Lifestyle Change vs. Diet – How I Learned the Difference

Lifestyle change vs. diet; it’s a phrase that I’ve heard recycled through many of conversations. For awhile I wasn’t sure if I bought into it; especially with so much information out there that calls “lifestyle change” a buzzword for diet culture. It’s a good thing for me that I’m not swayed easily by other people’s opinions and I do my best to rely on facts. And the fact is, I made a lifestyle change; a permanent one, and I’ve seen results that indicate it’s more than just a neatly disguised buzzword for diet culture.

Lifestyle Change is Exactly What it Sounds Like

When I first heard that phrase from my nutritionist, I’ll admit that it felt daunting. Everything in my life was already changing. I truly had no desire to have to change another thing. Especially when that change required me to perhaps give up things that I truly loved. But then I took a step back. I quit smoking, because I wanted to reduce my risks for lung and heart disease. I also desired to stop defiling my body. I LOVED cigarettes, but I made the conscious decision to love my life more and to quit while I was ahead.

So I chose to look at my dietary changes as much the same. Yes, I love pork, beef, white breads and pastas- LOVE them. However, I learned that those things were creating an inflammatory response in my body. It was also making it difficult for me to lose weight. And while there are many who believe that intentional weight loss is not a matter of health; I believe it’s a matter of individual basis. And the reality is that being 500lbs was hurting me and my body was feeling it in more ways than one. I needed to do something to help myself along.

Now, learning how to view my lifestyle changes was super important, and that’s what I’ll be sharing next!

Exercise is Not About Weight Loss

For a long time in my life, I was super active. I walked everywhere, jogged, I even went to the gym a couple of times of week. When I moved to the south, my activity levels changed because you have to practically drive to everything here. Also, my hip started giving me trouble a couple of years into moving down here. It was a perfect recipe for me to become way more sedentary than I had been in a long time.

When I started physical therapy for my hip, my PT emphasized the need for movement. He never once mentioned weight loss to me until I asked specific questions about weight in connection with my hip. He just encouraged me to move, not to allow my muscles to atrophy and my joints to get more stiff than they already are. He also mentioned that exercise was great for cardiovascular health after I mentioned my thyroid issues. While I walked away with mixed feelings that day for several reasons; his expressions of what exercise was really for struck me deep.

Now, it took me a while after that visit before I started to take the exercise journey seriously. I was contending with a lot. Not just the physical limitations, but my mental and emotional health as well. I started out with chair routines and gentle stretching before I escalated to the bike. However, in time, I began to see a significant change in my mental and emotional health. I did a bit of research and learned that exercise really is great for treating mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

“In people who are depressed, neuroscientists have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain—the region that helps regulate mood—is smaller. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression,” explains Dr. Miller.

Dietary Changes Do Not Equate to Going on a Diet

I have said the dreaded word- diet. The word has gotten a lot of attention over the years as we see discussions everywhere about “diet culture”. What is diet culture though?

Diet culture has many definitions and facets but, in a nutshell, it’s a set of beliefs that worships thinness and equates it with health and moral virtue, according to anti-diet dietitian, Christy Harrison, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.N., author of Anti-Dietand host of the Food Psych podcast.

Now, while I have found many people have taken creative license with this phrase; the above definition explains it pretty succinctly. I had to take some time to meditate on what exactly was I trying to accomplish. I knew that I wanted to stop swelling and experiencing joint inflammation. I knew that I wanted to have more energy to accomplish the things I wanted and needed to do in my day to day. I also knew that I did in fact want to lose weight because I was told that is the only way to be eligible for hip replacement.

I chose to remove the things from my diet in order to accomplish the relief my body was looking for. Not only did I make that choice- it worked.

The Benefits Outweigh Any Opinions

Despite the fact that I’ve had sound reasoning in making the decisions I have for my health; I’m still met with a lot of disdain from those who disagree. They tell me I’m internalizing fatphobia, that I’m not a true self love advocate etc. But what better way to practice self love than to take care of my body in a way that will help relieve my pain?

The fact is that though it took about a full month before I felt any real benefits, there were tangible benefits. My mobility while still limited in many ways, became greater than what it had become. My energy was increased, my skin began to brighten because my circulation was better, my libido increased, swelling disappeared, my sleeping got better and yes I even lost some weight.

And now that even more time has elapsed, my blood work is looking excellent. While I was never diabetic or prediabetic, my number was right on the cusp. With my latest results my A1c was 4.5. I can’t even explain how proud I was to accomplish this without having to take any medication. My cholesterol was lower as well. Being a hypothyroid patient puts me at risk to develop diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The fact that any of this was accomplished was due to lifestyle change.

Lifestyle Change Has Been Weaponized

I’m not living under a rock; I understand what the diet culture has done to fat bodies. I know very well that often times the phrase dietary changes or lifestyle changes have been used to push a “thin body” narrative. However, this narrative only has power if YOU believe it.

I have no desire to be thin. **GASP** No shade to my thin sisters but it’s not a body type I’ve aspired to have as an adult. I don’t mind my belly, thick thighs, and round face. When I made the conscious decision to make a lifestyle change it was not done with temporary satisfaction in mind or rapid weight loss or even a desire to be small. It came from the desire not to die before I get to see my kids grow old. It came from a desire to alleviate the distress my mind and body had been enduring for the last couple of years.

And make no mistakes about it; this wasn’t because I assume all fat people are unhealthy. This was based purely on my own experience. While fat wasn’t the root cause of my health issues; it did and still does contribute to exacerbating my health conditions. I don’t think there is a magic number on the scale that I’ll achieve to make things “all better”. However, I’ve learned to let my body do the talking and for me to listen.

I may not have had any control over my diagnoses. Having a congenital birth defect and developing thyroid disease were not my choice. However, it’s my choice to do whatever I can not to let those things debilitate my life anymore than it has been.

The bottom line is that I will not allow anyone to weaponize my desire for a healthier lifestyle against me. That goes for my smaller and larger counterparts.

The Wrap Up

Autonomy is key. I will forever say this. The decisions we make for our bodies should not be so influenced by the voices of those who seem to know it all. It’s important to educate yourself, do the research, fact check and consider what you know about your body and your health. Everyone is different, so how you care for your health as an individual is not up to the Diet Culture/Anti Diet Culture gods.

Take care of yourself,