As a society, we’re often fixated on perfection, especially concerning our bodies. In some ways, this can seem bizarre because what is the ‘perfect’ body?
In 2022, more than half (52%) of Food and Health Survey participants said they followed a specific diet or eating habit. These participants’ primary motivations for their diets were wanting to lead healthier lifestyles and weight loss.
If you want to set diet-related goals for 2023, consider how you approach them. “Diets can be restrictive,” says Kianesha Renee Dreher, a registered dietician in Champions Gate, Florida. She says most diets focus on restricting certain foods to lose weight.
She adds that diets can make us focus too much on the scale and restrict our eating. “In many cases, not only will the weight come back, your body may become deficient in vital nutrients.”
Continuously restricting yourself can lead to yoyo dieting, when you constantly lose and gain weight. If you’ve been in this boat before, you know watching your weight go up and down on the scale can trigger feelings of guilt, shame insecurity. In some cases, it can also lead to eating disorders.
“Disordered eating looks different for everyone. Black women can have eating disorders and may not even be aware of this. If it’s not identified because of lack of awareness, we are failing ourselves, and it becomes an endless cycle,” says Dreher.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, women of color are more vulnerable to eating disorders because of the traumas they endure. Black women are less likely to receive help for their eating disorders. This could be partly because of stigmas and stereotypes about eating disorders. There is often an assumption that this isn’t something that happens in the Black community.
While everyone deserves to feel confident in their skin, you can reach your goals without doing crash diets or restricting yourself. Choosing an approach that is both good for your body and your mental health is ideal.
Diet culture can significantly impact Black women as we are often held hostage to unrealistic beauty standards.
“Many of us Black women can relate to self-esteem and the desire to alter how we look due to societal standards,” says Dreher. “So many have suffered complications or have died from various cosmetic surgeries because of the diet culture. This culture makes it hard to be comfortable in our skin because we want fast results.”
If you’re following body trends, you may notice that the Brazilian butt lift is reigning right now in the Black community. While they may give women the ‘figure eight’ they desire, BBLs can be deadly. A 2017 report by the Aesthetic Surgery Education and Research Foundation in Aesthetic Surgery Journal found BBLs had had the highest death rate of any cosmetic surgery in the United States. The report also found that 3% of patients died after a BBL, and the cause was typically a fat embolism–when fat droplets enter your bloodstream through some of your blood vessels.
Instead of thinking of diets as a way to deprive yourself of getting quick results, aim to make long-term lifestyle changes. You only get one body to live in for the duration of your life, so it may be healthier to commit to that body. A commitment that comprises gentleness, self-care, and pleasure as it relates to food.
“Let’s think of healthy lifestyle changes we can implement such as adding more veggies, portion control, packing lunch for work, or exercising,” says Dreher.
Research shows the types of vegetables you consume matter too–starchy veggies like potatoes, corn, and peas are associated with weight gain. On the other hand, berries, apples, pears, and cauliflower can facilitate weight loss. Portion control can be a healthier approach to dieting as it’s a way to eat still the foods you love. According to a study cited in Consumer Reports, normalizing your portions could reduce calorie intake by about 527 calories a day.
The point is not to set dietary goals restricting what you eat this year, as food is meant to be enjoyed.
“No food is off limits, and all foods fit,” says Dreher. “We must figure out how they fit by planning.”
One approach she recommends is meal planning. Decide what you want to eat for the week and then buy the groceries to prepare those meals. You may also keep your favorite foods and switch some out with healthier alternatives. If you’re a white rice lover, explore brown rice brands until you find one you like. The most important thing is to remember that you’ll have a lifelong relationship with food, so make it a good one.