In today’s world, it’s extremely easy to be sucked into diet culture.
You may have been influenced by diet culture to buy expensive foods or supplements that promise to make you “fit” and “healthy” (code words for “looking thin”). You may have seen social media influencers advertising diets that they swear made them lose X amount of pounds in X number of days, and wondered whether you should try those diets. You may have even heard your friends and family talking about how they cut out entire food groups or stopped eating out at social events in order to achieve a certain body image.
Although it’s important to take care of your physical health, it is possible to take these “healthy habits” too far.
- You see foods as good or bad… and you have rules around them.
Imagine this scenario:
You’re hungry and you go to the kitchen for a snack. You see a bag of chips on the table, but you know that there’s also a bowl of strawberries in the fridge.
Do you choose the strawberries even though you really, really, REALLY want the chips? And do you choose the fruit over the chips because you think it’s less calories and is “better”/ “healthier” for you?
From a young age, you were probably taught that foods like sweets and chips are “bad”, while foods like fruits and vegetables are “good”. You learned that “bad” foods can only be eaten after you finish the “good” foods, as a reward for good behavior, or on special occasions where it’s socially acceptable to be indulgent (eg. birthday parties, on vacation).
The problem with this type of thinking is that you may transfer these “good” and “bad” qualities onto yourself, causing you to feel guilty about eating “bad” foods and start developing unhealthy eating behaviors.
Instead of categorizing foods as “good” vs. “bad”, try to keep all foods on the same playing field. Know that all foods can be a part of a balanced diet and you do NOT have to…
- Eat more “good” foods to earn the right to eat “bad” foods
- Eat a perfect diet that only consists of “good” foods
- Eat “bad” foods in secret or during certain occasions
- You feel guilty after eating certain foods.
Think back to a time when you ate a “bad”/ “forbidden” food. What kind of thoughts and feelings did you have after you ate this food?
- Feel guilty after you eat a “bad” food
- Obsessively think about a “bad” food you ate, immediately after the meal
- Try to “cancel out” a “bad” food by eating “good” foods/exercising
- Punish yourself for the amount of food you ate or when you ate it, regardless of whether it was a “good” or “bad” food
… this may be a sign that you’re developing an unhealthy relationship with food.
Yes, food is fuel, but it is also so much more than that. It’s a form of enjoyment, a type of self-care, and a way to connect with others. You should be able to eat food that not only physically nourishes your body, but is also mentally and emotionally satisfying for you!
- You don’t trust yourself around certain foods.
Have you ever told a friend or family member to hide a “bad” food from you, because you didn’t trust yourself to not eat it?
If so, know that you’re not alone and this can (unfortunately) be a pretty common experience:
Diet culture tells you that foods are “good” or “bad”, which then makes you think that you’re “good” if you eat “good” foods” and “bad” if you eat “bad” foods.
We love what we can’t have, so restricting “bad” foods only makes you want them more. And after you eat them, because there’s so much guilt and shame surrounding these foods, you may blame yourself for “being bad” or “being weak”.
You start to not trust yourself around these foods and may try to set strict rules to feel more in control (which only increases your chances of eating the “bad” foods and feeling guilty about it…).
- You are focused on reaching a specific weight or body image.
Do you feel like your scale is your best friend and your enemy, dictating what you eat, what you do, and how you feel every day?
Have you ever felt frustrated looking in the mirror or at your scale because you’ve “been good all week” but still aren’t seeing the results you want?
This is a red flag that you may need to check in with yourself and work towards developing a healthier relationship with food.
Your overall health and well-being is much more complex than a simple number on a scale. Your weight and your body are constantly changing every day for different reasons:
- Hydration status – If you don’t drink enough water, your body actually holds on to more water to prevent you from being dehydrated, which can cause some bloating and weight fluctuations.
- Water retention from high sodium foods and high carb intake
- Medication – Some medications, such as birth control pills, may cause weight gain through fluid retention.
- Bowel movements – Lack of bowel movements may cause uncomfortable bloating and short-term weight changes.
- Hormonal changes (eg. during menstrual cycle)
- Health conditions (eg. hypothyroidism)
So, instead of letting the scale determine what you should or shouldn’t eat on a particular day, pay attention to your internal hunger and fullness cues!
Remember, a healthy relationship with food is not defined by the quantity or quality of the food you’re eating, or a specific number that you achieve on a scale. It’s more focused on learning about the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors you have surrounding food, and trying to get rid of the ones that aren’t benefiting you in a positive way! Remember, all foods can be part of a healthy diet and can fit your particular lifestyle.
If you feel like some or all of the signs mentioned in this article speak to you, know that it’s okay and you’re not alone! No one expects you to be perfect. The important thing is noticing these signs and moving in a more positive and beneficial direction, one day at a time.
Lastly, if you’re struggling with your relationship with food and need further support, don’t hesitate to reach out to a registered dietitian or a qualified healthcare professional who can guide you on your journey towards a healthier relationship with food.