Okay, I’ve been holding this one in and I just can’t anymore as I’ve seen one too many comments about this. The latest one is from a gal who I absolutely adore – Mary’s Cup of Tea on IG. One of her recent posts was a body comparison of now and of when she was addicted to the gym, obsessed about food, was victim to diet culture – sound familiar? It’s probably why I love her – though she seems about half my age, but that seems simple now a days!
In her post/rant, one of her last paragraphs reads:
(Don’t get me going about the “sugar is cocaine”)
Vegan is NOT – or SHOULD not – be put in with Keto, Atkins, WW, etc. Those other diets are ALL about weight loss. Vegan is about ethics. Vegan is not wanting to support cruel practises and deforestation. Vegan can be sustained throughout life. Yes, I know some people say that a vegan diet is superior, but, hell, even I call bullshit on that! People can be perfectly healthy consuming meat. I did for about 40 years! But 2 years ago, the thought of consuming previous living flesh or fluids from other living creatures absolutely disgusted me! Still does! But I still handle and cook it (no matter how grossed out I am) because my husband isn’t vegan. Yes, he eats a lot more vegan, but I still cook meat for him.
I really wanted to comment on her post about vegan shouldn’t be included on her list, but I understood where she was coming from…. And out of curiosity, I went back and looked through the 227 comments and found 2 that commented on this – and I did leave a comment on one of them.
The big thing with not leaving a comment is that I’m done with arguing with people. When it comes right down to it, vegan is an extreme eating modality and a lot of people find it too restrictive.
I find people want to go vegan – or part-vegan, delegating certain meals or days of the week as vegan – but they don’t want to do the work and rely on “convenience” foods. And, frankly? The vegan “food” and cheese readily available in the grocery stores is disgusting! If that’s what people are basing their vegan experience on, then it’s no wonder people give it up! There are some VERY good vegan foods and cheeses out there – but you just have to experiment and try different things. A vegan diet should be no real difference than a conventional diet (modality of eating, not restriction-to-lose-weight diet); mostly whole foods with minimally processed foods – just no animal or animal byproducts.
The only thing I really miss that I can’t seem to find (YET!) is cheesecake! I’m sure there’s vegan cheesecake out there (not cashew based) but I’ve yet to find one. But, as for everything else, I’ve found all sorts of comfort food: burgers, “chicken strips”, all sorts of cake, cookies, muffins, pancakes, donuts, cheese…
I really don’t find it THAT difficult for me to cook differently for each of us. Been doing it most of the 25 years we’ve been living together as I’ve been on a diet of some kind this whole time!
WHOLE foods are superior than processed foods – not a specific eating modality. Yes, vegans tend to eat more whole foods just by the nature of their diet, but you can still be vegan and eat like shit!
So what’s so bad with diet culture?
Diet culture makes you believe that you need to shrink yourself to be worthy. That when you lose weight, you’ll be happy and desirable. The problem is, people fall into the trap that nothing is good enough; they’re not skinny enough, fit enough, beautiful enough. That you have to constantly strive for this standard that very few people can achieve. Diet culture promotes extreme dieting to achieve this and most people end up with disordered eating and/or eating disorders and obsessive compulsive behavior around exercise.
We live in a manufactured society and very little is actually real now a days. Edited images, staged sets, pimping their endorsements of cellulite creams, fat burning teas or pills, wrinkle erasing cream, gifted clothing, workout programs, etc. All we see is their flawless skin, toned body, perfect lives. It’s no wonder there’s so much anxiety around social media!
Diet culture promotes eliminating entire food groups; carbs or fat or gluten for no reason other than to lose weight. The only reason you should eliminate things is for actual medical reasons such as celiac disease.
Yes, I believe you can actively try to lose weight without harming your body or psyche. It’s all about mind set and approach. Here’s some examples:
- Diet Culture: Gluten is bad and causes you to gain weight so I’m going to stop eating it.
- Healthful dieting: I feel bloated and gassy when I eat gluten, so I’m going to limit it.
- Diet Culture: I HAVE to go to the gym because I had a slice of cheesecake at lunch.
- Healthful dieting: I WANT to go to the gym because moving makes me feel better.
- Diet Culture: I have to make sure my calories out exceeds my calories in to create a deficit in order to lose weight.
- Healthful dieting: I need to fuel my body and mind for my activity goals.
- Diet Culture: I over ate at my last meal, so I’m going to skip the next one.
- Healthful dieting: I ate more than what was comfortable, so I’ll wait to eat my next meal when I’m hungry again.
If you have been victim to diet culture, it is going to be challenging to escape from it. Now a days, girls as young as 7 are far too aware of their body than they should be and many girls start dieting by the time they’re ten. It’s horrifying, actually!
If you have been affected by it, what can you do to recover?
Become very self-aware. At the start, it might be beneficial to keep a diet/mood diary. If you have anxiety because of something, write it down and try to analyze the emotions as quite often it’s not what you think. Also write down how you feel when you eat something – either when you feel good; more energetic, happier, etc – and when you feel bad; lethargic, depressed, etc. There are likely patterns. For me, I get really phlegmy when I eat bread and pasta – so, gluten.
Also be compassionate towards yourself. You will slip up and screw up – everyone does at the start of healing from disordered eating and diet culture. You will likely gain weight – the amount is very individual and will depend on many factors. For me, I’m not entirely certain how much weight I gained, but it was probably upwards of 50 lbs in just over 2 years. I’m now, finally, feeling mentally strong to start recovering my fitness levels and my health. I took over 16 months off from the gym – after religiously going for years on end, I needed a complete detox to determine why I had that obsessive need to go to the gym. My concern was that it was diet culture or physique competitor mentality at the wheel. And what did I discover? I LOVE going to the gym and lifting weights – and heavy weights! I love being strong and seeing muscles. Another thing I discovered? I love running. I’m not good at it, but I still enjoy it more than I proclaimed in the past.
3) Ask for help. I’ve always struggled with this one, but I’m getting better. My husband knows what I want to achieve, but even still, he needs confirmation from me that I want his help. And be specific. How and what someone says as “support” can make or break your will. I’ve told my husband that I don’t want to focus on weight loss – though, ultimately, that is my goal. I want him to assist me in achieving my goals and not enabling me to be lazy… kind of where we are right now, though that will change in a couple of weeks. I’d rather him suggest a healthy dinner instead of letting me make something unhealthy then say “should you really be eating that?” (which, to be clear, he’s never done). I’ve told him exactly what I want and what he has permission to say or do. I know portion size is an issue, so that’s one area he’s allowed to comment. The biggest thing to understand when asking for help from a spouse, is that it’s not a free ticket for them to be a jerk about it and that permission can always be revoked or changed.
4) Find a supportive community. Social Media can be very detrimental, but it can also be very empowering. I am very selective in who I follow. I have a wide variety of people: cross-fit, Spartan races and some athletes, fitness models, curvy models, select celebrities, obese women, yogi’s, artists… For the fitness models, as that can sometimes be triggering for me, I look at their content before following. If there’s an overly high ratio of photos of them trying to sell something or too overtly sexual images, I won’t follow. I want to be inspired to improve myself, not showing that in order to have tons of followers/likes/comments/sponsors you have to be half naked – or all naked!
I know there’s a lot more ways to overcome diet culture, but this will give you a quick start. The most important thing to remember is to do what feels right for you. If you feel the need to “go vegan”, make it work for you. If you feel like you want to lose weight – for you and you alone – work towards that goal safely. Remember that every person is different – don’t follow a diet because it worked for someone else. You can adopt aspects from different eating modalities to suit your needs, requirements and preferences.