Every New Year, a familiar ritual unfolds. As millions worldwide pledge to shed those extra pounds, they unwittingly step onto the treadmill of diet culture. And, as you may know, it’s a relentless pursuit promising the allure of self-acceptance and happiness.
But what if the real path to well-being isn’t paved with restrictions and self-deprivation? What if the true journey involves stepping off this treadmill, embracing body positivity, and reclaiming food freedom?
This is where the anti-diet culture steps in.
Instead of waging an exhausting battle against the body, this paradigm-shifting perspective offers a welcome reprieve. It appeals to those who are exhausted by the constant dieting cycle and yearn for an escape.
“Your health is far more up to you than it is to your doctor,” says Eric Edmeades, founder of WILDFIT and trainer of the Mindvalley Quest with the same name. And the anti-diet culture is your catalyst for this self-empowerment.
What is Anti-Diet Culture?
The anti-diet culture is a breath of fresh air in a world fixated on cookie-cutter body standards. It thumbs its nose at strict diet rules and calls for a paradigm shift—one that promotes how you see yourself and how you see food.
Chances are, you’re probably aware of the anti-diet culture trend. For instance:
- “Body positivity is for everyone. Every race, age, gender, and body type. It’s inclusive for all, so join the party.” — Notoriously Dapper (a.k.a., Kelvin Davis), body-positive male model and style blogger
- “It takes time and patience to unlearn years of dieting and to fully embrace and respect your body.” — Erica Leon, intuitive eating counselor and owner of Erica Leon Nutrition
- “There’s this beautiful thing that happens when you give up diet culture: You finally have the space to learn more about yourself.” — Melissa Carmona, counselor
These anti-diet culture quotes provide only a small glimpse of this movement.
This is the time for giving your body the things that it really needs. It needs really good nutrition. It needs a variety of fruits, fresh vegetables. It needs good, healthy fats and proteins. It also needs really good hydration. It needs to rest. It needs sunlight, and it needs fresh air. And it needs love and support.— Eric Edmeades, trainer of Mindvalley’s WILDFIT Quest
The essence of this culture is to break you free from the cycle of dieting and guilt. And the result? Absolute food freedom.
So food is no longer the enemy. Rather, it’s viewed as a source of nourishment and joy.
After all, the word “diet” itself is not what we now know it as—a “solution” to weight gain. The etymology of it actually means “way of life.”
Intuitive eating and anti-diet culture
Intuitive eating and the anti-diet culture are two sides of the same coin. Both reject the notion that health and happiness hinge on our ability to manipulate our bodies into an arbitrary “ideal” shape or size. But what exactly does intuitive eating entail?
- It’s about trusting your body to know when it’s hungry, what it wants to eat, and when it’s had enough,
- The concept of “cheat days” and the guilt associated with them are discarded, and
- Mindfulness is encouraged, asking you to pay attention to how different foods make your body feel.
In a 2013 literature review, researchers looked into the link between intuitive eating and various health markers. What they found was pretty cool: eating instinctually can help keep your weight stable, lift your mood, and might even be good for physical stuff like blood pressure and cholesterol.
This anti-diet culture trend might sound revolutionary. But in fact, it’s the most natural way to eat.
For example, you were most likely an intuitive eater when you were young. You ate when you were hungry, stopped when you were full, and didn’t attach moral values to food.
Somewhere along the way, societal pressure, diet culture, and external judgment cloud this instinct. Relearning intuitive eating is about dusting off these layers of conditioning and rediscovering your body’s innate wisdom.
The beauty of intuitive eating lies in its simplicity and flexibility. It’s not a one-size-fits-all diet, but a personalized journey that respects your unique dietary needs, preferences, and lifestyle. And this non-diet approach to health empowers you to make peace with food and your body, fostering a more holistic sense of well-being.
How Did the Dieting Mentality Start?
Our preoccupation with dieting didn’t materialize out of thin air. It has deep roots, entwined with the growth of industrialization, advancements in science, and evolving societal norms.
As life became more sedentary and calorie-dense processed foods became more accessible, concerns over weight gain began to emerge. The food industry, quick to spot an opportunity, started marketing low-calorie, “light” versions of popular foods, thereby planting the seeds of diet culture.
