Diet: The new religion
Diets are a lot like religion. They offer community, support and structure. But also, they can promote shame, dogma and fear of the unknown. Belonging to a diet translates to separateness and superiority over others. Life can be tricky to navigate at the best of times, so we attempt to make sense of this chaotic world by picking a diet and then sticking to it no matter what happens.
It is not one diet for a lifetime but many diets for many different phases of our lifetime.
A diet becomes part of you. Your identity gets wrapped up in not eating meat, being in ketosis or eating like a cave-person. And this, my friends is a dangerous place to be. It’s this type of dogma that is ruining your long-term health and progress. Many of today's popular diets have common deficiencies. The same nutritional protocol that cured your cancer can, in the future, lead to hormonal imbalances and protein deficiencies. We shouldn’t be searching for that perfect diet because it is not one diet for a lifetime, but many diets for many different phases of our lifetime.
Why belonging to a diet is ruining your health and progress
We hear it all the time, “I am a vegetarian”, “I am part of the keto crowd”, “Veganism is the way we should all live”, “Bacon, bacon pass me the bacon, paleo for life”. Many people thrive, for a time, on diets such as slimming world, paleo, the ketogenic diet, Atkins, weight watchers etc. However, when we attach ourselves to one diet we lose the ability to intuitively listen to our bodies needs.
Non-labeling: the key to long-term success
Aligning yourself with a certain way of eating gives you a sense of belonging. You do it in many aspects of your lives: work, religion, social status, hobbies etc. Nutrition is no different. Many people stick to one diet despite many subtle or glaringly obvious signs that it’s time to switch it up. It’s extremely difficult to change something that feels so fundamental to who you are and the gang you spend time with. It’s like coming out to your paleo friends and saying you hate bacon or telling your vegetarian friends that you got drunk last night and accidentally ate ribs. There is a lot of shame attached to those actions and as a result we live in this narrow box of what is allowed and what is not allowed.
I, myself, kicked off my health journey by eating whatever I wanted. My mother was health conscious and “low fat” was very popular in the early 90s. So then I never ate foods containing saturated fat. At 18, I became a gym rat and studied exercise science and learned about the importance of carbohydrates for fueling performance and recovery. So I ate lots of smoothies and pasta. I felt awful. I started following paleo when I was 20 and fell in love. It was my first true love. We had a blissful romance that lasted many years. After that, I tried a Whole 30 and Melissa taught me that “cancer is hard, divorce is hard, drinking your coffee black is not hard”. (Actually, it is…pass me the coconut cream). When I finished the Whole 30 I learned a lot about which foods I thrived on and which foods I tolerated poorly.
I’ve always loved eating meat; I was a carnivore. Sometimes I’d picture myself in a past life hunting food as a cavewoman. My identity was so wrapped up in eating meat that I would get angry when having a discussion with those who chose to not eat meat. I was a diehard paleo-er, then a keto girl. I loved the ketogenic diet, give me fat, fat and more fat. Cravings were gone, I was productive, no dips in energy, I’d not eat for 8-10 hours and still feel fantastic. My workouts were steady. Then, I lost my period for several months, I felt like crap, I wasn’t sleeping and I was exhausted, despite not restricting my caloric intake. Finally, months down the line, I made the difficult decision to reintroduce carbohydrates despite fearing weight gain, the stomach bloat and who I was without my keto title. Within a few weeks my period was back, I was hitting personal bests in deadlifts, squats and benching and my sleep was great.
It was only then that I realized I never truly listened to my body; I just followed what was getting me results, then stuck with it when it began to fail me.
When we stop labelling our food choices we give ourselves permission to do what is best for our mind and body.
The better approach
One diet will solve some problems and create others. I don't label myself and I don't put myself into a diet camp. I strongly encourage my clients and you to do the same. The best approach to take involves intuitive eating. This means following the internal cues of your body in order to continue to progress your health. If you don't know how to do that. Check out my intuitive eating post. Sometimes I eat organic meat, most times I eat vegetarian and vegan. Sometimes I even eat a cookie or some chocolate. When we stop labelling our food choices we give ourselves permission to do what is best for our mind and body.