The road to health is paved with confusing information. And the information is not only confusing, but also conflicting. When to eat, what to eat, which nutrition labels to pay attention to...The list goes on. You think you have it all figured out until you talk to your spin instructor or read a magazine or watch Dr. Oz, and suddenly everything you believed to be true about health no longer is.  

But where is the information coming from? So often I find that the source is cited as an omnipotent “they.” For example: They say Brazil nuts lower blood pressure. They say you should never eat MSG. They say you should eat breakfast within exactly two hours and twenty-one minutes of waking up, otherwise just don’t bother cause your metabolism will get like super slow and you’ll be bloated and you’ll just like, implode or something.

Well I say, do what works for you and ignore all the noise coming from whoever the heck “they” are. Be a skeptic the next time someone starts a sentence with “they say...” Question where that person is actually getting their information. I mean seriously, WHO is “they?”

And if you are planning on changing your diet or lifestyle, for example by eliminating MSG-containing foods, I ask that you question your motives. Are you doing it because you want to be healthier, or is it actually because you want to be thinner? If you do it to be thinner, you’ll eventually tire of the effort it takes to try and fail, and then try and fail again.

However, changing your lifestyle for legitimate health reasons will never make you feel like you’re on a diet or some wagon you can fall off of. (Ahem, where you'll end up looking like Patrick Star when that no-carb diet fails you, because believe me, it will.)

If you’re not sure what I mean, or conversely if you feel like you can relate to “falling off the wagon,” I urge you to check out Isabel Foxen Duke. She’s an expert who can explain it better than I can.

I think most people will agree with me that the world would be a better place without fad diets. They contribute to negative body images, obsession over food and worst of all, eating disorders, particularly among young females. It’s frightening to live in a country where 47% of elementary school girls say that the pictures in magazines make them want to lose weight.

Most people reading this can probably think of a few elementary schoolers they know. That’s a girl roughly between the ages of 6 and 11 years old. Now picture that 6 to 11-year-old reading a magazine, then telling you she wants to lose weight after seeing the pictures in it.

Jamie Caccavaro

Something has to change. I’m happy to see companies like Aerie promoting real bodies without the help of Photoshop or retouching. Those are the images that corporations should’ve been showing us all along. If the average model in the 2000’s had been sporting curves, muscles, and stretch marks, I believe that those images would have had a substantial effect on my perception of my body.

Even as a young girl, I can remember always wanting to be thinner. But for what? Certainly not for health reasons; I was perfectly healthy as a child. It was, I believe, largely due to the constant stream of information telling me that it was considered beautiful to look a certain way. And in the early 2000’s, that “certain way” could be summed up in one word: thin. 

Even now in 2016, I so often hear my peers (a group that is largely built of female teenagers and twenty-somethings) talk about being “healthier,” when what they actually mean is being thinner. I believe that we have exchanged a cultural obsession with dieting for a cultural obsession with health.

In theory, that is a phenomenal exchange, and one that would do much good to decrease obesity rates, frequency of cardiovascular disease, and more. But when applied, the concept of “health” so often becomes a replacement word for “dieting.”

I urge my generation to make health about actual health in the sense that it is a lifestyle, instead of a fad diet you try out under the delusion that you’ll be healthier when you’re thinner. The reality is, you might not be.

I commend our society for beginning a slow shift to a culture where strong instead of skinny, or athletic instead of thin, is becoming the ideal body image. We now look to women like Natasha Oakley who have muscles and curves and promote a healthy, active lifestyle.

I think that very generally speaking, the sought-after body type is no longer rail-thin, but toned and fit–a body type that can really only be achieved by assuming the healthy habits of eating for nutrition and working out.

There is also a push towards being "body-positive," a concept that is supported by celebrities like Ashley Graham and Demi Lovato. Kudos to strong women, both physical and mental.

But still, dieting is a $20 billion industry, and until it’s not, it will be rather difficult to rewrite the dialogue surrounding health and body positivity in our culture. 

A photo posted by Project HEAL (@projectheal) on

I used to fall victim to the “they say” rationale, changing my food choices because people were telling me that you should never eat this or only eat that. More recently, I’ve been trying to rise above all of the negativity surrounding what you should and shouldn’t do for your health.

The only person who knows what’s best for me is me, just like the only person who knows what's best for you is you. Just because a Facebook article or the lady at Whole Foods says something is true, doesn’t mean that it is. It is important to be healthy, to feel healthy, and to feel like you’re doing good things for your mind and body. Facebook articles might be where you start learning how to do so–and that’s okay. Maybe that’s even how you clicked on this article. But don’t stop there. Learn how to make yourself feel truly good.

For me, that means eating clean most days because processed foods just don’t make me feel good. But sometimes my mom makes chocolate chip cookies, and you better believe I’m having a few. And I’m having a few without feeling the guilt that the dieting industry tries to make you feel when you eat a few cookies, the kind of guilt from which the dieting industry profits.

Life is short and being healthy isn’t a trend; it’s a lifestyle that can include the occasional cookie. So sit down and enjoy your damn cookie knowing full well that you can still be a healthy person. After all, they say that feeling good about yourself is all the rage these days.