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A happier, healthier you

What is Diet Culture? (+ How to Shift Your Perspective)

by Yes Health

What is the definition of a "diet"? Let's consider two commonly used -- yet very different -- meanings:

  1. A special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.
  2. The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.

So, perhaps the true definition of a diet referring, simply to the kinds of foods a group of people eats, has morphed into a less-healthy definition referring to restriction. This leads us to today's diet culture, defined as:

A set of beliefs that values thinness, appearance, and shape above health & wellbeing.

At Yes Health, we strive to go against the grain of this destructive and unhealthy definition of dieting. Instead, we support you in making small and sustainable changes that contribute to overall wellbeing in all senses of the word (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual).

We also try to avoid using the words “cheat” and “cheat days.” Why? Because cheating implies that some foods are inherently “bad.” We take a more holistic view when it comes to nutrition and diet: no one eats pristinely all of the time, it’s just not sustainable. (Who here is perfect? Not us!) Allowing ourselves a few well-chosen “treats” throughout the week is part of a healthy, happy, and balanced life.

The key is eating as healthy as possible most of the time, choosing your occasional treats wisely, and enjoying them without guilt or shame.

Reasons to focus on “treats” instead of “cheats”

Cheat days create a “good/bad” diet mentality. They support the idea that when you’re “good” and stick to your diet during the week, you can have any food you want on the weekend.

Coach Julie notes that weekends make up 33% of our meals if you count Friday dinner through Sunday dinner. So indulging all weekend is a no-go when it comes to supporting a healthy lifestyle!

Cheat days essentially reward healthy behavior with unhealthy behavior. This may also result in inadvertently stoking cravings for certain foods, training yourself to ignore signs of hunger and fullness, plus physical discomfort, guilt, and shame that may be attached to overeating.

How to Shift Your Perspective and Escape Diet Mentality

Instead, we encourage you to choose your indulgences (e.g. “treats!”) mindfully throughout your week–not as rewards, but as part of your overall meal planning.

One less-healthy choice here and there doesn’t undo all of the great progress you’re making to create new healthy habits–in fact, treats can be part of this progress.

“Enjoying a special meal out or slice of cake at a birthday party is no reason to feel guilty when you’re feeding your body nutritious, nourishing foods the rest of the time,” says Coach Rachel.

Why we like the 90/10 rule for weight loss…

It’s important to feel satisfied and not suffer from hunger on a daily basis–deprivation only leads to overeating. The key is to get plenty of protein, healthy fats and fiber with each meal. The Yes Health Coaches are big fans of the 90/10 rule for weight loss and the 80/20 rule for weight maintenance. Coach Sara breaks the 90/10 rule down like this:

90/10 Rule (For Weight Loss):

  • If you eat 5 times a day (i.e. 3 meals, 2 snacks), then 90/10 would be eating 3.5 more indulgent meals/snacks per week (i.e. 2 meals, 2 snacks)
  • If you eat 4 times a day (3 meals, 1 snack), then 90/10 would be (3 indulgent meals/snacks per week (2 meals, 1 snack)
  • If you eat only 3 times a day (3 meals, 0 snacks), then 90/10 would be 2 indulgent meals per week (2 meals, 0 snack)

80/20 Rule (For Maintaining a Healthy Weight):

If you eat 5 times a day, the 80/20 rule would mean allowing yourself 7 small indulgences each week. The coaching team recommends exercising this approach once you’ve established healthy habits, are getting regular exercise and are already at or around your ideal weight. 

Make Your Treat Foods Healthier (+ Healthy Dessert Ideas)

Rather than permanently putting some foods in “treat only” territory, why not make them healthier by adding and subtracting ingredients? For example, whip up homemade salad dressings, opt for ketchup sans sugar, and substitute cottage cheese and/or plain greek yogurt for sour cream. (Just ask the Yes Health coaches for help if you need more inspiration.)

You can also occasionally blend a little bit of your “treat” with healthier foods. Coach Susan calls this the “dilution solution.” “I confess that I miss my Captain Crunch cereal,” she says. “Sometimes, I’ll sprinkle a small amount on my shredded wheat to satisfy my craving.” Here are a few other examples to get you started:

  1. If you love chocolate yogurt, have a small cup and add a few healthy almonds and berries.
  2. If you get hankerings for fruit juice, dilute yours with water in a 50:50 ratio. 
  3. If you have a weakness for birthday cake, have a small slice at your next party topped with fresh fruit and a dollop of yogurt.
  4. Sweeten your buckwheat pancakes with cinnamon and a dash of stevia as a yummy syrup alternative.
  5. If you’re craving your favorite sweet and sour chicken dish, get a small order and mix in a few pieces with your healthy stir fry chicken and veggies. You can also add fresh pineapple for extra sweetness.
  6. Opt for cauliflower crust pizza with your favorite toppings. It cooks up faster and is a lot crispier than regular crust pizza. (Yum!) If you do have a traditional slice, pile on extra veggies and add some lean protein.
  7. Use a teaspoon of low-sugar jam plus fresh sliced strawberries and bananas on an open-faced PB&J. It almost qualifies as a dessert!
  8. Choose turkey bacon or chicken sausage over traditional pork-based versions.
  9. Have a small candy bar or even an ice cream sundae once in a while. Allow yourself the real deal, without guilt, knowing that most of your other choices are healthy ones.
  10. Get back to basics with an ounce of 70% or higher dark chocolate for an antioxidant-rich treat! 
  11. If you love baking, check out Coach Becky's

    spiced almond cranberry scones

Related Content: Low Sugar Desserts You Can Find at the Grocery Store

Remember, eating nutritiously can be an enjoyable experience, and "treats" can have a seat at the table.

"Intentionally choosing your foods and savoring most things in moderation isn’t just about weight loss or maintenance", points out Coach Miriam, "but also about self-care and feeling part of your community."

Balancing your eating choices with the health benefit of sharing experiences with others can limit feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out) and social isolation.

Breaking free from the diet culture and avoiding deprivation can prevent the temptation to eat so-called “bad foods” in private and bouncing from one fad diet to the next. Being truly healthy is all about finding balance. 

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