Let’s Talk About Diet Culture

I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve tried pretty much every diet out there. Low carb, Whole 30, ATKINS. I’ve restricted and counted calories to extremely low numbers (there was a time when I was only eating 600 calories a day – like WTF). From fad diets to creating my own unrealistic expectations of the “right” way to lose fat – I’ve done it all. On top of all of the diets, I’ve also given in to society’s normalization of categorizing my food into cheat meals, good foods, bad foods, etc. It’s all the same – BS. There aren’t good foods. There aren’t bad foods (will explain more below – hold your horses). You shouldn’t feel like you’re cheating when you eat a cheeseburger. You also shouldn’t be tied to a diet that’s “trending” just because that one girl you saw on Instagram lost weight in “only 2 weeks”. THAT is a dangerous place to be.

Let me explain.

There’s always a new diet or a new fad or a new way to drop inches in an unrealistic amount of time. There are cleanses and meal replacements and blah, blah, blah. I’ll be honest, until a few months ago, I was hooked just like you. I saw friends and celebrities dropping fat and meeting goals by following one of these “diets”. I’ve read about them in magazines. I’ve heard about them on the news. The “success” of these diets is hard to miss.

There’s a reason people want to latch on to quick fixes. They’re quick. You set a goal, you go at a slow and steady pace. You don’t see results right away and then you give up. It’s a vicious cycle that I have been familiar with one too many times and it makes you crave a quick fix. I’ve also been down the path of following a restrictive diet for 2 months, dropping tons of fat, going back to a healthy/balanced diet and gaining all of the weight back (because my body was holding on to all of the fuel it could). Once I gained the weight back, I gave up, ate all the cheeseburgers I wanted and gained even more unhealthy weight. Another vicious cycle.

Why I hate fad diets

Since starting my fitness journey almost a year ago, I’ve done it all. I’ve counted macros and calories. I’ve followed a balanced meal plan prepared by my trainer. I’ve eaten pasta and I’ve eaten salads and I’ve had more than my fair share of ice cream. What I have NOT done is follow a “diet”. And guess what – I met and surpassed my fitness goals. I dropped nearly 30 pounds of fat. I gained muscle. I gained confidence. I gained knowledge.

My point? I didn’t have to follow a fad diet to get there.

  • Typically, the latest “fad” diet is based on something super restrictive like eliminating carbs completely. Guess what – you can eat carbs and lose fat or gain muscle or stay the same. You should eat carbs. And fat. And protein. Most of these diets that restrict carbs cause participants to shed water weight giving the appearance on the scale that weight has dropped. As soon as you start eating a more balanced diet, your body holds on to all of that water again and you’re back where you started.
  • Most of these diets follow one set of rules that are supposed to apply to everyone that wants to give it a try. Guess what? We aren’t all the same. We all need a different amount of macronutrients and calories to sustain our weight, drop fat or gain muscle. Trending diets tend to ignore this simple fact and are not built be sustained for a truly balanced healthy lifestyle.
  • Elimination diets, unless directed by a registered dietician or nutritionist for health purposes (i.e. allergies), can lead to extremely unhealthy relationships with food. If a diet tells me that carbs are not good for me and I shouldn’t eat them – next time I look at a potato or a bowl of rice will most likely bring on a negative thought vs “hey, this is going to give me energy”.
Speaking of unhealthy relationships with food, let’s talk about these categories we create around what we eat: cheat meals, good foods and bad foods.

Instead of calling a cookie a bad food, it should be looked at as a snack we can enjoy every now and then when paired with a balanced diet. A cookie isn’t bad. It might not be nutrient dense and you might not want to eat them for every meal by themselves with an expectation to change your body composition. But it isn’t bad. And good foods are simple. If you like it, it’s good. Whether it’s packed with nutrients or is loaded with sugar, it’s good. If you enjoy it, it’s good.

In my opinion, good and bad shouldn’t be used to describe our food because it just drills into our heads that we should feel guilty about or be rewarded for our choices – and I’m not sure that is the healthiest way to look at fuel.

The only diet you should be on is a balanced one. One that is full of foods you enjoy. One that is full of a variety of nutrients and benefits. This means you can have cookies or pasta or cheese fries. It means you should also incorporate leafy greens and protein. But most importantly, it should be a “diet” that doesn’t make you develop an unhealthy relationship with food.

You shouldn’t be looking at less nutrient dense meals as cheat meals. You’re not cheating on your goals or fitness journey because you had pizza. You don’t have to make up for it with 60 minutes on the treadmill. Fad diets and these society-approved categories make us feel that way but that’s not the way it has to be.

How to move past the diet culture

+ Let’s get this straight. Your diet should simply refer to the overall way you’re consuming food on a long term basis. It can evolve over time as your goals change but it shouldn’t be something restricting you or making you crazy.

+ This diet should be balanced and it should be based on facts around your goals. Consult a nutritionist or consider using a macro calculator to identify the nutrient breakdown and calories needed to reach your goals of fat loss, muscle gain or maintenance. For example, I’m currently looking to trim some fat. Instead of going on a 14 day cleanse or cutting out all carbs, based on my results from a macro calculator I should be consuming:

1668 calories // 51g fat + 175g carbs + 125g protein each day*

*This is based on my weight and height and activity level. It is a general calculation that outlines the breakdown of calories paired with macronutrients that will help me achieve my goals of fat loss in a safe way.

+ Look at food as fuel instead of limitations. You clearly know that you can’t have pizza for every meal and have a healthy gut or body composition (unless you have a magic metabolism). For me, it’s been easier and more successful to plan out the majority of my meals following a researched macronutrient breakdown and then incorporate some of my favorite foods like sweets and pasta in between.

+ You don’t have to log and track to be successful. For me, being aware of how different foods make me feel has been key. I also try my hardest to make sure every single meal has a good balance of protein, carbs and fat. I don’t track or measure every meal – I don’t have time for that. But I do know that if I want pasta, I should aim for a dish that is full of chicken and veggies or order a big a$$ salad with steak and order pasta as a side. There’s no guilt or cheating or making myself feel bad. There’s no diet or set restrictions to make me feel like a failure. It’s simply about doing the research and finding my own sense of balance – and you can do it too.

It’s time to start breaking up with diets and the negative impact they have on our emotional wellbeing. We got this ladies!

Want more fitness inspiration? Check out The Fit Guide!