Posts tagged Intuitive Eating Coaching
5 Ways You're still Dieting (even though you’re not "On A Diet")

Since upwards of 90% of eating disorders (Binge Eating Disorder included) begin with a diet, chances are good you’ve dieted in the past or are on one right now — even if you don’t realize it.

Even if you’re “not on a diet” — Weight Watchers, Paleo, Keto, sugar-free, Atkins, and their ilk — dieting isn’t just something you “do.” It’s also (and I would argue predominantly) the way you think. 

Binge eating is a reactive response to deprivation, which can take all kinds of forms. Because of our fat phobic, weight-centric culture, disordered attempts to “get healthy”, such as giving up entire macronutrient groups or vilifying specific ingredients, are often completely normalized.

I’ve had many clients claim they’re “not really restricting” only to see through our work together how restrictive they really were. I don’t share this with the intent to shame anyone — how could you know? — but merely to reflect the layered and nuanced impact diet culture and the thin ideal has had on our relationship to food, our bodies, and our selves.

All of this to say: it’s very possible you’re dieting without being “on a diet.” To find out, read below for 5 ways you may still be dieting without realizing it (and what to do instead.)


Some examples of “diet thoughts”:

Choosing eggs with avocado and bacon for breakfast is not a diet…unless you believe reducing your carbohydrates will help you to shed fat. 

Opting for the vegetarian entree is not a diet…unless you believe it will help you to weigh less. 

Using almond milk instead of cream in your coffee is not a diet…unless you’re actively trying to “eat clean.” (read: not dirty.)

Yes. That means the habits and behaviours you’re employ to keep yourself “under control” or “in line” may effectively lead you in the opposite direction. They are keeping you in the restrict-binge cycle.

Some of these subtle forms of dieting— of physiological or psychological deprivation — include the following:

#1. CHOOSING THE “HEALTHIER” OPTION.

Let’s separate “health” from “diet”, shall we? Some foods are more nutritious than others — this is true.

But a) you don’t have to eat exclusively “healthy” foods to be healthy, and b) ordering the so-called “healthiest” option on auto-pilot isn’t necessarily the healthiest option for you at the time.

Some ways you might be employing this mindset:

You always order the lowest calorie option.

You skip the bread basket and avoid starch with dinner. 

You order the “healthiest” meal vs. the one you actually want.

You order a side salad instead of the fries. 

You avoid gluten, dairy, meat, soy, etc. without a religious, ethical, or medical purpose (i.e. Celiac’s Disease, lactose intolerance, peanut allergy, kosher.) 

You adhere to a plant-based diet because you believe it will help you to lose or maintain your weight.

You skip breakfast or dinner (intermittent fasting) to lean down (even if you’re hungry). 

You stop eating after 7pm, even if you’re hungry, to suppress your weight. 

#2. AVOIDING DESSERTS, OR ONLY CONSUMING “NATURAL SWEETENERS” OR SUGAR SUBSTITUTES.

You actively avoid desserts or you adhere to a sugar-free diet. I wrote a whole post about why avoiding or eliminating sugar isn’t necessary (or recommended).

While your body could live without white sugar, intermittent access has been shown to ramp up the “charge” we associate with sweets, and may lead us to binge eat or overeat them when we do come into contact with them.

These feelings may make us feel as though we’re “addicted” to sugar, when in fact studies show these “addicted” feelings have more to do with our relationship to sugar than sugar itself (how many people do you know claim they’re addicted to yogurt or bananas, both sugar-containing foods?)

Some people aren’t much for sweets, and that’s totally cool — but the difference is they’re not actively avoiding them.

#3. ENGAGING IN COMPENSATORY BEHAVIOURS.

“Compensatory behaviour” is exactly what it sounds like: behaviours, like exercising more or eating less, to “compensate” for consuming extra calories or food (perceived or actual.)

Now, some behaviours are considered clinical and are symptoms of an active eating disorder (i.e. purging, laxative abuse, over-exercise).

Some are sub-clinical but equally problematic from a psychological standpoint, such as: skipping meals all day to “save up” for a big dinner, “earning” your pizza and wine night by working out earlier in the day, or joining a hot yoga class the morning after a party to “make up” for the night before.

“Normal eaters” — those who are not restricting physiological or psychologically — do not “earn” or “make up” for energy consumed. 

#5. USING DIET LANGUAGE. 

