The Deceit of Diets Dressed Up as Wellness
Diet culture has etched its deceitful messages into society and into healthcare. The beliefs it upholds have led to the perpetuation of body size stigma, weight bias, and substandard medical care for those in larger bodies.
In an effort to “combat obesity” in the name of “health,” many nutritional, medical, and fitness experts in the wellness communities have:
1. Body shamed and failed to follow proper diagnostic procedures for large body types due to their prejudices.
2. Promoted diets of all types without considering or understanding biochemical individuality and that all diets have a track record of weight regain in the long-term.
3. Blamed the victim (a dieter) when weight cycling and regain eventually resulted.
4. Added insult to injury.
Rather than realizing the “solution” may be the problem, when weight loss did not occur, or weight regain ensued, dieters were told to partake in even more restrictive practices.
These healthy “recommendations” included:
– not eating for 12-18 hours a day
– fasting for days to achieve weight loss – This was suggested without considering the spiritual aspects of this practice and the context of its roots in cultures and religions.
– cutting out major food groups and adding in expensive supplements to cover the deficiencies
– prescribing a different popular diet that was based on external measurements and not on internal cues, ethnic background, culture, and individual preferences
5. Advocated for dietary tribes that allowed for only interacting with others who think similarly on the topics of diet and exercise and excluding the “bad influencers.”
If you look at this from a rational viewpoint, can you see why I am so concerned?
I feel that these actions are impacting the mental, social, and physical health of everyone and normalizing and contributing to the rise in eating disordered behavior and eating disorders.
It took me awhile to realize that I, too, was a participant and “expert” within this sick cycle before I shifted my focus to Health at Every Size. For this reason, I have compassion for the many consumers who have been prey to diet culture. I also have empathy for the members of the wellness and medical community who believe that what they are suggesting is in the best interest of their patients or clients.
In an attempt to wage war on “fat,” wellness culture has lost sight of the fact that one’s body is not the enemy.
I previously stated:
Although I cannot deny that weight may be linked, or even a contributing factor, to some disease processes, there is an extreme danger of confusing causation for correlation with body size in many studies. Furthermore, weight itself is not an accurate measure for health and not necessary and sufficient for someone to get sick. (source, source, source, source, source, source, source, source, source, source, source, source, source) (i.e., people of all body sizes and races get cancer, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses.)
Recently, I summarized the dangers of diet culture and food obsession and how it may be contributing to a dysfunctional relationship with one’s body and health.
My goal was to empower the reader to understand the difference between nourishing one’s body with nutrients and being stuck in a downward spiral obsessively chasing after the latest food or movement panacea.
Now, in this post, let’s look at what I feel entails true wellness and health. My aim is to help you understand why I am urging us all to reconsider the blind acceptance of dietary rules and regulations and embrace a holistic and peaceful relationship with one’s mind-body.
Wellness vs. Perfectionistic Rituals
In the past, I have explored how health has too narrow of a definition. I spoke about embracing wellness and holistic health from a more integrative perspective:
Health and wellness are comprehensive and dynamic concepts that are inclusive of the body, mind, spirit, and socioeconomics. They are personalized in that everyone’s goals for why they wish to achieve them are different.
I embrace the concepts of wellness and holistic health completely. As in medicine where the pursuit of health may translate to using a medication to chase away symptoms of disease, I feel in integrative medicine, that the focus can be too heavily placed on food, lifestyle, and exercise. There is not enough attention to community, mindset, and honoring one’s connection to their values.
I became a naturopathic doctor in order to support people’s health so that they could pursue and live a better life based on their desires and beliefs. For this reason, I have been adamant about offering resources to support mental health and to bring attention to the power of mindset and spirituality to the medical community.
The problem I find in the health and wellness community is many are walking that fine line between educating people on how to best care for their brain and body and causing undue anxiety around eating perfectly.
Knowledge on biochemical individuality and the medicinal properties of food to nourish brain and body health are powerful… but not when they lead to perfectionistic rituals.
