Diets and their Misconceptions

Victoria’s Secret model Romee Strijd eats avocado toast for breakfast. Olympic gold-medalist Dalilah Muhammad eats pancakes the morning before a race. Simone Biles eats protein waffles and fruit. I eat oatmeal. Point is, everyone feeds differently and craves different foods at the start of their day. We take these examples of models, social media influencers, athletes, and even our peers, and use them to determine what we put on our plate and how we treat our bodies. We’re surrounded by images of people who we want to look like--six-pack abs, a thin waist, a butt, skinny thighs. We’re plagued with the misconception that if only we behave like our ideal images and examples, we might end up looking like them. 

What people ignore, however, is how we feel internally. We misjudge what our bodies actually need versus what we think they need.You might’ve tried severely cutting calories in the hopes of slimming down, but sat at your desk with your stomach growling for hours, refusing to allow yourself to eat even a bite. You might have tried running 11 miles every day to get smaller thighs or reduce cellulite, running through aches and pains and all sorts of feelings that should only stand out as red flags. Why do we put ourselves through such strain and restriction for a certain image when we feel terribly inside all the while?

I sat down with Natasha Feschbach (‘22), owner of food and feminism-centered instagram @fwordsonly to discuss popular misconceptions and how society’s image of “health” has evolved to something that is, frankly, becoming “unhealthy”. Natasha grew up in a household characterized by nutritious, wholesome foods, due to the fact that her mom was a certified nutritionist. This healthy, though unrestrained, lifestyle, was ingrained into her from the start and Yale has been no reason to stop. Her instagram handle, @fwordsonly, illustrates her commitment to this lifestyle, but also a commitment to herself and her body. Her passion for nutrition and cooking, in conjunction with a high-saliency and understanding of how to treat her body, sheds light on many of the issues with pop-culture nutrition and dieting outlooks. With her expertise and my own interest in nutrition, we sat down to discuss many of our observations about how society currently views food.

We observed how problematic it is to label foods. In other words, why do we call certain foods “healthy” or “good”, and others “unhealthy” or “bad” under all circumstances? As soon as we label foods, we are restricting foods we can eat. As soon as we prohibit certain foods, we crave them even more. We’ve been taught that sugar is bad, that fat is bad, and even that carbs are bad. Does that mean fruit is unhealthy? Yogurt? Bread? Little do people know, that each of these nutrients has incredible value. Carbohydrates provide us with energy. Low-fat foods are full of unnatural products while full-fat foods aren’t. Fruit provides our bodies with essential vitamins. As soon as we pick up this mentality of deprivation and restriction, we set ourselves up for physically and mentally exhausting diets that often end in binges on such “bad” foods. While we have to recognize that some foods are healthier than others, Natasha and I agreed that it is better to have the goal of eating “whole” foods, which are natural and good for our bodies, so as to avoid the concepts of “healthy” and “unhealthy” altogether. 

When people qualify foods as “healthy” and others as “unhealthy,” many of those healthy foods become discredited as not being as enjoyable as unhealthy foods. This is yet another misconception in which healthy foods are considered to be less-fulfilling--that we will never crave them like we crave a cookie. Natasha and I, however, joked about how I entered Yale with the strong affirmation that I did not like salad, no exceptions--all salad was off-limits. But today, we sit discussing modern-day diet-culture with full plates of salad in front of both of us. I actually crave big, filling salads quite often. Once we learn to treat healthy and unhealthy foods just as “food,” we can categorize them the same and train our minds to crave them the same. I admit, it takes some time to determine what we like and how we can doctor up vegetables to suit our fancies, but it is very possible. All it takes is some devotion and openness to being open to new flavors and cooking possibilities.

I know, I know, here I am raving on and on about salads. Salads get a bad rap because they are often considered low-calorie, low-fat, low-carb options that people eat to help lose weight. This brings me to another problem we see in today’s dieting culture--that of dieting. Cutting calories, frankly, doesn’t always work. When we overly cut calories, we end up starving ourselves, causing our bodies to produce more fat, in the end. It becomes an endless cycle of standstill weight and body image. We are obsessed with quantity over quality. We feel the need to plan our our every meal and analyze the nutrition cards above dining hall foods to see how many calories are in them. My advice: stop focusing on the calories--they don’t mean everything and so many low-calorie foods aren’t actually fueling our bodies with the proper macronutrients and minerals we need. Focus on finding your sweet-spot with foods, eating until you feel satisfied but not overly full, satiating your sweet tooth for the day how you feel best, knowing about how much fat, carbs, and protein you should be eating and mapping that out on your plate without actually doing any calculating. Feel confident about what you put in your body and you body will return the favor and feel (and, often, look) much better for it.

All of these misconceptions about how we should be eating boil down to the common misconception that all bodies are created equally. What works for someone else, might not work for you. Just because your friend does intermittent fasting and is skinny, does not mean you should do it too. Because men are using the keto diet to burn fat doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. There are too many variables to consider--genetics, body type, hormones, food allergies and sensitivities--for distinct conclusions to be drawn relating to these dieting trends. The only thing you can do is discover what makes you feel good. Don’t compare your dinner plate to the one next to you. Don’t compare how much weight you’re lifting in the gym or how many miles you can run to the person next to you. Don’t compare your scale weight to that of yesterday. There are so many components related to dieting and nutrition that can be improved in today’s competitive climate, but the great thing about modern-day nutrition is that it is so diverse. New and appealing products come out every day that just might suit the diet you need to achieve your goals. We no longer have parents cooking our meals every night, so we have the opportunity to try new foods on our own terms. Yale, fortunately, facilitates this culture with a diverse array of dining hall options catering to all diets. It’s time we take control of our bodies and and really think about what makes us feel healthy inside, regardless of what a label might say.