Why I’m done fighting the fad diet tribes (and why you should be too)

On your mark, get set…paleo.

The trigger has been pulled. Your heart is racing as intense feelings of fear and excitement pump through your veins.  You are finally ready to embark upon a new path towards improving your health and wellbeing.

You take a few deep breaths, trying to shove any remaining fragments of anxiety down your throat.

Your head is frantically pounding with panic, as you wrap yourself around the seemingly never-ending rules of the game.

Grains, dairy, sugar, legumes, alcohol, coffee and fluoridated water are totally off the menu.

The humble acai bowl is in, but eating anything that contains gluten, equates to being the world’s biggest sin.

Not being able to snuggle up in front of the TV with a box of Hawaiian pizza on a Friday night is indeed a tough prospective –  but not as tough as coming to terms with the critical self-judgement and disappointment you’ll face from failing to follow through on your “good” intentions.

You glance back to notice the millions of others cheering you on from the sidelines.

They were the ones who inspired you to do this in the first place.

You confidently take up more will power and determination in your stride until the sightings of positive horizons, as if in a sheer act of betrayal, further distance themselves from you.

You begin to realise this profound “holier than thou” way of eating is much more of a pain to your hip-pocket than you first envisaged. You feel bloated, shaky, moody and lethargic, no longer able to tolerate the series of sharp painful hunger-pangs that come and go throughout the day.

Your vision suddenly becomes clouded, as constantly attending to your own miserably-restrictive dietary needs is starting to take over your entire life.

And that’s why, in an activated nutshell, I’m done.

I’m done with all the food hipsterism, nutritionism and ‘superfood’ elitism nonsense spruiked by the fad diet tribes, and you should be too.

Amongst our individual and collective pursuit of seeking wellness and a shared aspiration of (hopefully) living a long happy life, our mental health and wellbeing should not be put in a position of sacrifice or compromise. We all want to have our cake and eat it too, and as a foodie-nutritionist I am fully supportive of this notion.

In the end, there is no gold, silver or bronze medal awarded to those who deprive themselves of the food they love. Health is not a race or competition, and yet here we are treating it like an Olympic sport that’s more brutal than The Hunger Games.

It truly baffles me as to why our primal instincts have suddenly kicked-in to fixate much of our precious time, energy and devotion looking up to a bunch of fit, glowing, “clean eating” social media health-elitists – who by the way, possess absolutely no medical, nutrition or health-science qualifications and training whatsoever. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Gwyneth Paltrow.)

You see, the proof of our vulnerability isn’t just in the pudding. It’s in the “natural”, sugar-free chocolate-beetroot “superfood” brownies made with organic, free-range, cage-free, non-GMO, farm-grass fed, cold-pressed ingredients that have a bachelor’s degree in science – the perfect recipe for developing an eating disorder. An eating disorder that goes by the name of Orthorexia Nervosa; an unhealthy obsession or avoidance of certain foods, sandwiched between our fear-driven anxiety.

Yet, this is where I find myself stuck between a rock and hard place.

On one end of the spectrum, I recognise the prevalence of such eating disorders, especially in young people, is on the rise. While on the other, the latest Australian Health Survey results paints a stark and shocking reality; less than 4% of us Aussies are consuming the recommended serving of vegetables. That means, around 96% of us are not consuming enough plant-based foods, slowly sending us down a dark and gloomy trajectory of developing diet-related chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

And let’s not get started on that fact that over a third of our western-style diets are mainly composed of our favourite energy-dense nutrient-poor ‘discretionary foods’ such as pies, processed meats, alcoholic beverages, soft-drinks and desserts.

While it’s time to seriously veg out on a fresh (and non-extreme) perspective of health and nutrition, moderation is the ground we find ourselves struggling to settle on.

I’ll be the first to admit that the message of “eat a well-balanced diet” and exercise more isn’t a sexy sell. We (as health professionals) could do a much better job at getting the message across.

But tackling the complex relationship between diet, disease and eating disorders, is by no means an easy feat – especially in the face of our cyber and social media world heavily tainted by the presence of a bunch of dubious, outrageous and conflicting nutrition claims:

“Stop eating so many carbs – they make you fat”

“Surprise! You should be eating carbs”

“19 super foods that naturally cleanse your liver”

“10 clean eating myths that you need to stop believing”

It’s no wonder we’re so lost and confused.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the headlines that throw us off guard telling us to reach for the low-fat yogurt one minute and the full-fat variety the next.

We are falling for just about every conceivable fad diet under the sun – The bikini body diet. The blood type diet. The sleeping beauty diet. The alkaline diet. The lemon detox diet. The raw-till-4 diet.

Even the moon diet.

Glossing over the hype with a dash of caution and common sense just doesn’t seem to be cutting it. There’s a tribe out there catering to absolutely whatever we want to believe about so-called “healthy eating”.

But that’s not how science operates. That’s how “good” business operates.

Thanks to the fad diet tribes being extremely well versed in the art of marketing and pseudoscience, chia seed concoctions are no longer a novelty food enjoyed by a privileged few. Now you can buy them at a Woolworths store near you. Seriously.

If coming out the other side of a nutrition degree has made me appreciate anything, it’s that nutrition is a science. An intricately detailed and complex world at that, which like some of you, I was too, afraid of understanding. (Let’s just say high school chemistry wasn’t exactly ‘my thing’).

The hard truth of it is, I never signed up to pick a side in this ongoing battle of the diet wars.

I didn’t sign up to convince you to quit sugar, ban carbs for eternity, go on a 30-day flab-to-ab purifying detox cleanse, drink bone broth, drown everything in coconut oil or sell you a bunch of bogus supplements that won’t magically rev-up your perfectly-functioning metabolism.

And neither should you.

Why?

Because dragging ourselves in the mud with this “my diet is better than your diet” mentality, isn’t doing anyone any favours. Because we don’t deserve to lose our sanity being conned into spending over $299 on a program without seeing the results we desire. Because we are perfectly imperfect human beings and that’s something we should all be okay with.

So instead of trying to tear up, shut down, take on or obsess over each other’s conflicting dietary practices and beliefs, instead of wasting our money on a magic Nutribullet that doesn’t deliver on its promises, let’s work on finding some common ground.

Yet whether we realise or not, ground is what we already have in common. Ground to grow new understandings about the world and about ourselves. Ground to lay down self-acceptance, self-respect and self-confidence. Ground to deeply nourish us and connect us to what truly matters.

Ground to harvest fresh beginnings.

We must become more attuned towards our own dietary patterns and our internal feelings about our bodies, because we urgently need to revive the real joy of food and its relationship to the roots of our health, now more than ever –  without getting sucked into the cunningly “clean” agendas of the fad diet tribes.

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll gain more of an appreciation for evidence-based science in the process.

A necessary nudge needed to take us off the beaten track, to somewhere we no longer find ourselves racing towards a “perfect” state of health and wellbeing. A path we should never have been destined to go down in the first place. Something I had to dig deep to discover along my own journey of ups and downs. But that my friends, is another story I live to tell another day.

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