If you’ve been to a grocery store, news stand, or convenience store you’ve probably seen magazines in the check-out line that praise women and men for their toned bodies or how they lost X amount of weight in the blink of an eye. Diet culture is everywhere and it’s often difficult to escape! Diet culture refers to a society that promotes a “perfect" body or image by restricting certain foods or calories and associating your food choices with your morality. In my experience, this dichotomous mentality is extremely prevalent in the desi community (Indian/Pakistani/Bengali). In my desi community, there was a strong desire for women to look taller but not too tall, thinner, fair skinned, and anything else that would make you "flawless".
DISCLAIMER: This blog post is about my personal experience and it doesn’t speak for all desi communities.
I was introduced to diet culture at a very young age. I overheard people in my community constantly speaking about their body size and how they would associate their looks and food choices with their morality and worth. It was always confusing for me to hear someone say, “I’m so bad, I ate so much biryani for dinner,” or “I want to be good so I won’t eat another gulab jamun (desi donut soaked in delicious syrup).” These types of comments associate eating a specific food with being a bad person. The notion that eating a specific food impacts your morality was a weird concept for me to comprehend. How can nourishing your body and meeting your basic human needs be a bad thing? I mean come on, you didn’t just rob a bank, you just ate some carbs! How can you be a bad person?
Luckily, I had a supportive family that helped me build a protective layer against diet culture and societal beauty standards. I was taught that ALL foods fit within a healthy and balanced diet and that being a good person begins with your actions, not how you look or what you eat. Unfortunately, I was constantly getting mixed messaging from the media and people around me. They were always striving for the thin ideal, being fairer by not participating in fun outdoor activities and/or bleaching their skin, and anything else that would help them be flawless. I was always a little different (darker, louder, "tomboyish") than the girls I grew up with in my desi community and knew I didn’t have to change who I was to live a healthy lifestyle. From a young age, I had issues with societal and cultural standards of beauty and valued doing things that allow me to be healthy while enjoying my life (i.e., eating all types of food, playing outside, and being myself) instead of being miserable conforming to how society thought I "should" be AKA restrictive dieting, over exercising, and body shaming.
So how do you live a happy and healthy lifestyle in this diet-crazed world? Shift your mindset to one that is accepting of diverse bodies and foods. You CAN live a healthy lifestyle at any shape, size or color and you can’t tell if someone is healthy or happy based on their outward appearance.
I entered the field of dietetics with the desire to help people live a healthy and happy lifestyle without compromising who they are or diluting their cultural practices. Remember that you have the power to be more confident, happier, and healthier when you stop dieting in favor of taking better care of yourself. Diet messaging is sneaky and can be in places we would last expect. Check out this blog post to learn how you can combat diet culture to make room for a healthier relationship with food and body image.
Wholesome Start Nutrition Counseling focuses on Health At Every Size which means empowering you with the tools you need to adopt healthy habits for the sake of health and well-being instead of weight. I encourage my clients to eat in a flexible manner that values satisfaction and pleasure and honors your body's natural hunger, satiety, and appetite cues. Health is so much more than just nutrition and I implement a comprehensive wellness philosophy that also encompasses joyful movement, promoting positive body image, stress management, self-care, sleep hygiene, and other lifestyle factors that improve your overall well-being. With the New Year right around the corner it's easy to get sucked back into the diet craze. As you are planning your New Year’s resolution, schedule your initial consult with me to plan your wellness goals and stay accountable.
I'd love to hear about how you have gained the confidence to be your healthiest self despite societal pressures. Feel free to share your story in the comments below!