Using phrases like “being bad” when eating chocolate cake or enjoying a crispy French fry — or alternately, “being good” when eating a salad — are symptoms of a diet mentality.

Discussing the calories, carbohydrate count, or fat grams in a food while “enjoying” it is also a sign you’re dieting. Food really is just food! It may seem incredulous, but food is morally neutral (not “good” or “bad.”)

We’re socially conditioned not to trust our bodies, so of course it feels as though you must exercise control or keep yourself “in check”. But your body actually does a wonderful job of maintaining homeostasis — and this extends to monitoring your energy needs.

In the comment section below, please let me know: What’s your biggest takeaway from this post? 

It's Not About Giving Up, It's About Moving On: Why All Diets Make Us Feel Crazy Around Food
Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told.
— Cheryl Strayed
Intuitive eating, body positive, Health at Every Size, HAES, flexible eating, emotional eating, stress eating, diets, anti-diet, anti-diet project, anti-diet movement. It's not about giving up, it's about moving on: why all diets make us feel crazy around food.
Eating when you’re hungry won’t make you fat. In fact, the opposite is true: eating when you’re hungry helps maintain your setpoint and keep you at the weight that’s right for you, and denying your hunger leads to compensatory mechanisms that trigger fat storage and weight gain.
— Linda Bacon, Health at Every Size

CAN YOU ACTUALLY CONTROL YOUR WEIGHT? WHAT THE SCIENCE SAYS

From what we've gathered so far, the answer to this is no. While there may be certain habits and behaviours that keep us at the lower end of our setpoint, the setpoint itself is largely outside of our control and extremely difficult to manipulate without your body seriously rebelling in response. 

For one thing, weight is regulated by the following main control centres, including things like the hypothalamus, an almond-sized bit of your brain. It's divided into the lateral hypothalamus or LH, considered the "hunger centre" and the ventromedial hypothalamus or VMH, considered the "fullness centre."

 

  1. How Sweet It [Was]:Pre-Diet Culture

  2. The Myth of Diets and Weight Loss

  3. 3 Reasons Why Diets Make Us Feel Crazy Around Food

  4. Can You Actually Control Your Weight? What the Science Says

  5. Solutions for a Post-Diet Culture: The Importance of Self-Care

HOW SWEET IT [WAS]: PRE-DIET CULTURE

Dieting — whether we call it by name or one of its other names, such as “being good” or “watching our weight” — has been rendered so normalized that it’s nearly impossible for most of us to think of food without it. What would life look lies if we were all normal eaters who moved because we enjoyed it, never said “I shouldn’t” in response to a slice of chocolate cake, and associated food with joy?

The truth is, we did live without diets. And we remained relatively healthy. We ate steak piled high with mushrooms and onions, served beside a baked potato and sour cream. Apple pie with cheese. Eggs and bacon, cooked in animal fats; pancakes soaked in sweet maple syrup. And we mostly maintained our weight without obsessing over any of it. 

In fact, a 1970s research study shows that the average weight of a sixty-year-old man was only four to five pounds higher than the average thirty-year-old man (1). So not only were we not dieting, but we were typically maintaining our size throughout life — all the while enjoying a variety of foods and beverages. 

Oh, and all without access to the gyms and fitness studios we’re now privy to. 

So what gives? 

THE MYTH OF DIETS AND WEIGHT LOSS

Many of us have been marketed to all of our lives. We’re taught a) our weight is our responsibility b) our weight can be controlled c) everyone is capable of being thin or at a “healthy weight” d) if we’re not thin, it’s because we have weak willpower or lack self-discipline. 

In my experience, we’re also unsure of how to be healthy —and to make healthy choices — without a diet, eating style, or the diet hangover haunting us. If left to our own devices, wouldn’t we just subsist on ice cream, pizza, and hamburgers?Don’t we need rules to reign us in? 

Yes. And no. 

While restrained eaters — people who restrict in some way — feel they need rules, unrestrained or intuitive eaters do not. When you don’t deprive yourself of any food and allow yourself complete and unconditional permission to eat, you don’t need rules because this very act neutralizes our emotional attachment to shiny objects like cookies and potato chips. 

If we want something, we just have to work at it, right? If we just wanted to be thin enough, we would be. If we just tried. Maybe you worked your way up through the ranks to become partner at your law firm, or completed additional training to teach ESL. 

Maybe you ran the Boston marathon or climbed Mount Everest or opened a yoga studio on your own or studied your way to Harvard or painted your way to a star-studded exhibit or take gorgeous photos for the hell of it. 

