Untangled: diet vs wellness culture (part 2)

Cutting calories isn’t a diet, it’s a bad habit

What do we know? We need to get amino acids and fatty acids from our food, our body is capable of generating glucose from other sources than carbohydrates (1), excess carbohydrates causes insulin resistance and weight gain (2,3), calorie restriction creates metabolic damages, and calories are not all equal (4). Choosing to eat whatever we want whenever we want is also choosing to ignore what our body needs in order to thrive. Going on a weight loss journey can either be a transformative experience that sets the tone for how you want to live and feel, or a complete misery that creates resentment towards the wellness industry. The wellness industry is not the problem, our mindset is. The tools are there, but how we decide to use them is on us. 

It’s ok to not eat the cake. It all depends on the reasoning behind the decision. Let me share a story with you. I was at a birthday dinner, and when I got offered a piece of cake, I kindly declined. The reaction I got sounded like this: “ohh why, you don’t want to gain weight? You’re already so thin, it’s not going to kill you”. There are so many things wrong with this sentence. First, they were assuming that my decision to skip the cake was led by the fear of putting on weight. That is a diet mentality, to associate sugar with calories, and body fat. My thought process was different. I didn’t want my blood sugar to spike, I didn’t want the vegetable oils to create inflammation in my body , I didn’t want to feel sluggish for the rest of the day and start chasing more sugar once this meal was over. I just didn’t need all of that, it was not worth it to me. Yet, I was being judged for being the only one choosing my health over a piece of cake. To address the second part of this comment: it is not going to kill me. Excuse me a second while I.. LOL! I won’t drop dead from those few bites, but what about when my life starts declining and my body stops responding effectively to insulin, and my brain isn’t as sharp as it used to be? Food can either be your medicine or your poison – the choice is up to you.

Diet culture vs wellness culture

Are you choosing to eat a certain way because you love your body, or hate it and want to change it? Are you focused on how it makes you feel, or how it makes you look? Would you say that you’ve developed healthy habits, or are you following a set of rules? Is this lifestyle flexible, or strict? Looking at it from the outside, it can be really hard to distinguish the difference, because while two lifestyles could look exactly the same, the mindset can be completely different.  


Diet Culture

Diet culture focuses on weight loss, and being skinny. It doesn’t mention anything about mindset or the benefits of healthy foods beyond its capacity to burn fat. It tells us to restrict, ignore our hunger cues, and eat by the book. It describes foods in terms of calories, rather than on its nutrient content and quality. It requires willpower, and aims for quick results that can not be sustained long-term. It doesn’t take into consideration our bio-individuality, and is rarely evidence-based. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being on a diet, and trying different diets can be a tool to see what works best for you, or can help to identify food sensitivities. All diets work, although not long-term, and moreover not all diets will work for you. Once we find what does work for us, we still need to make it our own by removing and adding certain foods depending on our needs, goals, environment, lifestyle and preferences. There comes a point where we need to ditch the book, and grab a pen and paper of our own. We need to become our own health expert, and stop relying on trends and hacks to “fix” us. Diet culture doesn’t promote any of that. 

P.S cutting calories isn’t a diet, it’s a bad habit that delivers quick results, and creates long-term metabolic damages.  

Wellness Culture

Wellness culture focuses on how we feel, instead of solely focussing on  how we look. We can talk about brain health and gut health all we want, but at the end of the day, people love to see tangible results to make it worth their time and effort (if we can’t see it, is it really happening?). It validates that the work we’re doing is working, and gives us the reassurance that we need to keep going. The prevention of illnesses isn’t sexy, we’re not getting any instant physical, mental, or emotional rewards for it. Many people, like myself, get into this space because we had to overcome health challenges, and the shifts and changes that occurred from our healing made us want to explore further. It’s easy not to care about developing an illness we’re not currently experiencing, or there’s no real sense of urgency that requires our immediate attention. The problem is exactly that, we challenge our luck for too long, and one day we’re sick and fighting to get rid of the symptoms. The wellness industry is trying to remind us that we need to start today, and not wait until we’re in the midst of a health crisis or see a loved one suffer to understand the gravity and repercussions of such diseases. Alzeihmer, cancers, heart diseases are all too common nowadays and can be developed sooner than we think.  Approximately 88 million American adults—more than 1 in 3—have prediabetes. Of those with prediabetes, more than 84% don’t know they have it. Prediabetes puts you at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke (5).  We might not be sick today, but we’re either feeding the disease or keeping it at bay with our daily habits. Our actions today determine our health tomorrow.

