How to Avoid the Diet Industry Trap
If I could go back in time and share a piece of advice with my younger self it would be this: your worth is not defined by your appearance. From my pre-teens well into my twenties, I routinely obsessed about my body. It led me down destructive paths of obsessing over every calorie, taking diet pills, feeling terrible if I ate “junk,” or “fat” if I skipped out on exercising. I would restrict, binge and emotionally eat. I would look in the mirror and analyze every inch of my body, picking it apart.
Looking back, this body image obsession was rooted in a deep desire to be loved by others and to be loved by myself. I thought if I could have that “perfect” body, I would magically become more confident and happy. I was the textbook prey to the diet industry and fell victim to its clutches. I was drawn in by the magazine articles and media that preached that “eating clean” and spending hours in the gym equates to health, happiness, beauty, and confidence. If I knew then what I know now I could have achieved so much more with all that thought space that dieting and insecurity took up.
Accepting my body and making peace with food has given me freedom. My brain has more energy and space to explore my passions, inner values, strengths, creativity, and interests. I’ve also learned that happiness and confidence is an inside job and that no diet or amount of exercise is ever going to hand it over in a nice, neat, beautiful package. Am I perfect? No. I’m not trying to say I have it all figured out. Or that my way of doing things works for everyone. Everyone is unique and we are all individuals who are finding our own way. The diet industry does not even begin to touch on the amazing and exceptional qualities that you were born with and that you hold in your heart.
On my path to become (and now practice) as a registered dietitian, I am all too familiar with how the diet industry sells false hopes, unrealistic expectations, and myths about exercise and food.
How do you avoid falling prey to diet industry traps? How do you live in a way that feels healthy and sustainable?
The first step is realizing that the diet industry sells cookie cutter plans that don’t recognize your unique gifts, lifestyle, history, or preferences. You can tell diet industry by its frequent extremes. The diet industry screams, “Don’t eat this, eat that. Don’t eat past 5pm. Exercise every day. Take this supplement. Buy this product. Don’t eat out. Eat salads. Have a ‘treat,’ but make it healthy. Have a ‘cheat day.’ Potatoes are bad. Sugar is the devil. Gluten will kill you. Only eat organic. Get rid of fat. Tone up. Get a beach body.” I could go on and on with all the insanity the diet industry preaches. When you come across absolutes like these, run the other way. The diet industry preys on fear and it is casting its net.
Our health is complex. Diet and exercise are only two pieces to the puzzle. There are also genetic, environmental, social, and mental pieces involved. When you go on a diet, you are often working against your humanness. You are forcing yourself to adhere to a set of rules and when you break one (or all) of them, you feel like a failure. Understand that this is normal! The rules are often extremely difficult to follow and set you up for failure by design. Despite what they may make you believe, diets are not one size fits all! If you’re not following a set of diet rules, how do you seek a healthy relationship with food? This is where finding balance comes in.
What is “balance” exactly? The definitions for balance are: (noun) “an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.” (verb) “to keep or put (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall.”Balance helps you stay afloat in this awesome and messy world we live in. It doesn’t allow you to fall because there is nothing to fall from to begin with. It allows for flexibility and seeking what works best for you and your health journey. We don’t need diets to tell us what we want and need. Balance puts you in the driver's seat and gives you the steering wheel to live life fully. Balance gives you unconditional permission to eat a variety of foods and engage in movement that is enjoyable to you. Chasing after a number on the scale or an outward appearance does not create balance because it is focused on one side of the equation – the exterior. What really matters is the incredible stuff that is on the inside.
As you set yourself free from the diet industry, please know this: you have permission to be confident right now as you are and you are enough. With all your inner and outward perfectly perfect imperfections. Be proud. Stand tall. And don’t be afraid to break the rules.