I was surprised to see on my Facebook newsfeed that today was “International No Diet Day” and it got me reflecting on dieting, health and fitness blogging and the potentially harmful side effects that following health and fitness or wellness bloggers that could occur.
I’ve been pondering why the likes of Belle Gibson and Jess Ainscough, for example, attracted so many followers and why there’s a cult like following of Paleo extremist, Pete Evans. Is it because people feel that conventional medicine has failed them or that people seek out groups to which to belong, as Paleo Pete says, “a tribe” of sorts?
Matt Fitzgerald, who penned the excellent book, “Diet Cults”, states,
From the raw food movement to Atkins, a vast and ever-increasing number of health and weight-loss diets are engaged in an overheated sectarian struggle to recruit new converts. Paleo Diet advocates tell us that all foods less than 12,000 years old are the enemy. Vegan gurus demonize animal foods. Then there are the low-fat prophets and supplement devotees. But underneath such superficial differences, these preachers of dietary righteousness all agree on one thing: that there is only “One True Way” to eat for maximum health.
The first clue that this shared assumption is untrue is the sheer variety of diets advocated. Indeed, while all of competing “diet cults” claim to be backed by science, a good look at actual nutritional science suggests that it is impossible to identify a single best way to eat. What makes us human is our ability to eat—and enjoy—a wide variety of foods from all around the globe.
The appeal of the diet cults is their hypnotic power to make healthy eating easier for some people by offering a food-based identity and morality to latch on to. Yet many more of us are turned off by the arbitrariness of the diet cults’ rules and by the speciousness of their dogma.”
Thus moving away from any particular type of way of eating, whether it be called a “diet”, “healthy lifestyle plan” or “food movement” and discussing that there is more than one true path to health and that each individual’s experience of this will vary seems to be a far better alternative – however, it’s not often seen as being particularly exciting. However, writing as a health and wellness blogger, it does offer anecdotal evidence and tips as to what may work for some. Often, a blog that’s written well and a blogger that offers anecdotal accounts of improvements that they made to their health and fitness can be motivating.
For a start, there is the perception that the blogger is “just like us” and is searching for means and ways to make life fitter, healthier and meaningful – and in some ways, not being an “expert” can be very helpful. What inspired me back to my journey of fitness after my 2nd baby was an online journal by an online friend I made on a video fitness forum. She described tidying up her diet and how her training and workouts energised her and I became a loyal fan. She lived the everyday challenges of fitting in her training and eating well (note I’m not saying in any specific way) and I was inspired to take up journalling and this eventually led me down a path to a bodybuilding competition in 2006.
Since 2006, I feel like the whole “body transformation” arena has exploded. Back in 2006, it was pretty unusual to be competing in bodybuilding, yet today every second fitness photo depicts a competition body advertising what I’d consider to be everyday products. Plus the photos are often accompanied by impossibly good looking food photos and yoga poses on Instagram, which can be extremely intimidating if your morning oats overflowed their bowl in the microwave and you’ve just dropped your toast on the floor butter side down. That you’re having toast and butter is deemed to be a dietary sin and that you’re then planning on going running is even worse – haven’t you heard the catch cries of “cardio is bad for you?”
The fitness blogging landscape of today seems to be of the mantra that if you’re not following some way of eating (the more extreme the better) or exercise ( high level Crossfit or triple powered yoga seems to be choice du jour) and have a tribe of devoted followers, then you’re really not hot currency in the health and wellness world – and if you’re anti-diet as well, then you’re just a sore loser.
Therefore what makes someone a good health and fitness blogger is someone who is relatable and someone who shares their fitness and health experiments and writes just as much about their stuff ups, fears and insecurities as their successes. However, I find these types of bloggers thin on the ground! I just want to mention that I’m not picking on Crossfit as I have a few friends who have blogged about its challenges in a totally relatable way.
As today is International Anti Diet Day, I’ve been experimenting this year with what it truly means to ditch diets. I have never been one to follow any particular plan, however, I have counted macronutrients and calories and eaten six times a day for as long as I can remember. When you eat six times a day, your meals are small and to be honest as soon as I had finished one small meal, I was having fantasies about when I could eat the next small one. This has been my ‘normal’ for several years and I was getting to the point of seriously hating the feeling of thinking about food 24/7. And thinking about food 24/7 means that it was pretty easy to get off track and overeat because there’s that constant nagging feeling of being deprived, regardless of whether it is actually true or not. So I’ve been experimenting with eating larger meals less frequently and allowing myself to have absolutely no limit on the type or quantity of food. Instead of logging every calorie and macronutrient, I’ve experimented by taking photographs of my meals. This has been an excellent visual reminder that a) I’ve been eating a wide variety of foods and b) I’m not “deprived” by not eating as often. The outcome of this experiment is that after about three weeks of trial and error, I reached a point that I haven’t experienced for years a day or so ago. I haven’t given any thought to food or when my next meal is which has been strangely liberating. Who knew? I’m beginning to see that the whole idea of deliberately choose not to diet (that includes calorie, macro counting and flexible dieting) is not about eating a ton of junk food because you “now can” (that rebellious mindset is probably phase one of giving up rigidity around food) or forgoing vegetables with your meals – if anything, my consumption of items such as chocolate, biscuits and ice-cream has reduced somewhat over the past few weeks and I’m eating more fruit and vegetables as I try out some new recipes.
It would be amazing if we could teach future generations about health and nutrition in an “agnostic” (as Matt Fitzgerald suggests) way – removing diet morality and obsession, which has some spooky parallels to religious fanaticism, and ‘hanging loose’ around food. I would hazard a guess we would be all healthier for it.
Although I have a degree in Pharmacy and one in Human Movement Science, being an ‘expert’ in my field is not something I want to focus on. Regardless of education, many of us have similar experiences with health, fitness, body image and eating in a stressless sustainable way. Here’s to developing better habits around food and ditching the diet mentality and its variants.