Most of us, in this modern age have accepted that diets simply don’t work. The research agrees with us: 90-95% of them fail; for weight-loss plans, weight is regained within 2-5 years. Chronic dieting contributes to higher overall BMI through lower metabolism and over-exaggerated hunger signals post-dieting, making it harder and harder to lose the weight we want to-- and easier to gain it back. A 30+ year study showed regardless of initial weight, those whose weight cycled (lost and regained continually) have a higher overall death rate and risk of cardiovascular disease. Dieting contributes to depression and low self esteem, and the cycle continues. So many of us have gotten on board the diets don’t work train. We've just hopped on a new car. The car we’ve hopped on? The Wellness Diet.
The so-called ‘Wellness Diet’ is even more pervasive in our society. It’s dieting, under the guise of health. It’s restriction, behind the sneaky mask of wellness. May I stop here for a minute and remind you I AM a nutritionist and I am ALL about living a healthy life and creating healthy habits that last. Stay with me, friends.
The Wellness Diet tells us certain foods or food groups are good and certain foods are bad. It beats us up for making choices that are ‘unhealthy’ and puts our worth in what passes our lips. It destroys our self esteem and trust in our bodies every time we veer from perfection.
Don’t eat that, it’s fattening.
You shouldn’t eat sugar- it’s the new smoking.
You still eat CARBS??
I’m just cutting out grains, beans, legumes, dairy, sugar, caffeine, and air-- just to find out what feels good in my body.
‘Clean eating’ (a term I used myself up until recently) implies that foods that don’t fall into this category are, in fact ‘dirty’. It makes food a moralistic issue. We are good for eating clean, or bad for not.
It villanizes nutrients (remember the low fat craze?) and food groups (now fat is the new carbs) based on shoddy, broad-sweeping research. It ignores bioindividuality and makes extreme claims about wonder foods.
It turns healthy eating into an idol.
The false-balanced notion of ‘80/20’ has us creating unrealistic standards of excellence most of the time, with full permission to go and ‘cheat’ -- if only we pay the penance of perfection the next day.
This restrict-and-binge cycle sounds a lot like dieting, doesn’t it?
Putting foods in moralistic terms, labeling foods ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’ sets us up for failure every time we don’t meet this unrealistic standard set up by society and ourselves. It tells us we will never achieve good health without achieving perfection in our eating.
It puts ‘health’ on a pedestal as a marker of our worth.
It tells us that if we are not in perfect health, we are no longer a worthy human. We are wrong because our bodies are failing us-- and it is our fault.
Your food choices are only ONE piece of the health puzzle.
Perfection doesn’t exist-- and striving for it only sets us up for defeat.
‘Shooting for the moon’ doesn’t mean landing among the stars of dragonfruit and kale smoothies-- it usually means a thud into a cavern of donuts and doritos-- foods that in and of themselves, when eaten with joy and purpose-- the purpose of pleasure and enjoyment- not health-- are innocuous.
Eating donuts and doritos all day isn’t healthful eating-- we know this. But restricting yourself to ONLY dragonfruit and kale and bingeing on so-called ‘imperfect’ foods on the weekend, ending in feelings of unworthiness, defeat and self-hatred is not contributing to our health. Neither is obsessively tracking and measuring our worth via macros, restricting entire food groups or only allowing ourselves foods from a select list of virtuous foods, for fear the ‘bad’ foods will send us into some jail of food ethics. The real prison is that which we are trapped in thinking we are good or righteous if our food choices are only ‘good’. That if we veer off of this path we are destroying our bodies with every bite.
Friends, this is no way to live. You do not find balance by restricting yourself to an unrealistic standard. Food is meant to be nourishment, fuel, pleasure AND joy. Donuts were never intended to be a health food but it doesn’t mean they can’t be a part of a healthy life. Kale has no bearing on your moral standing as nutrient-packed as it is.
Balance is not found on the pages of the latest clean eating meal plan-- balance is found in allowing yourself permission to eat.
Just EAT. Eat without pretense, without plans of self-punishment or labels that turn food choices into a judgment of character-- your own or others’.
When we make peace with food-- all food, we tune into our bodies’ actual cues- the ones we were born with, those of hunger and fullness and satisfaction and yes, even nutrition. As much as we believe we will ONLY choose donuts and doritos if we decide to make peace with all food, our bodies are hard-wired to eat intuitively. They are designed to crave wellness-- REAL wellness.
Real wellness is not found in inflexible meal plans or only eating ‘clean’, in Whole30-ing to make an excuse out of restricting yourself of entire food groups. Wellness is found in discovering what feels good in YOUR body. This might mean stepping outside your usual plate to try foods that are nutrient-dense to find what fits. It might mean choosing to eat more vegetables from a place of self care and self love, but coming from a place of self loathing will never result in lasting change or true wellness.
True wellness doesn’t fit into a box. It doesn’t have a name or a category or a label. That’s because true wellness is unique to you. Wellness is a process of discovering a balance that comes naturally when you commit to making peace with ALL food and seeing dragonfruit as equal to a donut.
This isn’t easy work. Neither is dieting. But one lasts only for a short period of time, leaving us feeling defeated- one allows you peace and freedom in food forever. Which will you choose?