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Stephanie Gerson

Stephanie Gerson is an Art History student at UC Santa Barbara who is passionate about plant-based cooking, sustainability, and all things wellness. For vegan recipe ideas and intuitive eating content, you can find Stephanie on Instagram @stephliveshealthy.

Breaking Free From Diet Culture

While it’s harmful to so many, diet culture is almost possible to avoid these days. From social media to food packaging and exercise trends, diet culture can manifest itself in so many different forms. Diet culture’s presence in our lives is so profound that most people do not understand the severity of this harmful messaging. If you feel like diet culture controls your decisions and constantly incites feelings of shame and guilt, keep reading to learn how to detect and handle diet culture in everyday life. 

 

What Is Diet Culture?

Diet culture places weight loss on a pedestal, encouraging people to strive for thinness. Viewing weight loss as the only way to gain happiness and confidence creates significant issues. Ironically, those who fall subject to diet culture and partake in restrictive behaviors become more self-conscious and shameful. 

Companies and influencers tap into their audience’s insecurities by promising their customers certain results or feelings once they buy a weight loss product or a workout plan. The diet industry strives to generate the most revenue from selling images of thinness, even if it means destroying consumers’ self esteem. New ideal body types, styles of eating, and exercises overwhelm people, yet influence them to spend more money on ‘improving’ themselves.

 

How To Spot Diet Culture

Knowing some key phrases and words make it easier to detect diet culture in daily life. Companies recognize that many people who wish to lose weight or change their body want to see changes happen quickly. Content using phrases such as “lose weight fast” or “get a six pack in 10 days” should stand out as a red flag. It takes months to see changes in our bodies and any sort of drastic change that happens in a few days is not sustainable and most likely relies on unhealthy methods. Our society is so obsessed with losing weight that people will try almost anything, even if it involves following a regime based on restriction, to change their appearance. 

Demonizing or labeling certain food groups as ‘bad’ should be a warning sign. Diet culture moralizes types of foods and exercise, placing guilt upon people who consume or do certain things. While some foods are more nutritious than others, cutting out complete food groups is restrictive and harmful.

The promotion of detoxing and cleansing is another popular diet culture trend. Companies will attach ‘removes toxins’ or ‘cleanses your gut’ into the description of any product to attract customers and make them feel as if their bodies are impure or unhealthy. Detoxing is also seen as a method to lose weight quickly in an unsustainable way. Some people claim that detoxing improves their health, but in reality “detox diets rarely identify the specific toxins they’re claimed to remove, and evidence that they remove toxins at all is lacking” (3). Our bodies naturally remove toxins through methods including sweat and urine, meaning there is no need to go an extra step. 

 

How To Handle Diet Culture

It’s very difficult to walk into any store or scroll on social media without being confronted by weight loss ads and products. Seeing these images daily can decrease your self esteem and mood. Take a few days off of social media apps or find a daily limit for your social media use. Additionally, unfollow anyone online who makes you feel self conscious or shameful about your eating and/or exercise habits.

Talking with those around you and specialists can help you vocalize your feelings about diet culture’s impact on you. If there is someone in your life, whether that be a friend, sibling, or parent, that frequently talks about weight loss and dieting or comments on your physical appearance, notify them that this upsets you and find another topic to talk about. Consulting a doctor, registered dietitian, or therapist might also be beneficial if you are struggling from negative body image or confidence. 

Even if you feel that diet culture is controlling your life, there are so many ways to break free from it. Replace scrolling on Instagram and comparing yourself to others with enjoyable hobbies or activities. Discover support groups or groups in your neighborhood that aim to empower people and provide them with a sense of strength. Most importantly, remember that your physical appearance should be the least interesting thing about you; you are so much more than what your body looks like. 

 

Resources: 

  1. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/recognizing-and-resisting-diet-culture
  2. https://behavioralnutrition.org/what-is-diet-culture/ 
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/detox-diets-101#bottom-line 

 

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A Beginner’s Guide To Plant-Based Eating

plant-based

Over the past few years, plant-based diets have gained a lot of popularity. Plant-based diets  often have a lower carbon footprint than diets centered around animal products, can be less expensive, and result in many benefits towards your overall health. When transitioning to a diet centered around plants, many people are confused about what plant-based means and how to successfully follow this way of eating. Read more to learn about going plant-based and tips to help you on your journey!

 

Defining Plant Based

While the terms ‘vegan’ and ‘plant based’ are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference between the two. Vegan diets avoid all types of animal products including dairy, meat, and fish. Meanwhile, plant based diets are more flexible. People who follow a plant based diet center their meals around plant-derived ingredients, but “they may, occasionally, consume meat, fish, or dairy products” (1). Whether you decide to eat a fully vegan diet or a plant based diet, both ways of eating have several health benefits.

 

What are the Health Benefits of a Plant Based Diet?

