Alvarado: External Appearance is Not an Indicator of Internal Health


(The Daily Utah Chronicle Archives)

By Andrea Alvarado


There is a mistaken assumption that diets are inherently healthy. Even though a lifestyle change, such as a diet, might inspire people to incorporate beneficial habits in their daily lives, diets center on limiting the caloric consumption of individuals at all costs. The mentality of depriving oneself of certain foods has invaded the minds of women throughout generations to the extent that losing weight has become the most coveted achievement. Though our perception of what the ideal female body is continues to change as our culture evolves, the end results of dieting have remained constant. Diet culture revolves around the notion of external appearance as a reflection of internal health and weight as the primary factor that determines a person’s well-being.

Every new, popular and pseudo-revolutionary diet promises to be the absolute solution to every health issue. There are few discussions of the role genetics, environment, lifestyle or chronic illnesses might contribute to our size. According to many diets, health is entirely dependent on your weight. Consequently, losing weight is all you need in order to become the healthiest version of yourself. Sometimes there are mentions of supporting your new diet with exercise and sleep for optimal results, but the emphasis lies on restricting the portions and variety of food groups to an absurd extreme. Perhaps not all diets encourage people to drink solely juices for days on end with the purpose of “detoxifying” the body. Nevertheless, the majority of diets thrive on the conviction that depriving the body of nourishment is the healthiest choice possible.

(The Daily Utah Chronicle Archives)

Those that follow these diets regard the extreme restriction as a well-deserved punishment. Meanwhile, the ability to adhere to the diet and lose weight is perceived as a moral achievement resulting from willpower and discipline. The diet industry has drilled into our brains the notion of food consumption as a matter of morality. We have divided food into “good” and “bad,” which consequently becomes a reflection of the consumer. Limiting your consumption to “good” food is perceived morally superior, almost as a religious doctrine where it is sinful to succumb to temptation. Fats, carbs and sugars are the tools of the devil and those who are able to resist them are saints. Although there is plenty of medical evidence showcasing the risks behind the consumption of sugars and fats, diets only address the accumulation in the body of the “bad” food in terms of aesthetics. Beyond justifying diets as a preventive measure for the medical risks associated with obesity, diets are mainly centered on the promise of helping you achieve the “dream body.” Being heavier is therefore depicted as a failure of nerve rather than a health risk.

Diets might promise health, but they are only concerned with maintaining the illusion of it. The bodies we uphold as superior are presented as inherently healthy, despite diets depriving the body of essential nutrients and energy. Malnourished bodies are the incarnation of this moral superiority associated with asceticism. “Skinny” is portrayed as the optimal state of the human body. Therefore, the foundation of the dieting culture relies on the assumption of near starvation as a brave and healthy practice.

Our collective mentality has assumed that weight loss is inherently good for you, when in reality, it’s just a temporary fix that can harm your body in the long term. Diets that are structured on the premise of reducing calorie intake to the extreme in order to lose substantial weight are unsustainable. Most people who have lost an incredible amount of weight in a matter of months will likely gain it back sooner or later. Moreover, diets do not teach regular Americans about portion control and moderation as a better way to consume food. Diets thrive on self-punishment and the association of being overweight and self-indulgent. Laxatives and appetite suppressants are as harmful to the body as sugars and processed carbs — nevertheless, we have associated the weight loss resulting from these dangerous dieting tools as beneficial.

Diets are not the solution to the 40 percent of the adult population in the U.S. facing obesity. Weight loss as the absolute solution for overweight populations oversimplifies the problem. External appearance is not an absolute indicator of well-being, and health shouldn’t be limited to a certain size range. Rather than marking obesity as a moral failure, it is time to teach people how to eat. Food shouldn’t have a moral connotation — there is not “good” or “bad” food. There is a healthy and an unhealthy way to eat, but it is rooted in how certain foods are able to contribute to your overall well-being, while others are more likely to cause harm. The quantity and quality of food we consume is not a reflection of our values, but this increasing health issue indicates that a large portion of the population doesn’t know how to eat or the healthy food has become inaccessible to them. If we seek to fix the problem, we cannot regurgitate old solutions proven to be ineffective and demonize almost half of the population.

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