Written by Sydney Parker
It’s no secret that as a society, we are obsessed with food. Turning on the TV, we are overwhelmed with advertisements for fast food, meal delivery services, and weight loss programs. We are then held to a societal standard for beauty which connects our self-worth to our physical appearance, telling us that we must eat in order to look a certain way. This is cause for confusion; the media attempts to sell us food while simultaneously telling us it is bad, or inextricably tied to our appearance and worth as an individual.
These mixed messages lead many people to attempt weight loss. Between 2013-2016, 49% of U.S, adults attempted to lose weight in a given year (Center for Disease Control, 2018). This is a widespread phenomenon, but dieting has a dark side. Over 90% of dieters go on to regain the weight they lost, and yo-yo dieting has been shown to have negative effects on overall health and metabolism long-term (National Eating Disorder Association, 2005). If society and the media tell us that we should “diet” to be healthy, why is it making us unhealthier?
Instead of eating in an attempt to look a certain way, we should attempt to cultivate a positive relationship with food. With so many diets telling us what we “should” or “shouldn’t” eat, however, it can be confusing to know what a healthy or “normal” diet even looks like. How can we navigate a relationship with food with so much misinformation? Here are some tips for cultivating a positive relationship with food, as well as tips to keep in mind as you strive to create a healthy, balanced diet.
Avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” Food is food — there is no need to attach a morality judgment to it. Pizza is not a “bad” food, it is just food: it is bread, tomato, cheese, and toppings.. Food is not inherently sinful or virtuous — it is fuel for our body. Focus on cultivating a positive relationship with food and trust your body to do the rest. Partaking in some desserts and processed foods is a part of maintaining balance. Any food can be “unhealthy” if eaten in an extreme.
Do not equate your self worth to your body image. Your body was not created with the intention of meeting a societal standard of beauty — it was created to be a vessel that takes you through life. Think of all the things your body can do: run, swim, stretch, climb, dance, etc. How do you want to feed your body in order to do these things? What foods will make you feel energized and good throughout the day?
Read Ellyn Satter’s document titled “What is Normal Eating?” This is a document that lists examples of what “normal eating” looks like. Ultimately, normal eating is flexible eating — depending on the day, you will crave different types of food in different amounts, and that’s okay. You can read it here.
Focus on intuitive eating. When we were young, we didn’t feel pressured by social norms to eat more or less than what we wanted. When we were hungry, we ate, and when we felt satisfied, we stopped. Intuitive eating is the process of learning how to do this again, and cultivating a nonjudgemental mentality about food. Intuitive eating is associated with more body appreciation, focus on body function over appearance, and body acceptance from others (Avalos & Tylka, 2006). You can look here for more tenets of intuitive eating.
Food is a part of our culture, habits, and daily lives. Cultivating a positive relationship with food in a culture that emphasizes dieting can be difficult, but the results are worth it. By first creating a sustainable and positive relationship with food, we can avoid the pitfalls of diet culture which can serve to hurt our mental and physical health longterm. Our bodies and mental health will thank us later.
Avalos, L., & Tylka, T. (2006). Exploring a Model of Intuitive Eating With College Women. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53(4), 486–497. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-018.104.22.1686
Center for Disease Control. (2018, July 12). Attempts to Lose Weight Among Adults in the United States, 2013–2016. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db313.htm
National Eating Disorder Association. (2005). Know Dieting: Risks and Reasons to Stop. Retrieved from https://uhs.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/bewell_nodieting.pdf