Why Diet Labels Don't Work for Me

I've Tried Them All

Pescetarian.Vegetarian. Vegan. Paleo. Primal. Keto. LCHF. IIFYM.

For the last 8 years I have been the friend or family member with a different diet label or food rule that everyone needed to accommodate and it has been nothing short of exhausting. There is a majorshift happening in the world of health. It seems that most of my favorite people on my Instagram feed are moving away from the diet labels like IIFYM, Paleo, Vegan, Vegetarian, Keto, LCHF, Primal etc. and moving towards a more holistic approach to diets. Instead of saying they are, for example, paleo people will say, "I avoid most grains and dairy, but really because that’s what makes me feel my best."  It seemed like every bit of food media I consumed was urging me to examine my own diet choices and why I eat the way I do.

First it was the Netflix movie "To the Bone". I watched it late at night the week it came out. The movie follows a girl in her twenties struggling with an all consuming eating disorder. Ellen, the main character, "checks" her weight by wrapping her thumb and middle finger around her forearm to see if they will tough. This one detail really hit home for me. I never experienced an eating disorder in that way, but I have dealt with disordered eating since my teens and developed little ways where I would constantly "check" my weight without ever stepping on a scale. To this day, when I experience a particularly stressful time, I subconsciously perform those little checks over and over again. Whenever I notice those behaviors creeping back into my daily life, its my first indication that things are not 100% okay with me.

The next week I happened upon the audio book of, "Beautiful Bodies" by Kimberly Rae Miller in an email from audible. In this memoir style book Miller examines our worlds obsession with the "perfect body" through her own journey of obsessive dieting and disordered eating. In the first chapter she writes, "When things are at their most stressful calorie counting becomes a refuge of control."  When I heard Miller's voice come through my car stereo and speak those words I had to pause the book for a minute to gather myself becausethat is me. Stress effects people in different ways, but since I was at least 16 years old I have always tried to take back control in my life in the one way that always works: controlling my diet. This past spring a few things happened in my life that were completely out of my control. I couldn’t do anything to change them no matter how hard I tried. So I went back to what I know: controlling my diet. Under the guise of trying to improve my arthritis and psoriasis symptoms I began taking turns cutting different food groups out of my diet. First sugar, then gluten and dairy and then carbs all together.

I still didn't see this as a problem or as my disordered eating behaviors coming back into my life, until a stranger on the beach said to me, "a friend of mine just decided overnight that she's going to be a vegan, but I feel like she's only doing it so she can refuse to eat certain foods without it looking weird." Once again I was hit with a "that’s me!" moment. Except this time it made me feel sick and sad. I felt like a fraud. I preached healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle daily on Mad About Food, but personally I was restricting the foods I ate solely for the sake of restriction and then bingeing on crap once I had restricted myself to the point of starvation. In the last 8 years I've tried countless diet labels in the hopes that one of them would stick. In the end these diets always felt too restrictive and prevented me from fully enjoying my life. And because I. LOVE. FOOD. I especially love cooking and eating healthy food, but I really do love all food and at a certain point the restriction started to mess with that love.

In the past few weeks I have made the conscious decision to purposely eat the foods that I would have cut out in the past: pizza, pasta, beer, cake, ice cream etc. Some mornings I wake up a little bloated or with added arthritic swelling, but it feels so much better to not over analyze every little bit of food that crosses my lips. I fully acknowledge that diet labels work for many people, but if you’ve ever struggled with an eating disorder or disordered eating, and I know so many young women who have, you know how mentally harmful it is to actively restrict your diet without a real health reason behind this restriction.

Going forward I am making a conscious effort to rid my life of diet labels. That does not mean I'm going to stop trying to heal my autoimmune diseases through diet and lifestyle changes, but I am going to take a different approach. For me, restrictive diets don’t do anything, but lead to anxiety and obsession. My new health goals are to add more anti-inflammatory foods to my diet. Instead of focusing on what I'm eliminating I am going to focus on what I am including. I hope this post resonates with some of you and that you will join me in my journey towards food freedom and #nodietlabels.