In 2019, you’d be hard-pressed to find an individual who isn’t tuned in to the wellness industry in some capacity. Levels of dedication vary: Some of us are fully immersed in the world of intermittent fasting, adaptogens, and infrared saunas, while others just try to eat enough vegetables. It's a spectrum, based on a lot of personal factors.
With as much information as we have on what a healthy lifestyle looks like, implementing balance into our diets is easier said than done. Rather than piling our plates high with vegetables, protein, and healthy fats—and eating dessert when we’re in the mood—most of us are locked in a cycle of deprivation, overeating, and a whole lot of guilt along the way. As a result, op-eds like “Smash The Wellness Industry” are being published in The New York Times, and we’re desperately trying to get back to a place where we understand what it means to eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re full—hence the re-emergence of the age-old concept of “intuitive eating."
In an age when we’re supposedly so dedicated to taking the best possible care of our bodies and minds, why are the mental hurdles around eating a balanced diet so difficult to crack—and is there anything we can do about it? Here’s what the experts have to say.
How the wellness (and diet) industry has put us out of touch with our instincts around food.
According to New York-based health coach and Self-Care In The City author Michelle Cady, knowing what and how much to eat is pretty instinctual for most people. But as human beings, we’re also wired to listen to the stories society tells us, and that’s where the confusion starts. “The ‘wellness industry’ has tapped into this ancient survival instinct when it comes to promoting new diets, exercise advice and often, one-size-fits-all guidance,” Cady explains.
That’s not to say that the wellness industry is entirely bad news. According to Cady, a lot of good has come out of it, too—it’s just hard to tune out the noise. “I do think the wellness industry has done a great job of making healing practices more mainstream, which is amazing,” she says. “But meal plans drive me absolutely crazy. How is some random woman or man on the internet supposed to know how, when, and where I can eat? You may be able to follow a plan for two weeks, but then you're going to get hit with a business trip, a work deadline, or a best friend's bachelorette party.
You’ll inevitably fall off the plan and feel guilty about it. And so the cycle continues.”
Nutritionist Karina Heinrich adds that for most people, especially women, diet culture has been ingrained in their psyches since they were young—and breaking out of that mindset is no easy feat. “There is a constant number on the scale that many people are hoping and striving for, and they constantly have their eye on that elusive goal. These people know the difference between ‘bad carbs’ and ‘good carbs,’ they exercise and stay up on the latest food research. However, there’s still a major gap between body and mind.”
Changing the conversation and tuning back into our instincts around food.
The first step to breaking the cycle of deprivation, overeating, and guilt? Start talking to yourself differently. “Ditch the guilt and improve your internal dialogue,” says Cady. “As someone who used to have restrictive eating patterns, I had to learn to speak kindly and gently to myself, and now I teach my clients to do the same.”
She adds that going out and eating a big meal with friends on a Saturday night does not mean you “messed up.” “Feasting and celebrating are part of a healthy, normal social life. Human beings have been doing this for thousands of years!”
Heinrich adds that loading up on processed, sugary foods is likely to take us further from our instincts around eating since these foods are highly addictive. Instead, get back to eating the foods that make you feel good. “Stop with the trends and get back to basics,” she says. “Eat greens. Eat fruits. Eat lean protein. Drink tons of water. You have to be the one to make the motivated decision to consume these foods that will give you energy, a healthier body and positively affect your mental balance.
You will feel happier. Happy is addictive and often contagious.”
Cady echoes this sentiment, saying that the sooner we start paying attention to how certain foods make us feel rather than how they make us look, “intuitive eating” won’t feel like such a foreign concept. “Maybe you told yourself you'd have a green juice for breakfast, but when you wake up you're ravenous and want a comforting bowl of oatmeal. Eat the oatmeal,” she says. “Maybe you told yourself you'd go to boot camp in the morning, but you didn't sleep well and you wake up exhausted. Clock the extra hour of sleep, or go for a walk.
Notice how good you feel when you start tuning into these instincts.”
Will you get over the mental struggles around eating enough healthy food and stopping when you’re full overnight? No, probably not. It’s going to take a lot of time and effort to undo the conversation you’ve likely spent your whole life engaging with. But rest assured—it’s not impossible.