Rejecting Diet Culture and Embracing Sustainable Healthy Choices

Carbon Health Editorial Team
September 8, 2021
5 mins

Advertisements for new fad diets never never stop coming. They show up at predictable times — like right before the new year to “help” us with our resolutions, or before summer starts to remind us to work on our “beach bodies” (whatever that means). 

But for the most part, fad diets are focused only on a one-dimensional and potentially unhealthy goal: losing pounds fast. Most of them are not concerned with ensuring that you eat a healthy, well-balanced variety of foods that will keep you thriving. So we’re taking a look at how to spot a fad diet, and how to eat for long-term health.

As with any drastic change to your diet, it’s wise to discuss your health goals with your primary care provider, to see if it may be right for you. 

What Is a “Fad Diet”?

A fad diet is any eating plan that is marketed as the newest, fastest, and most effective way to lose weight. The problem with most fad diets is that they are not sustainable and are built for short-term “success” measured by only one metric: weight. And because they are not sustainable in the long term (and don’t encourage long-term healthy eating), many result in rebound weight gain.

+ Extreme calorie restrictive diets

Extreme calorie restrictive diets are potentially some of the most harmful diets. Human beings need a certain amount of calories and nutrients each day to function properly. When we try to function with fewer than the amount of calories we need, we may experience many side effects, such as fatigue, constipation, nausea, and diarrhea. In the long term, too few calories can result in a weakened immune system, adversely affected metabolism, organ dysfunction, and even bone loss. 

Although the bottom line may vary for each person, in general, you should not consume any less than 1,000 calories per day unless directed by your doctor. It is important to note that a calorie deficit is the best way to achieve the goal of weight loss, if that is your goal. However, the deficit should be within moderation and not too extreme. 

Some of the most common low-calorie fad diets include:

Broth diets — Broth diets are some of the most dangerous and extreme low-calorie diets, as they contain very few calories at all.

Juice cleanses — Although they can also be used for health reasons, juice cleanses are a go-to for many people who are looking to lose weight or “restart” their metabolism. And even though they allow for more calories than a broth diet, juice cleanses still lack many nutritional needs. 

Meal-replacement diets — Meal-replacement diets vary, but often involve replacing anywhere from one to three meals a day with a shake, a protein powder, or another packaged meal substitute. Some meal replacement diets allow for food, where others allow only the meal replacement and water or broth. 

+ Food group restrictive diets 

Food group restrictive diets ask you to eliminate a certain category of food from your diet. This can include carbohydrates, meats, or refined sugars. 

While many of these diets can be done in a healthy, appropriate way, taking any diet to an extreme is a way to set yourself up for failure.

Some of the most common food group restrictive diets include:

Low-carb diets — With many weight-loss plans, carbohydrates are seen as an enemy, even though they are an important part of a well-balanced diet. 

Keto diet — The keto diet also eliminates carbohydrates, while recommending a high fat intake, which can potentially lead to other health complications. 

Raw food diet  — Raw food diets are generally packed with fruits and vegetables; however, it’s important for a person to understand what nutrients they may no longer be getting from other food sources. 

What Is a Healthy Diet?

Contrary to popular belief, the word “diet” doesn’t mean “an eating regimen designed to make a person lose weight.” A diet is simply what we eat. Having a healthy diet means eating a wide variety of foods that nourish us and provide the proper amounts of necessary nutrients to our bodies. 

A balanced, healthy diet will usually include:

     • Carbohydrates

     • Healthy fats

     • Protein

     • Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants

You can ensure that your diet has all of these by including foods from the following food groups:

     • Fruits

     • Vegetables

     • Grains

     • Protein sources

     • Healthy fats

It’s important to note that some people may not be able to, or choose not to, eat food from all of these food groups. If you are one of those people, you may want to speak with your healthcare provider to find another way to get nutrients you may be missing. It my be from a different food or from a supplement.

One of the most medically recommended diets is the Mediterranean diet, which is a way of eating that is based on traditional cuisines of Greece, Italy, and some other regions that border the Mediterranean Sea. It is rich in plant-based foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and seeds. Heart-healthy olive oil is the main source of added fat. Fish, seafood, and poultry are included in moderation. And red meat and processed foods are limited. 

How Do I Plan a Healthy Diet That Will Work for Me?

Every person has different needs, so a “healthy diet” won’t look the same for everyone. Here are some steps you can take to craft a diet that works for you.

  1. Determine your overall health goals — When creating a plan for a healthy diet, it’s important to decide on your goals for your health. Are you looking to boost your immune system, or maybe lower cholesterol? Knowing your goals can help you know where to focus.  
  2. Decide whether you have any restrictions — From personal beliefs to food allergies, we all have foods we don’t eat. When creating a plan for a balanced diet, it’s important to determine whether your diet is lacking in any nutrients with that food (or food groups) eliminated. This can help ensure that you make up for them elsewhere. 
  3. Emphasize whole foods — Whole foods are rich in vitamins and minerals and help support a healthy digestive system. 
  4. Limit processed foods — By limiting processed foods, you can also help eliminate some of the health conditions they cause. 
  5. Get all of your nutrients — Whatever your diet, ensure that you are choosing foods that meet your needs for healthy fats, protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. 

What Is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating promotes nourishing your body when you’re hungry and rejects diet culture. In addition to choosing foods that are good for you, intuitive eating is a practice that helps bring balance to your diet. 

Some of the main principles of intuitive eating include:

  1. Eating when you’re hungry — One of the main components of intuitive eating is listening to your body. That means eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. The idea is that you let your body tell you when to eat, rather than the other way around. It’s also helpful to eat slower, so the body gets a better sense of when it is full. 
  2. Welcoming all foods — Another important part of intuitive eating is that no foods are off-limits completely (though there may still be certain foods you want to limit or eat only in moderation). Often, putting a complete ban on certain foods or food groups can make us want them even more. 
  3. Honoring your health  — Honoring your health is an important foundation of intuitive eating. Many intuitive eating programs stress the importance of making choices that help you feel nourished and support your overall health in the long term. 
  4. Respecting your body — Intuitive eating also focuses on respecting your body as it is. This means having realistic expectations for what your body can do and look like, while supporting it as best as you can without judgment. 
  5. Rejecting your inner food police — Many of us have a voice in our heads that acts as our “inner food police,” even if we don’t know it. Between commercials and other ads, it’s hard to ignore that voice in our head that is programmed to say, “Don’t eat that” or “You’ve already eaten too much.” With intuitive eating, the goal is to listen to your body, not to negative thoughts. 

If you’re looking to make a change to your diet, it’s wise to discuss your health goals with your primary care provider, to see if it may be right for you. At Carbon Health, our providers are standing by to help you make informed decisions about your health. Make a virtual or in-person appointment today.

Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.

Carbon Health Editorial Team

The Carbon Health Editorial Team is a group of writers, content creators, and thought leaders who are here to empower you to take charge of your health.