Eating a diet based on plants often gets a negative reputation for being low in protein, B-12, iron, and other essential vitamins that the body needs to function. However, plant based diets can provide “all the necessary protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals for optimal health, and are often higher in fiber and phytonutrients” (2). Removing meat from your diet does not mean that your diet has to be low in protein. Beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds have adequate amounts of protein for anyone, even athletes. 

 

Additionally, it is common for vegans to take B-12 and iron supplements since plant based diets are often deficient in these nutrients. Find B-12 in certain non-dairy milks, nutritional yeast and other fortified products. Plant based sources of iron include spinach, dark chocolate, and beans (1). 

 

Before transitioning to a diet centered around plants, consult a medical professional to see if this way of eating is right for your body and lifestyle. 

 

Tip #1: Ease Into It 

When I first started my plant-based journey, I slowly started cooking more vegan meals during the week instead of immediately cutting out all animal products. I found it easy for me to make breakfast and lunch without any meat or dairy, but since I would cook dinner for my family, I usually had meat in the evenings. Slowly introducing more plant-based meals and ingredients is a great way to see if plant-based eating is something you enjoy. I have been lactose intolerant for my whole life, so I was already familiar with all the dairy-free options that were out there. For example, if you usually have an egg scramble for breakfast, try making a scramble with tofu crumbles and vegan cheese!

 

Tip #2: Look For Outside Inspiration

Another way to get into vegan cooking is to look for outside inspiration, especially if you feel like you’re having trouble with creating meals. Since most American food is based around meat and animal products, a lot of people don’t know how to cook meals without using meat as the main ingredient. Look for vegan or vegetarian blogs, social media accounts and cookbooks to provide you with recipes and product recommendations. There are two plant-based cookbooks that always have my back when I have no idea what to cook: Love To Cook It by Samah Dada and Love Real Food by Kathryn Taylor. Samah’s recipes are inspired by flavorful Indian dishes from her childhood. Meanwhile, Taylor’s book has everything to offer from comforting stews to delicious salads.  

 

Tip #3: Invite Your Friends To Join You

Starting your plant-based journey with friends can also make the experience easier and more enjoyable. A great way to bond with friends and try out vegan recipes is to gather some friends to cook a plant-based meal or dessert with you! Another option is to have a vegan potluck and challenge your friends or family make their favorite recipes without animal products! Additionally, since plant-based eating has gained a lot of traction in recent years, it’s easier than ever to find vegan options when eating out. Perhaps try a vegetarian or vegan restaurant in your neighborhood or browse the HappyCow app to find vegan restaurants in your area! After your meal, think about how you can recreate some of the dishes you ate at home. 

 

A lot of people think going vegan can be more expensive than eating animal products. While this can be true for certain specialty items like non-dairy milks, vegan cheeses, and non-dairy ice cream, dried beans and lentils or natural nut butters are inexpensive options that can be bought in bulk and won’t break the bank! 

 

Tip #4: Get Creative

Turn vegetables into delicious main dishes with the right preparation and seasoning. If you thought you couldn’t give up chicken wings, cauliflower has the perfect meaty texture to replace chicken! Find Jackfruit in canned form at the supermarket. It serves as a substitute for pulled pork or chicken. From tacos to sandwiches, jackfruit is a very versatile vegetable in vegan cooking! Look online for other vegetables that you can transform into delicious dishes. 

 

I also started to eat more grains since I went vegan. Grains including farro and quinoa are a great base for meals and can add some extra protein and fiber to plant-based recipes. Some other staple grains that I always have on hand include whole grain pasta, chickpea or lentil pasta, rice, and soba noodles. Pad thai, pesto pasta with veggies, and quinoa salads are all meals that I cook weekly.  

 

While I love being vegan for environmental reasons, health benefits, and animal rights, I don’t eat plant based 100% of the time. If I’m craving tuna, sushi or Greek yogurt, I will eat those foods. Eating a more plant-based diet does not mean that you have to strive for perfection and it should never feel restrictive. With all of the amazing alternative products, recipe inspiration, and restaurants that exist today, eating plant-based is now easier than it’s ever been.

 

Looking for some no-cook recipe ideas that incorporate some plant-based meals? Click here!

 

Resources

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326176
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-a-plant-based-diet-and-why-should-you-try-it-2018092614760

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A Complete List of Grocery Shopping Staples

grocery shopping

For many people, grocery shopping can feel like a chore. If you have a busy schedule, it’s difficult to fit in time for grocery shopping during the week. Additionally, not everyone has the time to prepare three meals and snacks during the day while attending school and/or working. Whether you order groceries online or make one to two larger trips to the grocery store each week, this expansive list of grocery staples will make daily meal preparation so much easier. If you prefer to meal prep, there will be some tips on how to buy enough ingredients to last the whole week!

A healthy and balanced diet doesn’t exclude food groups or macronutrients entirely. Each week you should make sure that your grocery cart includes items from each of the three macronutrient categories: carbs, proteins, and fats.  While it’s important to purchase foods that will nourish and satisfy you, such as high quality protein sources and produce, you should also allow yourself to purchase foods that you might consider as ‘treats’ or ‘fun foods.’ Grocery shopping doesn’t have to be boring and should bring some excitement into your life!

