The Toxicity of Diet Culture

Let’s put an end to fat-shaming and our unhealthy obsession with losing weight.

Diet culture is toxic, haven’t you heard?

For many, the impetus behind the anti-diet culture movement is all about putting an end to fat-shaming and our unhealthy obsession with losing weight.

Diet culture is toxic, haven’t you heard?

For many, the impetus behind the anti-diet culture movement is all about putting an end to fat-shaming and our unhealthy obsession with losing weight.

While this is a noble cause, it’s not what this piece is about. Because the truth is, 50 percent of my clients have expressed to me a desire to lose weight—mostly for health, emotional, and aesthetic reasons. I’d like to help them reach their goals.

I truly believe the diet culture is hurting our chances of achieving long-term body composition changes, and more importantly, improved health. Be it the latest 7-day cleanse that promises to fix your gut or speed up your metabolism, or the popular 6-week or 30-day diet challenge of the year, more often than not we find ourselves back to the drawing board the moment the short-term diet or challenge is over.

So if diets don’t work, what does?

Build the Right Habits

I’m a big fan of Precision Nutrition’s principles, hence why I’m currently going through their Level 1 coaching course.

At the heart of it, success comes not from following an exact plan that leaves you feeling guilty when you fall off course, but from taking every imperfect day as it comes, by making as many right choices as you can along the way—but also knowing you’re going to make mistakes, too. Success comes from working on your nutrition by constantly striving to build better habits.

I know that sounds like just more fluffy rhetoric, so here are three small, practical things you can do RIGHT now—like today—to lay the foundation to see results.

They might seem insignificant on their own, but if you keep building on them, and adding more small actions each week and each month, I guarantee you’ll gain more than embarking on those quarterly turmeric cleanses.

1. The Five-Minute Action

This is sort of like the concept of compound interest: Over time, it adds up!

Choose one, small, emotionally and mentally manageable change you’re willing to make today.

I interviewed a Precision Nutrition client a while back who lost 100lb over the course of a year. The first five-minute action she committed was taking the stairs at work. Literally, she just started walking three flights of stairs. This small step was the starting point for what became a huge and lasting change.

Maybe for you, it’s cutting sugar from your coffee or committing to eating vegetables with every meal. Keep the action small and manageable, and once it feels normal, add in a new five-minute action.

2. Chew Your Food

It’s possible you have never considered this one, but chewing your food more thoroughly could be the answer to your digestion issues—bloating, cramping, diarrhea, and constipation—and may help you lose weight. And it may also help your habit of eating too much.

How so?

Well, digestion starts in the mouth. Salivary amylase breaks down starch, and the more you chew, the more your food gets exposed to this enzyme, which kickstarts the digestion problem. Also, when you break your food down into smaller pieces from chewing it more—aim for 30 chews per bite—it’s then more manageable for your body to process, and also helps you absorb more nutrients. This goes a long way in helping your metabolism becomes more efficient.

This Chinese study found that chewing more led to weight loss and an increase in energy.

The study looked at 30 young men, 14 of whom were obese and 16 were considered skinny. The first observation the researchers made was that the obese men tended to ingest their food faster and chewed it less than the skinny men.

After this was noted, the obese men were fed a high carbohydrate meal and asked to chew their food either 15 or 40 times per bite. The researchers found when they chewed more, they actually ingested 12 percent fewer calories.

The researchers believe chewing more leads to lower levels of the hormone ghrelin and higher levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone called cholecystokinin. Together, these hormones tell the brain when to start and stop eating. So basically, chewing more creates a hormonal response in your body that stops you from eating when you’re full, helping you to maintain a healthy weight.

So, chew more. And start at dinner tonight.

3. Failure As Feedback

One of the biggest reasons I have seen clients fall off the healthy eating horse is because they’re discouraged because they failed.

But as my good friend Jennifer Broxterman, a registered dietician and the owner of NutritionRx, explains, it comes down to changing the way you think about failure.

“Failure should be seen as feedback, not as a result,” Broxterman said. She encourages her clients to view feedback like data points a scientist would use to figure something out. And to view it with a mixture of curiosity, compassion and radical honesty.

“Let’s be curious, kind, and truly honest about what pushed you off your course,” she explained.

When you change the way you think about failure, and when you view it as an opportunity to change something in the future, rather than an outcome that causes you pain in the present, you’ll be able to embrace the course—bumpy as it may be—to long-term change.

4. Bonus Tip: Be Patient

As the cliché goes, change doesn’t happen overnight. (And it doesn’t come from a 6-week diet.)

But change can start to happen right now in three simple steps:

  1. Pick a small, manageable five-minute action and turn it into a habit. Repeat.
  2. Chew your food 30 times a bite.
  3. If you mess up, chill out. Be kind. Be compassionate. Figure out what threw you off. And then continue.