No More Diet Culture

By Jessica Campbell, MS, FNTP

I named my company Food Foundation because I believe in the healing power of food and I love to educate others on how to build a foundation of good health by eating nutrient-dense foods. 

But when does good meaning advice turn into an obsessive problem? 

Orthorexia

Have you ever heard of orthorexia

It’s a new eating disorder caused by obsessing over healthy eating (as if we didn’t have enough things to obsess over). You know the friend that can’t eat anything high fat, low fat, high carb, high cholesterol, with salt, with sugar, or any other ingredient that wasn’t grown in their own organic garden. They avoid every restaurant for fear of being contaminated and bring their own lunch box to your dinner party. 

Trust me, I’ve been in enough detoxes to know how tough it is to navigate a good party and not feel hungry and isolated. I try never to limit myself too much or to recommend others suffer through without a few nice treats they can rely on. 

However, some people are really suffering from orthorexia.

They stay on the diet protocol for too long or jump from diet to diet and never really find the health benefits they’re looking for. If you’re wondering why I run a detox while I also know of this fear of orthorexia, you should check it out. It’s not that kind of diet and it’s less about what you should not eat and more about how to eat more nutrient-dense foods. I offer a few sample days for free here

You’d be surprised to see that you don’t have to avoid most foods and you can still detox. 

I want everyone to learn about healthy eating because I know from experience it can change your life, but I believe that any kind of strict diet protocol should have an ending point or else it’s bound to fall short. 


A different mindset

If you’re not in the middle of your short, strict protocol, consider the 80/20 rule. 80 percent of the time you eat all the “right” things and the other 20 percent of the time you relax. The point is to not be so hard on yourself. Instead of trash talking about some foods as bad and other foods as good, try to find the highest quality of real foods you can and then relax, and enjoy! 

For example, if I’m really craving cookies, instead of grabbing a packet of something overly processed from the corner store, I wait until I get home to bake something from scratch. Of course, by then I’m usually too lazy and will settle for a spoonful of almond butter and a piece of dark chocolate.


Another example is cheese, with such a bad reputation for both weight gain and high cholesterol. Neither of which have decent evidence in the scientific literature. I can’t vouch for dehydrated cheese-like products in a box or a can, but crafted cheese is an art form that involves slow fermentation of dairy in caves and is the opposite of a bad food. In fact, many recent studies have demonstrated how the old views of full-fat dairy as being bad are no longer valid and it can even have an inverse effect on cardiovascular health. Some people may consider some cheeses as healthy foods.

The 80/20 rule can be summed up as finding the best quality you can most of the time and then forgiving yourself for the few outliers.


Intuitive Eating

Another strategy I’ve seen gaining popularity is Intuitive Eating.

Intuitive Eating has 3 main pillars:

  1. Eat when you are hungry
  2. Eat what sounds good to you (as long as there isn’t a medical reason not to)
  3. Stop eating when you are full

In many ways, this strategy is in response to the harmful diet culture that has developed in the United States. Diet culture is characterized by shame, rules, and demonizing certain food categories like the demonization of cheese I mentioned above.

Social media has made the shame even more prominent. Information overload about what you should and shouldn’t eat causes a higher percentage of orthorexia. If you try to follow all of the healthy recommendations you won’t be able to eat anything anymore!

Intuitive eating is more about respecting your body and its needs. For example, do you need an ice cream sandwich as much as you need protein and maybe a reward at the end of your hard day? I love this approach and I think if we all spend a little more time celebrating what we can eat, we may find a bit more calm and connected energy.

I know what you’re thinking… but I crave cupcakes and wine all the time. 😩

Yes, I know, me too! 

But, if I sit down for a moment and look at my cravings, I can typically find the source of the craving, and understand what it is my body really needs in that moment.


What our cravings can tell us:

  1. Sweet cravings - often we need more protein and a quick fix is to eat something full of protein. Next, we are usually craving comfort and some kind of reward. Try a sweet mint tea and some cuddle time with your favorite person or pet. Cuddling creates oxytocin and makes us feel good naturally.
  2. Salty, crunchy cravings - we typically need more electrolytes, think minerals in the water, are tired, but we still want to “crunch the numbers” or wrap our brain around an idea. Try some crunchy carrots and hummus or celery that has natural salts with a clean peanut butter.


In this article by NPR’s LifeKit, Judith Matz explains how intuitive eating teaches you to trust your body and work with it to make healthier choices. I know it sounds like it should be easy, but honestly, if it were that easy, I wouldn’t have a job. In fact, I went into this line of work because I lost my own intuition on what was right for my body. I thought I should be vegan even though  I grew up eating a perfectly balanced diet and my body performed horribly on the synthetic proteins from soy protein isolate and the faux fats from canola oil. 

It took me years to learn how to get back to a place where I could practice the 80/20 rule without sliding down the slippery slope to 80% shame and guilt around my little binges.

When we’re on a diet we tend to fall into a restrict-binge pattern. We’re so strict with ourselves and then we end up binging on the restricted foods, which become “bad” foods that make us feel terrible. I can remember my first detox, I ate amazing for the first few hours, and then started hiding chocolate so I could binge in private. Who was I hiding it from? I was only hurting myself.

I know these feelings well and I know you might be struggling too. Instead of a diet template, if we work on a more intuitive eating pattern, you will start to crave nutrient dense foods, and then the unfulfilling foods will become less tempting. Honestly, if you ask the team I worked with at my full-time job before I had my son, they would call me the candy monster.  I couldn't walk past the candy jar at any point in the day without grabbing a mini Snickers or whatever candy bar had chocolate in it.

Now, I can honestly say I have not had Halloween candy in years and I have no desire for it. They kind of make me sick with their synthetic sweetness. I'm totally satisfied by a square of high quality chocolate when it’s presented and I can survive when it isn't. It happened for me and it can happen for you too.


Learning our body signals

But, what if it’s not just the treats. What if you don’t know when you’re hungry and you’re worried about not stopping when you’re full? 

If you identify feeling hungry with headaches, nervous jitters, and stomach cramps, you’re probably waiting too long to eat. This is the “hangry” feeling somewhere between hungry and angry that occurs when our blood sugar has dropped too low in between meals. Consider eating every 3 hours, a more robust meal with protein, high-quality fats, and 1-2 cups of vegetables to hold you over until the next meal.

If you eat on a strict schedule at the same time each day, notice if your mouth begins to salivate, if your stomach begins to growl, and if you feel hungry for that scheduled meal. 

There are many cues our body gives us when it’s ready to receive proper nutrition from delicious food. Likewise there are cues that the body is full and satisfied that we’re sometimes missing from eating too quickly or eating junk food that acts more like a drug confusing our natural signals. 

Our intuition may not be linked up with our satiation hormones and digestion cues, but this is a system that can recover well and be rebalanced before it ends up in disease. Our body is amazing at trying to heal and sending you signs all the time. If you need help reading the signs and finding your intuitive eating, I’m here for you.