Having worked on the front lines at an advertising agency for over 8 years, I'm here to tell you that everything the diet industry is marketing to you is a bunch of BS. Today I saw an ad on social media for the "secret to six pack abs". The word choice here is carefully designed. It's intended to give you pause, against all your rational judgment. There's a secret? All this time...if only I had known! Give me the key! Show me the way! You know there is not a secret. But you want to believe it just badly enough to give it a whirl.
If there is one secret the fitness and diet industries are keeping from you it's that not everyone can have a six pack. I'm talking biologically. Straight up genetics have a big part in dictating whether or not you have a six pack. I'm not suggesting that nutrition and exercise don't directly impact your body. Of course they do. But I am suggesting that I could do the same exact workouts and eat exactly what Jenna Dewan Tatum eats and I still will not look like her.
There is something unique about the nutrition/diet industry that works to the advantage of marketers. Its confusing as all hell.
*Fat is bad, don't eat it...Fat is critical to a healthy diet.
*Salt causes heart disease. Don't worry about salt. It's sugar that's making you fat and sick.
*The healthiest people are vegan...PALEO, baby! Paleo!
Saying that it's hard to keep up would be a colossal understatement. The fact is that nutrition is a younger science and you can expect for conflicting theories to continue for some time. The good news is that doesn't mean you need to throw your hands up and give up entirely (I know, for a second there you got all excited that I was going to tell you to tweet @Dominos.) It does mean, however, that it's all the more helpful to be able to weed out the noise and simplify things.
Don't forget that both food and fitness are big business, driven by sales. It's nice to think that your health and wellness are these companies' top priorities, but the bottom line is...their bottom lines. Food corporations have special interest groups that lobby on their behalf, meaning they are highly influential in politics and directly impact how much you pay for a product, how it's labeled, and how it's marketed. So while the diet industry is making you scared of (gasp!) bread, it's also telling you that those pre-packaged gluten free, dairy free, sugar free cookies are "all natural" and totally healthy! OK, I'm calling Bull on that one!
My point is not that we should wage war on the advertising industry - how we hold these companies more accountable is a complicated topic for another day; it's just a reminder that we should be extra weary of what we're being told and being sold when it comes to our health. So to help combat the confusing nature of nutrition combined with the emotional manipulation inherent to advertising, here are five pretty basic tools for weeding out the BS:
- If it's labeled as "natural", it might not be. When was the last time you saw broccoli being marketed as "all natural"?
- Labels like gluten free or dairy free don't necessarily = healthy. If you have experimented with your diet and learned that you have a sensitivity to something and it doesn't agree with you, then absolutely cut it out, or cut back on it. But that doesn't mean that gluten free junk food isn't exactly that...junk food.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If there was really a secret to six pack abs, don't you think someone would have spilled the beans by now? Brands don't sell waist trainers by reminding you that every one is built differently and optimal health looks different on everyone.
- Just because Oprah endorses it, doesn't mean it's any different than any other diet. I may get some flack for this one but I feel strongly about it. Don't get me wrong...of course I have great respect and admiration for Oprah. Who doesn't? And it's not that I have anything against Weight Watchers in particular. It's just that...Weight Watchers is still a diet and diets do not work for the long term. It's not teaching you how to listen to your body and eat mindfully. It's teaching you that certain foods have certain values. While it may help some people better understand portion control, if you are someone that has chronically struggled with weight loss and food addiction (like Oprah openly has), portion control is probably not something you need to be educated on. It's much more likely that you are stuck in a cycle of assigning judgment to yourself based on what you eat, which, in turn, leads you to reward and/or punish yourself with food or lack of food. Counting points instead of calories doesn't change that.
- If you are working to add more vegetables (especially green ones) and cut back on processed foods, you are moving in the right direction. Try to pick the highest quality ingredients, whether its chicken or chocolate. Water should make up the majority of your beverage choices. And that pretty much covers the basics. Neither Vegan nor Paleo is a better choice. You need to find the better choice for you.
Loving and taking care of your body isn't easy. But it also doesn't need to be complicated. To get more content from The Sustainable Body Project and participate in engaging, supportive discussions on topics of health, nutrition, body image and more, join us on Facebook.
Bio: After years of battling and recovering from her own eating disorders, Emily Light founded The Sustainable Body Project. A Certified Health Coach, Emily specializes in how to break free from a lifetime of chronic dieting to find peace around food in a body you love.