Maybe you moved cross-country with your significant other and had three beautiful children who brought more joy to your life than you could have ever imagined. Or you built an empire, never married, and lived happily ever after. 

If we want something enough, we can have it. Except dieting doesn’t really work like that. 

In the end, your need to feed yourself — to not go hungry — will always override your desire to be thin. Survival has an energy requirement, not a size preference. 

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether the aesthetic ideal is Rubenesque or curvy or some weird thigh gap, bootylicious, ripped abs mashup. Because the body you end up with, while modified in part by factors such as food and exercise and environment, is largely determined by your genetics and likely a whole slew of things we’re still discovering.

Not to mention the fact that weight has very little to do with health. While critics of the Health at Every Size® movement are quick to question whether an individual really can be healthy at any size — what about those who are bedridden due to weight? —these black-and-white questions too easily dismiss the movement’s core purpose. 

I don’t believe size is irrelevant; clearly it’s an emotionally-fraught issue. But knowing what we know about diets, diet culture, and the pursuit of weight loss (see below), the most effective and compassionate way to help people to experience authentic health hinges on self-care rather than self-control. 

Basically: instead of prescribing weight loss as the antidote to all things, maybe we could spend a few minutes chatting about sleep, relationship to food, hobbies and interests, enjoyable activity, and so on. 

Ultimately, you didn’t fail the diet; the diet failed you.

SOME BIG PROBLEMS WITH DIETS

1. Diets usually ask us to go hungry (restrict calories) or restrict foods or food groups, which lead us to behave anxiously around food. The former are typically what we consider “real diets” or what I term “Wave I diets” such as mono food diets (i.e. grapefruit diet, cabbage soup diet, Master Cleanse) or diets such as Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, If It Fits Your Macros/IIFYM, and so on. 

The latter are non-diet diets such as Atkins, South Beach, The Zone, Paleo, veganism or vegetarianism (when approached for weight loss), clean eating, and so on. I refer to these as “Wave II”. 

Food restriction, from my professional experience and research, rarely if ever leads to positive outcomes over the short- and long-term when pursued for weight loss. “If you are a restrained eater,” Linda Bacon writes, “you try to control your body weight and don’t trust your body to do it for you” (40). 

When food is advertised or presented, restrained eaters (people who restrict) are more apt to eat it or overeat it, while unrestrained eaters (intuitive eaters) statistically do not. Over 75 studies actually yield pretty consistent results: “restrained eaters react to emotions and external cues in a nearly totally opposite manner of unrestrained eaters” (Bacon, 41.) 

Just by saying this one line — “you can have this again whenever you want” — I’ve found so much peace around food.

2. Diets have never been proven to work, but our failure in achieving or maintaining their broken promises is often used as a weapon against us. 

Not a single study has even shown that diets work in the long-term save for a teeny tiny number of people. As Bacon details in Health at Every Size, the Women’s Health Initiative — the longest, largest, and arguably most expensive randomized, controlled dietary intervention clinical trial (considered the gold standard in research) — tested whether the calories in, calories out approach actually works. 

20, 000 women were placed on a low-fat diet with calories reduced, on average, by about 360 per day. After 8 years on the diet, there was no change reported in weight from starting point, and average waist circumference had actually increased (3). 

Research conducted on thousands of other diets is consistent with these findings. People may lose weight initially — but nearly always gain it back. Oh, and did I mention these camps were also exercising? They were. (4) In fact, while exercise is great for many things, like improving cardiovascular and bone health, it's not a terrific tool for weight loss. Just ask Julia Belluz, who did the work here and here

And about willpower and self-discipline? As Linda Bacon states, "if you're losing weight and you are below your setpoint, your hypothalamus might direct other body systems to regulate your eating and activity levels as well as your metabolic efficiency, the rate at which you burn calories, to get you to regain the weight" (Bacon, 15.)

FYI: Setpoint theory suggests we each have a ‘natural weight’ our bodies run best at and that our bodies fight tooth and nail to maintain. It’s the weight we’re at when we honour our hunger and fullness cues, aren’t obsessing over weight or food habits, and the one we find ourselves at between diets. Contrary to what some believe, your “setpoint” is not a specific weight, but represents a ten-to-twenty-pound-range, so losing or gaining small amounts of weight may, in the words of Linda Bacon, “won’t be met by compensatory actions.” But there’s no scientific way to determine setpoint; the only way to know is to listen to your body, eat normally, and practice self-care to see where you end up.  