Note: If you’re someone who meal preps at the start of each week, try choosing a few different breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes instead of eating the same exact meal everyday. Adding some variety into your meals, even if you cook ahead of time, will ensure that you’ll actually want to eat what you’re meal prepping. 

 

Carbohydrates 

Carbohydrates are our first macronutrient category. Carbs are often demonized by diet culture, but in reality carbs are the body’s main source of energy and should be incorporated in every meal. If you’re especially busy, choosing carb sources that are higher in fiber is a great way to feel more satiated after meals. 

  • Bread – While everyone has a personal preference on what type of bread they prefer, sprouted and whole grain bread often has a higher fiber content and a little extra protein than traditional white bread. If you prefer to buy loaves of bread, cut the loaf into slices and place the slices in a bag in the freezer to prevent the bread from going stale. 
  • Pasta – Pasta is a great ingredient to meal prep at the start of the week because it can be eaten in a cold pasta salad or can be heated with marinara sauce, grilled vegetables, and a protein source. Chickpea or lentil pasta is a great product that’s high in protein and great for anyone on the go. 
  • Grains – Rice, quinoa, couscous, farro, the list goes on! Grains are a great carb source that pair well with a variety of cuisines. Farro and quinoa are also high in protein which is an added bonus for vegans and vegetarians who might need some help in that department. 
  • Tortillas and wraps – Tortillas, wraps, and pitas are great to have on hand during the week. Use corn tortillas for tacos, pair wraps with egg salad, and snack on pita with hummus during the day!
  • Oatmeal – Oatmeal is a staple breakfast item that can have so many flavor opportunities. Place oats, milk, chia seeds, and any other add-ons of choice (berries, cocoa powder, cinnamon) in a jar in the fridge overnight. Now you have overnight oats to eat in the morning without worrying about prep time!

 

Proteins

Protein not only helps you feel satiated but is so important for muscle growth and cell repair. If you lift weights or follow a resistance training program, a diet with adequate protein helps to build up the muscles that are recruited during training. 

  • For meat eaters – Lean meats such as ground turkey, chicken breast, and fish are great protein options to make during the week. If you prefer to not cook meat, check your freezer aisle for pre-cooked proteins that can easily be reheated and added to any meal.
  • Eggs – Use eggs in breakfast scrambles during the week or buy hardboiled eggs for sandwiches, egg salad, or a convenient snack.
  • Vegan/Vegetarian options –  Canned beans, tofu, tempeh, frozen edamame, and veggie burgers are convenient ways for non-meat eaters to get in their daily protein. Try not to rely on meat substitutes that might contain fillers and additives.
  • Yogurt – Yogurt, such as Greek yogurt, can be a very high protein snack. Add yogurt into fruit smoothies for an extra protein boost in the morning. 

 

Fats

If you have difficulty feeling full after meals, you might not have enough fat in your diet. 

  • Seeds – Adding in chia seeds and flaxseeds into your meals is a great way to get in your omega-3s. Prepare a batch of chia seed pudding for the week or add in a tablespoon into your morning oats or yogurt. 
  • Avocado – Avocado really goes with anything and is a great substitute for mayonnaise. Add mashed avocado into a turkey sandwich or tuna salad. 
  • Nuts – Nuts contain important minerals and healthy fats to keep our energy up during the day. Any variety of nut you prefer will work, but walnuts are an especially good source of omega-3’s.
  • Avocado/olive oil – Avocado oil is great for cooking food at high temperatures, while olive oil is excellent for lower temperatures or for mixing with vinegar and herbs for a homemade salad dressing.
  • Nut butter – Any variety of nut butter will do, but make sure you are looking for a simple list of ingredients: nuts, oil, and salt (optional).

 

Produce

While it is best to buy produce that is seasonal, local, and/or organic, this is not accessible to everyone and can often be expensive. If you worry about produce spoiling in your fridge, stock up on a few bags of frozen veggies and fruit just in case! Frozen produce can also be significantly cheaper. 

  • Spinach – Get your greens in by adding in a handful of spinach into meals when you can. Spinach pairs well with almost everything from egg scrambles to pasta to stir fry!
  • Bananas – Bananas are the perfect pre-workout snack but taste great in smoothies, oatmeal, and cereal bowls!
  • Berries – Blueberries are high in antioxidants. Top off yogurt bowls with a handful of berries or use frozen berries in smoothies for a thicker consistency.

Bell peppers, zucchinis and mushrooms are a few other vegetables that are used in a variety of dishes and cuisines making them great vegetables to have on hand. Choosing three to four different vegetables and two to three fruits when you go grocery shopping ensures that you’ll have a wide variety of produce for meals during the week.

While the items listed above are staple items, don’t forget to purchase beverages such as milk (dairy or plant milk), snacks, dips and sauces, and dessert items. Grocery shopping should be fun and inspire you to try new items and recipes! Need ideas for recipes? Check out our blog post on no-cook meals you can make anywhere (even in a dorm!).

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