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What the heck do I eat?! - A brief history on diet culture and food confusion

Updated: Nov 1, 2022

Keto, low carb, vegan, intermittent fasting–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? Or perhaps, you are tired of all the confusion about what to eat. You know the importance of a wholesome, balanced diet, but you are too overwhelmed by all the mixed messages on what you should or shouldn’t be eating.



First, know it’s not your fault that you are so confused. As we will soon discuss, diet culture and the media plays a pivotal role in how we view food and diet today. With a culture that constantly tells us to be productive, achieve more, and present ourselves in a way that others will find glamorous on social media, it’s really no wonder many of us feel less than motivated to make dietary changes.


But don't despair. Over the course of the next several blogs, we will take a deeper look into three primary issues that play starring roles in our state of food confusion, which includes packaged and processed foods, unhealthy body image, and diet culture.


At the end of the series, we will present a much better solution–one that doesn’t involve all the confusion and hypocrisy presented in our diet culture but draws us back to our roots instead of pulling us further away from them by re-engaging us in the practices our ancestors followed for thousands of years–that food should be medicine and that it is meant for enjoyment. Food is designed to draw us closer as humans–not divide us into subgroups of “vegans” vs. “meat eaters” etc. This model of eating doesn’t involve constantly stressing over every calorie we consume or putting ourselves down for eating a cookie. This new yet old way of eating and engaging with life is called the Ancestral Wisdom Model–a model that offers to free you out of “diet jail” while still achieving the vibrant health and wellbeing you have long been after.


But before we can dive into the specifics of this model and how it can improve your health and wellbeing, it’s vital that we take a deeper dive into understanding the problem of how we ended up here since the Ancestral Wisdom Model isn’t novel and is really a reintroduction of our simpler, healthier past. As we explore the origins of packaged food, unhealthy body image, and diet culture in effort to gain a better understanding for how these shifts came about in our culture, it should be easy to connect the dots and see why the Ancestral Wisdom Model is a viable, simple solution to this ever-growing problem.


Before we dive deeper, let us briefly introduce the problem. Food processing has perhaps played the largest role in the demise of our food ecosystem. 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. 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 is typically added to enhance the flavor of food, while fiber, fat, and protein is removed to make textures smoother, food easier and faster to eat, and foodstuffs able stay on shelves for several months–including common “diet” foods like low-fat (AKA high sugar) yogurt, sweetened granolas, and reduced fat chips or peanut butter. This way of eating is entirely foreign from how our ancestors thrived and unfortunately contributes to overeating as removing protein and fat from a food limits the amount of satiety hormones released (peptide yy, cholecystokinin) since these hormones are not released in response to carbohydrates alone (1).

Body image and self-esteem issues continue to be an issue for many of us. Only in the past decade perhaps have we seen positive cultural shifts towards body positivity and embracement of curvier and fuller figures such as celebrities like Lizzo and Tess Holiday.

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 deemed below 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. For example, 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 feeling pressured to look beautiful according to a recent Dove survey (5).

Underpinning all of these issues is the idea of “diet culture”. Body image researcher, Nadia Craddock, states that diet culture is a social framework around diet “telling us that there's…one way to look and one way to eat and that we are a better person, we're a more worthy person if our bodies are a certain way (6).” 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 fitness and diet industry profits greatly off 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 variation in how we eat or view our bodies. We are either “cheating” or “succeeding”, “good” or “bad”, “skinny” or “fat.” But does any of this really help us achieve our goals in the long run? 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.


So, since diet culture, a negative body image, and overreliance on processed and packaged foods isn’t paving the way to health and happiness, what will? Enter the Ancestral Wellness Model–a model that provides effective strategies to help us repair our relationship with our body and with food, such as teaching mindful eating meditation and holistic health, informing us about holistic health products, providing black health and wellness resources, and introducing a framework of sound nutrition education and counseling to guide us in a better direction. But before we dive in, let’s explore more about how food processing brought us here. You are bound to be surprised.




References:


  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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



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