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Navigating Diet Culture

The truth is that every nutritional approach works for someone, but no one approach works for everyone.

Young woman looking unhappily at a salad

By definition, the word “diet” means the kinds of food that a person habitually eats. However, for many of us, that word takes on a variety of meanings, and most of them are not positive. On social media, some influencers often push dieting practices without a scientific basis, with their perception being, “I eat this way. Look at me. You should eat this way too.” The truth is that every nutritional approach works for someone, but no one approach works for everyone.

How early are we taught healthy eating?

Learning about nutrition can start at a young age. Confusion about healthy eating reminds me of a recent exchange with my 3-year-old daughter. I gave her an apple as a snack and out of nowhere she said, “Daddy, apples are a thumbs up.” I was surprised to learn her daycare had started to teach nutrition already. I probed further and asked, “What about broccoli?” which she quickly replied, “Thumbs up!” I was impressed, until I asked about one more item. “What about cupcakes?” Interestingly, she replied, “Thumbs down,” even though anyone who has ever enjoyed a cupcake would tell you cupcakes are “Two thumbs up.”

What is healthy eating?

Healthy eating is a pattern of food selections that provides your body with the best balance of available nutrients to maintain or improve physical and mental well-being. Maybe that food selection is ice cream, or an avocado, or maybe avocado ice cream. Food choices should be celebrated and not vilified. Any approach to eating that begins to classify foods as good or bad, or when you should or should not eat, or discusses how long you would have to exercise to burn off the calories is not going to be a sustainable approach for physical and mental well-being.

How can I best approach healthy eating?

Oftentimes, an intuitive approach to eating is a good place to start. Intuitive eating is a paradigm devoid of rigid rules and more consistent with self-care. Asking yourself what food choices will help you feel the best in your body can guide decision-making without damaging your relationship with food.

Once you understand what foods will truly help you feel your best, another question to ask yourself is if your definition of health is only dependent on a number on the scale. Using a weight-neutral approach can help you focus on other health-promoting behaviors like getting restful sleep or finding enjoyable ways to stay active. Additionally, once you begin to realize that body representations in media are not representative of you as an individual, you should curate your social media feeds and remove those people that make you feel differently about who you are as a person.

If you have questions on how certain food choices affect your blood pressure, cholesterol or other aspects of your health, talk to a registered dietitian, as they are trained to provide individualized guidance on diets. While you are at it, look in the mirror and give yourself two thumbs up, too.

To discuss your overall health, schedule an appointment at one of UF Health Jacksonville’s primary care centers by calling 904-633-0411 or visiting

About the author

For the media

Media contact

Dan Leveton
Media Relations Manager (904) 244-3268