3. Diets rob us of the energy we need to “take up space” in the world and build empires. 

While many of us are concerned with eating less -- or at least not eating too much -- two important aspects of food are so often forgotten in the process. One, that food is pleasure. And two, that we need food -- energy -- to do all of the important work we're here to do.

While dieting makes us mood, lethargic, tired, hungry, and generally unhappy to be around, the opposite of dieting -- intuitive eating -- allows us to get our fill so we're satisfied and able to care for others in addition to ourselves. 

There's also insulin, which regulates blood sugar and is more or less the hypothalamus messenger, delivering energy requests as needed, and gherkin, discovered only in 1999, which operates as an appetite trigger. On top of that, more than 20 chemical messengers have been found to stimulate eating and a similar number suppress appetite (Bacon, 23), which basically means you are up against an army of very hard-working and precise appetite soldiers. 

This system is influenced by many factors, including your emotions and sleep patterns. 

When leptin is working naturally, appetite reduces (we feel our fullness), we feel like moving (hello energy!), and our metabolisms rev up. It appears the role of leptin, at least originally, was to protect fat stores during times of food scarcity. When we stop eating normally, leptin production shrinks along with our fat cells. As a result, appetite increases (alert, alert!), metabolism decreases (quick, we’re losing fat!), and the weight gain comes back.

And then we blame ourselves, when the whole thing was a complex emergency effort coordinated by our bodies and actually had nothing to do with lack of willpower or self-discipline. The opposite is not true, probably because weight gain makes good sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Leptin goes offline and isn’t as easily heard. Why would you want to get rid of the very energy you might need to keep yourself alive? It would be like throwing the money in your savings account down the drain because you don’t need it at this very minute.

Keep in mind that those who are constantly weight cycling (yo-yo dieting) produce less leptin than they did before they started dieting. The reason it gets harder and harder to lose weight with each attempt may be due to age (our metabolisms lower, our muscle mass decreases) but I’d put my money on diets. The more we diet, the harder it is to lose weight. We certainly don’t diet to gain weight, but that’s exactly what happens — because historically that’s what has always happened. And why it’s impossible for diets to deliver on their promises, no matter how many generations perpetuate a myth their ancestors would have ridiculed. 

All of this is to say the human body is not hardwired for weight loss. 

SOLUTIONS FOR A POST-DIET CULTURE: THE IMPORTANCE OF SELF-CARE

Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.
— Cheryl Strayed

Alright then, Sarah, if weight loss and dieting don't work, then how do we improve health? So glad you asked.

#1. Eat for pleasure and satisfaction. Let these two lead the way for you. 

#2. Chew and eat slowly. Savour your food. Pay attention to the textures, aromas, flavours. 

#3. Eat a variety of foods and try new-to-you foods. One of the things most experts can agree on is the importance of variety to our diets. Like broccoli? Try cauliflower next week. Have never tried rapini? Great time to try it! Make chana masala for the first time, or seek out a recipe for delicious roasted chicken. 

#4. Eat with total and unconditional permission. You are allowed to eat when you are hungry.  

#5. Eat without guilt, shame, or remorse. We're not burning down a schoolhouse or committing murder, we're just eating. It's okay to enjoy ice cream. It's okay to enjoy potato chips. It's okay to enjoy green juice or kale salad. It's okay to enjoy whatever it is you enjoy. 

#6. Honour your hunger and fullness. Intuitive eating isn't a diet, so there aren't any rules. You're allowed taste hunger. You can eat something just because you feel like it and it tastes good. But it may not feel good if you do this all the time. 

#7. Show yourself compassion. We say, do, think, and act in ways we don't always like. It's part of the learning experience, and I'd say part of being human and making mistakes. It's okay. Be kind. Be gentle. 

    “Decades of research — and probably your own personal experience — show that the pursuit of weight loss rarely produces the thin, happy life you dream of. Dropping the pursuit of weight loss isn’t about giving up, it’s about moving on. When you make choices because they help you feel better, not because of their presumed effect on your weight, you maintain them over the long run. You do it because you want to, not because you believe you should.” -Linda Bacon (5).

Our bodies crave homeostasis. Nutrition — eating — included. 

