OPINION | Fads and food restrictions: the only thing we should eliminate is diet culture



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  • Diet culture promotes unrealistic expectations when it comes to losing weight.
  • When talking about fad diets, it’s important to understand that there are no quick fixes and that these types of diets rarely lead to long-term weight loss.
  • We have to change our perspective on what it means to be healthy; it cannot be linked simply to our size or number on the scale.
  • And when it comes to healthy eating, restriction could do more harm than good.

“If you made a resolution this year to lose weight, make sure it’s not an extreme goal. Unrealistic goals are hard to meet and you risk starting the year feeling like a failure.” Arthur Ramoroka, Corporate Nutritionist and Eat Well Live Well Ambassador, and Claire Julsing Strydom, Dietitian and Co-Founder of Nutritional Solutions, share some insights on what diet culture is, why it’s dangerous, and how we can change our perspective on health. and nutrition. Put aside restrictive fads and focus on more balanced nutrition for holistic wellness.

Diet culture is a collective set of societal expectations, driven primarily by social media, that tells us how we should look and what we should eat to meet societal norms of “perfection.” It tells us that if we see ourselves a certain way, we are more accepted. In addition to creating incredibly unrealistic beauty standards, the most damaging aspect of diet culture is that it focuses on our weight in health and wellness and encourages us to eliminate entire food groups, such as carbohydrates, while labeling certain foods as good or bad. , dirty or clean.

When we are constantly told that certain foods are associated with weight gain or loss, it creates guilt and fear and can trigger long-term unhealthy relationships with food.

We have to change our perspective on what health means for each of us individually. Health cannot simply be based on our size or the numbers on a scale; essentially, our appearance has no bearing on whether or not we are healthy. Yes, obesity levels in South Africa are high, with half of all adults overweight (23%) or obese (27%), but on the other hand, obsessing over being skinny is harmful on many levels because food restriction can cause mood swings. , dehydration, constipation, malnutrition, decreased metabolism, loss of muscle mass, and even an eating disorder. We must focus on balanced nutrition combined with moderate physical activity for sustainable and long-term well-being.

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The vicious cycle of fad diets

The overwhelming social pressure to look perfect is leading to an increasing number of ‘fad diets’ coming into fashion. Fast or fad weight loss diets are alluring – who doesn’t like the idea that we can get lean and lean with very little time or effort? What also makes them almost impossible to ignore is how we are bombarded from all sides with messages about nutrition trends on social media, in commercials and in books, but often the advice is contradictory. It is also very rare that evidence-based science exists to support the safety or efficacy of most fad diets. While there are many fad diets out there, they all essentially share a common thread: deprivation of the body.

We need to understand that any diet based on restricting specific food groups or following rigid menus that allow no deviation or inclusion of the foods you enjoy is typically unsustainable and harmful to our health.

The end result of fad diets? They don’t work in the long term and simply promise a “quick fix”, which can do more harm than good. In fact, research indicates a 95% failure rate, which means that only 5% of people lose weight and keep it off long term.

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Put on the brakes and take control

So what should we be doing to break the cycle of fad diets? Think about what a stable and healthy weight looks like and how you can avoid the weight cycle that goes hand in hand with fad diets. Focus on eating a healthy balance of foods from all the food groups that nourish the body.

It starts with identifying small changes that can be made and maintained; It can be as simple as making it a priority to eat a cup of vegetables with each meal.

We must also learn to stop labeling food as good or bad and instead opt to add healthier options to our plates, like filling up on colorful fresh vegetables is a great start.

And most importantly, we need to take a step back when it comes to nutrition and our health and see the bigger picture. We need to look at our health holistically and focus on eating healthy food more regularly, but also getting enough sleep, being physically active and managing our stress; All of these factors influence our overall health. Small, consistent changes over the long term can result in gradual but sustainable weight loss without going crazy in the process.

We should not fear food and never allow social media influencers (or even family and friends) to tell us how we should and shouldn’t eat. Focus on balance and moderation in all foods, and perceive food as nutritious, delicious, and satisfying because sharing a delicious meal is truly one of life’s greatest pleasures that none of us should miss out on.

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