By: Sydney Levine
It’s that time of year again: the new year. The new year always seems to be accompanied by new dreams, goals, and attitudes. One of those common “resolutions” we often hear is to become healthier and do better in terms of our nutrition. Nutrition and health are no short-term goals, though; it is about creating a new mindset and lifestyle – one that should certainly include balance if it is to be sustainable. As we are a month into the new year already, I suggest we focus on transitioning to a healthier lifestyle rather than focusing on trying to lose weight. The next topic in this balance series is all about finding balance in our diet.
Today, there are so many different diets advertised to us: keto, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, intermittent fasting, gluten free – the list goes on and on. Nutrition should not be this complicated. In fact, it should be rather simple. We all know that we need to fuel and nourish our bodies with whole foods, but with companies, doctors, new studies, and society as a whole telling us what we should and shouldn’t be eating, it can get overwhelming, confusing and even exhausting. The U.S. economy boasts a $71 billion weight loss and diet industry (LaRosa, 2020). Therefore, diet culture is a business. They work to sell ideas as well as products that perpetuate those ideas in order to make money. On top of this, as social media continues to grow, so does the promotion of influencers’ – yes influencers, not registered dieticians or nutritionists – eating habits, workout routines, and wellness tips. Take for example those “skinny tea” and “detox tea” companies that I’m sure we have all seen advertised on our social media feeds. This product, and other products around this type of “toxic” diet culture offer quick fixes, false claims, and unhealthy practices (Alexander, 2019) . A healthy lifestyle is not an overnight achievement, nor is it a quick fix. A healthy lifestyle is just that – a lifestyle. A lifestyle where you have to work to find balance and learn what works for you. Not only are these teas false in what they promise to their customers, but they can also be dangerous. As social media and the number of influencers continues to be prevalent in our lives, we as users have to be wary of the promotion of certain types of products and diets. I don’t know about you, but one app in particular comes to mind when I think of diet culture. During the pandemic, the number of users on the app TikTok has risen exponentially. Today, there are currently 1 billion users on the app, and the average amount of time spent on the app among young people is 80 minutes per day (Doyle, 2021). One thing that I experienced while using the app was the high number of “What I Eat in a Day” videos. While some of these posts display healthy eating habits, several of these posts are not realistic for a healthy lifestyle and show girls on restrictive, low calorie, and low nutrient diets. The desire to look like Instagram models, influencers, and women who promote certain diets or health products can potentially lead us down a dangerous path. Today, around 30 million Americans are living with an eating disorder (Eating Disorder Statistics, 2021). Additionally, 1 in 5 women will experience an eating disorder before the age of 40 (Z.J. Ward et al, 2019). These facts demonstrate just how conscious we as women can be of our weight and appearance. One study found that 80% of ten-year-old females have said to be on a diet (Miller, 2015). That means that girls are dieting and worrying about their weight before they even reach middle school! At such a young age, it’s already obvious just how damaging the expectations that society and social media has set for young females. It seems as though some of us view gaining weight as one of the worst things in the world, and it can consume all of our thoughts. There needs to be a shift from concern over physical appearance to concern for how we feel on the inside. When it comes to finding balance in your overall diet, it really should be something that you figure out for yourself. Nutrition is not a one size fits all – what works best for someone else will not necessarily be what works best for you. Through trial and error, you will find what to fuel your body with in order to feel like your best self and create a lifestyle perfectly suited to your needs.
Eating right does not just benefit our bodies physically, but can also have positive effects on our mental states. What you consume has a direct effect on your mood, function of your brain, and stress levels (Selhub, 2020). When we choose to fuel our bodies with food rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, both our bodies and brains will thank us. This year, let’s focus on our inner health rather than our outer appearance. We should strive for balance in our eating habits and diet the same way we strive to find balance in other aspects of our lives. Living each day in fear of gaining weight and restricting ourselves from certain foods is no way to live. Food is not the enemy. It isn’t something that should be feared. It is something we need in order to survive. It’s something that we should enjoy. I truly believe in “everything in moderation” – it’s okay to enjoy that warm chocolate chip cookie, or that cheesy pasta. Just as one salad does not make a person healthy, a slice of cake won’t make you unhealthy or ruin your goals.
I understand that this type of mindset does not manifest itself overnight. Food and diet can be a very sensitive topic. Slowly over the years, I have been able to adapt this type of thinking when it came to food and finally found balance within my own diet. It was not always like this, though. As a young female athlete, I struggled with my body image and my view on what a healthy lifestyle is. But, as I learned more about myself and about what my body needs to feel good, I was able to change those negative thoughts and create a positive, healthy lifestyle. I grew up as a competitive gymnast and quickly learned just how demanding this sport was on both my physical and mental state. Finding the right routine when it comes to your diet can take some time, and even some experimentation, as you need to learn what works best for your body and your activities. We should be conscious of what we put in our bodies, but not restrictive: we should attempt to stick to whole foods with natural, “clean” ingredients, but we must also learn to listen to our cravings and eat foods that we enjoy. Creating a healthy lifestyle is a journey, so be easy on yourself. Food will always be present in our lives – we just need to begin to create a healthy relationship with it.
Alexander, M. (2019, September 06). The big fat problem with skinny tea and the detox culture behind it. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/women/skinny-tea-detox-cleansing-instagram-kylie-jenner-laxative-a9080961.html
Doyle, B. (2021, January 01). TikTok Statistics – Everything You Need to Know [Jan 2021 Update]. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from https://wallaroomedia.com/blog/social-media/tiktok-statistics/#:~:text=Monthly%20Active%20Users%20%E2%80%93%20TikTok%20has,of%20now%20(January%202021).
Eating Disorder Statistics. General & Diversity Stats: ANAD. (2021, January 05). Retrieved January 18, 2021, from https://anad.org/get-informed/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/#:~:text=General%20Eating%20Disorder%20Statistics&text=9%25%20of%20the%20U.S.%20population,eating%20disorder%20in%20their%20lifetime.
LaRosa, J. (2020, June 3). $71 Billion U.S. Weight Loss Industry Pivots to Survive Pandemic. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from https://blog.marketresearch.com/71-billion-u.s.-weight-loss-market-pivots-to-survive-pandemic
Miller, K. (2015, January 26). Study: Most Children Start Dieting At Age 8. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2015/01/81288/children-dieting-body-image
Selhub, E., MD. (2020, March 31). Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
Ward, Z.J., Rodriguez, P., Wright, D.R., Austin, S.B., Long, M.W., 2019. Estimation of Eating Disorders Prevalence by Age and Associations With Mortality in a Simulated Nationally Representative US Cohort. JAMA Network Open 2, e1912925.. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.12925