Paleo, keto, vegan, intermittent fasting, keto-vegan? In an industry where there is so much noise and a LOT of conflicting opinions and research, it’s hard to know which diet will actually give us the results we have been looking for. From celebrities promoting the latest detox teas to very convincing, yet uncertified “wellness” influencers sharing their amazing #shred results on Instagram, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the latest diet trend is finally going to be the answer to our #summerready #bikinibody prayers.
An amazing book that I read many moons ago, liberated me from the calorie counting neurosis that I experienced during my early 20’s. Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth, is a life-changing book that discusses what really underpins our culture’s obsession with dieting. After spending 10 years gaining and losing over 1,000 pounds, she realised that her complex relationship with food was ultimately a complex relationship that she had with herself….deep, yeah I know, but stick with me here.
“The promise of a diet is not only that you will have a different body; it is that in having a different body, you will have a different life. If you hate yourself enough, you will love yourself. If you torture yourself enough, you will become a peaceful, relaxed human being. Awareness, not deprivation, informs what you eat. Presence, not shame, changes how you see yourself and what you rely on.”
Geneen Roth Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything
Our relationship with food says a lot about how we feel about ourselves and the dieting culture sets a lot of people up to fail before they even start, as they miss what is actually going on inside (..this could be low self-esteem, heartbreak, death of a dog, a boring sex life, the list is varied). We are sold a lie that if we lose X amount of weight, then and only then will we be happy…finally. This leads many of us to start these extreme diets, where we are in a continuous battle against ourselves and what we actually crave – nutrients, hydration, love? human connection?
From a clinical perspective, the problem that I have with dieting is that it sets you up to think short-term and keeps you in a deficit mindset where your primary goal is simply to deprive yourself. For most people, this leads to a diet-binge cycle where you feel the constant need to control everything, and when you do finally “give in” you feel a deep loss of control, eroding self-esteem and long-term creating an unhealthy relationship with food. The primitive parts of our brain control a lot of our behaviour (primarily unconscious), and when we start a diet and restrict foods, we activate a part of our brain that will do everything it can for this to NOT happen. As a species, we are primed for survival, and food is a basic necessity that regardless of how many times we watch a victoria’s secret runway show, we will not want to deprive.
Diets are also incredibly generalised and do not take into account your own unique biochemistry. Quick tip – the number one rule that you need to identify if someone online is full of s*** and doesn’t know what they are talking about is if they try to sell you a diet because put simply there is not one diet that will work for everyone. Looking at different traditional cultures in the world it is easy to see that as a species we can truly thrive off many different foods. I think one of the most important things to highlight though when looking at these traditional cultures is maybe how they are eating. I’m no anthropologist, but I think it’s safe to say that these people don’t spend hours upon hours thinking about what to eat, what not to eat, scrolling on Instagram looking at other people’s body’s, restricting, restricting, restricting and then binging on packaged rubbish at 11 pm at night during a Netflix marathon…just saying.
While we have reached the end of this post and I did not succeed in answering the question posed, I do hope that in some way I can encourage you to rethink your summer diet and that you give up the battle against yourself. Proper individualised care and education from a clinical nutritionist, awareness of what you are eating and how, and maybe a bit of self-compassion, can long-term help you create a healthy and enjoyable relationship with food, which in my opinion is the best “diet” that you can start.