You're Allowed to Care about your Health
You are allowed to care about your health.
You might be thinking umm, yeah, duh and you might read the title of this post and wonder what I'm even talking about. Let me explain.
There has been a growing counter cultural movement promoting body positivity, ditching diets and healing your relationship with food. I should know, I'm one of many clinicians and activists pushing for much-needed change with how we talk about bodies and food.
We're asking folks to look at the science, their lived experience and their precious lives: do diets "work"? Do diets actually promote health? Do the premises that build the logic behind diets hold up to scrutiny?
The answer to all of those questions is a big huge no.
There isn't evidence that any diet consistently "works" long-term. They tend to be unsustainable, short-lived and take a toll on mental and physical health. All of that is why there are so many folks pushing for a paradigm shift with food and bodies.
The push to challenge diets has created confusion for people. Some interpret the messages from the anti-diet community (not a term I personally love to use, but I'll use it here for the sake of clarity) as saying health doesn't matter or that it's wrong to want to care for yourself well. This can, at times, create the opposite effect in people: a sense of shame when choosing foods typically deemed as "healthy" foods in the diet mentality.
In other words, I regularly have people in my office asking me if it's okay to eat a salad. Yes, it's okay to eat a salad. And, I want to explore your why. Are you eating the salad to punish yourself? Or, are you choosing it because it sounded good, it fit your hunger level and it felt like the choice was coming from a place of true self-care?
The confusion lies here: many people confound diets with the word healthy. Many people assume that diets are healthy and that not dieting is inherently not healthy. Let's set the record straight: diets aren't healthy. The rigid, rules-based, extrinsically motivated food programs do not promote long-term health or wellbeing.
When folks are promoting a non-diet framework like Intuitive Eating, they aren't saying that vegetables are bad or wrong or that donuts are inherently good. What we're saying is: all foods can fit in a healthy, balanced life. And, we're pointing out that the inordinate stress you feel when you eat a cookie is far worse for your health than any cookie could ever be.
And, another thing. The most magical thing happens when you stop dieting and give yourself permission with food: you actually have the headspace to start asking yourself the right questions around food that help you meet your individual needs. You ask questions like: what sounds good? what would satisfy me? how hungry am I? when food is just neutral. When food is charged with good/bad, right/wrong, should/shouldn't (like the dieting mentality promotes) you don't have any room in your thoughts to ask yourself nurturing, grounded questions about your food decisions.
But, there is such a thing as caring for your health too much—which ironically, isn't healthy at all. There is balance to be struck with caring about health. Ideally, food fits into the life you want to live and your most treasured values.
I approach the work I do as a dietitian from the non-diet angle because it's the best way I've found to help people settle into healthy, balanced and positive self-care. I approach my work this way because I care about my clients', students', readers' and listeners' health. My hope for you is that food is enjoyable and promotes your health and wellbeing in a way that allows you to engage in the things you hold most dear. I hope you can find that balance in caring for your health, but not too much.