Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by diet culture… We've all witnessed someone we know (or maybe ourselves) starting a structured diet or eating plan at the start of a new year, only to give it up a few weeks or months later. Why? Because diets don’t work. Our bodies are smart and want to keep us alive and well - they don’t know the difference between a juice cleanse or famine from lack of food. Because of this, our metabolisms may slow and our appetites become rampant as a protective mechanism from restrictive eating. Not only do diets not work, but black-and-white eating habits are not sustainable, and some of them not even healthy for us long-term (looking at you, keto).
But by now, some people are starting to catch on to fad diets being bogus, and the diet industry has realized this too. Now we hear about “wellness” and “lifestyle changes” - which is just a rebrand of the traditional diet industry, and is just as toxic.
Wellness culture seems innocent, sure, because it’s aimed at health and wellbeing rather than a heavy emphasis on weight loss. But the marketing teams and influencers behind the wellness industry have the same goal - preying on insecurities and promising magical fixes to look or be a certain way. And no, it’s not a coincidence that a lot of these influencers are typically in thin, able bodies and are attractive based on societal standards. Because of the everlasting impact of diet culture, our brains are quick to associate thinness and beauty to health - which is a larger topic for another day.
Whether it’s following the newest detox cleanse or paying a “coach” for an exercise plan, this pursuit of health and wellness comes with a cost. Restrictive or rigid rules about food or exercise can take the joy out of eating and movement and become obsessive. Orthorexia is an obsession with healthy or proper eating, and can often be a result of the wellness trap. This fixation on food and nutrition can be damaging both physically and psychologically, and can often lead to other disordered behaviors with food or exercise.
Don’t get me wrong - it is perfectly okay with wanting to support your health with the choices you make related to food and movement. It is important to remember though that health is so much more than our physical bodies and food isn’t always medicine. Outside of nutrition and physical exercise there are so many other factors that impact our health - stress management, sleep, substance use, access to medical resources and preventative care, genetics, environmental impacts, social factors... the list goes on.
Instead of getting caught up with rules and regimens, it is important that we ask ourselves “what is it that my body or my mind needs right now?”. Maybe this means eating a salad because you’re craving something fresh, or it could mean eating a cupcake because it simply brings you joy. Take a moment also to zoom out and assess areas in your life that could use a little more attention to support your overall wellbeing. Has it been a while since you’ve had a preventative care appointment? Call your doc. Are you struggling with more anxious thoughts? Set up a therapy appointment.
Ultimately, the steps that we take for our health and wellness should not provoke feelings of guilt or shame. And if we focus on the choices that bring us joy, then we are well on our way toward a healthier self.
Cheers to finding our way around the wellness traps in 2022!