking small steps towards making lasting changes to your eating habits rather than jumping into extreme, restrictive, and often dangerous short-term diets. A big issue with fad diets is they are too generalized and claim to work for everyone. We are all distinct beings with individual genetics, from different cultures, with unique lifestyles and specific health concerns. These variances are crucial in determining nutritional needs from one person to the next. One size doesn’t fit all! That’s why I believe in slowly incorporating better eating habits. Incremental nutritional adjustments and lifestyle changes are habit forming and offer lasting results. It becomes less stressful on the body and better for one’s overall mental health. This slower adaptation to healthier eating choices wins every time. It lessens food cravings due to fewer restrictions and, as a bonus, you have less guilt when treating yourself to a favourite dessert every so often. Slow and steady wins the race!”
-Marina O’Connor, CNP
“Diet culture can create unhealthy patterns in your life, not just through what you’re eating. There is usually a desire to look a certain way and a sense of wanting to belong. Because of this, people become fixated on everything they put into their mouths, which is like a form of disordered eating. You begin to categorize foods into “good” vs. “bad” and when you have a “slip” and eat a “bad” food, you are hard on yourself. This creates negative relationships with food. My philosophy relies heavily on a “non-diet” approach. Your body is very intuitive and knows what it needs. This can mean eating when you’re hungry instead of forcing yourself to eat at specific times. It means eating whole foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, quality fats like avocados and olive oil, quality protein like grass-fed chicken, beef, turkey, etc. It means nourishing your body with foods that make you feel good! And lastly, this means eating a burger because you feel like it!”
Constantina Gravalos, Hon.B.A., CNP, RNCP/ROHP
“Part of nutrition is being intentional with the food you eat. Ask yourself (without judgement): “What is this particular food serving me right now?”
It’s connecting to what your body, mind and soul need right now while letting go of all the food rules we been taught throughout our lifetime that have distanced ourselves from our own intuitive senses.”
Thank you for reading! As always, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments or privately!