Wellness is not just the food on your plate. It’s your beauty products, your cleaning products, your pans, your toothpaste, your bed sheets, etc. It’s also the people you surround yourself with, the content you consume, the environment you live in. Diet culture only addresses the food we eat, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle. True health is about finding balance in every area of our lives. It’s identifying and crowding out the toxins all around us, not just in the kitchen and on our plate. It’s taking care of our soil and environment by prioritizing regenerative agriculture, choosing humanely raised meat instead of industrial meat, and shopping locally.

Let’s talk fitness..

There are many different reasons why we would choose to workout. We can use movement to lose weight, to get fit and strong, to get energized, to move energy around and de-stress. It’s not so much the reason why we choose to workout that matters as it is the way that we approach it. We know that if we decide to start hitting the gym everyday until the number on the scale gets low enough (spoiler alert: with this mentality, it never does), the likelihood of sticking to a routine, and getting the outcome we are hoping for is very low. There’s nothing bad with wanting to lose weight, there’s only a bad or a good mindset hiding behind it. We don’t biologically need to have visible and defined muscles, but that doesn’t mean that wanting that for ourselves makes us superficial or vain. If the process of getting there is enjoyable and the progress you’re making is empowering you, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you’re trying to change your appearance to look like someone else, or you measure your value and your worth in pounds of body weight, that is a problem. Just like our diet, our workout routine should reflect our individuality. 

There are many different reasons why we would choose to workout. We can use movement to lose weight, to get fit and strong, to get energized, to move energy around and de-stress. It’s not so much the reason why we choose to workout that matters as it is the way that we approach it. We know that if we decide to start hitting the gym everyday until the number on the scale gets low enough (spoiler alert: with this mentality, it never does), the likelihood of sticking to a routine, and getting the outcome we are hoping for is very low. There’s nothing bad with wanting to lose weight, there’s only a bad or a good mindset hiding behind it. We don’t biologically need to have visible and defined muscles, but that doesn’t mean that wanting that for ourselves makes us superficial or vain. If the process of getting there is enjoyable and the progress you’re making is empowering you, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you’re trying to change your appearance to look like someone else, or you measure your value and your worth in pounds of body weight, that is a problem. Just like our diet, our workout routine should reflect our individuality. 

Working out should not be used as punishment, or as a way to undo the “damage” of what we ate yesterday or earlier that day. Our workout should be independent of our diet – the length and intensity of the session should not be determined by what and how much we ate. Choosing to workout based on how we feel, and how we want to feel is the best way to cultivate a healthy relationship with movement. If we force our body to work, it will fight back. I workout every single day, I’m not actively trying to lose weight, get toned, or gain muscle mass, I just move to move. I workout in a way that feels good for my body, and that lengthens, and strengthens it. Moving everyday shouldn’t feel like a chore, it should be something that you crave, it’s just another tool in our feel-good tool box. Exercise connects us to our body and our breath, and it releases bad energy that we might otherwise keep on carrying with us, and holding on to for far too long. 

A note on calories

Diet culture focuses on goals, achievements, and execution. It focuses on numbers, and eating less, and moving more. The problem with that is that while calories do matter, we’re completely ignoring the complexity of human digestion. Are you eating food or calories of food? When it comes to calories, it’s not about the number, it’s about the quality. 

I love this explanation by Shawn Stevenson on how calories work using this acronym: THE DM.

Type of food:  Eating the same amount of calories in the form of whole foods versus processed foods is going to make a big difference in how our body processes it. Remember, food is instructions, once we’ve chewed and swallowed, our body has to decide whether it is going to store it as body fat or burn it for energy. We absorb 100% of the calories in processed foods while some calories from whole, raw foods can pass through the digestive tract undigested. For example, every calorie in a nut butter will be digested, it has been processed, broken down, it’s essentially predigested. If you were going to eat it in its raw form, as a whole, unprocessed nut, you’d be consuming 25% less calories as some of its energy doesn’t get digested.

