Wellness culture is sneaky and oftentimes seemingly harmless habits can be a guise for very disordered eating behaviors. I’ve previously discussed how “clean” eating and diets like Noom can make it difficult to spot diet culture. But there are even subtler ways in which the dieting mentality shows up for dancers and this article will discuss them.
Your Baseline Energy is Low
Despite just being another word for energy, “calories” are often feared because of the widespread impact of diet culture. As a result, many dancers intentionally limit their calorie intakes in order to feel in control of food, and exceeding even just a rough estimate of the number of calories you’re eating in a day can lead you to feelings of shame and guilt around food.
This mindset becomes habitual and even common practice, especially since the diet and wellness industry normalizes the tactics often used to moderate calorie intake. Being “mindful,” eating “in moderation,” and straight-up counting are examples. In fact, we can compare the calorie allowances of most diets (or wellness lifestyles) to those of the most “undernourished global regions, where severe hunger interferes with individuals’ ability to thrive.” To learn more about how many calories you need in a day, read this article.
You Often Eat Past Fullness
Eating to a point past what feels comfortable can be a sign that you’re not eating enough throughout your day or week. When calorie intake is chronically low (as defined by an intake that does not meet the body’s needs for metabolic and physical functioning), your body’s hormones ignite a cascade of changes designed to fight the caloric deficit. Appetite surges occur, which cause you to experience periods of extreme hunger (often when food is eventually reintroduced).
You Experience Insatiable Cravings
Specific cravings, such as those for high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods, also ensue. Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel for both your brain and your red blood cells (which deliver oxygen to and from your body’s organs and tissues). Not only will you feel drained, but you’ll drive cravings for foods designed to offer immediate energy (classic high-carb foods like sweets and desserts are examples).
Even if you aren’t following a classic low-carb diet plan, merely attempting to “cut back” or “moderate” your carb intake could be enough to instill an insufficient amount.
You Consider Yourself An “Emotional Eater”
Using food or the restriction of food as a coping mechanism for heightened emotional triggers (like stress, anxiety, and sadness) is a topic I’ve previously discussed. And while it’s often seen as an unfavorable behavior, I encourage you to seek emotional connections with food (and reclaim what it means to be an “emotional eater.” )
But if during these instances you’re coming from a place of biological (calorie) restriction or psychological food rules, then “emotional eating” becomes a mislabel for rebound eating. Furthermore, deprivation in itself leads to feelings of agitation, which can drive extreme emotions that further lead us to food as a coping mechanism. To learn more about how to navigate emotional eating, read this.
You Unknowingly Follow Restrictive Food Rules
When compared to physical calorie restrictions, food rules are considered psychological restrictions. These beliefs shape our thoughts about food and often lead us to feel overwhelming food guilt (read this article to learn more about how to stop guilt). These subtle restrictions might not be as obvious as classic dieting but can do just as much damage.
It takes a lot of physical and mental energy to maintain a strict level of control around food. Here are some behaviors that might seem harmless, but can actually be considered part of the dieting mentality:
- Pushing meal times to align with a previously planned schedule, despite feeling hungry (prioritizing the clock over your body’s innate hunger cues).
- Serving yourself intentionally small portions, despite still feeling hungry.
- Waiting to eat because it hasn’t been enough time between meals, despite feeling physically hungry.
- Not keeping certain foods at home for fear of bingeing or losing control. Obsessing or “avoiding” or even “stopping” binges reinforce the shame that diet culture often makes us feel about eating “too much” or “over”-eating.
- You punish yourself after eating foods deemed “less healthy” or an amount of food deemed “too much.” This might involve extra exercise or anticipated calorie restriction. Whatever it might be, you’re placing conditions on your eating behaviors.
You Use Food As A Tool To Manipulate Your Body
Have you ever felt “gross” after a meal or described yourself as being “bad” for eating “too much?” Judgmental self-talk, especially as it relates to eating, exemplifies a disordered relationship with both food and the body. These thoughts often lead to an anticipated restriction and an overall sense of deprivation.
These self-judgments are commonly rooted in fear of weight gain, a result of systemic weight stigma (a topic you can learn more about here). These beliefs perpetuate diet culture, which makes us feel that in order to reach success, we need to strive for weight loss or some preconceived notion of perfect “health.” Unraveling these beliefs and coming to terms with the normality of a changing body (such as in the context of normal changes associated with age) is often the first step to working through behaviors like “over”-eating and binge eating. From here, we can strip away the judgment over “messing up” or feeling “out of control” around food.
Does the dietitian mentality sneak its way into your day and if so, how can you challenge it? Fellow dietitian and leader of the anti-diet movement Christy Harrison calls it “pseudo-recovery” and I couldn’t agree more. Identifying subtle signs of the dieting mentality can be a big help in healing your relationship with food. FYI- I highly encourage you to check out Christy’s work here.