Breaking up with diet culture and learning gentle nutrition can be a challenge, but finding the right balance is possible with support, time, and compassion.
Noticing the places where diet mentality is still holding on can be tricky business. Sometimes it can show up looking like black-and-white thinking; in other words, an inflexibility when it comes to food. One of these binaries is “good food” vs “bad food.” Because of diet culture, we put food into these two camps, and sometimes, when we’re extremely mired in diet mentality, we can take this grouping to its extreme and ONLY allow “good” foods in our diet. This often means that as we make our way out of diet culture, we have a hard time integrating the “good” foods with the “bad” ones. We might feel like we can only eat highly palatable foods now, because if we eat the “good” foods again, we’ll head right back down the disordered-eating-rabbit-hole and only eat greens for the rest of our miserable lives. But the truth is somewhere in the middle, as I was reminded when a client and I had a conversation about a milkshake and a salad:
This client and I had just begun starting to explore the concept of gentle nutrition. I always tread lightly when this comes up – it’s common for clients to want to jump straight into gentle nutrition before really working through the other 9 principles of Intuitive Eating. I stress that gentle nutrition is principle 10 for a reason – we can’t even begin to think about choices based on “health” until we have truly healed our relationship with food!
During our conversation, my client was sharing that her body was simply not feeling good eating primarily “forbidden foods” that she had restricted for so long. Things felt out of balance. But she was also apprehensive about choosing the “healthy” choice, for fear it would trigger her dieting mind and feel like restriction. She said – “I’m truly sick of the burger, fries and milkshake, but I’m worried I’ll feel restricted if I get the salad!” My response was – “well, what if you got the salad and the milkshake?”
She stared at me for a moment and then blurted out – “I didn’t even know that was an option!”
Diet culture teaches us to think in binaries – good/bad; healthy/unhealthy. We may not even be conscious of the rigid ways we start to categorize foods in our head. It had not crossed my client’s mind that she could combine foods from the “good” and “bad” categories and ultimately find balance in a way that is satisfying for the body and the taste buds.
It’s incredibly difficult to shift the rigid thinking patterns and beliefs we hold about food, that have formed over years or perhaps decades. Through the lens of diet culture, food will always fall into one category or another. I encourage clients to utilize an entirely different lens – one through which these categories don’t exist and al foods are emotionally neutral. In this space we can develop the ability to ask “what do I TRULY want?” Maybe the answer will seem unconventional, like a salad with a milkshake. But if that is what your body is needing and craving, it will totally hit the spot.