Why I'm Anti-Food Tribe

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I am anti-food tribe. What does that mean? I don’t choose any particular, specific diet for myself or for my clients. I feel like the nutrition world right now is kind of like…high school. I don’t know how high school was for you, but let me tell you how it was for me:

So there were all these “groups”. Like cliques, you could call them, but I think that word is rude so I’ll call them tribes. You had the cheerleaders, the football players, the basketball players, the cross country people (I thought they were the cool people – I wanted to be like them, but didn’t want to run..), we had the swimmers (that was me!), the band people, choir people, orchestra people, etc.

It was all divided up by what activities you participated in, and you had to kind of be a certain way to get into that group.

I feel like nutrition is a lot like that these days. We have all these ways of eating and all these diets, and you have to be a certain way to be in the club.

We have the vegetarians, the vegans, the paleo people, macrobiotic people, the raw foodists…all sorts of different ways of eating. And then there are all these diets: the Weight Watchers, the South Beachers, the Zone dieters.

Here’s the problem with that. You may have heard me talk about how I used to follow a vegan diet. I did that for about 3 years. I don’t like to say that I was vegan because that’s like…I was a certain religion or something, and it was just a way of eating for us.

But when I was following that diet, I super believed in it. The things that converted me to that diet are what kept me going. I thought that diet was truth. I was judgy about people who didn’t eat that way, and looking back I am embarrassed about it! I swore up and down that I would eat vegan forever.

Here I am, years later, not eating that way anymore.

What I learned is that diet is largely a big fat experiment. As it should be! The problem with committing to ne specific way of eating, and saying you’re going to eat that way for the rest of your life, is that it doesn’t always work that way physiologically.

A lot of the things that convert us to a certain way of eating are often moral things. For example, with veganism: Meat is bad. Drinking cow’s milk is bad. Not only for your health, but for the earth. So it goes beyond health and goes into right and wrong.

The problem comes when it stops working for you, like it did for me. I would say veganism worked for my body for about 2 years and the 3rd year I was struggling to hang onto it. In a way I felt like I was admitting defeat and throwing in the towel, but now I see that I was being wise and listening to my body wisdom, which was telling me that being vegan wasn’t working anymore. It wasn’t something morally wrong with me, and I wasn’t making a bad choice, but veganism stopped being the best choice for my body.

When we stake a claim in a diet, we are setting up camp and hanging our flag and saying “WE ARE PALEO AND THIS IS HOW WE EAT”. Essentially “We only eat raw food! Everyone who eats raw food is good and everyone who eats cooked food is bad!” It becomes a moral judgment.

Not only is that damaging to relationships with other people, but it’s not always the best thing for your body. Often I think that diets work therapeutically, which usually means they work short-term. That could mean a number of days, weeks, months, or in my case years. But then it didn’t work for me anymore and my body needed something different.

Just like we need different things in our lives (I love to rearrange my furniture, we know the benefits of switching up your exercise routine, etc.), our diet is the same way.

Sometimes it’s good to go on a juice cleanse and eliminate a lot of stuff from our diet! Other times juice cleanses lose their effectiveness if we do them too often or for too long. The same goes for cutting out grains, for instance, or meat. Sometimes we need that cleanse and switch up, but it doesn’t always work long term.

That is completely okay! And that is why I think it’s not good when people pledge allegiance to a certain diet and say they’re going to eat that way for the rest of their lives. Rather, it’s healthier physically and emotionally to approach diet from a place of experimentation. Think about how you can play with it, how you can improve, what you can change up in your diet that will help your body and be therapeutic for you.

Then really listen to your body and be aware of at what point the diet stops being helpful, or at what point you’re doing harm to your body as you cling to the moral beliefs you have developed through that diet.

 

Stephanie Webb