How Diet Became The Dirtiest Word In Wellness – Women’s Health


Posted: January 15, 2020 at 8:47 pm

Its wellness, but not as you know it. This is the anti-diet movement, a liberating take on health that encourages its followers to stop demonising food and idealising weight loss. It might feel like a revolution but its not really new. Anti-diet culture, informed largely by radical feminism and thefatacceptance movement of the 70s, has been around for decades. But its recently hit the big time thanks to the likes of actress and activist Jameela Jamils iWeigh Instagram account (where youre invited to measure your worth in personal values and achievements rather than kilos) and UK-based nutritionist Laura Thomas, who in 2018 published a book called Just EatIt,emblazoned with the unofficial emblem of the anti-diet movement, a pink-glazed doughnut.

For anyone whos suffered through the lemon detox, the Atkins diet or even a clean-eating lifestyle, its a tantalising idea. Here is permission to eat the foods we crave, without a side serve of guilt. Diets, once considered the gateway to glowing health and a bangin bod, are being called out foroverpromising and underdelivering, and leaving a legacy of physical and mental health problems to boot. Like sugar and gluten before it, diet is now a four-letter word.

The anti-diet movement is about not being a victim of diet culture anymore, explains dietitian Lyndi Cohen, one of Australias most outspoken anti-diet advocates. I think in many ways its a female fight because women are so often targeted by the diet industry. Women especially end up tying their self-worth to how they look, and the diet industry teaches us that thats what matters most.

This message is so pervasive that author and vulnerability researcher Bren Brown ranks body image and appearance as the number one shame trigger for women. And that makes weight loss and dieting a complex beast for many of us.

We get so hung up on dieting because we believe that getting a thinner body will make us happy, says psychologist Glenn Mackintosh, founder of Weight Management Psychology and author of Thinsanity: 7 Steps to Transform Your Mindset and Say Goodbye to Dieting Forever (Hachette, $29.99). But if you talk to a lot of people in thin bodies, theyre not happy because the body image stuff is in your mind.

RELATED: 6 Reasons Not To Diet This New Year

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Ask an anti-dieter and theyll tell you that the solution is to do away with diets altogether.

I dont think theres a place for the traditional diet anymore, says Cohen, because research shows us that a healthy lifestyle that isfree from restrictions and absolutes is more effective.

Clinical nutritionist Jessica Sepel, who has a program, app and books focused on what she calls un-dieting, agrees. Diets work for a little while, until they dont, she says. Theyre unsustainable. Giving up dieting is the beginning of finding freedom with food and your body.

But not all health experts are ready to bin diets for good. Take British-born, Sydney-based PT James Smith. The author of the upcoming Not a Diet Book (HarperCollins, $32.99), Smiths social media posts take sharp aim at trends like plant-based eating, the keto diet and intermittent fasting. Hes also known for his polarising weight-loss mantra, calorie fucking deficit.

I personally think the term dieting has been largely misconstrued due to the vast and growing amount of charlatans selling their special diet to the masses, proclaiming you need a certain tea, fasting protocol or workout to lose fat, he says. However, in my opinion, we cant lose sight of what a traditional weight-loss diet is. It is a period of sensible restriction. Thats it. After we enjoy lavish holidays, we come home to ... more sensible spending [and] no one ishaving an issue with that, are they?

The anti-diet message serves a purpose for those battling disordered eating, acknowledges Smith, but reckons it has the potential to leave a large amount ofpeople feeling a bit lost. He explains, Ive worked with thousands of clients and helped them lose fat, andtothem and to myself, counting calories is an exercise ofliberation [rather] than obsession. Dieting isnt always problematic for everyone, admits Mackintosh, adding that in our appearance-obsessedworld, its common to want to lose weight sometimes, and expecting people to simply banish those thoughts is unrealistic.

We do see that in our body-positive communities, that people end up feeling ashamed for thatvery normal desire [to lose weight], he says. Having a little bit of focus [on weight] and recognising your weight can be important for wellbeing and health is fine. Its when it takes over that it starts to be a problem.

There is a real argument for weight loss for health, too, says surgeon Dr Nikki Stamp, author of Pretty Unhealthy: Why our obsession with looking healthy is making us sick (Murdoch Books, $32.99). Its really important to differentiate the bad or fad diets from good nutrition ormedically and/or dietetically supervised and prescribed diets. I do wonder if that is a place where antidiet sentiment can be seen as going too far, she says. Whileweight management is not necessarily appropriate for reasons like aesthetics, there are times where even small amounts of weight loss are important for health.

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Underpinning the anti-diet philosophy is intuitive eating,an approach that emphasises eating without rules or judgement and learning to listen to the bodys natural hunger and fullness signals. For many cruising Instagram for wellness advice, though, the idea of eating mindfully might be overshadowed by the more appealing concept of eating a slice of cake for breakfast if you feel like it.

Diets dont work, so here, have a doughnut, the memesseem to say. Confused much? Its one of the weak points of the anti-diet movement, acknowledges Mackintosh. Weve got people talking about the harms of dieting and what not to do, and nowwe have to step up and say, OK,well,hereisaviable alternative, he says. The problem is, the nature of Instagram all pretty pictures and snackable content makes it easy for thenuance of intuitive eating to be lost. The [idea]thatits eat whatever you want all the time is wayoff themark and doesnt account for one of theprinciples that is gentle nutrition, says Stamp.

Its also not another set of food rules to follow or a tool for weight loss. Intuitive eating is easily reshaped into a diet in disguise in the wrong hands, warns Cohen.

Theanti-diet movement has become really trendy andas a result there are a lot of people who are jumping on the bandwagon and while I think thats collectively awesome, I think theres a lot of confusing messages now, she explains. For example, you have people claimingto help you heal your relationship with food, but in their next post theyre talking about how to do intermittent fasting or telling you to stop filling your facewith food. And its hard to trust whosactuallygoingto help you find balance withfoodandwhos justusing it for marketing.

Some pointers for spotting undercover diet culture? Cohen suggests being wary of supposed anti-diet accounts spruiking before-and-after photos, telling youto cut foods, or encouraging cleanses or detoxes.

If anti-dieters and kilojoule counters agree on anything, its that theres no one-size-fits-all answer.

Its for each to ... figure out [on their own], but [dieting] should not be ruled out, says Smith; while Cohen says that the anti-diet movement isnt a magic cure for body dissatisfaction.

Until the [mainstream] culture shifts, weregoing to feel like were swimming upstream to get a sense of self-acceptance, she explains.

Whether youre pro or antidiet, learning tolet go of a thinis best mentality is the healthy balance we could all use more of, argues Stamp.

Rather than defining health from one number, shifting the focus to what we do what we eat, if we exercise will improve our health independent of a number on a scale.

For Sepel, its about kindness. When we treat our bodies with kindness, eat nourishing foods, restmore and stress less, our bodies naturally find their balanced weight, she says. And this looks different for everyone. There is no perfect shape or size. More kindness, less diets? Well raise a doughnut to that.

Listen to our chat with Lyndi Cohen on WH Uninterrupted below...

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How Diet Became The Dirtiest Word In Wellness - Women's Health

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