We’ve all fallen for nutrition myths and no-one is immune to them. Not dietitians, doctors or your good friend Sal. The truth is, fruit hasn’t caused your diabetes. Sugar isn’t the reason you have anxiety and calorie counting is not an effective way of measuring your health. Protein powders are not a requirement if you exercise, you don’t need expensive supplements from Peru to be healthy and red meat does not cause cancer. Food containing gluten is not unhealthy for everyone (and gluten free options are not even close to better). There is no magic pill, shake or juice that will help you drop kilos. There is nothing wrong with pasta. Thinking that pasta is bad for you is super problematic for your health, though.
You don’t have to be on a diet ever, if you don’t want to. Eat carbohydrates. Eat carbohydrates because foods with carbs are delicious, healthy and nutritive. When we cut out carbs we cut out fibre and that’s never ok. A celery juice diet is not going to rid toxins from your liver. Processed foods are not bad (case in point: cacao powder, nut butters, tofu).. and are sometimes the only food people have access to.. which makes them incredibly healthy in this case, if the alternative is malnutrition. When your health care practitioner is telling you to avoid the aisles in the middle of the supermarket and only shop in the fresh food section, it’s time to get a new practitioner.
Now falling for these myths doesn’t make you stupid, it makes you just like the rest of us. Victims of diet culture. Victims to the industry that tells us that ‘this’ diet is better for your health and better for your weight. The industry that publishes books from ‘academics’ dedicating their whole career to proving that lentils are carcinogens and proteins found in dairy cause breast cancer. The industry that is deeply rooted in patriarchy, worshiping thinness and never caring much about your health.
Firstly, diets are completely unsustainable for weight loss. They do not work. Not only that, intentional weight loss has been shown to cause long term weight gain for up to TWO THIRDS of people who engage in them. This is mostly because our weight is genetic. Your body will do everything it can to sustain its genetic set point weight. That is, the weight you’re at when you’re not over exercising, undereating, sleeping well, have addressed your nutrient deficiencies and are managing your stress levels. If you are having to sustain unhealthy lifestyles or restrict the food your appetite wants, your diet will not only fail, but your body will do everything it possibly can to restore your weight back to its set point weight. The weight your body needs to be at for it to prevent disease, function optimally, provide energy and be healthy. The weight that is individual to you (which brings us back to why diets don’t work).
Then there’s the fact that prioritising weight loss as a way to improve your health is ineffective - because size is not an indicator of your health. It’s going to take years of hard work to unlearn this - but size is not an indicator of your health. How can it be, when everyone’s genetic set point weights are different. Try and remember this the next time you judge someone for being in a larger body.
Achieving ‘health’, is not something you address overnight or with some blueberries. And health isn’t just your diet. Health is ensuring that mental health services are affordable and accessible. Health is ensuring that work is being done to end systemic racism, discrimination and inequalities. Health is having accessibility to the things that you need to survive like safety, housing, employment, food and water. Whilst nutrition is important and can play a large role in disease prevention and quality of life - there are many other much larger determinants of your overall health outcomes.
The most important thing I ever learned - and the hardest thing I’ve ever had to unlearn - is that nutrition is not the largest piece of the puzzle when it comes to your overall health. I hope to invite you on the journey of understanding this too.
written by: Lana Micallef