How to Improve Your Relationship With Your Cultural Foods and Your Body This Year

Isabel Vasquez is a second-generation registered dietitian of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent dedicated to an anti-diet approach and embracing cultural foods

Body love cultural foods

Photo: Unsplash/ RODNAE Productions

Isabel Vasquez is a second-generation registered dietitian of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent dedicated to an anti-diet approach and embracing cultural foods.

A new year can bring with it a lot of hope and inspiration. It can also bring a lot of pressure to diet or lose weight. Unfortunately, given the widespread presence of diet culture in our society, many people will find themselves restricting their favorite foods and undergoing a lot of intense dieting behaviors in hopes of losing weight. The problem is that diet culture is not really centered around improving our health. It’s centered around degrading our relationships to our bodies so we’ll buy the latest beauty product, diet, or fitness plan. 

For Latinas, diet culture feeds us the myth that our cultural foods are “unhealthy” and that we need to cut them out in the name of health. But I’m a Latina dietitian here to tell you that that is not the case. Let’s talk about how you can make peace with your cultural foods and with your body this year. 

Our cultural foods have a lot of nutrition to offer.

Too often, I hear our Latin cultural foods being demonized in mainstream media or even by healthcare professionals. As a Latina dietitian, I often hear clients tell me that their doctors advised them to cut out cultural food staples like tortillas or white rice despite these holding immense significance in my clients’ lives. Unfortunately, many mainstream nutrition recommendations or diets touted for their health-promoting benefits are Eurocentric and exclude our cultural foods such as rice, beans, avocado, tortillas, and plátanos. This speaks to a problem with the lack of diversity amongst those creating these recommendations rather than the nutritional value of our cultural foods themselves. 

Our cultural foods are packed with nutritional variety. While the traditional cuisine varies depending on the Latin American country, we generally eat well-rounded meals that incorporate carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fiber, which are generally recommended to make up a satisfying, health-promoting meal. We incorporate a lot of plant foods loaded with vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients–health-promoting substances found in plant foods–including avocado, beans, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and peppers. 

In order to make peace with food, we must allow ourselves to eat the foods we enjoy. I know it can sound counterintuitive since we often think we have to restrict the foods we tend to “overdo”; however, restriction is unsustainable and unhealthy.

It actually causes our bodies to feel deprived which causes our minds to become preoccupied with food, especially the foods we are restricting. Oftentimes, we end up bingeing on the food we’ve been restricting, feeling completely out of control and guilty. That’s often followed by a resumption of the restriction. This is called the binge-restrict cycle, and it is not only mentally and emotionally draining, but it leads to a really harmful relationship with food. When we let ourselves eat the foods we love and when we eat enough throughout the day, we can prevent this cycle and promote a more peaceful relationship with food. 

Body appreciation can be a good place to start.

For many, our relationships with our bodies have been shaped by decades of judgmental comments from family members, weight loss recommendations from doctors, and idealization of thinness in the media. It makes sense that so many people struggle with their relationships with their bodies. But remember, your body is your lifelong companion. It is what carries you through the world. Despite all that diet culture will tell you about how flawed your body is, it is worthy of love. 

Body love does not feel achievable for many, and it may feel especially out-of-reach for those in larger bodies, those with disabilities or chronic illnesses, Black,Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), or those with any other marginalized identity since society is constantly telling us our bodies are “wrong”. That being said, body appreciation may be a less daunting place to start, and you can start small. 

What’s one thing your body does for you that you are grateful for? Maybe you can practice gratitude for your breath. Maybe you can practice gratitude for your hands allowing you to scroll through and read this article. Maybe you’re grateful for the hugs your body allows you to experience. Whatever resonates with you works! You don’t have to start with the parts of your body that you struggle most to accept.

Be mindful of the media you’re consuming.

The media can play a big role in your relationship with food and your body. If your social media feed is full of influencers touting diets, fitspo accounts promising a certain body type if you do their workout routine, and if it overall lacks body diversity, this will likely perpetuate a harmful relationship with food and your body. 

Surrounding yourself with body diversity can go a long way. Seeing others who look like you living a life or doing things that you value can be powerful. For example, when most people think of someone who’s “fit”, they think of a very specific body type–lean and muscular. However, this is a myth. People of all different body shapes and sizes are capable of physical feats. Tailoring your media consumption to support this message can help you cultivate more body acceptance and reduce internalized weight stigma you may have developed from years of social conditioning.

Making peace with your cultural foods and your body is a long-term process. We have been conditioned for years to feel a certain way about these parts of ourselves, so improving these relationships takes time. It is all rooted in self-compassion and kindness. Be patient with yourself and know that your cultural foods deserve to be a part of your daily nourishment.

In this Article

cultural foods decolonizing diet Isabel Vasquez Latin American food latina nutrionist
More on this topic