Updated: Mar 21
Keto, low carb, vegan, intermittent fasting, on and on. If you have heard of these diets, there is a good chance you are confused about what to eat. Which diet is healthy? Which is not? Which one confers the best health outcomes? Which one can you actually follow for the long haul?
If you are anything like me, you are probably tired of all the confusion about what to eat. Like most of us, I know the importance of a wholesome, balanced diet, but often find myself so overwhelmed by all the mixed messages on what I should or shouldn’t be eating that I don’t know where to begin.
First, know it’s not your fault that you are so confused about how you should eat and why you eat the way you do. I decided to research some of the core reasons why we eat how we eat today and have learned there are three primary issues that shape our eating patterns:
unhealthy body image
With a culture that constantly tells us to achieve more and look glamorous on social media, it’s really no wonder so many of us feel less than motivated to make dietary changes, but with a deeper understanding of how these three factors influence our eating habits, we can finally take control and learn to eat in a way that is truly healthy.
Processed food, unhealthy body image, and diet culture are the three primary issues that shape our eating patterns.
The Ancestral Wisdom Model is a viable, simple solution to this ever-growing problem.
Food processing and body image issues continue to affect our food ecosystem and self-esteem.
How To Stop Unhealthy Eating Habits
If you are like me and are tired of diets that don’t work, you might be relieved to know there is a way to break unhealthy eating habits that don’t involve constant restriction, hunger, or obsession with calories.
But how can you do this and still be healthy?
Ancestral Wisdom Model: A Solution to the Problem
When you think about how your great-great-grandparents might have eaten, a clearer picture begins to unfold of how this is possible. Our ancestors did not eat “diet” food or count calories; yet, prior to the 1960s obesity was rarely a problem.
Our ancestors also didn’t have LA Fitness memberships, Fitbits, or Smart Watches, and yet they were largely unaffected by the diseases that plague us today like obesity, type two diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
So, what gives? How could they be so healthy? After all, it's not as if people simply had more willpower back then than they do today. Diet culture always puts the blame back on us. We eat too much. We don’t exercise.
Take personal responsibility. It's all us, us, us, but do you really think humans simply stopped having willpower a half-century ago? Of course not. Our DNA is largely unchanged. What has changed is our environment, which includes both our food environment and our entire culture around eating.
Eating Like Our Ancestors: A Model for Healthy Living
Our ancestors used wisdom to guide their eating choices. They ate foods that looked the way they did when they grew out of the earth. Foods were minimally processed. Snacking all day was not a thing. People thrived on many different types of diets.
Like in Okinawa, Japan where the diet is more than 85 percent carbohydrate, and yet there is virtually no diabetes or obesity, or the Inuit who thrived on seal and whale blubber and did not suffer the assumed affliction of heart disease. Both cultures managed to stay healthy despite drastic differences in their diets for a few simple reasons.
First, there was no ultra-processed food.
Second, there was very little added sugar in their diets.
Third, every culture placed a strong emphasis on plant-based foods, medicinal herbs, and the mind-body connection to healing.
Food was viewed as more than sustenance but as medicine. It was used to effectively manage many conditions ranging from obesity to diabetes. This style of eating reflects just part of what is deemed The Ancestral Wisdom Health Model, which as you will learn, is the key to eating healthy without restriction.
As we explore the origins of packaged food, unhealthy body image, and diet culture, you will soon begin to connect the dots as to why our eating habits have changed so dramatically over the last few decades and how we can get back to our origins.
How Processed Food Affects Your Body
Our ancestors evolved on a varied and colorful diet of fruits, vegetables, legumes, roots, spices, herbs, beans, fish, ancient grains like einkorn and quinoa, and greens. Today, this diet has been largely replaced by the monochrome, uniform foods designed to be shelf-stable and taste amazing so that we buy more, with health as an afterthought.
Salt and sugar are added to enhance flavor, while fiber, fat, and protein are removed to make food easier and faster to eat, and food is able to stay on shelves for several months or longer. That includes common “diet” foods like low-fat yogurt, sweetened granola, and reduced-fat peanut butter.
This style of eating is entirely foreign to how our ancestors ate. It also contributes to overeating because removing protein and fat from food reduces the release of satiety hormones like peptide yy and cholecystokinin.
These hormones are not released in response to carbohydrates alone (1). As you will learn in the next blog, Is Processed Food Bad For You?, much of the problem with food has nothing to do with the food itself but how it was altered. Almost all foods in their original or minimally processed forms are healthy.
Unhealthy Body Image and Diet Culture
Body image and self-esteem issues continue to plague many of us. Only in the past decade or so have we seen positive cultural shifts towards body positivity and the embracement of curvier, fuller figures. Yet, the overwhelming majority of models in magazines continue to be airbrushed and photoshopped to edit out every perceived imperfection from wrinkles to cellulite.
It is still very rare to see differently-abled bodies portrayed in the media or anyone outside of society’s rigid standards of beauty.
For instance, it is thought that at least 99% of photos and images of models online are photoshopped in some way–that is staggering! (2) People of color are consistently underrepresented in fashion and in the media. Only six percent of models are black–a trend that has not improved with time (3).
Eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating continue to be problems and increasingly affect men. The NHS reports that men were admitted to the hospital for eating disorder-related complications at the same rate as women between 2010 and 2016 (4). Only four percent of women see themselves as beautiful and 72 percent feel pressured to look beautiful according to a recent Dove survey (5).
Underpinning all of these issues is the idea of “diet culture”. Diet culture explains why nearly half of all New Year’s resolutions involve weight loss, feeding the $30B industry on diet products–and that is just for one year (6).
