Why Diet Culture Sucks (As If You Didn’t Know)
My biggest gripe (of many) with traditional diet culture is that it’s based in deprivation.
Whether it’s a fad diet or just trying generally to eat better, it implies an amount of deprivation that we just have to live with in order to be healthy.
The reality is that if getting healthy or losing the weight or feeling good in your body was as simple as following a meal plan, we’d all have done it by now.
Surely the satisfaction of the results would have far outweighed the feelings of deprivation and America wouldn’t be two-thirds overweight and obese.
But here we are.
Freedom of Choice
Because deprivation in traditional diet culture implies we can’t have (or shouldn’t have) something if we want to be healthy, it’s removing our sense of choice.
But the REAL way to live healthfully (and with enjoyment) is to CHOOSE it.
Which is why traditional diet culture will never work for the long-term.
Self-determination theory posits that we have to feel autonomous (in control) in our decisions for a real sense of well-being. So when we put foods on a predefined ‘can’t have’ list, we’re inadvertently removing all sense of autonomy.
We removed our sense of choice because some diet or plan says we can’t have the foods on a certain list. And keep in mind, that list changes depending on who you ask.
It’s like when you tell your kids they can’t have something and that monster switch is flipped and now they HAVE to have it at all costs.
As soon as you tell them they can’t have it, they want it tenfold. We’re wired with the desire to choose things for ourselves, so when we remove that choice to eat or not eat the cookies, we also turn into ‘cookie monsters’.
What WILL work in the long term is you choosing what to put in your body because of how it makes you feel and not just because it’s been engineered to satisfy our taste buds.
So let’s work with that notion and revisit how we think of deprivation.
When we choose not to eat something (again, our own autonomous choice) because we know it’ll make us feel like shit, it’s not thought of as deprivation.
Instead, we’re choosing to forego the sugary/salty/fatty bliss of a Twinkie because we know it’ll result in increased energy and confidence in our body.
Increased energy and confidence? Doesn’t sound like deprivation to me!
When we reframe eating that Twinkie from you can’t have it because you know it’s not good for you (deprivation) to you choosing not to have it because you know it won’t make you feel good (autonomy) we’re back in control.
We’re choosing to be well instead of following the diet/plan that tells us what we can and can’t have.
We Don’t Do This In Other Areas
Think of the last time you were at a mall (may have to go way back thanks to Covid).
Did you feel deprived each time you passed a Chanel bag you couldn’t buy? Or that super cute top that was wayyy overpriced?
Or did you choose not to buy it because you have other financial priorities?
When it comes to money we don’t have the emotional attachment like we do with food.
We’re able to clearly see that we don’t WANT to spend money on the bag or the top because we know we’d be in a better position financially if we didn’t; or we’d rather spend that money on something else.
Same goes for other choices we make – do you feel deprived when you don’t spend all day, every day perusing Pinterest or watching Real Housewives?
NO! Despite enjoying those things, there are many other things you’d rather do with your time so there’s no feeling of deprivation when you play with your kids instead of scrolling/bingeing.
Somehow though, we’ve given up our freedom of choice when it comes to food – we’ve let diet culture, fad diets and advertising tell us what we can and can’t eat.
When you take back control over the food you’re eating and actually CHOOSE the foods you eat, you’re bringing back your autonomy. And autonomy is powerful because it removes deprivation from the equation all together.
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