Image Credit: Jennifer Burk
Over the Christmas season, it is inevitable that many of us find ourselves digressing into ‘weight gain memes’ in the spirit of festive indulgence. When Christmas is all about desserts and sugary delights, this food-orientated period is, ironically, only the ‘entrée’; the descent into January marks another momentous shift as we look to New Year weight loss and healthy eating resolutions. Even though this generally relates to the scales, the January ‘shred’ period is not exclusive to simple weight loss statistics. The belief in ‘new beginnings also links to unhealthy habits which cannot be quantified as easily as a scale reading. However, in a society underpinned by regressive diet culture and aesthetical shred, we are habitually encouraged to look over the most important element of a ‘healthy’ constitution: nutrition.
We are no strangers to the notion of ‘you are what you eat.’ It hangs over us like a solemn, disapproving figure as we reach for the first sugary treat of the new year – probably the very vice you vowed to renounce in the pursuit of an idealised ‘healthy body. While a whole packet of donuts is likely to exceed your recommended daily intake of sugars, it shouldn’t stand for a sharp binary between ‘bad’ and ‘good’. Any food group in excess will hinder a ‘healthy’ lifestyle, so why is it that we choose to fixate on certain food types? Sadly, this is due to the warped notion of health that lives in our collective memory. Too often, ‘health’ is reinforced as synonymous with a singular body image. Type ‘healthy body’ into Google and watch images of slim, chiseled physiques outway images of alternative body compositions. YouTube ‘transformation’ videos are possibly the most culpable as dramatic ‘before and after’ pictures are pitted against each other, often alluding to losing ‘x’ amount of weight in a small time frame. While this is not always the case, more often than not a healthy body is epitomised by the process of losing weight by whatever means possible, including fasting and crash dieting.
Recently, body confidence influencer Alex Light( @ a l e x l i g h t _ l d n) shared a recreation of an old picture, contrasting her ‘best’ body type, as defined by society, alongside her current body type. The caption read: “when you looked your ‘BEST’, were you treating your body the ‘WORST’?” Here, ‘worst’ is defined by Light as her experiences with restrictive eating and non-nutrient dense meals. This is not an attempt to villainise smaller body types or to suggest they are inherently a product of nutritional malpractice. However, Light’s post does raise questions about the integral role of nutrition and why many are happy to neglect the importance of fuelling their body in order to function day-to-day, let alone to achieve aesthetic goals.
Why is nutrition important? Alongside everyone's individual basal metabolic rate (the lowest amount of calories one needs to consume in order to live), a nutrient-dense diet is an integral aspect of maintaining base-level body functions. Unfortunately, restricting caloric intake, as is recommended with many popular diet plans, often means forfeiting this essential fuel in the process. Carbohydrates are at the forefront of diet culture myths as they tend to be perceived as more calorie dense than other food groups, especially in popular culture (Lizzy McGuire springs to mind: “Kate, you don’t eat carbs.”). In accordance with the Harvard School of PublicHealth, it is recommended that certain types of carbohydrates, such as wholegrains, should constitute a fourth of your plate every mealtime. By cutting these out, we are risking not consuming enough fibre to maintain healthy digestion.
Leading nutritionist Rob Hobson has partnered with British Apples and Pears in an attempt to debunk these misconceptions and promote a return to a nutrition-led approach to both weight loss and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Hobson cites that in a recent Onken Yoghurt Poll, the majority of people still believed food myths, such as celery’s ‘ability to burn more calories than you gain from eating it. As an alternative to metabolic damaging diets, Hobson promotes a simple daily routine: eating one apple a day before a meal to boost overall fiber content. The physiological benefits of apples are immense: they help to reduce oxidative stress (excess can contribute towards inflammation and disease) as well as increasing ‘friendly bacteria’ forget health. For Hobson, ‘an apple a day’ stands alone from classic dietary myths and sayings. Although, it is important to remember that this is still a mere suggestion and only constitutes one element of a healthy body. The World Health Organisation reaffirms this approach by defining health as ‘complete physical, mental and social well-being’, which prompts us to pair nutrition with mentally fulfilling tasks and a good support network.
Ultimately, we should all endeavour to be the healthiest version of ourselves on these terms and not bow to damaging diet fads which try to dictate our perceptions of health. Whatever your goals, ensuring our body is able to function at a basic level is vital and reinforces the fact that the basics of nutrition is a good place to start. However, it is important to recognise that not all issues can be solved by counting macros; if you are struggling with any of the issues raised, please consult professional medical advice.