As a dietitian I am constantly bombarded with these “buzz words;” it’s just the nature of the diet-obsessed world we live in. They are so much a part of our language that we’ve become desensitized to them so much so that these conversations have become commonplace and even expected. We want to arm you with the knowledge to see through this diet culture BS and better understand the science backing up what could potentially be harmful - not helpful - to your health.
Consider this post a personal PSA to you.
Here’s a list of some cringe-worthy, diet buzzwords.
“Cleanse” or “Detox”
*NEWSFLASH* If you have a liver or a kidney (which, if you are human, likely do) your body does a pretty darn good job at naturally detoxing for us. These organs filter out toxins, waste, and byproducts which are then excreted. Your immune system helps fight off any germs or bacteria that may cause you to become sick.
By restricting what you are putting into your body you are actually interfering with the body’s natural detox mechanisms. So, the best way to allow for “toxins” to leave your body is to ensure you are fueling yourself with the energy and nutrients that the body needs to perform its job.
The reality: you don’t need to change or limit what you are eating in order to cleanse your body of toxins (whatever that even means). If you eat an adequate and varied diet, your body is perfectly capable of detoxing on its own! We all have vital organs that detox and cleanse for us every single day. Choking down a shot of apple cider vinegar or icky green juice might offer you some nutrition, but certainly can’t replace what your body is already capable of.
Low carbohydrate diets are incredibly popular because they promote the idea that if you limit carbohydrates, you will lose weight because your body will burn fat for fuel. What these diets don’t tell you is that your brain’s preferred source of fuel is a carbohydrate (glucose), requiring ~130 grams per day. Low carbohydrate diets have also been found to impair memory and brain function - makes sense if you’re not giving your brain the energy it needs! In long term studies, those who followed a low-carb diet had an increased risk of cancer, heart related problems and death. The purpose of nourishing your body is to provide it with what it needs to work optimally. Not giving your brain the fuel it needs can’t be helpful!
“Quick Fixes” and “Crash Diets”
The diet industry promotes a quick-fix mentality- that is, it promises results with as little effort as possible, in the shortest amount of time possible. We’ve seen those “before and after” photos plenty of times- the person on the left looks miserable and the person on the right is beaming- stretching their old jeans out to show you how much smaller their body is. In reality, diets don’t work, and quick fixes are even worse. A quick fix promises a lot- but falls short in the delivery. Your body interprets an energy or nutrient deficiency as starvation and enters flight or fight mode. It will hold onto everything that it can and will slow down your metabolism in order to conserve as much energy as possible. The body will ultimately compensate for the period of scarcity and protect you from it happening again.
The best way to maintain your health is to eat a varied, well-rounded diet; one with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fats, protein, and fun foods (foods that bring you enjoyment and satisfaction). Restricting yourself from foods is no fun and you will end up wanting the food more the more you deny yourself the pleasure.
People often say, “If I just had more willpower or self-control”. They want to be able to resist cravings and stay away from certain foods they love. The best way to curb hunger and deal with cravings is by responding to those signals without judgment. Here at NourishRX, we believe you should give your body what it is asking for when it asks. When you give yourself permission to enjoy the food, you will be less likely to be taken over by thoughts of that specific food. If you are preoccupied with the thoughts of the food, you will be until you “cave” and eat way more than you originally would have and now have a stomach ache (and maybe even some intense feelings of guilt). Eating isn’t about self-control or will power, it’s about listening to your body and what it wants when you want it. It’s about listening to your hunger cues, eating when you are hungry, and stopping when you are satisfied.
Reality check: no food is morally superior to another.
If you are preoccupied with thoughts of the food, you will be until you “cave” and eat way more than you originally would have and now have a stomach ache. Eating isn’t about self-control or will power, it’s about listening to your body and what it wants when you want it. It’s about listening to your hunger cues, eating when you are hungry, and stopping when you are satisfied. It means that occasionally you will eat past the point of fullness, which is OK! When we learn to trust our bodies, the concept of willpower seems silly.
“BMI + Social Comparisons”
Diet culture is obsessed with weight. We are conditioned from a young age to think that smaller = better. However, this is largely based on society’s fatphobic, thinness-obsessed ideals, and not any actual evidence indicating that weighing less is better for one’s health. Weight and BMI are not indicators of health. Everyone is different, and everyone’s body is happy and healthy at a certain weight range which can fluctuate between 10-20 pounds (called a set point).
So here are some reasons why we shouldn’t focus on weight:
Weight doesn’t predict disease. If you are giving your body what it needs to function and intuitively moving in activities you love, you will be healthy and happy.
Restricting food only lowers cholesterol and blood sugar for the short term.
People categorized as overweight or obese live just as long as their “normal” weight counterparts or maybe even longer!
People who maintain a stable weight, and don’t yo-yo have a lower risk of chronic disease.
Your body is your home so protect it and honor it.
Weighing yourself and falling into diet culture can set you up for restriction and disordered eating patterns.
Muscle weighs more than fat, you are strong and beautiful, and you better believe it!
When it comes to body shapes and sizes everybody is different. In today’s society with social media, magazines, and advertisements everywhere, we often find ourselves comparing our bodies to those that we see- which are often unrealistic and unattainable. What we need to remember is that many times those pictures are altered using fancy lighting and editing software.
