Diets: What You Should Know

This blog post is written by Olesya (Oleska) Prokopovych, a nutrition student volunteering at Nourish & Nurture

I cannot count the number of times I hear the word “diet.” Not only because I am in the nutrition field, but also because of how our society is obsessed with the idea of “dieting” to lose weight. Messages of weight-loss are everywhere. Have you seen the magazines at the grocery store’s checkout? What about those Instagram fitness accounts? You might have even heard this message from your doctor.

What is a “diet”

When I say the word “diet,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? When you look up the word “diet” on Google, you get two main definitions:

  1. noun. the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.

  2. noun. a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.

The two are obviously different. The first implies that a diet is one’s way of eating day-to-day. It could consist of a balanced, satisfying, meal that is enjoyed. However, the second is the one most people think of when they hear the D-word. It implies that a diet is a sort of restriction for the purposes of losing weight. It is common practice to be “dieting” and it is encouraged in many social and even medical scenarios.

Nowadays, it is difficult to talk about diet, food, and weight in a neutral context. The conversation might be about using diets to lose weight, or categorizing foods as “good” or “bad.” The good news is that this does not have to be the case. According to the Health at Every Size (HAES) paradigm, weight is not as important of a factor in someone’s health as many may believe. Aside from any messages from the media of what defines an “attractive” body, many of us are under the impression that weight is something that should be lost if you are anything more than skinny. We are made to believe that this can be done by eating smaller portions, avoiding the foods we enjoy, and exercising more. More good news: there is a way to have a good relationship with food, love your body, and be healthy all in one! This can be done though intuitive eating.

Intuitive eating as a dieting alternative

Christy Harrison, an intuitive eating coach and anti-diet dietitian, tells us that we all knew how to eat intuitively at one point. When we are little, we have a natural instinct when it comes to eating. When we are hungry we scream, when we are full, we stop eating. It is only as we get older that we rewrite these natural behaviours through what we are taught. It could be from your mother telling you not to take seconds so you can find a partner, or hearing the normalized conversations about dieting in movies and tv shows.

Intuitive eating is about honoring your hunger. It is about eating when you are hungry, shame-free, and eating until you are full (even if that means taking seconds or thirds). It means being present in the moment you are eating and enjoying your meals. It means allowing yourself to feel satisfaction and pleasure from food.

Anti-diet movement and diet culture

Christy Harrison defines anti-diet as anti-diet culture. She explains that diet culture is made up of a group of toxic beliefs such as the following:

  • Being skinny means you are healthier, more attractive, and overall better

  • Intentional weight-loss is sustainable for more than a few years at most

  • Categorizing and obsessing over foods and losing touch with the pleasures of eating

  • Self-hatred or social discrimination against larger-bodied people

An example of diet culture is the Wellness Diet. The diet industry is getting old as more folks are learning about the lies they sell. As a result, new trends are rising in its place. As Harrison puts it, the Wellness Diet is about eating “the ‘right’ things and removing supposedly ‘impure’ foods from your life.” This diet includes terms like “clean eating,” demonizes foods such as gluten, and promotes elimination diets in the claim of health.

The anti-diet movement goes far beyond fad diets and meal plans. It is a movement to respect all bodies, to teach children how to have a good relationship with food, and much, much more.

Bodies are stubborn when it comes to weight-loss

The Set Point Theory describes that everyone has a weight range their body constantly works hard to maintain (Mirror Mirror Eating Disorder Help). This means that if you were to start eating more than you need, regularly, your body will do what it can to regulate its weight back to its set point. Your metabolism would speed up, and your satiety levels would go down, making you less hungry. This would result in you eating less and going back to your set point (Health at Every Size by Lindo Bacon). This also works the other way around.

When one severely restricts themselves from food, they become more hungry and their metabolism slows down. This makes it harder for them to lose weight than when they started their diet. For this reason it is easier to lose weight in the beginning of a diet than in the long term. Additionally, when the body is put into starvation mode enough times it feels threatened, and in defense it raises the body’s set point. So in an attempt to lose weight, most people end up gaining weight instead. This mechanism is thought to be an evolutionary defense against starvation (Health at Every Size by Lindo Bacon).

Here is a summary of the usual cycle:

“Dieting” → extra hungry → “breaking diet” → gaining weight back, and then some → repeat

Dietitians are not the “food police”

Contrary to popular belief, a dietitian's role involves working with, not against, the client. Their greatest desire is to help with whatever issues you may have that can be aided through nutrition. Dietitians do not exist to shame you for what you eat, nor force you to make changes you are not ready for. Also, dietitians are meant to be informative and educational. They will teach you the things you want to know and break down misconceptions. For example, they can tell you that any trending “diet” to lose weight may not be realistic or necessary for a healthy lifestyle.

In summary

The anti-dieting movement is ultimately an anti-diet culture movement.

Diet culture is what teaches us negative notions about weight, bodies, and food.

Intuitive eating allows you to recreate the relationship you had with food as an infant.

Diets make you gain weight long term.

If your body rejects weight-loss, it probably is not your fault.

Dietitians will not participate in diet culture or weight-shaming and want nothing more than to help you.

Olesya (Oleska) is a 5th year student in the Nutrition and Food program at Ryerson University. Last year she realized she wishes to become a Registered Dietitian and has since been doing everything she can to gain experience and prepare herself for grad school applications in the near future. She has always loved food and cared very deeply for her health and well-being.

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