Why We’re Leaving Toxic Diet Culture In Lockdown
by Laura Barns
With the end of Covid now finally in sight, many people are processing how they have changed over the last year — both physically and mentally. We break down why going forward with life after lockdown, we need to leave diet culture behind.
A couple of weeks ago, ‘size 10’ was trending on Twitter. I clicked to find the Tweet that had caused the storm was from a young woman who shared the fact that she’d gone up from a small size six to a ten during lockdown, and that it was having a massive impact on her mental health.
I felt that Tweet in my bones. During lockdown, I’ve gone up a couple of dress sizes, and it’s something that affects me on a daily basis. I really related to how she felt; your favourite clothes no longer fitting you, worrying about seeing friends after so long and fearing them judging your new body, concern about what your partner thinks; it’s hard.
Twitter faux pas number two: I clicked on the replies. I saw endless misguided tips for losing weight, that were, in hindsight, probably well-meaning. But that’s not really the point. A young woman was talking about her poor mental health from going up a couple of dress sizes, and instead of tackling the reason why it’s having such an impact on her, there were hordes of messages saying how many squats she could do to ’lose weight fast’.
Removing the deadline on our health
At Planted (and allplants) we talk about food all day. My foray into the Twitter replies was not the first time myself or the team had noticed the same old diet culture traps coming back to haunt us, and we’ve had enough.
As a brand we choose not to capitalise off vulnerabilities, and are focused on not piling on any more guilt about people’s diet choices than they already have. We’re all about sustainable choices in every meaning of the word, and we want to leave the extremist world of diet behind. Food should be fun, celebratory, nutritious, indulgent and ultimately something we can all look forward to and enjoy, guilt-free.
We’re lucky enough to have Aly, and Emily, on our team. Aly is a certified nutritionist and helps develop the allplants menu, and Emily is a qualified PT (and the brains behind our lovely Instagram feed).
I spoke to them both in the midst of this mounting post-lockdown glow up pressure to get to the root of how we can make sustainable food and movement choices and leave the world of diet culture behind.
Lose the idea of ‘lose weight fast’
Emily, like many PTs right now, is seeing lots of self-deprecating, and toxic language on social media and in her DMs. Here’s what she had to say:
“Firstly, detach the words ‘lose weight’ and ‘fast’ from each other. For anyone looking to lose weight, I really encourage a slow and sustainable weight loss process. The journey to fat loss needs to be a) enjoyable and b) realistic. ‘Losing weight fast’ is unrealistic and it definitely isn’t an enjoyable process.
Aly also has that perfectly level-headed healthy attitude towards food that we all need to hear right now. (Especially in case anyone else’s brain wanders into ‘if I just did a juice cleanse’ territory. I blame 00s teen mags for that). She says:
“If you are looking to lose some weight, you should always plan to do so gradually over a period of time. Drastic weight loss methods are never sustainable and often entail unhealthy habits that may in fact damage your body or relationship with food in the long run.
The NHS recommends between 0.5-1kg of weight loss per week as safe and sustainable. Making simple changes to your diet and exercise routine over a longer period of time is more effective than drastic extreme changes which you are unlikely to upkeep,”
The link with mental health
Moving our bodies for mental health, as well as physical health, and fostering healthy relationships with movement and food is really important.
Here’s Emily: “For me, it’s so, so important to communicate the more important, positive reasons to exercise. Exercise shouldn’t be seen as a punishment. It should be a celebration of what our bodies are capable of doing.”
Aly says: “Try to avoid setting too many rules and being hard on yourself if you slip up here and there. Changing your diet is a gradual process and it’s not going to be easy to get it completely right the first time around. Making small changes to your diet and exercise routine will pay off in the long run, it’s not always about overnight transformations. Most importantly, enjoy your food; eating a balanced healthy diet also includes treats; life’s too short to be eating tasteless broccoli and brown rice every day.” Amen to that.
The social media diet culture dilemma
There’s another source of body shame and toxicity that expand beyond the teenage conditioning 00s teen mags, which we all know too well; social media.
If your anxiety has spiked at waking up to scroll through stories only to see that six of your friends have already been to the gym while you’ve been sleeping, hit their eight glasses of water a day, and meditated, you are not alone.
Our mental health certainly doesn’t need it. Many of us were probably just planning on eating a bit healthier in the lead-up; cutting down the crisps and upping the cucumber, hoping that would ‘cut it’. But the narrative I’m seeing online is akin to some kind of army regiment.
Enter amazing accounts like Emily’s PT Instagram page, full of encouraging judgement-free captions that empower rather than overwhelm. “With my Instagram, I really want to encourage people to reframe the way they view exercise; movement should be something people want to do because they can, not because they feel they have to. A massive part of this reframing is showing that exercise isn’t a one box fits all thing,” she said.
You don’t need a June 21st body
While the pandemic has caused real issues in mental health, one thing it has given us is permission to relax a bit about our appearances, and (gasp) even join Zooms without make-up. That's something I am more than happy to take out of lockdown, and I invite you to join me.
