We do not use “this is a good/bad food” here.

I’ll admit it, I was super pessimistic and anxious going into today. I was 110% certain I would be writing a post that pretty much said the opposite of this, but here we are instead.

I’ll have more on my experience in clinical this semester soon, but I’ll explain a little context for now. We are back, for the next 6 weeks, in the same community I was at for half of fall semester last year. It’s truly been incredible so far. One of the many projects we’re working on involves a teaching program for nutrition. It was developed to be used at different faith-based settings like one in our neighborhood. All I knew heading into today was that we were going to help teach these people about healthier eating and spending patterns. I think I probably took in a big gulp of air at that point and didn’t release that tension until the last three minutes of training today.

I was so very stressed about the program because I have seen how diet culture leeches into any and every single health-based program I can think of. I remember watching as (unknowingly) a classmate ended up teaching on something that sounded like it came from a dieting 101 class. I’ve seen materials for children more focused on saying what you should and shouldn’t eat or how bad fat is rather than promoting a picture of trying to choose more nutritious foods. I could go on, but essentially I just assumed I would be semi-forced to follow a curriculum that I cannot fully support.

I waiting for any of many disappointing phrases all session, until this one made me smile: “we do not use language like ‘this is a good/bad food’ here.” I could have hugged her, I swear. She went on to explain that the goal is to encourage nutritious choices, such as whole grains, but to avoid language that insinuates it is bad if you eat xyz. They don’t believe that causing people to feel guilty about their food choices is a good tactic (ESPECIALLY in our mostly low-income/homeless population). I could not agree more, and I am excited to reach these people in a way that can teach nutrition without it sounding like a guide for weight loss.

I often struggle deeply with believing that I am bad for what I do or do not eat. The ED thoughts scream if I even think about enjoying something that’s off limits. While this is not a “practice what I preach” scenario yet, I am grateful that I can promote a healthy relationship with food to some of the most vulnerable in our community. Maybe along the way I can re-learn a little, too!

I gave in.

I sit here, pushing aside the shame I feel in order to be honest, because maybe that honesty will help someone else.

On the outside, oh how I try to fight diet culture any chance I get. I wear my “No one cares about your diet” shirt with pride, share at least one or two posts a week, follow all the right body-positive Instagram accounts. I can explain how most diets are garbage and either don’t work long-term or lead to eating disorders.

I continued with this facade for the first two weeks of this year, when I had actually dove head-first into exactly what I stood so firmly against.

It was the day before New Year’s eve. New year, new you, or so they say. Somehow, our culture has decided that January 1 is the perfect time to start a new diet or “lifestyle change.” If you have a TV, social media, coworkers, etc I’m sure you’ve heard and seen a million options out there. As I sat on Facebook, yet another diet ad came onto my screen. I usually am so great at ignoring them, but not then.

Soon, I was interested enough to take a short quiz. I didn’t find anything wrong with the curiosity. I think part of me believed it would be obvious BS and I could move on. I finished the quiz and got the good news: I could reach my goal – and only by February with the app’s help! It hurts to admit how much that excited me.

When the app offered me their services free for 2 weeks I jumped on it. I imagined how much happier I would be after I dropped some weight and got to that magic number. I felt excited for an opportunity to transform the negative view I’ve had of my body since my most recent relapse and journey back to recovery.

This past Thursday marked 3 weeks since I sat in my therapists office and deleted the app with her. I knew I wasn’t strong enough to do it alone, and considering they offered an additional 3 weeks when I tried to quit, I’m glad I had support. I have managed NOT to download or sign up for it (or a program similar) since that day. Let me tell you, that has been a whole lot harder than I ever imagined.

Since I’ve been away from this program a few weeks, I feel in a much better place to critically analyze some aspects of it. Some are simply a byproduct of diet culture, but a few were pretty significant in my opinion.

  • Separated foods into good, okay, and bad categories while also giving limits to amounts of these foods. This is pretty typical when it comes to weight loss websites/app/diets. The thing that bothered me the most about theirs is that nearly every carbohydrate choice I could think of, even things like whole grains were in the “bad” category. Essentially they were asking me to avoid carbs unless they were included in fruits or veggies.
  • Set my daily caloric limit to the same nutritional requirements of a toddler (and added exercise on top of that). I completely get that this is a weight loss thing and they wanted me to hit this magical goal in x amount of time, but most calculators I have seen before wouldn’t go for this amount. It just surprised me in a not so great way.
  • Had a real person following along and praising me for completing less than the above amount some days. Honestly this may have been the most shocking part of it all. I was really starting to struggle with restriction at the time and she actively encouraged it. To top it off, she wasn’t a dietitian, nutritionist, etc. If I had a patient who told me they had that amount I would definitely be concerned, because it honestly wasn’t safe.

I see the ad for this specific app at minimum once a day, or more depending on how often I get on my phone. Sometimes I can ignore it, but often I think of the “benefits” and wonder if my team was truly just overreacting. The way it would reward me for avoiding specific foods, exercising, or staying within calorie limits filled me with pride. That truly was a huge positive for me and maybe the thing I miss the most.

These people who make different diet programs know exactly what they’re doing with marketing. They offer amazing results, use guilt and rewards (sometimes at the same time – “you’re doing SO much better than last week”), and convince us that changing our appearance is going to make a difference in our lives. Anyone can fall into the trap.

What I’ve realized through this journey is the praise I received still didn’t get rid of that negative voice. Losing weight and essentially ramping up ED behaviors only has set me on the path to relapse, not happiness. I am working to get back on track and away from all of the BS diet culture throws at me.

*Note: I do not feel like actually naming said app is helpful to anyone. I definitely wouldn’t want to see more people fall into it like I did.