Diet culture can be toxic for many of us. But, for Latinas, there's an added layer to that cake. I speak for many as a woman who grew up in a Latinx household when I say that body image and appearance are always topics of conversation—whether you're "too skinny" or "too gordita." As a result, being told to lose or maintain your weight for aesthetic purposes isn't unusual.
While there is nothing wrong with maintaining a healthy weight, there are issues with the way Latinx culture approaches body image, as it usually has more to do with one's appearance than their actual health. In my experience, there was very little focus on the nutritional value of foods growing up. Instead, the importance was on avoiding weight gain, though I wasn't equipped with information on how to do it or what healthy habits would benefit me in the process.
Dalina Soto understands this cultural narrative, which is the reason she calls herself the anti-diet dietician. As one of the only Spanish-speaking registered dietitians in Philadelphia, Soto is helping Latinx people get rid of toxic diet patterns passed on by generations. Soto dedicates her work to helping Latinxs shed generational ideals that don't foster a healthier relationship with food.
"As children, you had no choice but to listen to your parents, but you can change things now that you control the narrative," Soto says. "You can change the dialogue for yourself and younger generations by learning how nutrition plays a role in health."
So, how do we even begin shifting that diet narrative? Soto takes a three-pronged approach that teaches her clients to see food as neutral, understand all food (besides zero-calorie options), nutritional value, and let go of black-and-white thoughts around food. Soto also doesn't believe in calorie counting. Instead, she considers stress management, sleep, movement, and nutrition as pillars of health—not just food alone.
Still, there's also the genuine emotion of being uncomfortable in one's skin and wanting to lose weight for self-improvement, which doesn't imply equating self-worth with weight. To anyone who wants to begin a weight loss journey, Soto has a few tips. "Look for other indicators of health," she says. "Many people lose weight for health reasons, then gain it right back, ending up where they started." Soto encourages you to focus on what you want out of health. "Want to feel stronger? We can do that. Want to manage chronic issues? We can do that. We can measure health in so many other ways."
Soto finds that a common concern is Latinx people avoiding cultural foods that have been demonized to maintain a particular appearance. She works through that by reinforcing her message of changing your perspective on food. "It's ok to learn a new way [to eat] and to help our kids feel comfortable in their bodies. We don't have to continue the cycle. "There is such a sense of freedom when dieting doesn't consume you every day," she says. "You can change how younger people view health and also help with their self-esteem." That alone, Soto believes, can help pave the way for a happier, healthier generation.