Yep. I'm going there.
As someone who coaches people to better themselves through their mindset + daily nutrition habits to improve their health, it feels necessary to have an open conversation about Diet Culture.
The fact is people do crazy, unhealthy, even dangerous diet behaviors in the name of health to lose weight. This isn’t healthy. --(I used to be one of those people)
In this blog, we are going to discuss what Diet Culture is + how we can shift our actions + our mindset to one that empowers us to...
1) Develop a definition of true health, regardless of body shape.
2) Begin to understand that if we have a goal to drop body fat we can do so in a healthy manner while fully accepting ourselves + being anti-diet.
What is Diet Culture exactly?
What comes to term when you think of the word diet?
Maybe you think of weight loss pills, food items labeled low-fat, tummy teas, weight loss shakes, juice cleanses, + eating methods that are overly restrictive to make you lose weight.
Although our culture is becoming more aware of body inclusiveness when it comes to images of health, the out-dated schools of thought regarding restriction + that a thin body is best are still present in our culture.
According to EDRDPRO.com...
Diet culture is a belief system that focuses on and values weight, shape, and size over well-being. Variations of diet culture also include rigid eating patterns that on the surface are in the name of health, but in reality, are about weight shape or size.
Diet culture is really tricky because as we have learned that diets don’t work, they (diet culture) have transformed their message to say that they are all about health. Their definition of health though, is one that is synonymous with weight- that when you lose weight (by any means necessary) then you will be healthier. By restricting your eating and eliminating food groups you will feel better and be happier.
Diet Culture is a culture, especially when it comes to marketing, that feeds off of our feelings of inadequacy and/or assumptions that a large person is unhealthy based on looks alone.
The fact is, marketing (of all kinds) feeds off of our insecurities + what society tells us beauty is. It is driven by preconceived notions that larger=bad + thinner=good. It often leaves us with distorted views + questioning our worth due to our body image.
Simply put, marketing companies make MONEY by playing off of people's insecurities + assumptions of what a healthy body is.
Diet Culture is dangerous + harms people of all sizes, including perpetuating eating disorders + making a full recovery nearly impossible if these individuals allow themselves to be victims of these ideals.
I think it is extremely valuable to love and accept yourself regardless of your current size.
After all, self-acceptance is the precursor to maintaining a healthy lifestyle for the long-term. More about that in a bit...
What IS a healthy body?
Because I've worked with many different people of all shapes, sizes + lifestyles a few things to me have become true. True health is so much more than what we are eating (or aren't eating). Much of health has to do with our quality of life, what we are thinking + the level of personal responsibility we are willing to take to live a better life.
Let's talk about modern medical assessments to define health. In the past, a healthy level of body fat was measured by body weight or BMI (body mass index) which determines a person's health based on their height + weight. This outdated method only gives us a snapshot since it is measuring the size of the body but fails to tell us what the body is made of.
Diet Culture can also be present within our health care systems. Some doctors that assume larger patients are not healthy solely based on the way a patient's body looks and/or their BMI alone. Some doctors also believe that thinner patients are healthy solely based on their looks + BMI.
So how do we get a better picture of what's happening inside to determine health?
We can start by testing body composition which includes details about the amount of fat, protein, minerals, and body water inside of the body.
Here's what InBodyusa.com has to say in more detail:
Body composition analysis through reliable is a method of describing what the body is made of, differentiating between fat, protein, minerals, and body water to give you a snapshot of your health. In a medical sense, we can define a healthy body based on body fat percentage as a guideline.
[...]Health practitioners universally agree that too much fat is a serious health risk. Problems such as hypertension, elevated blood lipids (fats and cholesterol), diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, respiratory dysfunction, gallbladder disease, and a myriad of other health problems are all related to obesity.
The ongoing epidemic of obesity in children and adults has highlighted the importance of knowing a person’s body fat for short-term and long-term health. An important part of understanding a user’s health is differentiating between what is healthy and what is not, especially when it comes to fat.
It’s common to assume that having as little fat as possible is healthy. However, being thin does not automatically reduce one’s health risk. Being thin refers to weighing less than the recommended values in age-height-weight tables. Leanness, however, refers to the muscle, bone, and fat composition of one’s body weight. Being lean intrinsically indicates greater muscle mass development than thin.
[...]A healthy body fat percentage range for men is between 10-20%, while for women it's between 18-28% (due to organs and other anatomical/genetic makeup).
Lower body fat percent ranges can be healthy, as an athlete, however, they should be closely monitored by a coach along with a physician to ensure that mental health, the endocrine system, and other body systems stay healthy. Long-term low body fat percentages can result in long-term issues if not closely monitored to ensure the body is operating optimally.
Higher body fat percent ranges should be monitored as well in order to prevent the risk of heart disease, Type II Diabetes, and other diseases. If left unattended it is very likely that one or more of these issues may occur if health does not become balanced.
What's more, is that two people of the same height + weight can look different due to their body composition since muscle is more dense than fat.