[The food industry] has changed the very nature of food and turned it into non-food—addictive, nutrient-empty non-food. And then they’ve created really powerful marketing campaigns to take away your sense of choice.— Eric Edmeades, trainer of Mindvalley’s WILDFIT Quest
With increasing research linking obesity to various health issues, a thin body soon became synonymous not just with attractiveness but with health and moral virtue.
Fad diets started flooding the market, becoming a staple in pretty much every glossy magazine (or, for today’s generation, social media posts). From the Cabbage Soup diet to the Keto and Paleo regimes, each claims to have cracked the code to perfect health and weight loss. And with celebrities endorsing these diets and sharing their “before and after” pictures, the dieting mentality took a firm hold on society.
Interestingly, even as diets grew in popularity, so did the average body size. It led to the perpetuation of a cycle of dieting, weight regain, guilt, and another attempt at dieting—a vicious circle aptly called the “yo-yo effect.” This persistent struggle gave birth to a new question: “Is there something fundamentally flawed with diet culture?”
The reality is, the weight loss and diet industry has thrived on our debilitating desire to look good. But are diets good for you? Do they even work? Or is serial dieting an eating disorder of its own?
What Is Wrong With the Diet Culture?
Diet culture, despite its attractive promises, has some straight-up issues that contribute to its ultimate ineffectiveness and potential harm.
For starters, it cultivates an unhealthy relationship with food, often putting it into “good” and “bad” categories. And this, then, leads to feelings of guilt and fear around eating.
What’s more, the diet culture also overlooks the fact that bodies naturally come in different shapes and sizes, fostering body dissatisfaction and promoting an impossible ideal. This fuels the dieting cycle and contributes to a rise in eating disorders, anxiety, and depression.
“Many people feel like what they’re supposed to do is arrive at this perfect weight and just stay at that weight all year ‘round,” says Eric. But the thing is, our bodies have evolved to respond to nature and its seasons.
“And you need to imagine that our bodies would have had seasons,” Eric adds, “where we gained fat and seasons where we lost fat.”
Even research shows that “more than half of the lost weight was regained within two years, and by five years, more than 80% of the lost weight was regained.” And it’s this “yo-yo dieting” that can cause serious harm to both physical and psychological health.
Knowing these traps helps you break free from the dieting mindset. And embracing the anti-diet culture becomes the next vital phase in your journey to food freedom.
How to Live the Anti-Diet Life and Be Healthy: 5 Tips From Eric Edmeades
Embracing the anti-diet culture can feel intimidating, particularly if years of diet mentality have shaped your approach to food and body image. So how do you chart this new territory?
Taking some of Eric’s transformative insights from his Mindvalley Quest, let’s get into how you can live a healthier and happier life without the constraints of traditional dieting.
1. Embrace food freedom
Food should not be a source of stress, guilt, or confusion. Instead, it should be a joyful part of our lives—and food freedom gives you this.
“Food freedom is the ability for you to eat what you want, when you want, as much as you want without feeling guilt about it,” Eric explains. “But it’s also the freedom to not eat what you wish you wouldn’t eat without any sense of regret.”
So out with the rigid diets and stringent rules. Instead, food freedom allows you to reconnect with your body’s innate wisdom. And when you’re at one with it, it empowers you to make your own decisions based on what it needs and desires.
Tip from Eric Edmeades: “I want you to start paying attention to the way you talk to yourself about food… I also want you to pay attention to the way food makes you feel.” The fact of the matter is, your body knows what it needs to thrive. Whether it’s craving protein, wanting some form of dairy, or signaling it’s full, these cues are worth paying attention to.
2. Explore intuitive eating
As mentioned, intuitive eating is a significant part of food freedom and, therefore, a huge part of the anti-diet culture. It isn’t a weight-loss plan or a diet in disguise; rather, it allows you to stop eating mindlessly.
“If you’re automatically eating, then your body is not so aware you’re eating,” Eric explains, “and you might find yourself overeating.”
So tune into your body’s hunger and fullness cues by honoring your cravings and eating foods that make you feel good. It’s about giving yourself unconditional permission to eat and finding satisfaction in your meals.
Tip from Eric Edmeades: “What I want to explain to you is that there are some very important distinctions about nutrition and about the human metabolism that I want to share with you that are really foundational to you improving your quality of life.
I also want to share with you that none of that will even matter if we don’t handle the mindset, if we don’t handle the food psychology, if we don’t handle and deframe the linkages that you created when you were four and six and eight. And we have to reframe and collapse those things and get you to a place where you are not running on autopilot, where you’ve pressed the button, and you have a genuine sense of freedom.”
