If you've ever read a magazine, watched an infomercial, listened to health tips, or anything that involves health, fashion, or food, you may or may not have come across the buzzword of the century; diet.
Now, I may not know all too much about health compared to a licensed nutritionist or practicing doctor, but I seem to know a lot more about what a diet really is, and how it can severely affect people, a lot of very young people and grown adults alike, that fall into the unfortunate trap which is dieting.I can't assume everyone knows everything. I don't know who bothers to read an article written by an 18-year-old who has only basic understandings of health... but let's assume, whoever you are, that you know jack-all about healthy living in the context of dieting.
I'm not trying to come off as condescending. Believe me, if you fit the criteria I have just listed, I have and always will be at the same point as you with some or other topic.
In light of this, let's start off basic. What is a diet?
Well, it's a lot more simple than people make it out to be. By definition, a diet is what you consume on a regular basis. To give you an example, an omnivore has a diet inclusive of animals and plants, meaning that they are able to or need to consume these to survive.
When we look at the more modern definition of diet, it is to restrict what we consume in order to achieve a goal. This can be anything ranging from losing weight, gaining muscle, detoxing (getting rid of toxic residue in your body), abstaining from food products for personal reasons such as belief or religion, avoiding allergic reactions, and basically anything else you could think of.
What is diet culture? A straight-forward definition is the values, supposed knowledge, and beliefs that try to convince us that how we eat defines our moral character.
Diet culture is what we see in the magazines about how to lose weight fast, what they show on the tv about the latest fitness program, the often anorexic models on the runway, the spit-on-them-if-they-breathe attitudes non-professionals and professionals alike have about overweight and underweight people, the attitudes on the definition of well-being, the condemnation of people who aren't bothered by their appearance, the importance placed on aesthetics rather than true health, and everything related to how we perceive well-being in terms of looks over how we feel.
If you have ever experienced anything like this, you have been exposed to diet culture.
If you're like me, you're a bit too curious for your own good. You make connections, and miniature light bulbs flicker on in your head. You want to be the devil's advocate, or maybe you just want to question what your reading is and not just accept it as fact. Let's be that person and ask, what's good about diet culture?
- It makes you think about what you eat. When you diet, everything you eat drink, or even think about, has your full and undivided attention. You are making decisions based on your goals, and that gives you the ability to choose what you consume.
- It informs you on science and how the body works. This might be a stretch because a lot of diets use pseudoscience and social intimidation to explain 'facts' that may not necessarily be true. But how much did you know about caloric intake before it became a fad? Did you know that even fruit contains sugar? You probably didn't, and you have diet culture to thank for it.
- It makes people happy (?). This one is heavily based on individual outcomes, but the idea is that if you diet and reach your goal, you have succeeded and should be happy. A major problem is sometimes the expected goal isn't reached and you are left unsatisfied, feeling like something is wrong with you. Even worse, the goal being completed or uncompleted can lead to more extreme versions of dieting.
- It doesn't consider health. The irony of diet culture is that it claims to have health as the backbone. In reality, very few diets consider the needs of the dieter. It tells them what to do and how to do it, but not why. Why do you need to lose weight if you are already eating healthily?
- It teaches shame towards food, something all humans need to survive. From very young ages, people are being viewed as objects that are required to be perfected. It creates body negativity and anti-food ideas that claim that food and ugly bodies are evil.
- It disregards science, personal needs, and predispositions. In short I'm referring to genetics. Not everyone can go on a diet because, surprisingly, not everyone is the same. Even touching lightly on topics such as epigenetics (the stuff that influences what genes are turned on and off), metabolism (how fast you burn through calories and fat), family history with illness and disabilities, you can already see a huge problem in cookie-cutter diets.
- It places a ridiculous amount of importance on beauty. Even if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the beholder can try to tell you what to do. Some of us are, and will always be, ugly in some way. Why is this such a big deal? Why do jaws drop when we don't need to be told we are beautiful in order to feel good about ourselves. Not everyone is shallow and superficial and yes, while I admit it would be fantastic to be seen as a beauty icon, I believe people should love themselves because you will always be stuck in that body so you might as well love yourself, bumps and all.
- It invades your personal life in order to make you feel obligated to feel bad about how you live your life. It makes you think you need something in order to live your life 'properly'. I already live my life properly, I don't need a diet to make me think I'm doing it wrong. It makes up random rules about what you should and shouldn't do, and makes you feel like a failure.
I could go on and on. I don't want to keep talking about it for too long, but let me just point out that people have written books and made movies about all of this.
These are all fair points you may say, but let's play devils' advocate one more time. Who am I to say diets don't work? Who am I to point out these things? Who do I think I am trying to tell other people what to do?
I would never tell someone what to do, I would only recommend, because I know not everyone is the same and I respect that. Yet diets and 'health experts' shamelessly tell people what to do every single day based on outdated and superficial ideologies that serve no purpose other than to adhere to imaginary moral standards, using scare tactics, blackmailing, and pseudoscience.
You must be sitting there, exhausted, thinking, "Well that article was great, but now what?" There's nothing to worry about. In fact, today, I'll be giving you the exclusive secret to the healthiest lifestyle you could ever live (would you like to order my catalogue?).
In all seriousness, there are four basic principles that I have found are flexible, balanced, and manageable, and can be incorporated into your life without shame, without premeasured expectations, and without false claims. It comes from a well-being standpoint and considers what is best for you, not for anyone else.
I call it the PAVE lifestyle, as it 'paves' your way to a healthier, more positive lifestyle that is open about how you eat and drink and feel. Each aspect ties together to create a well-balanced idea of well-being.
- Portion. Portion, as far as I've seen, can wildly vary depending on where you are. When you eat too much, what happens is that your stomach expands, and you will always feel hungry and unsatisfied. Not only that, but huge portions means that you might be having too much food and therefore wasting it, which can be a huge financial issue. On the other side, not having enough food means that your body is starved of something — if your body feels hungry, it probably is. Your body needs enough energy to run itself.
- Amount. When you think about things like burgers, you think you should avoid them all together because they are called junk food. But really, you can have burgers, chocolate, fish and chips, alcohol, etc., as long as you keep quantity in mind. In other words, how often and how much you have something.
- Variety. Variety means changing it up, having a lot of different foods in your diets, including fats. The most important part about variety is that it makes sure your body has everything it needs to function well. If you only lived off of chicken nuggets, carrots, and fruit juice, your body would not function properly, despite one of those things being healthy (remember, health is relative).
- Exercise. This is one I don't currently take seriously in my own life, but I know I definitely should. Exercise helps your body work through built up energy, and often makes you feel better. It is about looking after yourself. Modern life has made it easy for us to sit all day (I know this too well). Having regular exercise is fundamental to our survival. But here is the easy part — exercise can be as simple as a quick walk, or an elaborate two hour gym session, as long as it is within reason and makes you feel happy and comfortable.
But you are powerful. You don't realise it until you ask why body builders would be considered obese on the BMI scale. You don't realise it until you wonder why fat is a bad word. You don't realise it until you take a bite out of something you don't enjoy but eat because you feel obligated to and tell yourself you deserve better than this. You don't realise it until you start wondering if what you're doing is actually healthy.
I believe in health, not in diets. I believe everyone should be taught about body positivity, and about what you really need to have a good life. I want to feel good about myself no matter how I look, and you should too because you have one chance in this life to experience happiness and fulfillment.
Why waste the opportunity?