Why are we turning out diets into personality traits?
If you regularly scroll through social media (or even Medium), you’ve probably noticed some of the people you follow eat a “carnivore”, “keto”, “plant-based” or “generic vegan” diet.
Maybe you are one of those people. Maybe you don’t fit in with either “popular” clique, so to feel included you identify as a vegetarian or pescetarian in your social media bio. One time, I saw someone on Twitter identify as a “pesca-vegan” or “pescetarian with a little chicken.”
In the past, being evangelical about diets appeared to only really be a thing on television programs, magazines, or the friend who is selling diet supplements as their side hustle.
But fast-forward to today’s age of social media, and you seem to find a diet around every corner.
While the diet trends of today may appear new and revolutionary, many of the popular “diet camps” aren’t so new after all. During the Stone Age, people hunted animals since they were able to create the tools and weapons suitable for killing and processing meat. They also consumed seasonal fruits, vegetables, and seeds.
This way of eating most likely inspired the creators of the “Atkins diet”.
Today, many people follow an Atkins variation called the “Paleo Diet” or the “Ketogenic Diet”. Both diets are typically higher in protein and fats, and have less carbohydrates than usual.
During the global rise of agriculture and farming (primarily in regions more suitable for farming), people started to consume more grains and vegetables like barley, rye, and corn and may have relied on these types of foods more than meat.
Some people today would say that this is similar to the “Starch Solution Diet,” since it is high in carbohydrates — except nowadays a high-carb diet like this is often associated as a type of plant-based vegan diet.
When meeting someone for the first time, one usually tries to gauge what type of person they are. The more you spend time with the person and learn more about them, the more you notice certain qualities and characteristics, known as personality traits.
A personality trait is a pattern of one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours. According to psychology experts and mainstream personality tests, one’s character is based on what is known as the “Big Five.” This includes the following parameters: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability. Each person ranks either high, low or moderate, which can predict or determine things like one’s ideal communication and learning style, how to address complex situations, their approach and role in friendships and relationships, ideal careers and more.
But now, people don’t stop at wondering about someone’s openness or agreeableness. They start worrying about the person’s diet too.
People are becoming evangelical about their way of eating as if their diets were a religion, and it’s not just food-related bloggers who’re now repping their diet on their bio.
Online support groups bring together people who eat the same way, allowing them to share recipes and success stories for motivation. Social media pages post memes throwing comical jabs at those who don’t eat the same way, trying to convince them that their way of eating is better. These claims are sometimes in serious need of a citation — but what’s nastier is social media pages making outrageous claims about people who don’t eat like them.
It seems like one’s diet has become a clique or trait, to the point where some people can’t find a way to properly cooperate with them. It has gotten to a point where people need to ask for advice on how to deal with someone who doesn’t eat like them.
When browsing through the menu of foods in different countries, one will notice that the type of foods one eats varies between different regions of the world. There are many factors that shape how the ideal diet is formed across the world.
We live in a world of different climates and geographic features. Have you ever wondered why you don’t have açaí berries in the national cuisines of countries outside of Central and South America? It’s because they only thrive in tropical climates with swamps and floodplains.
Food culture and what one eats is largely shaped by geography first. We can see this when looking at people groups who haven’t completely bought into the idea of modernization and eating imported or factory-made foods.
In the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, one can find indigenous tribes that still maintain a standard of living similar to what may have been practised centuries ago — like the Huli people. Due to the tropical climate, there is accessibility to many plant-based staples such as taro, sweet potatoes, corn and bananas. People of the Huli tribe do hunt pigs and possums; however, these foods are typically consumed on special occasions.
The Massai people are a semi-nomadic group that live in the arid regions of Kenya and Tanzania. Unlike the Huli and their contemporaries, the Massai live in land that severely lacks vegetation. As a result, they rely on a diet high in meat, dairy, and blood for proper nourishment. Plant-based foods are rarely consumed as they are limited in their home region.
Both groups eat diets that fall on complete opposite ends of the spectrum, yet both of these groups are healthy, fit and can kick ass…probably yours too.
These variations of eating have existed for thousands of years. The changes in diet weren’t because one was necessarily better than the other, but because people needed to respond to the not-always-so-lovely Mother Nature in order to survive. Our ancestors were simply playing an everlasting game of “survival of the fittest” every time nature threw a hard punch at them.
The only things that have really changed diet are the opportunistic tools of today’s technology age. And, the attitudes of some of the followers who make a lot of noise on social media.
I’ve heard people say they won’t associate with someone who eats a diet they don’t agree with. We’ve reached new levels of discrimination in this so-called advanced, inclusive and modern world. It’s crazy that this is a thing because how one eats is one of the least interesting things about a person.
While it’s true that a diet full of junk food may reflect the lack of self-care one has or something psychological like an eating disorder, I have never met a person and thought “Hmm, I wonder if they eat carbs.”