When Wellness Culture Makes Us Sick
In the article, “Wellness Culture Won’t Save Us. It’s Only Making Us More Sick,” various experts chime in their concern on adapting practices that seek for health perfection:
Dr. Rumina Taylor, chief clinical officer and clinical psychologist at Hello Self, tells R29: “Setting ourselves goals can give us a sense of purpose, be motivating and even exciting.” When these goals are set with flexibility and realistic expectations they are a form of “healthy striving”, adds Dr. Taylor. “We set ourselves goals that are realistic and the road to achievement is one of learning.” For the striving to be healthy, the pursuit must be a process you actually enjoy (so that it doesn’t become a burdensome routine).
However if your motivation towards self-improvement through wellness is not realistic, whether consciously or subconsciously it can slip into perfectionism. This is particularly pernicious given how the promise of wellness culture is that through your actions alone you can achieve your ‘best self’ (with the definition of ‘best’ veering from mildly out of reach to completely unattainable).
According to Dr. Tom Currin:
Whatever form perfectionism comes in – whether self-directed, driven by a social pressure or directed outwards at others – it is less about being perfect and more about having incredibly high standards and punishing yourself to achieve them. There is no psychological flexibility, leaving you prone to anxiety, hypervigilance and obsession if you slip up on your path to meeting your own exacting standards. The reason why many people pursue perfection is because they believe themselves to be fundamentally not good enough in the first place – a belief that is a core motivator for people getting into wellness.
“When you put pressure on people to better themselves and don’t talk about the things around them that they can’t control, that leads to a lot of self-blame and a lot of self-criticism.”
The article continues (bold emphasis mine):
This can be very damaging. Perfectionism in itself is immensely detrimental and is co-morbid with several other conditions, particularly anxiety, OCD and eating disorders like orthorexia. And while the image of wellness still adheres to impossible Western beauty standards (beautiful, slim, white woman with glossy hair), a lot of wellness messaging defines itself against the idea of being perfect by using language borrowed from activist spaces (particularly the activism of Audre Lorde and fat activists pushing for radical body acceptance). Thus your inability to meet that standard is compounded by your inability to love and embrace yourself. Your perfectionism, enabled by the wellness industry, becomes another personal failing.
So, where does this leave us?
Wellness and Health for All Body Sizes
According to Psychotherapist & Disordered Eating Specialist, Katrina LoBue, Ed.S., LCPC
“Wellness” has become a loaded word, especially within the eating disorder community. According to the Oxford dictionary, the word wellness means “the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.” However, “good health” has become highly objective yet subjective, especially in a society that promotes a specific, limited, and oppressive standard of health.
We want our patients to be “well,” What does wellness mean? Through the lens of societal expectations, wellness means being in an abled, thin, cis-gendered, and white body.
As clinicians, we want to promote wellness that does not create limitations based on our client’s presentation of their bodies; therefore, expansion of the meaning and understanding of wellness must occur. We can advocate for the diversity of wellness within and outside the session space.
Katrina suggests five steps to achieve a diverse view of wellness:
- Recognizing one’s own biases
- Education on Health at Every Size (HAES) +
- Sharing this inclusive perspective with peers and other clinicians
- Spreading the word through media and communication
- Allowing for continued growth and understanding
Summary & Conclusion: Finding Respite in Body Acceptance and Peace with Food
Health at Every Size (HAES) advocates for respecting all body types and promoting health for bettering one’s life, not promising a better life based on health practices.
Rather than advocating weight-loss, as a HAES practitioner I teach about nutrition, lifestyle practices, and wellness solutions to promote well-being. I no longer promise results or try to control outcomes regarding weight. I now know and accept that everyone’s genetics vary and that different body types and responses to internal and external stimuli exist. (source, source)
What I do promise to all my clients is that I will do everything I can to help them achieve their health and wellness goals so that they can live a life with more joy and physical vibrance.
I share my knowledge about food and nutrition as I take into consideration their background, ethnicity, culture, pleasure, and what their body and brain may benefit from.
When we know better, we must do better for ourselves, our society, our patients, and our clients.
We now know that waging war on our bodies could be harming our mental and physical health.
Let’s do better, for our bodies and for all others.
What do you think?
Please share your thoughts and comments below.
In the upcoming articles I will continue with this theme, including more on eating disorders and the controversial topic of food addiction.
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If you struggle with mental health, please reach out for professional mental health support.
You may also wish to consider implementing holistic resources and partnering with a naturopathic doctor.
For example, I offer mind-body support for general mood issues using a functional medicine and wellness-oriented approach.
Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.