Nutrition experts flabbergasted by ‘diet culture’

From social media to pop culture, research shows millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, may be overly influenced by physical looks and negative stereotypes. Researchers have found a strong association between social media and young people’s body image, which can have toxic results.

Jessika Brown, Director of Nutritional Services at DietitiansABQ, said she sees patients of all ages but millennials stand out. She said their views about weight and health can be distorted by the information they access. Brown said the luxury of a limitless ability to research online can be troubling rather than helpful.

“They either don’t come in, or they come in with these thoughts already: ‘You can’t have any gluten, right?’ I spend most of the appointment trying to open their mind to not all the information they have is accurate,” Brown said.

With a plethora of blogs, studies and diet plans, Brown said, millennials become afraid of gaining weight. This mindset causes one to fall off track and lose control of building and implementing healthy habits.

“I think they’re so bombarded with information online about what to do, what to eat and what not to eat, that they’ve lost complete touch with their bodies,” Brown said. “Because America has waged war on obesity, there’s a lot of fear that millennials have about becoming overweight.”

Yilan Yu, a senior at UNM, said she noticed during her junior year of college that she had gained “the freshman 15,” the weight gain some students experience during their first year of college. The weight gain is typically attributed to eating what’s convenient for them and their schedule as they grow accustomed to the lifestyle of a college student.

After her pants weren’t fitting like they used to, Yu started to dislike the way she looked in the mirror. However, her first attempts to lose weight did not turn out how she wanted.

“Before I started losing weight, I told myself, ‘I’m going to go on a diet.’ That didn’t last a week. I found myself binge eating all the stuff I cut out,” Yu said. “I needed a constant diet, so I looked up intermittent fasting.”

Intermittent fasting is a type of interval diet that cycles between eating and fasting. The diet focuses on when to eat, not so much what to eat.

According to research, social media is where the most vulnerable users can be found comparing themselves to others. Utilizing social media as a way to receive instant gratification, users look to seek body image approval from their peers.

Brown said she looks beyond the size of someone’s body.

“There are a lot of what I think social media would call fat, but people that are really healthy — they’re actually quite healthy humans,” Brown said.

Brown finds that many millennials think the worst thing someone can be is overweight.

“That does way more harm than good,” she said.

Brown’s area of expertise goes beyond weight management, bleeding into one’s daily lifestyle. “I work more with people on body acceptance, being comfortable with their body and changing their food patterns to improve energy in the body they have,” Brown said. Photo by Elaina Jameson / NM News Port

Victory to Brown is when a client begins to love their body.

“I find so much joy in helping people live in their body where they are at and enjoy it. Go for the job promotion, do the public speaking — even though they’re in the size they don’t necessarily want to be in,” Brown said. “I think that’s my biggest success far more than any weight loss.”

UNM’s Student Health and Counseling Center’s Clinical Nutritionist, Amanda Hurford, RDN, LD, said a sensible diet is “a diet that is rich in unrefined plants — fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, seeds and limited in animal products, processed oils and sugar.”

When consuming animal products, Hurford advises against consuming starches with meat. “Meat causes insulin resistance which is compounded if you consume starch with the meat,” Hurford said.

A nutrient crucial to superior health is one people often overlook, Hurford said.

“Fiber is extremely important and most people have a deficiency. The recommended [amount] is 25 grams for females and 38 grams for males. The average intake is 12 grams,” Hurford said.

Hurford said heme iron is nutrient people should avoid, found in fish, meat and poultry.

“The iron source is found in animal products. Heme iron can act as a pro-oxidant contributing to the development of cardiovascular disease by oxidizing cholesterol with free radicals,” Hurford said.

Moreover, consuming too much heme iron leads to larger health issues, negatively affecting the heart on a daily basis depending on one’s diet.

Yu said someone who wishes to lose weight should be in tune with their body to avoid losing touch and falling off the rail of the weight loss train. “With trying to change how you are as a person physically, it actually takes a lot of time,” Yu said. Photo by Elaina Jameson / NM News Port

“The risk has been quantified as a 27 percent increase in coronary heart disease risk for every one milligram of heme iron consumed daily,” Hurford said.

Weight loss goes beyond diet as exercising has a large impact on the body as well.

“There’s a lot that goes into it [weight loss]. I don’t think it’s just as simple as calories in, calories out,” Brown said. “Your exercise patterns have just as big of a role as your food patterns — that’s going to determine how much metabolically active tissue you have. If you have more muscle, you’re more metabolically active.”

Eating disorders stem from diets and are paired with stigmas created by society, which has impacted millennials’ view on food. Brown said she sees clients who assume random foods are unhealthy such as bananas and cashews.

If social media continues to share an overwhelming amount of information about dieting and weight maintenance, Brown said people will continue to carry eating disorders with them.

“I think millennials have a very disordered relationship with food. There are pieces of research floating around on the internet mixed with our diet culture, praising the thin ideal. People then chase after it — especially millennials,” Brown said. “You can be anything, but you can’t be fat,” Brown said, adding context on how society speaks to millennials.

Brown defines diet culture, a term frequently used at DietitiansABQ, as the “constant pressure to not be fat.”

For Hurford, modifying one’s dietary regime has more deciding factors than just age.

“I don’t give that much of a different diet plan for people. It usually depends on their preferences, food sensitivities, digestive issues, level of physical activity and calorie needs,” Hurford said.

Brown’s field of expertise does not zero in on one medical condition and neither does her working style.

“I don’t treat obesity because I don’t think obesity is the problem — I think it’s the stuff around it and that’s cross-generational. I believe so strongly in treating the issues, not the weight. The evaluation of obesity needs to be changed,” Brown said.

From Yu’s experience, the American lifestyle has led the country to a heavier nation.

“Everyone wants everything so quick on the spot, especially with food. People are so busy with their everyday routine that they forget how important it is to be healthy,” Yu said.

Yu said people’s preferences and lifestyles are not identical. Therefore, approaches to weight loss vary.

“Some people really do enjoy exercising, running and going to the gym. If that’s how you are, focus on that. Be confident in yourself and have a really good mindset,” Yu said.

Elaina Jameson is a reporter for the NM News Port — contact on Twitter @elainatherprtr