We love to use the “poodle science” analogy. There are so many different sizes, shapes, and breeds of dogs. Each breed is unique and even individual dogs within breeds have varying needs based on their build, genetics, metabolic rate, and level of activity. The same goes for humans. We all have unique genes that make us different “breeds” in a sense, which is why nutrition isn’t a “one size fits all” equation or simply calories in=calories out. Our body size is much more complex and nuanced and at the end of the day, largely out of our control. Dogs don’t discriminate, a Labrador doesn’t try to be a chihuahua, so why are we trying to attain something that is biologically impossible.
So, next time you think about stepping on the scale remember that your weight is not a predictor of your health or wellbeing.
Seemingly one week to the next, there’s a new headline in the news telling us the food group de jour to eliminate in order to transform our body. Ask anyone you know and they are likely to confirm that gluten, dairy, and carbs are “toxic” for our body because they know someone whose life changed dramatically when they cut out some arbitrary food group. There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence, but not a whole lot of real science-based evidence. So, what to believe?
We don’t believe you should cut out whole food groups unless you have a medical reason to do so, such as an allergy or intolerance such as lactose intolerance. When you cut certain food groups out of your diet you are restricting access to variety (which our bodies crave) in addition to an opportunity of absorbing health-promoting nutrients. If you restrict dairy products you are missing out on an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D. If you restrict grains you are missing out on fiber plus many essential B vitamins and folate. A well-rounded diet full of every kind of food is the best way to maintain health and stay well. While it isn’t as sexy as eliminating specific foods, the best way to take care of your body and overall health is to eat a variety of foods, and not let an unnecessary diet contribute to your stress levels.
“But what’s the problem with having one cheat day if I eat healthy on all the other days of the week?”, you might ask.
The problem with cheat days is that they’re self-sabotaging and cultivate a poor relationship with food. Food freedom isn’t conditional, or only allowable on certain days of the week. Giving yourself permission to enjoy all foods removes the forbidden fruit factor, thus reducing the likelihood of “over-doing it” with those highly palatable foods when the opportunity arises. This takes time and lots of practice, but eventually those previously “forbidden” foods no longer possess so much power over you.
And seriously...you can cheat on an exam, cheat on your partner...but you aren’t cheating anything by eating some pizza (or whatever food might be deemed as a “cheat day food”). You are honoring your hunger and preferences at the moment.
Remember: Restriction leads to overeating or binging. Unconditional permission is both physical and psychological and takes a ton of experimentation and practice. We aren’t going to get it right every time, and it requires a lot of unlearning of previously held beliefs that are rooted in diet culture.
A balanced diet means eating all nutritious foods your body needs and allowing your body to have what it wants or craves. If you restrict foods chances are that when you are finally allowed to have them, you will overeat. Honoring your food desires as they arise, rather than waiting for a specific day of the week, enables you to have as much or as little of that food as it takes to be satisfied, then move on with your life.
Clean eating is the belief that processed foods are morally inferior and that individuals who eat strictly “whole, real food” and organic are morally superior. It is the belief that clean eating will heal what ails you, heal your gut (whatever that means), clear up your skin; you name it, eating clean will do the trick. It was made especially popular by popular bloggers and social media influencers, lending a hand into a new kind of disordered eating: orthorexia. Orthorexia is an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. You’re probably thinking, “being obsessed with being healthy doesn’t sound like a problem to me!”. However, orthorexia and clean eating take healthy eating to an extreme, creating unnecessary preoccupation around food. It can interfere with having a healthy relationship with food, make eating out with friends and family stressful, and give food more power than it really has. While yes, your eating pattern has an impact on your overall health and wellbeing, the whole “food is medicine” a belief is problematic because there is so much more to health than what you eat.
The clean eating movement is a lot like the “wellness” diet- as in, strict rule-based eating under the guide of health and wellness. While often well-intentioned, becoming obsessed with wellness doesn’t make you healthier, it just makes you obsessed. And being obsessed with anything isn’t necessarily a good thing for your mental or physical health.
In reality, most of the food in the grocery store is processed in one way or another, so really the movement is unrealistic and in vain.
The best way to eat in a way where you are eating foods that provide your body with the nutrients it needs, while also being flexible in your eating. If you ask us, the best way to “eat clean” is by eating in the bathtub! Win-win!
This is marketing at it’s best right here. The pomegranate, kale, elderberry, turmeric, acai...guys, these foods have been around for ages. What it took was a good marketing campaign to bolster their sales by placing them on a throne. Marketers have deemed them “superfoods” as if they possess some sort of magical powers. I hate to break it to you, but these foods, even if all of them are blended together into one super-human smoothie aren’t going to cure all that ails you. Sure, these foods are packed with nutrients, fiber and antioxidants, but relying only on these foods for nourishment can be considered harmful to your wellbeing, especially if you start to notice that you are avoiding eating other foods that you used to once enjoy. The bottom line here is to eat a variety of foods from a variety of food groups to ensure optimal nutrient intake.
There is a plethora of false information out there and marketing typically uses these glorifying adjectives to lure you in. Arm yourself with knowledge.
These words and phrases are a way to get you to adhere to society's ideal of “thinness”, “fitness”, or “wellness.” The diet industry makes billions of dollars off of people trying to fit in with these ideals that are set up for us. Instead of buying into these messages, we need to reject them and listen to our inner hunger cues and cravings. Your body knows what it needs and wants. Everyone is different, so don’t buy into a one size fits all mentality. Embrace this difference and fuel your body to do what it was made to do.
We have been conditioned into believing that if we aren't dieting or actively trying to shrink ourselves, we're doing something wrong. There is a plethora of false information out there and marketing typically uses these glorifying adjectives to lure you in. You can opt-out.
And remember, you are strong and beautiful just the way you are.