Why do people make such alliances? Perhaps it’s what happens to societies surrounded by an overabundance of food. After all, there are pockets in the world where people are starving and couldn’t care less about meat or plant-based diets.
Diet isn’t always about geography. Values and beliefs largely shape a food culture.
Religious beliefs often come with a text explaining all of the things one should do to live a good life — which is mostly behavioural suggestions on the “appropriate way” to do certain rituals.
And one thing many texts do talk about is diet.
In religious texts like the Bible and the Quran, one could find guidelines on which foods are considered clean or unclean for consumption. Nations that have a culture largely influenced by a particular religion may have minimal or zero supply of a certain type of food because the demand is low. For example, pork may be hard to find in Muslim-majority nations. Beef may be hard to find in Hindu-majority India.
Life-changing events in history can alter a nation’s food culture too. This is especially true for many dark points in world history like slavery or famine.
In times of struggle, people are forced to become more creative when preparing food in order to be full and energized, because they don’t know where the next meal will come from.
The phrase “comfort food” often refers to foods that are calorifically dense and can be heavy on the stomach. Some of the comfort foods that we enjoy today may have originated from a time when food was scarce.
If you were a picky eater growing up, you may have been told “Your yuck is someone else’s yum,” or some variation of this phrase.
If you were to ask your parents or grandparents what they ate growing up, depending on where they lived and their economic class, you may receive some bizarre responses. Maybe they ate something that you wouldn’t consider edible or necessary.
During the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s, much of the Cambodian population was left to starve. In order to survive, the people had to think outside of the box when looking for nourishment. Their answer? Insects.
Whether it was their personal decision or not, people have been migrating to different parts of the world for a very long time. When looking at various international cuisines, one can notice one country eats something that mirrors another one located in a different part of the world.
Ever wondered why people eat curry dishes in Guyana or why Americans in Louisiana and surrounding areas eat a rice dish that looks like the offspring of jollof and paella? When people go to another part of the world, one thing they bring with them is their food culture. They’ll often try their best to replicate their favourite meals from home in their new land or enhance it using newly-discovered ingredients and cooking techniques.
In the past, diet-related illnesses were largely due to nutrient deficiencies from food scarcity and poor hygiene practices due to the lack of food safety knowledge.
In today’s advanced world, most diet-related illnesses are largely due to the downside of modernization: the abundance of processed foods in combination with the inventions of vehicles, sitting toilets and desk jobs making people more sedentary and causing them to lose basic mobility functions.
Because life became significantly easier for us, we use less energy during our day-to-day tasks. As a result, people are using less of their natural muscle functions. And because many of the yummy comfort foods from our respective childhoods and cultures are typically calorifically dense, we may consume more calories than we burned.
Back then, it wasn’t a big deal because people moved more and didn’t eat as often. Now, many people are in a surplus which can explain the global increase in obesity.
Minimizing or completely avoiding processed foods and getting enough movement throughout the day, would position someone well in regards to general health.
But it also depends on the person.
When a group of people drink alcohol, it becomes crystal clear that some people are functional drunks after downing a six-pack of beer while others are dancing on a table after half the amount of drinks.
One’s level of alcohol tolerance depends on gender, genetics, body weight, and the frequency one drinks. Assuming everyone has eaten the same amount of food and drinks alcoholic beverages at the same level of frequency, a heavier person will hold their liquor better than a lighter person, and a woman is more likely going to get drunk faster than a man.
Like alcohol, drugs and medications can also have varying results from person to person too. Age, gender, weight experience, and frequency can determine how one will react.
If you were to look at the label of an over-the-counter medication, you may notice that the recommended dosage is usually different for children for good reason.
At your local pharmacy, you may have noticed that there may be a children’s version of cold, fever or pain medication. That’s because a child is much smaller than an adult and their bodies are still developing. Two spoonfuls of cough syrup may be okay for an adult body, but a five-year-old taking the same amount would be too much for their body to handle.
An overdose in non-prescription medication is dangerous. It can cause harmful things such as seizures, nausea, dizziness or rapid heartbeat. In reverse, an adult taking a child’s dosage of medication will probably not be enough to fight the symptoms they are experiencing.
When a doctor prescribes medication, the patient’s doses are perfectly tailored to their gender, age, weight, allergies and other pre-existing conditions. Depending on the dosage and condition of the user, a medication like Percocet could either be a pain reliever or a way to get high.
If things like alcohol, drugs, and medications can cause varying reactions, then what about food?
Humans are animals. Like other animals, we too adapt to our surrounding environment when looking for proper nourishment. The perfect diet is something that not only keeps you alive, but it helps you thrive.
This “perfect diet” is something that varies from person to person, not whatever is trending in the media. Everyone has different nutritional needs based on their lifestyle and genetics. Find what works for you, or if you can, hire an unbiased nutritionist and see how you feel after a few months.
So next time you’re tempted to jump on the latest diet bandwagon, or feel the pressure to join a certain diet club, maybe that’s the time to pose yourself a question.
What if there’s more than one way to eat healthy?