To put it straight, the diet industry profits greatly from our body insecurities. Diet culture also encourages black-and-white thinking such as labeling foods as “good” or “bad.”
With diet culture, we aren’t allowed to see ourselves as individuals with acceptable variations in how we eat or view our bodies. We are either “cheating” or “succeeding”, “good” or “bad.”
But does any of this really help us to eat healthier? The answer is overwhelmingly NO, seeing as 95 percent of all diets fail (7). Clearly, diet culture isn’t addressing the problem; it’s only making it worse.
Transform Your Eating Habits with the Ancestral Wisdom Model
As you can see, processed food, diet culture, and unhealthy body image all explain why we eat the way we do and struggle to adopt healthier eating habits. The good news is that we don’t have to live tethered to processed food, diet culture, and poor body image, but change starts with shifting the way we think about food.
The key to eating healthy without feeling deprived is following the guidance of The Ancestral Wisdom Model.
We encourage you to book a consultation with Registered Dietitian Melinda Washington today. Not only does she specialize in the ancestral wellness model, but she has helped hundreds of people eat healthier, lose weight, and feel better simply by implementing the four pillars of the model:
Food as Medicine
To learn more, book a session today.
How To Make Healthy Food Taste Good
Many of us struggle to eat healthily simply because we are used to highly palatable, fast food and processed food. All of the added salt and sugar have hijacked our taste buds, but a few simple modifications can make whole foods taste amazing.
Try these easy tips to boost the deliciousness of your meals:
Marinade proteins. One great way to add flavor to chicken or turkey is to let it soak in a marinade of lemon juice, Italian dressing, pepper, and herbs overnight. Try looking up other marinade ideas online. By marinating your meat before cooking it, you boost the flavor significantly. Also, eating 25-30 grams of protein at each meal can boost satiety and reduce hunger between meals. binge eating
Use full-fat products. The reason the food industry adds sugar to reduced fat and fat-free processed foods is that they know that without fat, food tastes like cardboard–at least it can be sweet cardboard, they figure. Instead, use the full-fat product. The fats in whole foods such as nuts, olive oil, avocados, and yogurt are sure to make you feel full and less likely to overindulge. Avoid deep-fried foods and trans fat though.
Sautee your veggies in olive oil. Adding a little oil not only increases flavor, but it could help you absorb more nutrients like heart-healthy carotenoids and Vitamin A.
Skip the added sugar and salt. It may be challenging at first, but within a few weeks your palette will adjust and you’ll find food tastes great without these additions.
Try traditional recipes. Do some research into your family history and see what foods your ancestors ate. Many traditional cuisines are quite healthy. For example, traditional Japanese food is high in omega threes, and protein, and very low in sugar. Here is a delicious traditional recipe from my Nigerian heritage and a delicious baked sweet potato recipe I love.
What are unhealthy eating habits?
Unhealthy eating habits include consuming excessive amounts of processed and high-calorie foods, skipping meals, eating irregularly, overeating, and not getting enough fruits and vegetables in your diet. It can lead to various health problems such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Why do I struggle to eat healthily?
Several factors can contribute to struggling with healthy eating habits, including lack of knowledge or skills for meal planning and preparation, emotional eating, social pressures, and busy lifestyles. Identifying the root cause of your struggle and seeking support from a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian can help you overcome these challenges.
Is it too late to start eating healthy?
It's never too late to start eating healthy. Even small changes in your diet can lead to significant improvements in your health. Incorporating more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains into your meals and reducing processed and high-calorie foods can help you achieve a healthier and more balanced diet.
What is the Ancestral Wisdom Model?
The Ancestral Wisdom Model is a solution to unhealthy eating habits that involves eating like our ancestors did, prioritizing minimally processed foods, avoiding added sugars, and emphasizing plant-based foods, medicinal herbs, and the mind-body connection to healing.
Fung J, MD. Carbohydrates and Protective Fiber. In: Van Emden E, ed. The Obesity Code: Unlocking The Secrets of Weight Loss. Canada: Greystone Books Ltd; 2016: 183-184.
What Are The Effects Of Photoshop On Society? Brendan Williams Creative. 2021. Accessed September 28, 2022. https://www.bwillcreative.com/what-are-the-effects-of-photoshop-on-society/#:~:text=What%20Percentage%20Of%20Models%20Are,are%20Photoshopped%20in%20some%20way
Newman SL. Black Models Matter: Challenging the Racism of Aesthetics and the Facade of Inclusion in the Fashion Industry. CUNY Academic Works. June, 2017. Accessed September 30, 2022. https://academicworks.cuny.edu/gc_etds/2143
Marsh S. Eating disorders in men rise by 70% in NHS figures.The Guardian. July 31, 2017. Accessed September 30, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/31/eating-disorders-in-men-rise-by-70-in-nhs-figures
Strano J. OPINION: Women are caught in the middle of evolving beauty standards. The Daily Wildcat. Updated February 23, 2022. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://www.wildcat.arizona.edu/article/2022/02/o-beauty-standards-2022#:~:text=Dove%20completed%20a%20study%20called,feel%20pressure%20to%20look%20beautiful
Tagle A, Schneider CM. Diet culture is everywhere. Here's how to fight it. npr. January 4, 2022. Accessed September 30, 2022. https://www.npr.org/2021/12/23/1067210075/what-if-the-best-diet-is-to-reject-diet-culture
95 Percent of All Diets Fail - A Nutrition Expert Explains Why. The Drs. October 28, 2021. Accessed September 30, 2022. https://www.thedoctorstv.com/articles/95-percent-of-all-diets-fail-a-nutrition-expert-explains-why#:~:text=The%20Doctors%20share%20%2D%2D%20according%20to,95%20percent%20of%20diets%20fail