How do I find out what my body fat percentage is?
Several methods are available due to our modern technology. More information can be found on each method with a simple internet search. The methods below vary in price + accuracy.
Here are several methods to choose from:
Air Displacement Plethysmography
Bioelectric Impedance Analysis (BIA), such as the InBody
If you are local to the Cleveland Ohio area + would like to schedule an appointment with me for an InBody scan and analysis you can do so HERE. Please mention your scan in the notes.
What if I don't have a healthy body composition + I want to stay just as I am?
Being happy with yourself in your own skin, regardless of what society tells us is an admirable superpower, to say the least! Many people struggle during their entire lives with their body image so consider yourself fortunate.
If you know for a fact that you are not within a healthy body fat percentage, and you want to stay where you are, do your research to find out if it is worth the long-term risks.
I'm am not here to tell people what to do with their bodies + their health. It is important to understand the long-term trade-offs of obesity, maintaining a low body fat percentage, +/or not having enough muscle and how it will negatively impact your quality of life in years to come.
Here are a few risks of obesity to consider...
Shortness of breath
Increased LDL & triglycerides
Impaired heart function
Impaired immune function
Interestingly enough some risks come with maintaining a low-body fat percentage such as:
Minimal energy stores
Lack of cushioning for organs
Poor cardiovascular function
Prone to illness
Poor recovery from exercise/illness
Loss of bone density
As well as risks of low muscle mass:
Poor insulin resistance/glycemic control
Metabolic problems increase
Higher risk of hospitalization/ hospital LOS
In understanding the tradeoffs of how body composition affects our long-term health we become equipped with the information needed to create a thriving lifestyle.
Regardless of the information above reflect on your own life + current health. If you choose not to take action and would like to live life just as you are that is absolutely your own prerogative!
What if you want to drop access body fat?
How do you drop body fat without dieting?
Dopping body fat in a healthy manner takes work, practice + patience!
What if your relationship with food was one that did not feel restrictive but balanced?
What if the food you ate perfectly nourished + supported the body you are working towards and never left you feeling overly depleted or cranky?
What if the food you ate was moderate in treats + celebratory foods and most of the time it was full of nutrient-dense foods that gave you the energy + vitality you desire throughout each day?
What if your nutrition revolved around your life and you no longer revolved your life around food?
All of this IS possible and no it is not too good to be true. Dropping body fat begins with understanding what good nutrition is.
Good nutrition is being able to eat any time, anywhere, and still reach your body composition goals but more importantly be able to maintain those results long-term.
Good nutrition provides nutrient density through eating food that consists mainly of bright, deeply colored vegetables, fruits, high-quality oils, nuts, seeds, and meats that come from healthy free-range animals that haven’t been treated with hormones or antibiotics when possible.
If your diet consists of good nutrition using real, food you can look forward to:
Controlled energy balance and appetite regulation or energy in vs. energy out. When you burn more energy than you take in from food, fat loss results when done moderately! The opposite is true for muscle + fat gain.
You will achieve health, body composition, and performance goals.
Good nutrition is honest and outcome-based.
If you are constantly eating under your daily energy expenditure you will drop body fat. If you are eating above your daily energy expenditure and apply the proper workout load, you will gain muscle and some body fat.
As you can imagine applying the concepts takes time.
Between understanding good nutrition, your nuances, + discovering and replacing your bad habits, it is a process! -Let me be the first to tell you, the journey is worth it.
Our body composition begins in the mind.
Even if you've always struggled with your weight + you've wanted a leaner body the habits you were incorporating 3 months ago have given you the body you have now.
For example, feelings/beliefs of not being good enough, depression, feeling incapable, + lack of organization can lead to habits that cause us to consume more food.
Sometimes this leaves us with a body composition that endangers our health.
I am speaking only from a place of experience.
I suffered from both anorexia, reaching a low weight of 106 lb at 5'7" and then later suffered from binge eating disorder and gained about 60 lb body fat in a matter of a few months.
My mental health + understanding of nutrition was sub-par, to say the least. I had work to do. I was trapped in frustration and victim mentality.
The restriction of eating well below my energy threshold each day at a dangerous level left me with no menstrual cycle for 3 years. Then I struggled with many more health issues after gaining body fat from binge eating.
That all ended in 2015 when I took charge of my mental health and deepened my understanding of myself. I fostered self-awareness, radical self-love + acceptance-regardless of the fact that only one pair of pants fit me during that time.
I am now a healthy thriving human + let me tell you it has taken 10 years + HUGE amounts of inner + outer work to get to where I am today. I would do it all over again if it brought me to where I am now.
It was absolutely worth the journey.
Because we are the keeper of our thoughts we must develop a mindset that empowers us to know who we are, + love ourselves for as we are, regardless of the improvements that need to be made for the sake of long-term health.
If you want to change you can do it.
You are capable of great things beyond what you can comprehend.
Best of all? You do not need Diet Culture or society's opinion about your body to get you there.