What do you want health to feel like? This is the mindset-altering question that nutritionist-dietitian and content creator Jo Sebastian asks her followers in the quest to get more people to believe in her mantra: You always deserve to eat.
Apart from informational videos on social media, the food freedom advocate also offers a program called Heal where she helps people mend their relationship with food and body image as well as build long-term nutrition habits. This Nutrition Month, we had a chat with Sebastian about her personal journey in overcoming disordered eating and finding joy in staying healthy.
When did you start and what pushed you to create content centered on the message “You always deserve to eat”?
I don’t remember exactly! I used to post mostly [about] makeup and fashion. My “tagline” was “Stay fab,” as a way to help others hopefully find their confidence. I did start posting more food freedom content in 2019 when I passed the board exam. That was the time when I felt more qualified to talk about food and nutrition. I also learned more about my own disordered eating habits.
“We have to remember that food is not just physical nourishment but also emotional and mental nourishment.”
The reason I say “You always deserve to eat” is because it was something I struggled with for years. And I’m hoping that I can remind myself as well as others that they deserve nourishment, always.
What were the biggest misconceptions and personal beliefs that you were able to debunk when you stopped subscribing to diet culture?
That carbs are bad! That’s the biggest one because as Filipinos, rice is such a big part of our life yet it’s the first one we remove and shun.
“There isn’t any food that is inherently bad or good. With balance, we get what our body needs to grow and to live our healthiest life.”
We have to remember that food is not just physical nourishment but also emotional and mental nourishment. You don’t have to take away your emotions [derived] from food. We have to focus on using our emotions to nourish ourselves out of kindness and not shame.
What is the definition of a balanced meal? Is there really a list of food that we should avoid?
A balanced diet is one that has a balance of important nutrients (which include carbs, fats, protein, as well as fiber and micronutrients). It’s a balance of nutrient-dense food and fun food.
A balanced diet doesn’t focus on restrictions but focuses on adding nutrients that we tend to miss out on. There isn’t any food that is inherently bad or good. With balance, we get what our body needs to grow and to live our healthiest life.
Cognizant of how harmful body shaming is, how do we navigate conversations on a loved one’s eating habit?
Focus on habits always. Health is not determined by a weight to height [ratio]. We can’t judge someone based on how they look. A larger body doesn’t automatically mean lazy, just like a small body doesn’t always mean healthy. I used to be in a smaller body and was praised even though that was the height of my disordered eating.
“Health doesn’t have a look. It’s the feeling of being strong, painless, and nourished.”
What we can focus and look into is that person’s behavior towards food, nutrition, exercise, stress, sleep, etc. Let’s ask if they feel nourished, if they feel good, and if they get any sleep. We can see if they eat too fast, if they tend to eat to uncomfortable levels, or if they are avoidant of foods.
As a nutritionist-dietitian with a ballet background, how has your approach to fitness and health changed over the years?
My views on health and fitness were solely focused on weight for the longest time. It was always me trying to hit my goal weight at all costs. The number I set wasn’t even based on anything other than I thought it looked nice on the scale.
Now, I see health as [a product of] health behaviors. Weight is not a behavior. Health doesn’t have a look. It’s the feeling of being strong, painless, and nourished. It isn’t necessarily [about] always being happy with your body or where you are at, but knowing you deserve to feel your best by getting the best nourishment and self-care.
What is your message to people who are struggling with disordered eating, food guilt, and overexercising?
I know it feels like this is the only way to achieve health, confidence, and happiness—but it’s not. I used to feel like it was the only way for the longest time and it took so many years away from my life. [Counting] calories and workouts replaced the memories I could’ve made. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Give yourself permission to heal.
What are your tips in starting a journey towards having a healthier relationship with food and one’s body?
The most important thing is to ask yourself what you want health to feel like. Does it feel freeing and exciting or suffocating and all too consuming? When you know what you want to feel, that’s what you will look for in all the aspects of self-care. Your journey is yours and no one else’s. Focus on finding health for you.