If, like me, you’re coming round to the idea you might want to move a bit more after a year on the sofa, it’s not all doom and gloom. Emily has some more encouragement to help us pace ourselves; “Take it slowly. Don’t suddenly expect yourself to go to the gym seven times a week, plus four nights running all whilst hitting 10k steps a day. Establish a realistic routine that you can consistently stick to. That might look like two sessions in the gym per week for the next month, or it might simply be adding 20 mins extra movement into your everyday. Being active looks different for everyone. Find what movement works for you.”
It’s about eating well, not dieting
Aly agrees that it’s all about being kinder to yourself in terms of nutrition, too; “Try not to feel guilty if you fall off track, life's all about balance, and it’s pretty unrealistic to upkeep the ‘perfect’ diet every meal seven days a week. Let yourself enjoy foods that you love to eat and don’t focus so much on restriction. Try and find foods that you really enjoy and that make you feel good rather than stick to a strict diet. And often, these foods will be the healthier choice over processed, ‘unhealthy’ foods may leave you feeling worse in the long run.
There is a huge difference between eating well and dieting. You could be losing weight on a diet full of processed so-called ‘diet’ foods such as diet sodas, sugar-free syrups, low calorie processed meals etc. Often many of these foods are high in additives and artificial ingredients to achieve a nice taste without adding fat or calories. As these foods are so highly processed they are in fact really detrimental to your gut health and provide little nutrients to contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Highly processed foods also have little to no micronutrients so although they may be satisfying to eat, they provide little nutritional value. So some people when dieting, may have lost weight as they are consuming fewer calories but are likely to have poorer nutrition than someone maintaining their weight on a more balanced whole food based diet.’
Calories are not the enemy
If you’re reading this and, like me, have indulged a lot in these sorts of foods, don’t feel guilty. We’ve been living in a global pandemic, it’s the content of History lessons that kids will yawn through in decades to come. Is putting on a bit of weight really that important?
Aly shared a watch-out on increasing our movement, too; ‘When increasing your movement, you will need to make sure that you are eating enough. It might sound backwards if you are trying to lose weight, but if you are new to exercise and trying to follow a strict low-calorie diet, your body is going to lose weight at first but it will soon start to flag and the likelihood of burnout and injury/illness might come about. Make sure you are eating fruits and veg of all different colours to avoid any micronutrient deficiencies.’
So, how can we get back to looking after our minds and bodies in a sensitive, healthy, fulfilling way? I’m talking 0% guilt, 100% compassion, and 100% confidence forward with me, and I hope you can, too. (Those numbers don’t add up, but go with it).
Tips for improving our physical health and staying sane:
- ‘Marie Kondo’ your feeds (yep, she’s still relevant, I swear. Unfollow accounts that don’t ‘spark joy’, or at the very least, make you feel bad about yourself. Emily is a fan of following @natacha.oceane, @thebodycoach, @aliceliveing and @krissycela for all things fitness positivity
- Give the algorithm a lesson on most social platforms you can report you’re not interested in a type of content by tapping the ‘...’ on the post. So if you’re hooked on calorie comparisons and #transformationtuesday posts that fuel your guilt, now is the time to break up with them
- Remember you don’t have to love the gym, and it is not the only way to get moving. In fact, Emily shared some of the best ways to exercise if you hate the gym:
- Walking: Walking is such an underrated form of exercise. Aim to get some extra steps into your day. Walk with a friend or use the time to chat to a loved one on the phone, or choose your favourite podcast to switch on!
- Swimming: Book a slot at your local pool and rummage around in the back of your drawer for the goggles you’ve had for 10 years. You could even check and see if there’s a local lido for a refreshing outdoor dip
- Yoga: If you don’t have a yoga studio nearby, check out some great online yoga classes (remember, it’s still yoga if you do the beginner adaptations)
- Cycling: With the warmer weather, now’s the perfect time to dust off your bike wheels and head to a local park
- Team sports: Join a netball league or grab some friends for a game of frisbee. Let your mind have fun and forget about your body for an hour
- Banish the idea that calories are the enemy, just be slightly more conscious of the amounts of calorie-dense foods you are eating, but remember these don’t need to be eliminated from your diet. Especially when it comes to vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and other high fat processed foods. Healthy fats are essential for so many bodily processes, so having these as part of your diet is nothing to be scared of.
- Sustainable is key, especially if you’re starting out again for the first time in a while on your fitness journey, start slow, play the long game and don’t worry if it takes some time to build a new habit.
- Make a mini (and realistic) fitness plan, according to Emily. ‘I ‘book’ my gym sessions in, as though they were actual meetings which helps to hold me accountable throughout the week’
How are you feeling about the world reopening in terms of your mental and physical health? Share your thoughts in the comments.
By Laura Barns
Laura is our Copywriter, who is obsessed with the Hearty Roots Stew (and has been known to eat a double serve for lunch on more than one occasion). On her day off you’ll find her walking her puppy Ralph, stopping off at bookshops and cocktail bars along the way.