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How To Find Freedom With Food

Avoiding Diet Culture

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Article by Shanna Hutcheson

Photography by Shanna Hutcheson

In today's society, we are constantly hearing about the latest fad diet or weight loss trend. Dieting is the norm, and actually giving ourselves freedom to enjoy a variety of foods without feeling guilty about it is shockingly uncommon. There is a lot of pressure placed on us to look and eat a certain way, and ultimately, it can make eating pretty confusing and stressful. 

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What is Diet Culture?  

In a nutshell, diet culture is 'a system of beliefs' that: 

  1. Worships thinness and equates it to health ... meaning you can spend your whole life thinking you're broken because you don't look like the impossibly thin 'ideal.' 

  2. Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you may feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years. 

  3. Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others.

  4. Oppresses people who don't match up with its supposed picture of 'health,' which can damage both mental and physical health for these individuals.

SOURCE: What Is Diet Culture 

Does any of this sound familiar? Probably so. Most of us have fallen victim to diet culture at one point or another in our lives. That’s okay! It’s never too late to kick dieting to the curb. 

You Don't Have to Diet for the Rest of Your Life 

Note: This is not to make anyone feel bad about themselves if they are currently on a diet. It’s to let you know that there are other ways to pursue better health that don’t involve a laundry list of rules and giving up everything you love, and that allow you to honor and respect your body in the process. 

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Consider some of these questions below: 

  1. Are you able to recognize when you are hungry and when you are full? 

  2. Do you make food choices based on what you truly want, or what you feel like you 'should' have? 

  3. Do you label foods as 'good' and 'bad'? 

  4. Do you make food and/or exercise choices based on how you feel about your body that day? 

  5. Do you talk negatively about your body to yourself or others? 

  6. Does your body image affect your quality of life or relationships with others?

  7. Does your diet or way of eating ever cause you to miss out on social experiences with loved ones? (Due to diet choices, not dietary restrictions such as allergies).  

  8. Do you feel guilty after eating certain foods, or guilty for eating at all? 

  9. Do you ever feel out of control around certain foods, or like you can’t stop eating? 

  10. Do you find yourself constantly thinking about food/your next meal? 

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If you answered yes to any of the above questions, it could be time to consider working toward a healthier relationship with food and/or your body. 

An approach that can help you get started is known as 'intuitive eating.' Intuitive eating means gradually unlearning everything diet culture has taught you, and re-learning to tune into your body. It means letting your body guide your eating decisions, such as when, what and how much to eat. You will slowly learn to respect, and most importantly, trust your body along the way.

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In 1995, two registered dietitians wrote the book Intuitive Eating and created these 10 principles. The goal of Intuitive Eating is not weight loss. Their goal was to help others rebuild a healthy body image and make peace with food. 

How to Start Making Peace With Food

  1. Remove influences that only glorify one specific way of eating or exercising, or only celebrate one body size. Whether this is on social media or in your work or home life, try to surround yourself with more inclusive messages. Get rid of the ones that make you feel bad about yourself or your habits. 

  2. Avoid labeling foods as good and bad. Practice thinking of foods as neutral, whether or not you enjoy eating them, and how they make you physically feel afterwards. This can help you get back in tune with your individual tastes and preferences. Often times we get so caught up in the trends and what we 'should' eat that we stop paying attention to which foods we actually love and that fuel our bodies best. 

  3. Ditch the food rules. Sometimes we place unnecessary rules on our eating, such as waiting until “x” time to eat lunch or avoiding snacks between meals (even if we are starving), or eliminating certain foods because someone else is doing it. Try to pay attention to your unique needs and avoid comparing yourself to others. 

  4. Honor your body by giving yourself freedom to explore and enjoy a variety of foods. The more we label foods as 'off limits', the more we want them. It’s inevitable that we will eventually give in, and we are much more likely to binge on something when it has been restricted for a long period of time. When you give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods, you will likely be satisfied with a smaller amount. You may even find that you don’t like that food as much as you once thought when it was restricted. (Keep in mind that this is a process and it takes some people longer than others to make peace with all foods.) 

  5. Give yourself grace. Know that it’s okay not to be perfect all the time. Have lots of self-compassion as you work toward a healthier relationship with food and your body. You don’t have to eat perfectly 'healthy' 24/7 or weigh a certain amount in order to be well. Your weight does not define your health. Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health matter, too. 

Learn more about intuitive eating, food freedom and resources to help you get started.

Note: This way of eating may not be appropriate for someone who has an active eating disorder. Please seek personal medical attention if you need additional support in this area. 

Follow Shanna Hutcheson @wellnessforthewin 

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