Updated: Mar 2
Can there be a more controversial and emotion-laden topic outside of the umbrellas of politics and religion? In fact, I vote dietary discussion be added to that holy roster of thou shalt not discuss it in polite company. It may seem benign, if perhaps a bit onerous in its ubiquity, but a quick look around the media, at your social circles, and even at yourself should explain why I beg to differ.
Diets are complicated. On the surface a diet is simply the way you eat. More deeply or connotatively, it’s a way of eating to lose weight, to become more muscular, to be trendy, to get healthier, or to manage a specific health condition.
Diets carry a certain judgement. They can be deeply personal and reflect a lot about a person. Someone under stress might be eating a lot of chocolate. Someone getting married and wanting to be slimmer might be forswearing sugar. Someone suffering from heartbreak might not be eating at all. Someone might need to stay away from gluten because of celiac disease. Someone else might decide to fight animal cruelty by becoming vegan.
All of that is oh so easy to judge. It’s oh so easy to suggest someone needs to change their diet or to question their dietary choices. The problem is those suggestions and questions pass judgement on the person. It says they are too big, too small, or too weak. It says their life is somehow off track. It says the way they are trying to take care of themselves isn’t helpful or worthwhile. It says their health issue has nothing to do with food.
It says that they are being judged on some level.
And that’s unfair.
Diets should not be used to put down others. That also means though that they shouldn’t be used as a way to put yourself down either.
In chasing a diet-related goal, people can drive themselves crazy, starve themselves, overeat, binge on unhealthy food, throw up, give up, get depressed, wonder how everyone else does it, try yet another diet that might help, become haughty and judgemental with success, become obsessed with counting calories, develop a fear of dietary contamination, come to hate their bodies, and more.
For something that is usually meant to be healthy, the general response to diets can be incredibly unhealthy.
Selectively banning the discussion of diets, like sequestering politics and religion to the realms of impolite company, might remove the public judgement sessions, but it wouldn’t solve the internal judgements nor the unhealthy approaches a lot of people have towards diets.
How can you have a healthy approach to diets so it wouldn’t need to be a controversial, emotion-laden topic?
So glad you asked. Here are some ideas:
1. Realise the work is all on you.
When it comes to approaching anything in a healthier way, realize the only person who can change anything for you is you. You may need help in the shape of a nutritionist, a book, a therapist, or a friend, but ultimately you need to make a mental shift.
2. Realise diets can change.
Yes, diets can change. It may be hard, but if you’re unhappy with how you currently eat, that doesn’t mean you have to be stuck eating that way forever. Same with restrictive diets for health issues. Just take it a day at a time and don’t forget that a diet can be changed at your very next meal.
3. Realise you can change.
You can! Don’t feel stuck in a specific mentally or diet. You have an incredible capacity to change, both the way you think and the way you do things. Don’t give up on your goal nor your effort to approach diets in a healthier way.
4. Let go of the judgement and fear.
You’re judging yourself. You’re judging others. You’re afraid of being shamed for being heavy. You’re afraid of preservatives. You’re afraid of throwing up again. Whatever it is, breathe. Let it go. Work through your need to judge and through your fears, and then send them on their way. You don’t need them.
5. Stay flexible and forgiving.
No one is perfect, including you, and no diet is perfect either. Sometimes you’ll fail in your efforts to become a healthy dieter and sometimes your diet will fail you. Forgive yourself and stay flexible with how you eat. It’ll give you more peace of mind and peace of mind is very healthy too.
6. Appreciate food for what it is.
Food is fuel. Delicious, confusing, wonderful, complex fuel, but still fuel. Don’t give it more emotional influence than it needs. That said, God gave it to us to enjoy. Whatever you do choose to eat, thank G-d and savour it!
Ultimately a diet is just the way you happen to eat at a specific point in time. It changes. It might include more ice cream one day and more carrot juice the next. It might be good for your body and it might not. But it’s your diet. It can help you accomplish your goals if you approach it well. So focus on your own diet instead of others’, improve it where and how you can, and above all, eat with gratitude.
(I don’t take back my vote though.)