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How to Create a Healthy Food Plan That’s Free from Diet Culture – Part 2September 18, 2023
Part 1: Why Millennials Should Still Eat Avocado but Burn their Low-Rise Jeans
Ok, let’s talk about the toxic relationship that is diet culture and healthy living. It needs to end. They are no longer compatible. Being healthy is about so much more than size. We need to separate healthy living from diet culture for good!
Honest question, if you are a 30-something woman with digestive issues, could it be because you’ve been sucking in your stomach since 1999?
Growing up in the 90’s and early 2000’s it seemed like everyone was obsessed with weight loss. Here are some things that come to mind when I think of early 2000’s diet culture. Apologies to anyone for traumatic flashbacks.
- Women’s Health Magazines, like everyone, claimed you were going to lose the last 10lbs. If that was the case, why would they need to print any more issues? Don’t all their readers have perfect bodies they love by now?
- Fat-free everything; aka high sugar, we were all starving but with a sugar high.
- Every other commercial on TV being Jenny Craig, Dr. Bernstein or Weight Watchers
- Special K cereal – it’s basically just fortified rice crispies, so of course it’s going to be low calorie; there’s nothing in it! It’s not a diet, it’s starvation but there was that girl with the red dress in the commercial (insert eye roll)
- Calculating our BMI in health class
- Eating ice chips, drinking water or chewing gum to stop from eating.
- Eating calorie negative foods, if you don’t know what this is, you’re lucky. I honestly love celery and think it’s a really healthy and delicious food, but it has been ruined by diet culture.
- Abercrombie and Fitch, selling clothes with ads featuring thin naked models. Don’t understand the logic there, but somehow it worked on us.
- Low rise jeans. It always created a muffin top, and you could not bend down at all, why is this trend coming back?
Side Note: Please don’t actually burn clothes, it can be unsafe and bad for the environment. Also, no hate intended if you love low-rise jeans. The point is to find clothes that make you feel comfortable in your body. I just happen to hate low rise jeans, but you do you.
Of course, it wasn’t just my generation that has had to deal with diet culture; pretty much every generation has been told that having any extra weight on your body is bad. What frustrates me most about all this is not just that we created generations of people (mainly women) who hate their own bodies, but it’s that by focusing on weight, we have completely ignored something that’s actually really important – taking care of ourselves.
We made health all about how much adipose tissue a person has. Adipose means fat tissue; I refer to it as adipose tissue because that removes the stigma. It’s just a part of our body like our organs and our bones.
There is power in knowledge. When we understand something, it may seem less scary. Like when you’re a child and you hear a sound at night, knowing it’s a just tree branch hitting your window removes the fear. We’ve become afraid of fat, so let’s try to understand it better, both the good and bad. Let’s get into the science of fat and weight distribution. Science isn’t scary, don’t worry, there won’t be a test.
What does adipose tissue do?
- Energy storage and release
- Cushioning around soft organs
- Metabolizing sex hormones
- Contributing to immunity
- Maintaining insulin sensitivity
- Generating heat
So, in general it seems like our fat is there to keep us warm, cozy and fed. Doesn’t sound so bad to me.
Now that let’s look at where the fat is:
This is the fat that’s just under our skin, layered between the skin and our muscles. It likes to pop up through the skin to say hello in the form of cellulite. Cellulite is not actually a good indication of the amount of subcutaneous fat; it has more to do with the skin and lymphatic system (acupuncture and dry brushing are good for this). Subcutaneous fat can also produce estrogen in both males and females.
Visceral fat is like a nice comfy pillow that protects our organs, BUT it can also smother them. If visceral fat gets out of hand, it can damage the organs, particularly the liver. It may present as a “beer belly” or even an enlarged/inflamed liver.
So based on this, for example, a generally thin man with a larger belly may have more health risks than a woman with larger hips, butt, thighs, and breasts. Where the fat is located, makes a difference to your health. However, there are many other factors to consider.
Fat is also found in:
- the nervous system and brain
- breast tissue
- bone marrow
- your eye sockets
- the palms of your hands and soles of your feet
- between muscles
Overwhelming our Adipose Tissue
Adipose tissue, which are our fat stores, are a vital part of our body. However, our adipose tissue can run out of storage space. This is when the existing fat cells have to grow. This leads to:
- Chronic inflammation
- Insulin resistance
- Dysfunction in hunger and satiety signals
- Strain on our organs (liver and heart)
- Strain on joints
All of these can actually encourage the body to put on more weight. So, this is why someone with obesity doesn’t just need to “try harder” or “use will power.”
In fact, I don’t think a person should “try” to lose weight at all. As holistic nutritionists, we look at the root cause. Weight gain is not a problem but a symptom. Hence, the solution then is to find the cause.
- Are you getting enough sleep?
- Are you eating balanced meals?
- Are you moving your body?
- Are you happy?
- How are your hormones and your thyroid?
Weight gain can also just be a fact of life – maybe we’re going through a stressful time, or our metabolism has slowed down with age. It happens, but is it a problem? Is it healthy?
Health is a relative term and there are many factors that affect it. Weight is just one of them. It just happens to be one that we can easily see. My suggestion would be to focus more on how you feel than how you look. Of course, get regular checkups and blood work done as well, but most importantly take care of yourself as best as you can.
What about Muscle?
Weight also doesn’t always mean added fat tissue; our muscle mass has weight as well. In fact, muscle is denser than fat tissue and it is important for our health. Undereating or unbalanced low carbohydrate diets can cause the body to break down muscle mass for nutrients.
So now that you understand our body composition better, we can ditch some words used to describe our body. Would you ever say I am muscle? Or I am bones? Or I am adipose tissue? Then why do we use one part of our body to describe ourselves?
Fat is like unagi – it’s not something you are, it’s something you have…
If you want to embark on a health journey free of diet culture, stay tuned for our Part 2 for a 5-step plan to breaking up with diet culture. We will discuss changing your goals around food, intuitive eating and the link between your relationship with food and childhood traumas.
If you are ready to make changes to your health now, set up a no-cost 10-minute discovery call with us.
Kirsten Colella, CNP, is a Holistic Nutritionist who graduated from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition with high honours. She is also a certified yoga teacher and studied chemical engineering at the University of Toronto. Living on a farm with her family, Kirsten prepares a wide variety of farm-to-table meals. She shares her delicious recipes, colourful food pics and health-promoting food ideas on our Instagram page @essentialbalanceholistic .