Anyone who follows us will know that at Spark Fitness we promote strength, health and fitness first. We don't endorse restrictive diets or even place 'weightloss' at the centre of what we offer for many reasons but the key ones being:
- You are so much more than the size of your body
- Strong and fit is an empowering goal and feeling
- If you hate your body now, you'll often hate it just as much when it's smaller
- Appreciating the amazing feats your body can achieve, what it does for you and how awesome it actually is, not only leads you to take better care of it, but in turn tends to lead to favourable body composition changes. However, this way you'll also appeciate the amazingness of your body rather than beating it up for its imperfections!
But does that mean we don't endorse 'weight loss'? (I promise I'll refrain from placing this in inverted commas from this point forwards, but I can't move on from the first use of this phrase without pointing out that weight is irrelevant - unless you're a competing athlete in a sport with weight catagories - and that what we're actually seeking is fat loss which quite often doesn't even shift the scale! Anyhoo...)
Of course not? Who am I to define your body for you in any way? If you want to be slimmer, feel more toned, fit back into 'that' dress, that's your perogative. But... IS it your goal? Is it something that truly matters to you or is it something you've been conditioned to believe is important? And how much time (mentally and physically) are you giving to this aesthetic goal? How much does it stress you out, cause you anxiety, riddle you with guilt? Because if the answer is A LOT, then maybe it's time to pause for a moment and re-evaluate why you feel this way.
This word has become so synonymous with food restriction that for 90% of the population it will either mean something new to try (that'll work this time) or something that fills you with dread. A lot of my recent research has lead me to find out more about the HAES - Health At Every Size - movement which recognises the all pervading diet culture we constantly consume in our Western culture and what it throws up is quite frankly scary; research that shows even children as young as 5 years old are aware of socially acceptable body sizes and are restricing their food to try and shape theirs. Wherever one stands on the 'what is a healthy body size' debate, this is quite clearly an unacceptable mental state for our children. It also makes any discussion with a child about a healthy diet a more loaded conversation. Are we feeding in (unintentional!!) to diet culture from having these discussions, setting them on a future path of body acceptance struggles and low self-esteem? Or, are we simply trying to educate our children about the foods which fuel their bodies and the movements which keep them fit and healthy?
This is where the problem lies. There is one word which represents two very different things. In one world, Diet represents a multi-billion pound industry which will sell you something which is at best unhealthy, at worst fatal, to help you shrink your body as fast as possible; whether you think it or not, this culture messes up the way you think about food creating disorder and obsession. To what extreme it does that varies from person to person. But as a quick example if you have a list of banned foods you couldn't possibly bring yourself to eat or have in the house, you've been touched by diet culture (mine was curry and biscuits - not together, obviously!)
In the other world, diet is a neutral term used to describe the food you eat. Full stop. That's it. The balance of foods you eat which constitutes your diet. If we want to be healthy, our diet should be a balance of all the food groups. Unfortunately, because of diet culture (as we'll refer to it from now on) even our idea of 'balance' can be messed up. Perhaps your balance means you consume 'clean' foods. Or maybe your balance means that you have removed carbohydrates. Or it may be that your balance causes you to eat really well during the week so you can 'eat what you want' at the weekend. Except none of this is actually balance. Not really. These are all ways of eating that exist because of diet culture.
To find what real balance looks like, place a two course meal in front of a hungry 3 year old child. Watch them eat a little bit of what they fancy, then stop. They may even (shock horror) eat the desert first but then watch as they have a little nibble on the carrot, maybe a few bites of the chicken and some more of the potato. They may even want to leave it for a bit, then come back to it and continue eating later. Except this seems strange to us so we tell them that once they get down from the table, that's it, the food's gone. Or we worry that if we let them eat the desert first, they won't want any of the fruit or vegetables that are also on offer. We don't trust that they'll eat in a balanced way because we've lost sight of what that actually looks like - eating a range of foods to satiate our hunger and (dare I say it) for enjoyment.
Our perception of food has been shaped by our perception of a healthy body. And, because a healthy body is slim we judge those who are not (never more so ourselves) as being unhealthy and rarely - if ever - challenge the diet of those who are slim. It's an assumption that also causes us to seek health via diet culture thinking that all we need to do to become healthier is go on a diet. And when that fails, we give up. Yet we're only paying attention to what happens on the outside and at our peril completely ignoring what takes place on the inside.
Suboptimal diet is an important preventable risk factor for non-communicable diseases
(Don't tell me that's not a catchy sub-heading!!)
The Lancet Report released this week evaluated the Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017 and found that globally, 1 in 5 premature deaths are associated with poor diet. What I find most interesting about this report is how the highest risk factors to our health are not the usual suspects - hello fat and sugar - but rather diets which are:
- high in sodium,
- low in whole grains,
- low in fruit,
- low in nuts and seeds,
- low in vegetables,
- low in omega-3 fatty acids.
Lancet reports 'Our findings show that suboptimal diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risks globally, including tobacco smoking,11, 12 highlighting the urgent need for improving human diet across nations.'
It's not about fat or being 'fat'!
I can't help but feel we've had our attention focused in the wrong place. This isn't about body size, it's about being healthy. And whilst we continue to focus solely on the size of bodies, preoccupy ourselves with simply reducing the size of our bodies, compare ourselves and pass judgement on the size of other bodies we're still looking in the wrong direction. Reducing size is not what's important here. Health is.
If we could just quiet the noise of the diet culture which tells us we'll gain weight from eating sugar (Goodbye fruit!), chomping carbs (Farewell wholegrains!), conusming 'syns' (See ya laters nuts and seeds!), or replacing treats with processed low fat alternatives (Hey there sodium!) we might be able to listen to what our bodies are really need to stay fit, healthy, strong and safe from an early death.
Diet culture is not helping us with this; your health is NOT a quick fix! It's a daily, weekly, monthly, year after year focus on self care. It's time to stop following the fads because they really are only benefitting the diet industry's pockets. So, shut off the noise of those who tell you their extortionately priced juice, powder or 30 day detox will change your life and keep you healthy. Ignore the celebrity who's making even more money out of convincing you to buy his latest 5 minute fix. None of them are helping you. Take matters into your own hands. Research, read, discuss, analyse and question everything because you know what, you deserve better. You deserve to be healthy and know what it feels like to feel honest-to-goodness awesome as a result of that!
And, if you find it difficult to cut through the noise of well meaning work colleagues, friends, family and the internet, give us a shout... we'll happily help you find your way to happiness, health and balance!