How to block out the noise of diet culture – 4 Questions to Ask Before Making any Drastic Diet Changes
“Sugar is bad”, “Processed foods are toxic”, “We should be vegan”, “Organic is essential”, “High carb is best”, “Low carb best”, “Keto is best”, “Fasting is best”, “Carrots are too high in sugar”, “Potatoes are fattening”, “Cheese is bad”, “Saturated fat is bad”, ” Avoid dinner carbs”, “Avoid breakfast carbs”, “Train fasted”….
noise, noise, noise, noise…
There is so much noise.
It comes from a wide range of places. From magazines, books, documentaries, gyms, facebook, Instagram, nutritionists, dieticians, even doctors. Some sources more credible than others, but it’s all noise.
So – what F** should I be eating?
Even as a practitioner, it can get confusing. So what I tend to do Is always ask some key Questions when it comes to food decisions. I use this help keep me grounded, both with myself, and when working with clients. And it’s something you can do to:
4 Questions to ask before making any diet changes:
Let’s use “dairy” as the example.
Question 1: Where is this information coming from? Is it from a reliable source?
Always check you are getting your information from a reliable source. For nutritionists, this is a lot easier as we understand literature and physiology and can pick up on “bullshit science” pretty quickly. If you don’t have a science background, it’s harder (hence why many people eventually DO go see someone qualified to get some clarity). BUT you can still ask this question whenever you get exposed to new information.
For your reference, the following are usually NOT good sources of information:
- Personal trainers,
- Health coaches,
- Bootcamp coaches,
- Weight Watchers leaders,
- Gym owners and gym staff,
- Supplement store owners/staff
- “Health” book authors,
- Instagram influences
- Youtube health bloggers.
Sadly, many people in these categories are dishing out nutrition advice, and It makes me worried.
Better places to get information from:
- Registered Nutritionists and Dietitians
- Degree Qualified Naturopaths (Who have completed a minimum 2-3 year full-time course)
Some of my trusted colleagues I recommend following for information in NZ:
- Feel Fresh Nutrition,
- Key Nutrition,
- Caryn Zinn Nutrition,
- Chantel Cuthers “The Fit Foodie”
- Natalie Brady
Question 2. Are there any cultures that survive and thrive of this food?
I love this one.
Let’s use cheese as the example – Can you imagine telling the French or anyone in Europe for that matter that all cheese is bad for them. They would not so politely tell you F** off and scrape off another helping of Raclette over their Jamon and potatoes. Or imagine asking the Greeks to take their feta out of their greek salad.
The same goes for something like rice. There was a movement recently that demonised grains (hi paleo!!). But try telling that to Asian cultures. If rice is so bad, how have they been able to survive and thrive for so many years?
(P.s. They have actually found grains in the molars of Neanderthals (early humans)… So the idea that grains only got introduced in the agricultural period is not true ).
Looking at cultural diversity has helped me so much with keeping my head on my shoulders with nutrition. What we have to remember, is that the health of different cultures in itself, IS one big study and it shows incredible diversity with regards to how we can thrive off multiple diets. This is one of my favourite questions to ask whenever a new claim pops up (e.g. coconut oil is toxic – tell that to the Kitavans in Papa New Guinea).
Question 3 : What does my body tell me? Listening to your bodies own innate intelligence…
When you eat something, does it make YOU feel better or worse, or no different?
Again with the dairy example – if dairy makes you feel worse, if it worsens your acne, if is makes your periods heavier, if is gives you gas, bloating, blocked nose etc. Then yes. Dairy perhaps isn’t for you. (Note: There could be other things that can cause those symptoms so it is worth seeing a health professional to rule those out first).
On the contrary. If you do not react to dairy at all, or can handle it fine in moderation (e.g. 1-2 servings a day), then there may be no good reason to avoid it at all.
As a nutritionist working in private practice, I’ve learned that our bodies can often provide us with faster answers than the science can. We have to LISTEN and be open to the fact that sometimes the symptoms and the science don’t match up.
Calorie equations are classic – It’s a scientifically developed equation that promises a certain amount of fat loss per week, provided one sticks to a certain calorie target every day. It works for some, but it doesn’t work for others. This can get frustrating for providers who rely on the equation and upsetting for clients who follow but don’t respond to it.
What we have to understand is that we are so much more complex than an equation. This is why I don’t rely on it.
Question 4: What do you actually like eating – “If you like it – eat it, If you don’t, don’t”
Maybe you’ve now come to the conclusion that A) You’ve been avoiding something due to information from an unreliable source, B) You understand now that populations can thrive off it so it’s not so deadly after all C) you don’t actually have any negative reaction to it.
BUT your thinking – but Kim, I don’t even like cheese! So do I have to eat it?
Absolutely not. As far as I’m concerned, “I just don’t like it” is a perfectly justified reason not to include it in your diet. Like me and tinned tuna. I hate tuna.
(HOWEVER: If eating something causes anxiety – that’s different. That’s a food fear which needs to be addressed).
On the other hand, if like DO like something, and you do not react negatively to it – then “I like it” is also a perfectly justified reason to have it IN your diet.
For example, why go on diet that eliminates all cheese if you LOVE cheese and it gives you no ill side effects? I personally can’t imagine my life with being allowed chocolate!
Avoiding things you love completely, only creates restrictive thoughts and feelings of deprivation The right way of eating for you is one filled with foods you enjoy, without any guilt attached.
So in summary…Before setting any food rules, or making any drastic diet changes:
- Check your information is from a reliable source (someone qualified in nutrition).
- Think back to culture and tradition
- Listen to your body – give your gut instinct more credit.
- Listen to your own food preferences
I hope this helps.
If you need help exploring any of this, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We have to feed ourselves for the rest of our life, so if food is something that gives you anxiety or frustration on the daily, it’s worth figuring out.