Not sure how to ditch the diet and make peace with food? I created a Habits & Behaviour Audit to help you to do exactly that

Related:

Our Healthy Weight Obsession: Why Sizeism is a Problem 

Intuitive Eating Principles: Reject the Diet Mentality

"Feeling Fat": How to Move on From Using Diets as Coping Mechanisms

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ten-State Nutrition Survey 1968-1970. U.S. DHEW Publication No. (HSM) 72-8131.

  2. Leibel, Rudolph L., Michael Rosenbaum, and Jules Hirsch. “Changes in Energy Expenditure Resulting from Altered Body Weight,” New England Journal of Medicine 332 (1995): 621-28.

  3. Howard, Barbara V., et al., “Low-Fat Dietary Pattern and Weight Change over 7 Years: The Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial,” Journal of the American Medical Association 295, no. 1 (2006): 39-49.

  4. Gardner, Christopher D., et al., “Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and Learn Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors among Overweight Premenopausal Women: The A to Z Weight Loss Study: A Randomized Trial,” Journal of the American Medical Association 297, no. 9 (2007): 969-77.

  5. Bacon, Linda. Health at Every Size.

10 Reasons You Still Hate Your Body (And What To Do About It)

I’m not anti-weight loss, but like most intuitive eating coaches, I’m anti-pursuit of weight loss. 

But what happens when you know this on an intellectual level and you’ve succeeded in ditching the diet, but you still haven’t made peace with your body? 

In my experience as an intuitive eating coach, the body image piece is the last to click. It isn’t a linear or quick process; it often takes a lot of self-compassion, patience, and perseverance. But the time is going to pass regardless of whether you like your body or not. I figure you can spend the rest of your life trying to change it while loathing it, or you can do the necessary work to make peace with it and move on to other things that will ultimately prove more fulfilling. 

Here’s 5 reasons you still haven’t made peace with your body and how to troubleshoot each piece of the puzzle. 

Intuitive eating, emotional eating, body positive, health at every size, all foods fit, non-diet, anti-diet. 5 reasons you still hate your body and what to do about it.

 

1 | You’re comparing your body to a younger (and possibly still developing) version of itself. 

While it makes sense that 37-year-old bodies won’t necessarily look like their 17-year-old versions, it’s sometimes difficult to accept and move forward with our aging bodies due to a number of factors. Female representations are arguably narrow; we’re taught we must always be hot. Who gets airplay? Hot twentysomethings, MILFs, cougars. If you get pregnant, you’re only permitted a small baby bump (and you best not carry weight anywhere else) and once you deliver, you need to lose the extra weight right away. 

The first step is really to set boundaries, and to regard your body as a vessel (what it has and can do) rather than an art piece (what it looks like.) Cellulite, stretch marks, wobbly bits, saggy boobs - these are part and parcel of the aging experience. Sometimes we get lucky, but by no means should Christie Brinkley set the standard for everyone else. 

Gently (and with a lot of compassion) shift your focus away from how much you hate your body to what it can do. If you’re not sure what it can do, I recommend starting there. How many push-ups can you do? Which forms of movement do you enjoy? Maybe you love taking walks around the neighbourhood after dinner with a cup of tea in hand. Maybe you love the way it feels to belly dance. Maybe you like swinging in the park. 

Secondly, immerse yourself in positive images. Unfollow social media accounts that don’t resonate with you or lead you to think negatively about yourself. 

2 | You’re playing a dead-end game of comparisonitis. 

We’ve inundated with transformation stories at every corner. From magazines to social media platforms, we’re reminded that if we don’t have something, it’s only because we don’t want it enough or haven’t worked hard enough to achieve it. But in my experience — and while many will certainly disagree — I think discipline is overrated. 

Whenever you pursue a goal, you need some degree of discipline. You need to commit and stay the course.

But ultimately the goal itself can (and should?) sufficiently drive you without much coaxing on your part. Whenever I’ve felt too much pushback from something, it’s usually a sign it’s not for me. I like to compare challenges to leather shoes. You want the shoe to fit somewhat snug initially because leather stretches out and you don’t want to be left with an oversized shoe. But you don’t want the shoe to fit too tight, either.

Weight loss is difficult for most people because it asks us to override our hunger signals to meet an arbitrary number on the scale, a measurement, or a percentage. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes no sense. It counters our very programming. 

But weightlifting to get stronger? This one’s easier. We can wrap our heads around it. 

Running to strengthen our hearts and lungs? Yes. 

Eating to fuel performance? