Wellness is Beyond Weight Loss and Diet Culture: Expert Talks How

Did you know that our changing perspective on body image in the digital age influences mental health? Join us in a revealing discussion with Deepta Nagpal, an expert in clinical dietetics, as we explore body neutrality, discerning health trends, and fostering self-compassion amidst diet culture. Join us into insightful revelations with Dt. Deepta Nagpal, a seasoned expert in clinical dietetics and nutrition counselling, to uncover the intersection of self-love, physical health, and inclusive wellness in today’s hyper-connected world. An exclusive interaction with Mahima Sharma, who met Deepta via her enlightening posts on Twitter that have been consistently reminding us of body nutrition above misguided dieting culture!

Welcome to The Think Pot…Deepta, to start the tone of the interaction, please share how do you see the growing movement towards body neutrality reshaping our approach to mental health and self-care, especially in the context of today’s hyper-connected digital age?

Deepta: Thanks Mahima. Coming right to the point, see people scroll through social media and start feeling bad about their bodies. Do not forget about shameless trolls who enjoy the attention when they call you out for your imprefections. These imperfections need to be celebrated and not feel bad about. There is a growing movement around body neutrality because it reflects the exhaustion amongst people about paying attention to other’s who may or may not be anonymous. It shows how we view mental health and self-care. Instead of obsessing over looks, it encourages us to appreciate what our bodies can do. You have begun to see posts about body neutrality, reminding you to focus on strength and uniqueness. It can be liberating.

I have long been an advocate of this approach because health is not about aesthetics but it is about how you feel inside. It is about your metabolism, hormones, energy levels, etc. It is more prevalent amongst women. Women have been gifted with the unique power to conceive. Hence, their bodies undergo several changes at different stages of their lives. Studies have shown that body shaming harms self-esteem and body neutrality boosts self-esteem and reduces anxiety. In today’s digital age, where comparison is easy, embracing body neutrality is vital. It’s about loving ourselves as we are and rejecting unrealistic beauty standards. So, let’s embrace body neutrality for better mental health and self-care!

With the rise of social media influencers promoting various wellness trends, how can individuals discern between genuinely helpful advice and potentially harmful fads, particularly concerning mental health and body image?

Deepta: See Mahima, the internet was always there for information since last three decades in various ways and knowledge but it was pull methodology. You go to the browser and visit websites for relevant topic. Social media with it’s posts, reels and videos amplified the online content consumption because of it’s push notification approach. COVID-19 Era also brought focus on health, people started prioritizing health compared to past, this created a huge demand for health related online content. This gap between the supply and demand created many social media influencers who were preaching health without necessary education and training. We need to be careful when we consume this online content about health:

  1. Check the credentials if the influencer has relevant qualification or experience in the field of nutrition, diet, psychology and wellness. Someone with a background in clinical dietetics, for example, is more likely to provide reliable information compared to someone without any formal training. There are always overlaps between professional areas and these influencers start talking about other areas which is sometimes not their expertise. For example, gym trainers (sometimes with/without an online certificate on nutrition) start talking about diets. People do not understand that we have different therapeutic needs which need to be accounted for. One size does not fit all. 
  2. Pay attention to the source whether it is from a reputable organization or individual. Trustworthy sources often cite scientific research and provide evidence-based advice, rather than relying solely on personal anecdotes or testimonials. You should also read good diet and food literature by verified experts to promote overall well being and not just weight loss. 
  3. This is the most important for me. Always question extreme claims like green tea leads to weightloss, does it actually have no side effects? Be cautious of anyone promoting extreme or restrictive diets, quick-fix solutions, or products with exaggerated promises. Sustainable changes take time and involve balanced approaches.  Drastic measures can sometimes do irreversible harm to your mental or physical health. I meet patients on regular basis who practiced extreme diets and ended up with damaging their neuromuscular coordination, gut, hormonal balances, etc.  
  4. In continuation of my previous point, please listen to your body. Pay attention to how certain trends or advice make you feel. Watch out for your bowels, tongue, breath, emotions, etc. If you notice any changes (howsoever small they may be), it may need investigation before you continue further it. If something triggers negative emotions or makes you feel pressured to conform to unrealistic standards, it may not be beneficial for your mental well-being.
  5. Lastly, always seek professional help. If you are unsure about a particular trend or it’s impact on your mental health and body image, consider consulting a qualified healthcare professional, such as a dietitian or a therapist. They can provide personalized advice tailored to your individual needs and circumstances.
In your experience, how does the increasing emphasis on self-love and acceptance intersect with the pursuit of physical health goals, and what challenges arise from this convergence?

Deepta: If you have focus on weight loss, then you need to do it gradually, mindfully and not under stress or peer pressure. Self-love and acceptance is very important and it helps in the pursuit of physical health goals. Self-love triggers a desire to take care of yourself. It is a very good motivation to begin with. If you appreciate your body, you are more likely to want to nourish it with healthy food and exercise. This can then be turned in to something sustainable. Accepting your current body allows you to focus on progress, not perfection. This can lead to sustainable healthy habits instead of crash diets or extreme workouts. Self-love can help combat negative body image, leading to a focus on how your body feels and functions rather than just aesthetics. Accepting your body can lead to a more positive relationship with food and exercise, reducing stress and promoting overall well-being.

On the other hand, self-love can sometimes be misinterpreted as justifying unhealthy habits. It is about accepting your body and making healthy choices for it.

As we navigate a world inundated with diet culture, how can healthcare professionals effectively support individuals in fostering a healthy relationship with food and exercise while combating harmful messaging?

Deepta: See Mahima, it is actually the Doctors who can help their patients with the onslaught of diet culture madness. How can they do so, let me explain…

  • First, we should help others get rid of the notion of “good” and “bad” foods. Food is fuel, not a moral compass. We can encourage folks to enjoy a wide variety of foods in moderation, without attaching judgement or guilt.
  • Next, let us reframe exercise as a celebration of what our bodies can do, rather than a punishment for what we ate. Whether it is dancing like nobody’s watching or taking a leisurely stroll in the park, movement should be joyful, not a means to “earn” our meals.
  • Lastly, let us lead by example. As healthcare professionals, we can embody a balanced approach to health and wellness, showing that self-love and nourishment go hand in hand.

We should help our local communities to become part of a world where food is celebrated, exercise is enjoyed, and diet culture is nothing but a distant memory. After all, life is too short to count calories when we could be counting memories instead!

Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and lifestyle habits, what unique strategies have emerged for promoting both resilience and self-compassion in the pursuit of holistic well-being?

Deepta: The COVID-19 pandemic has made things tough for our mental health and how we live. But, even with these hard times, people have found smart ways to stay strong and kind to themselves. People have learned to change and keep in touch with family and friends, helping them stay tough. They’ve also seen how key it is to be nice and patient with themselves during hard times. Some good ways to keep strong and kind to oneself are to enjoy the simple things in life, say “thank you” for the little joys every day, and laugh to keep a happy spirit even when things get hard. In the end, staying strong and kind to oneself is about doing well, even when things are tough.

How can the healthcare industry better address the mental health consequences of weight stigma and discrimination, particularly within healthcare settings, and promote inclusivity and dignity for all patients?

Deepta: This is an important part of our day job. We need to make sure that we are inclusive and all our weight loss patients are handled with dignity. The weight stigma can have mental health consequences and we need to be careful. Some ways the healthcare industry can work towards this goal:

Train well in understanding how judging by weight and stigma affects mental health. Learn how to care for all body types with kindness and respect. Use welcoming words, don’t guess based on looks, and recognise that bodies come in different shapes and sizes.

Adopt a whole-health view. Aim for health-focused ways instead of just looking at weight. Help with mental health issues that come from feeling judged about weight. In my practice, I follow this broad view. It’s key to see past the scale and look at things like hormones and gut health.

In short, I would suggest in my experience, our fight for healthy communities should not include judgment about body weight or shape, and an unfair treatment of certain looks; it is all about changing how society thinks, or our mainstream media body shames. Health is much more than shape or weight, it is about how you feel during the day.

With advancements in technology such as telehealth and wearable fitness devices, how do you envision the future of mental health and wellness interventions evolving to meet the diverse needs of individuals seeking support in today’s fast-paced world?

Deepta: Technology continues to advance at a rapid pace. The future of mental health and wellness interventions is poised for exciting developments. I expect Telehealth to become increasingly accessible and commonplace, allowing individuals to access health support from the comfort of their own homes.  Wearable fitness devices will seamlessly integrate mental health tracking features, providing real-time feedback on stress levels, sleep patterns, and activity levels. This data can empower individuals to make informed decisions about their well-being. With the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning, mental health interventions will become more personalised and tailored to individual needs and preferences.  Virtual reality technology will revolutionise therapy by creating immersive environments for exposure therapy, relaxation techniques, and skills training.

How can individuals be made aware to maintain a focus on improving body stamina and overall health without fixating solely on weight loss?

As I mentioned earlier, holistic approach to health is important and I strongly believe in this and I practice it with my patients. So I will suggest following FIVE KEY STEPS…

  • Spread the word. Share info on the good things about keeping your body strong and healthy, not just losing weight. Talk about better energy, mood, fighting off sickness, and less risk of long-term illness.
  • Push for goals that are about being fit, like better heart health, being stronger, or more bendy, instead of just looking at the scale or tape.
  • Offer lots of fun ways to move and stay active. This could be yoga, lifting weights, dancing, playing sports, or working out with friends. Show how fun it can be to move in ways you love, even if it doesn’t always mean losing weight.
  • Cheer on wins that aren’t about weight, like running a bit more, lifting more weight, trying a new yoga move, or finishing a tough workout. Tell people to look at other signs of getting fitter, like feeling less tired, being more bendy, or sleeping better.
  • Guide people to eat in a way that feeds their body and soul, not just to lose weight. Talk about eating lots of different good foods, drinking plenty of water, and eating when you’re truly hungry.
About Deepta Nagpal

Deepta Nagpal has two decades of extensive experience in clinical dietetics, nutrition counseling, education and research. She has learnt her skills at the prestigious AIIMS, New Delhi. She has worked in various elite medical research institutes in India and is currently settled in Europe. She specialises in gut disorders like IBS, GERD, etc., lifestyle disorders like Diabetes, Hypertension, etc. and chronic diseases like kidney disorders, arthritis, etc.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the above interview are the personal opinions of the protagonist/protagonists for which The Think Pot is not liable in any manner. To share your views on an apolitical and intense subject like this you can reach out to us at mahimaasharma@thethinkpot.in . You can also write to me via my Linkedin Inbox