Beware: Is Your Diet Your Religion?

Sometimes when I scroll through Instagram it feels like an all-out war.  Messages intended to be helpful are actually very polarizing, creating a kind of “us-them” dynamic.  In fact, some nutrition marketing articles I’ve read encourage you to polarize people. The stronger your opinion is and the more people disagree with you, the more devoted fans and followers you’ll tend to have.  

Sound cultish to anyone else?  This polarizing effect really doesn’t serve anyone but the people promoting their beliefs as gospel.

Here are two examples of posts on opposite ends of the spectrum (and I’m not picking on either of these people, and I’m not saying I agree or disagree, just making a point):

Slay that sugar dragon! #whole30

A post shared by Clean Eating Fit Mama (@clean.eating.fit.mama) on

Translated it for ya by @drcolleenreichmann 🙂 – If you had a diet culture translator, what would you learn? . Because so much of diet culture is disguised in weird moral terms, sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s what. . Know this: “clean eating” is a dressed up term for fad diet. . The underlying message is the same as any other old diet: that certain foods are BAD, we shouldn't trust our bodies, our bodies are THE THING TO FOCUS ON, and, most importantly, weight loss is the golden fountain of happiness. . Instead of following the fads, tell diet culture to take a hike. Your body is smart. Food is neither our savior nor our devastator. And life should be lived in color 🎨 free from "clean" (*cough-restriction-cough*) eating

A post shared by dietitiananna (@dietitiananna) on

(One comment under this last one literally just said: “Preach!”)

You can see how this is starting to take on a religious tone.  Food is a very intimate thing. It’s something we put into our bodies everyday.  People use it in all kinds of ways: for health, for pleasure, for blocking uncomfortable emotions, for showing love, for entertaining, for connection, for showing thanks, for fuel, for surviving and for thriving.  The list goes on. So it only makes sense that such an important, intimate thing as food is near and dear to our heart.

But what happens when we take our own unique experience and extrapolate that to the entire rest of the world that this is the way it must be – for everyone.  Disagreement means ignorance, stupidity or even evil on the part of the disagreeing party.

Here are some examples of how this happens every day:

  1. Someone is ashamed about weight from a young age and starts dieting.  An eating disorder develops and fear of food wrecks this person’s life.  They enter recover and learn to love themselves again and understand all foods can fit.  They learn that for them, a restrictive diet is not healthy at that time. But then they start to get offended by anyone else limiting their own diet and start shaming in turn those who follow a different way of eating than they do.
  2. Someone has an abundance of irritating symptoms that doctors aren’t taking seriously or acknowledging are connected.  The symptoms get worse until life becomes debilitating and a chore to get through. They learn about a way of eating that has helped others.  They give it a shot. It’s restrictive, but the symptoms start to clear up and they feel better and healthier than they have in years. They found a way of eating that works for them at that time.  But then they start telling all their friends who have no symptoms about how they also need to try this way of eating as it will change their life. They start to feel a sense of superiority over those not eating the same way, because what type of person wouldn’t want to feel their best?

There are hundreds of examples different yet very similar to these.  People assume that what works for me, must work for everyone else, end of story.  It’s easier to think this way. 

If we acknowledge all the ways we’re different - our biology, our preferences, our experiences, our beliefs about what’s important in life - if we acknowledge all these differences there’s no longer a simple blueprint we can follow… Click To Tweet

Dividing ourselves into different camps based on how we view the world is very human.  It seems our psychologies are built to do that very thing. It comes from an ancient way to better our chances of survival.  Like-minded people band together and everyone outside that becomes the enemy, or at least someone to be weary of. This might have worked for our cave-dwelling ancestors, but what does it really do for us today?  

Instead of keeping us safe, it tends to close off our minds and shut down learning.  While it creates bonds among those who think the same way, it’s a bond strengthened by alienating others.  My own belief is that we have so much to learn from each other. That all our experiences are valid and contribute to our understanding of the whole fascinating puzzle that is our body and psyche.

Here are some final thoughts to be aware of to ensure diet doesn’t become religion:

  • When someone says their way is the best and only way of doing food “right” beware.  It’s tempting and even comforting to believe them, because we all want answers. But the truth is, no one can be 100% sure what will work for you.  Only you have the best shot of getting close.
  • If you find a way of eating that works for you – great!  Celebrate that. But be aware that way will not be right for everyone.  Don’t persuade others to do the same unless they ask you.
  • If other people eat in a way you never would, that’s okay.  Let them. It’s their body, their choice. Don’t let it trigger you or make you feel superior/inferior.  We’re all still equals here, no matter what you eat.
  • You are responsible for your way of eating.  That’s it. If you have kids, you’re responsible for setting your own limits and rules with them, but beyond that, you’re only responsible for yourself.  Others are responsible for themselves.

Now, go forth and eat in a way that supports your life and what you want it to be!

Please, share in the comments your experiences of Diet as Religion!

2 thoughts on “Beware: Is Your Diet Your Religion?”

  1. Great article (although I have to admit being tempted to second the “preach!” reply to those points about clean eating. ANY ideology though when taken to fundamentalist extremes becomes unhealthy.

    1. Yes, and I think it’s also being okay with differing view points than our own. It’s so easy to believe that if it’s right for us, it’s right for everyone! Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

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