Don't let the Diet Mentality hijack your holiday season

Table with holiday desserts
Don't save a seat at the table for the Diet Mentality

The aside comment from your Mom, "oh, honey COVID quarantine has been rough on you hasn't it (referring to body changes)?"

The tease from your sister, "yeah, we might as well finish off that pie tonight and get back on the no-sugar-kick tomorrow."

These comments from well-meaning friends, family members, even co-workers show up in our conversations all the time and the holidays are no exception. People embrace the season by giving themselves seasonal permission to enjoy whatever food, "cause come January 1 it's time to get back on track!"

If you saw the post about allowing full permission, you know that seasonal permission is the same as conditional permission. Meaning, you allow yourself to eat whatever you want as long it's in line with a condition...

"Eating 2 cookies is ok, but never 3, 4, or 5."

"Pumpkin pie can't count as a balanced meal, it has too much sugar."

Seasonal permission along with backhanded or direct comments from loved ones are just some of the examples of how diet culture infiltrates the holiday season all for the sole purpose of hoping that you'll get on board with another diet-wellness program come January 1.

Let's do something different this holiday season.

Instead of binge eating all the foods that are prohibited the other 11 months out of the year to the point of feeling physically sick while promising yourself that you'll get back on track come January...

What would happen if you rejected the diet mentality, ignored those comments, and made a resolution to reclaim your health from diet culture in the New Year?

Here a few statistics and research-based reasons to do just that. We know from the research that 98% of dieting attempts fail - especially those started in January. Most people bail on their New Years' diet-wellness food plans by the time the Super Bowl kicks off (about 4-6 weeks). That means that only 2% of diets lead to sustained weight loss for people longer than 2 years. In other words that's a 2% success rate. Now put that into the context of other health-related concerns.

Would you take a medication to reduce your risk of a heart attack if it only had a 2% success rate and a boatload of side effects? Would you go in for surgery knowing that the surgeon was successful only 2% of the time? Of course not!

Sign reading Diet, Did I Eat That?
You didn't fail at dieting. The diet failed you.

Your body is wicked smart at survival.

When food is restricted for any reason, survival mode kicks in by slowing your metabolism. Your body starts to break down its own muscle for fuel leaving you with less lean tissue. It also decreases the production of the hormone leptin that normally tells you when you're full and to stop eating. This enables your body to eat larger quantities of food when it's available (hello seasonal holiday permission) and at the same time gain weight in the form of body fat just in case another famine is right around the corner - aka January, national dieting month.

What about health?

You've been told by your well-intended primary care doctor that you need to lose a few pounds for health reasons. In his book, The Obesity Paradox, researcher and cardiologist Carl J. Lavie conclude that lower weight doesn't always lead to better health. A 2016 study from UCLA showed that of the 54 million Americans labeled as overweight or obese according to their BMI, had metabolic markers, including blood glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure within a normal or healthy range.

If the intention behind promoting weight-loss is for people to be their healthiest selves, the impact of that message falls short. Dietary restraint and limited to no permission to eat foods that are pleasurable steals your autonomy when making food choices. It damages mental health by creating fear and anxiety around food, while also promoting disordered eating behaviors - all to satisfy the BMI assessment of health.

Stethoscope on a table
Where did BMI come from anyway?

A history lesson

The Body Mass Index (BMI) was originally created by a Belgian astronomer in the 1830's. Originally referred to as the Quetelet chart, it was used to test if the laws of probability could be applied to a human population. Created as a statistical exercise, it was never intended for clinical use let alone to assess health.

Fast forward to the 1920s when medical doctors embraced the weight stigma that was becoming the cultural norm by adding scales to their medical offices. At this same time, life and health insurance companies started adopting the early version of the BMI as a means to assess people's health and insure-ability. This was just the beginning of tying economics to body size.

With the start of World War I in 1910, a new twist was added to the drive for thinness - promoting food restriction as a moral obligation to support war efforts and the international food shortage. The "rationalizing" national eating behavior was seen as a form of self-discipline while fatness was seen as immoral, assuming that fat people couldn't control themselves around food.

You know how this history lesson ends, you're living it - a culture steeped in aesthetic ideals, chacing the illusionary perfect health based on a scale that was never intended to assess health.

Like I said in the beginning, if you're ready to try something different this holiday season and opt-out of the body shame'n blame culture once and for all come January, there is another way to promote your well-being.

The Health At Every Size® model and philosophy created by Dr. Lindo Bacon focuses on promoting healthy behaviors regardless of body size. Weight and BMI are not used to assess health. Instead, physical symptoms, emotional well-being, and lab values are used to define your health.

This evidence-based model promotes getting adequate restful sleep, promoting stress management, participating in movement/exercise that you enjoy, and eating a variety of foods that satisfy your hunger, satisfaction, and fullness as ways to promote life-long wellness. You can find out more about the individual concepts of the model and scientific research supporting its efficacy by reading Health At Every Size and Body Respect both by Dr. Lindo (formerly Linda) Bacon and Lucy Aphramor.

If you love history especially as it applies to food and culture, I highly recommend reading Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison MPH RD. Not only was it helpful in writing this post, but it will also offer you a foundation to reclaim your health from diet culture.

Ready to reclaim your health from the toxic body shame and blame created by diet culture, download the FREE Savor Food & Body Guide? You'll get 6 action-packed steps to start healing your relationship with food and your body. You'll also receive the monthly Alpine Nutrition Insider Newsletter with additional tips, resources, and recipes to support your Intuitive Eating practice.