Food Demonization

Food Demonization

My social feeds are full of people claiming that there are good and bad foods. You’ve heard them, too, I’m sure. Every New Years I see the meme that says: stop eating THESE FOODS right now! And it lists in bold angry letters: things like SUGAR, BREAD, and PROCESSED FOODS. The other one I see all the time is: limit your sugar! And it lists fruit as something to avoid. Because apparently fruit is now bad for you?! 


One of my kids is autistic and we both have ADHD. I recently saw a thread in one of the FB support groups I follow where a parent was looking for advice on diets for their ASD/ADHD kids – the advice that followed was terrifying. People claiming that eliminating bread or fruit curbed their child’s autism – and one person even suggested keto – for their 7-year-old. The worst part is they’re advising food restriction over medication and that made my angry mama bear come barging in. It’s literally everywhere.


Now, let me be clear right off the top: eating a diet dense in micronutrients should be our priority always. We know that whole grains, fruit, vegetables, animal protein are all nutritionally beneficial and should be prioritized. Gut health is something we should always prioritize because without good gut-health we aren’t able to absorb the nutrients we do put in our bodies. No one will argue that.


The thing is, clean eating, while in theory is wonderful – it can be extremely restrictive and the fact of the matter is that restriction of any kind is problematic by its very black & white nature.


If you’re a Netflix subscriber you’ve probably noticed a surge of documentaries on health and nutrition lately. I love a good documentary but what you have to realize is they’re created with a bias. The person who produces a documentary on how keto cures everything from cancer to autism is probably not a vegetarian. So, it’s safe to assume they’re going to use scientists and medical practitioners whose beliefs align with theirs. Doctors are people and have opinions – like everyone else. I have heard Dr Oz make such outlandish and frankly, ignorant statements that my brain hurt. The DR in front of his name doesn’t make him infallible. 


Then, let’s not forget that there are celebrities like Gwenyth Paltrow giving health advice and people are eating it up. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if someone is trying to tell you to steam your vagina or put a $500 jade egg in it (that she just happens to sell) – they have nothing of value to say about nutrition – so, keep moving.


The other entertaining thing about these documentaries is that they all claim to reduce inflammation and that is the single biggest factor in preventing disease. Yeah – we know – but every single documentary is claiming THEIR diet will get that result. 


Needless to say – extremes of any kind are breeding grounds for discontent. Most people are used to eating cookies as a treat with their kids, ice cream on a hot day in the market, and birthday cake!


One of the reasons behind food demonization is outdated metabolic science. You won’t have to look far to find people who believe that our bodies examine a calorie introduced to our body and go “now, hold on… this is from a candy bar – since it isn’t whole food it’s going straight to your hips!” – that just isn’t how any of this works. 


Our bodies extract nutrients at different stages of digestion and the rest becomes waste. The only way to produce body fat is to eat in excess of what your body needs. Your body doesn’t care if it’s cake or chicken breast – if it puts you in a surplus you will store body fat.


Of course, there are other layers here. Macronutrients are metabolized differently. I know it’s popular to hate on carbs but the truth is, they’re the most metabolically active of all the macronutrients. Our bodies are built to convert carbs into energy and will prioritize carbs when looking for energy.


Protein is the next most metabolically active macronutrient – and the added bonus to protein is that it builds lean muscle tissue. That matters because the more lean muscle tissue you have on board, the more calories you’ll burn – even at rest. So, basically – and I mean very basically, it’s responsible for your metabolism. It’s also the macro responsible for satiety. Typically, when we aren’t hungry – we don’t eat – and that’s why satiety matters. No one likes being hungry so if you find you’re starving all day, track your protein intake for a few days to see how many grams you’re getting in. I’m willing to bet you’re taking in less than 60g/day and that is just not enough unless you’re an adolescent.


Fat is the macro with the shortest metabolic path to becoming stored body fat but again – that won’t happen unless you’re eating in a surplus. That means you’d have to eat more calories than you burn in a day in order to have your food converted to stored body fat. It won’t get stored just because it’s ice cream instead of avocado. Your body is just not that judgemental. Your chronically dieting aunt Karen might be, but not your body.


