Follow us for updates
© 2022
Read the Story →

You Deserve to Eat: Gen Z Nutritionist is Changing Toxic Diet Culture

Forget what you know about losing weight.
by Ara Eugenio
Apr 26, 2021
Photo/s: Instagram/JoSebastian

Trigger warning: This story mentions eating disorders and dangerous food habits.

Told as a kid that she was not skinny enough to be a ballerina, Jo Sebastian, Gen Z's nutrition influencer, overcame her demons and is now telling tens of thousands of followers that they can eat what they want, hoping to change a toxic diet culture that is built around starvation.

Her message sticks out in a sea of posts about #WeightLoss and #WhatIEatInADay, wherein those who got washboard abs during the quarantine swear by eating just hard boiled eggs and bananas.

"If you want to eat something, go for it. Allowing yourself to have a choice is how you can find out food you actually want, so you'll know better. This, versus choosing not to eat because society is telling you 'nakakataba yan'," said the 23-year-old licensed nutritionist and dietician.

Starvation diets are a trap because eating becomes a chore and those who follow it are often motivated by disdain for their appearance, she said.

Continue reading below ↓

"It’s so easy to succumb and fall into that trap. ‘Do this for 30-days and you’ll feel transformed’. But when you don’t end up looking like them, you end up feeling worse so you ask yourself, 'oh is it me? Is it my fault? Did I do something wrong?" she said. 

"Of course, it’s not you. It’s because you’re trying to follow something that isn’t made for you, for your own body. We’re so used to the 30-day challenges and transformations that you don’t realize those things take so much longer, especially the ones that are internal," she added. 

Continue reading below ↓
Recommended Videos

Food is fuel

Sebastian's food awakening started in high school when she was studying to become a ballerina. On her first day of class, they were asked to fall in line. "Our fourth years kind of lined us up and were like 'ikaw kailangan mo pumayat, ikaw mataba ka ang laki ng tiyan mo'," she recalled being told as a 13-year old of average built. 

It pressured her to start dieting that when senior year came, she weighed only 100 pounds at five feet and five inches tall. She developed an eating disorder. 

“I wasn’t even dancing for dance anymore I was just focusing on my weight. So I started wondering, 'how come I spend 80% of my day thinking about how I look like or what I should eat next? How can I get around this so I can start focusing on ballet again?," she said. 

That's when she started looking up nutrition and began to find out there was so much more into it than what was portrayed in media. Turns out, food has no moral value: there's no such thing as good food or bad food, Sebastian said. But if food is fuel, then "why are we constantly told not to eat it?"

Continue reading below ↓

"You think that it’s normal to be dieting and worrying about your weight because you see that with everyone. That's not what we want to be normal, at least," she said.

Like her fellow Gen Zs, Sebastian started her own YouTube channel, putting out lookbooks, make up tutorials, and the usual day-in-the-life vlogs while studying community nutrition at the University of the Philippines. Her content changed two years ago when she found the need to focus more on nutrition and fitness content, guided by her board-certified expertise.

Continue reading below ↓

"I realized how there’s very little accurate information out there. We have a lot influencers who talk about juice detoxes, cleanses, and all these things. But we really need to put out the message about health not being this whole wellness phase we usually see," she said.

Last year, restaurateur and vlogger Erwan Heusaff asked her to join his fitness app, Rebel, as its resident nutrition pundit. It's on Instagram where she's most active in helping people have a healthier relationship with food. It's also through the app that she finds her clients as a freelance nutritionist and dietitian. 

"What I tell my clients is that what you’re working on isn’t a physical transformation. Yes, the changes, the goals that you want will come but for the first few months that we’re working together, it’s not about the weighing scale or the physical transformation. It’s about how you take care of yourself," she said.

Continue reading below ↓

"If before, you were skipping breakfast, let’s try to add a meal and see how that goes for you. Maybe you’ll have more energy, maybe your bowel movements will change. If you don’t like this type of workout, let’s find another one for you, something you’ll enjoy. Because if you’re not gonna enjoy it, why do it at all?," she added. 

It all starts with respect

Unlike before, when diet culture was the norm, activist-led movements emerged to encourage people to start accepting their body and focus more on what it can do rather than what it looks like. 

"One thing I always tell my client is that you can’t start your fitness journey hating your body. You can’t hate your body into submission just so you can turn it into what you want it to be. You have to start with respect," she said.

Continue reading below ↓

"You don’t have to love your body a 100% percent, right? But you have to start with you, accepting your body for what it is right now. That will allow you to celebrate the journey even more," she added. 

In the Kardashian-age of social media, influencers exert so much effort to influence people to buy what they're endorsing. "Their whole life is about looking a certain way, about having that message and that lifestyle. Whereas us, regular human beings, we have so much more we have to do," Sebastian said. 

"You’re eating and exercising so you can live your life and reach your full potential. You don’t live your life so that you can eat and exercise," she said.

ALSO READ: 'Tumaba Ka': Are Filipinos the Worst Body-Shamers?

FROM PEP.PHJanella Salvador lambasts netizens who called her “chubs,” “malusog,” “nataba” 

Latest Headlines
Read Next
Recent News
With the reopening of several local destinations, this app has never been more timely.
The pink wave transforms into an NGO volunteer network.
Why is the value of the local currency falling?
The news. So what? Subscribe to the newsletter that explains what the news means for you.
The email address you entered is invalid.
Thank you for signing up to On Three, reportr's weekly newsletter delivered to your mailbox three times a week. Only the latest, most useful and most insightful reads.
By signing up to newsletter, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.