How it’s prepared: The way the food has been cooked – steamed, roasted, charred – affects the bioavailability of the calories. For example, cooking spinach increases bioavailability, meaning that our body can extract more calories than if we were consuming it raw.

Energy exchange: Our body uses calories to burn calories, to chew, to swallow, to produce stomach acids, to send the nutrients at the right place, etc. 20-30% of the calories in protein are used to digest the protein. We call this the thermic effect. 

Digestive efficiency: Our metabolic fingerprint – the enzymes we produce, our stomach acid – determines how efficient we are at digesting food. For example, some people don’t produce lactase, others do. Low stomach acid can also cause food to not digest properly, which can result in its fermentation, releases of gas and, ultimatly, uncomfortable bloating. 

Microbiome Makeup: the health and diversity of our microbiome greatly impacts the processes of digestion. A weak and leaky gut creates inflammation and, most likely, nutrient deficiency. 

Bottom line..

Wellness isn’t one thing, it’s the way you choose to live your life. It’s a life-long commitment, not an end goal. 

Food isn’t just food, it’s not all just energy,  it’s instructions for the body. What life you choose for yourself should reflect on your plate. Choosing nutrient-dense foods over processed foods is an act of self-love. You’re giving your body and your mind the proper fuel to thrive, it’s as simple as that.

Living longer isn’t the goal of wellness, a longer healthspan is. So many people spend years and years slowly dying, relying on pharmaceutical drugs, and external care to function. I want to thrive until the very last minute. Living with chronic pain, and fighting an endless battle is no way to live. I am choosing to fight the battle now and prevent the war. I’m choosing to eat the foods that allow me to live the life that I want to live. To me this means avoiding sugar, grains, gluten, and vegetable oils. It means eating enough high-quality protein to build strong muscles, healthy fats to fuel my brain, and fiber to keep my gut happy.

The wellness space is a service. It’s there to help us live happier and healthier. Let’s stop pointing fingers and blaming external factors for our triggers. We need to take responsibility, get educated, take what serves us and leave out the rest. It doesn’t have to be extreme, complicated and overwhelming. Wellness is about finding more joy, ease and flow in our lives today, and owning our future.  

References

  1. Ble-Castillo J, Aparicio-Trapala M, Juárez-Rojop I, Torres-Lopez J, Mendez J, Aguilar-Mariscal, Olvera-Hernández V, Palma-Cordova L, Diaz-Zagoya J. Differential effects of high-carbohydrate and high-fat diet composition on metabolic control and insulin resistance in normal rats. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2012; Differential effects of high-carbohydrate and high-fat diet composition on metabolic control and insulin resistance in normal rats – PubMed (nih.gov)
  2. Stanhope K. Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity: The state of the controversy. Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity. Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences, 2016; Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity: The state of the controversy – PubMed (nih.gov)
  3. Kelly T, Unwin D, Finucane F. Low-carbohydrate diets in the management of obesity and type 2 diabetes: A review from clinicians using the approach in practice. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2020; Low-Carbohydrate Diets in the Management of Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes: A Review from Clinicians Using the Approach in Practice – PubMed (nih.gov)
  4. Hernández-Saavedra D, Moody L, Xu G. B, Chen H, Pan Y. X. Epigenetic Regulation of Metabolism and Inflammation by Calorie Restriction. Advances in Nutrition, 2019; Epigenetic Regulation of Metabolism and Inflammation by Calorie Restriction – PubMed (nih.gov)
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prediabetes – Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes, 2020; https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/prediabetes.html#:~:text=Approximately%2088%20million%20American%20adults,%2C%20heart%20 disease%2C%20and%20stroke.
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Written by Marie-Lyne Beaudry

Curious how you can regain trust in your dietary choices, so that you can feel your absolute best? Schedule your FREE intro call with Marie-Lyne here.

Written by Marie-Lyne Beaudry

Curious how you can regain trust in your dietary choices, so that you can feel your absolute best? Schedule your FREE intro call with Marie-Lyne here.

Untangled: diet vs wellness culture (part 2)