Think about it. Our bodies store fat to protect us from famine. By storing excess calories as body fat, our bodies are essentially ensuring we have a backup energy source when food is scarce. This isn’t really a reality that most North Americans face – quite the opposite, in fact. But, that’s what stored body fat is. It’s not food jail where your body sends food it judges you for eating. Your body doesn’t care what its energy source is. YES, it cares about the nutrients but energy is energy on a very basic level.


So, to think that there is a judge and jury sitting at the end of your oesophagus is obviously bonkers. 


Now, let’s talk about the real danger in black and white thinking around dieting.


Less than 5% of dieters will keep their lost weight off. The reason for this is the methods most choose to lose weight are simply unsustainable. Let’s use keto as an example. I’m not here to pick on keto because there are people who love it and do well on it. But, it is the dieting method most likely to fail because of its restrictive nature AND so few are actually in ketosis anyway. 


I don’t know about you but there is no way I’m swearing off carbs. Imagine never having a slice of birthday cake to celebrate your kid’s birthday. Imagine your proud 6 year old bringing you a plate of fresh cookies they baked for the first time – and refusing them because mommy’s on a diet. I want you to think about not only the disappointment for yourself but also, the message that is sending your kids. You’re not diabetic – you’re not allergic – you’re on a restrictive diet. I know the message that sends to kids because my entire client roster grew up with chronically dieting moms who demonized food incessantly and now it’s their own biggest obstacle.


I know some of you are thinking “but, Sophie, I just cut out carbs and I lost 40lbs!”. To that, I say congratulations on your caloric deficit. It wasn’t the carbs – it was the deficit. Then, I’d like to ask you what you think is going to happen when you go back to eating carbs. Because you will. Who can avoid carbs their entire life?! I’ll tell you exactly what will happen and you probably aren’t going to like it – you’ll join the 95% dieters who regain their lost weight.


One of my favourite questions to ask when someone says they can’t lose weight no matter how hard they try is “how many calories are you eating in a day”. Without fail – and I mean that – every single time – say “oh, I have no idea”.


So, how did you think it was going to work?!


Back to the topic of restriction. What we’re creating with restriction of foods is deprivation. We feel trapped and defeated because we’re stuck in this place of chicken, rice, and broccoli while everyone else is eating cake. This reduces our autonomy and autonomy is one of our basic psychological needs. Without a sense of autonomy, it’s very difficult to make decisions that align with our goals and values – and that means we will struggle to stick to the diet. And one thing I can tell you about those who fall off their diet due to deprivation – they do so in an epic way. They dive headfirst into that shame spiral of “why can’t I ever do this, I’m going to be fat forever, I’m weak, I have no willpower….” Maybe you recognize yourself in that statement. I certainly spent many many years there in the past.


I’m going to share something profound with you and I hope this will be your biggest take-away today:


One of the biggest struggles our clients come to us with is their relationship with food. They feel like they’re spending their lives running from carbs or cookies or holiday meals – and that is their biggest source of shame. Imagine giving so much power to a cookie?


This struggle is not small. Food is everywhere and hiding from it is obviously not a solution. So, our practice at MBM is flexible dieting. Imagine working a mini candy bar into your meal plan every single day and still losing weight? Imagine having a romantic anniversary dinner with your spouse with wine and dessert and still losing weight? But most importantly – imagine not feeling any guilt or shame over having those things?!  — I feel like I can sense your collective “YES! THAT WOULD BE AMAZING!” 


Well, it can happen. I see it happen every single day.


Don’t get me wrong – this is a practice and not a switch you can just turn off. It takes a lot of trust to let go of the food shame we’ve been fed for decades and start thinking in a balanced way. It’s also not a linear path – nothing about weight loss is.


But, the risk of leaving shame in charge of your relationship with food is eroding your self-esteem one gram of carbohydrates at a time. I don’t know about you but by the time I started taking my own steps toward wellness, I didn’t have a lot of self-esteem to spare. 


Think for a minute about what pages you follow on FB or what IG accounts you follow. You get to curate what you’re exposed to and the more carefully you curate your content the easier it will be to move out of this food demonizing place. You can unfollow carb-having aunt Karen the same way you unfollowed your homophobic uncle. Take your power back!


So, as we say here at Musclebound Mama – eat the fucking cake!


These are show notes from: The Musclebound Mama – Eat the Fucking Cake Podcast – episode two.