3. Challenge the food police
One of the most significant steps in living an anti-diet life is to challenge the “food police” in your head. These internal voices chastise you for eating a piece of cake, praise you for choosing a salad over a sandwich, or tell you that you’re “being bad” for skipping a workout.
“The minute you believe in something,” says Eric, “it changes the way you see the world.”
To challenge these voices, start by noticing when they show up. Are they louder when you’re stressed or tired? What triggers them? Once you recognize these patterns, you can begin to question these voices. Are they based on facts or echo old, unhelpful beliefs about food and body size?
As you gain awareness, you’ll find it easier to tune out these voices and replace them with kinder, more supportive ones. This process may take time, but it’s a crucial step toward achieving food freedom and body acceptance.
Tip from Eric Edmeades: “I want you to start paying attention to the way you talk to yourself about food. Like, you may notice you have a little voice; it’s like:
‘Come on, we can have it.’
I really don’t think so; we’re on this new health program.
‘Yeah, but Eric said…
And then you’re going to eat it. But I want you to pay attention to that dialogue.”
4. Respect your body’s four seasons
According to Eric, humans, like all creatures, have a “natural diet” that varies according to the season. This theory aligns with the natural ebb and flow of food availability throughout the year, reminiscent of our hunter-gatherer ancestors’ diets.
There are four seasons in the human diet. There’s a time for fasting and detox (spring), a time for high activity and protein consumption (summer), a time for storing fat (fall), and a time for rest and rejuvenation (winter).
By understanding these seasonal changes, you can create a flexible eating pattern that honors your body’s changing needs. This approach promotes a more natural rhythm of eating without the need for calorie counting or portion control.
Tip from Eric Edmeades: “There’s nothing actually wrong with eating huge portions of food, depending on what the food is and what season you’re operating in. But what [WILDFIT] will definitely help you develop is an awareness that would be equivalent to, say, sort of portion control. Like, in other words, you will realize when you are full better than you ever have before, and that will cause you to not overeat or not binge.”
5. Understand food for your mood
Food has a significant impact on our moods, and vice versa. And understanding the links between your diet and your emotions can help you make more conscious, fulfilling food choices.
For instance, certain foods can trigger the release of “feel-good” chemicals in our brains. Chocolate, for instance, stimulates the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and serotonin, a mood stabilizer. That’s why we often crave chocolate when we’re feeling down.
“It’s not the food that makes you feel better,” Eric explains. “It’s the decision to eat it—it’s the rebellion, it’s the decision, [and] it’s the reward.”
By recognizing these patterns, you can choose the right food for your mood. If you’re aware that you often reach for a candy bar when you’re stressed, for example, you can find healthier ways to cope with stress.
Tip from Eric Edmeades: “There’s how you feel before you make the decision to eat the food, right? There’s an emotion right there… Then there’s how you feel after you decide to eat a non-functional food; that’s really interesting. What you’ll find very often is that the feeling that you’re hoping that food is going to give you doesn’t actually come from the food at all; it comes from the decision to eat it.”
The Sweet Taste of Freedom
Every small step you take towards food freedom and away from diet culture is a victory worth celebrating. You have the power to change your relationship with food and, in doing so, improve your health, happiness, and overall quality of life.
If you’re ready to take the next step in your journey toward food freedom, consider joining Mindvalley’s WILDFIT Masterclass with Eric Edmeades. This hour-long, 100% free workshop can equip you with the tools and support to step away from diet culture and foster a healthier, more joyful relationship with food.
Remember, it’s not about perfection, but progress. Take it from the over 20,000 students who’ve gone through the program, like this Mindvalley Member:
All my life, I have battled with extra weight, binge eating, extreme diets that made me lose the same 15 pounds, and most of all, a constant obsession with food, whether it was what to eat next or how I could lose weight. My mind was a constant battle, and it kept me from enjoying my life! …
Most importantly, I feel like I have a plan now. My relationship with food has changed completely, my mind is calm, and I am able to enjoy the moment without fear of gaining the weight back.— Cecilia Orvañanos, lactation consultant; Querétaro City, Mexico
Once you begin to understand why you make your food decisions the way you do, as Eric explains, you begin to take a step toward food freedom. No diets or exercise required.
Images generated on Midjourney except for the one of the Mindvalley trainer.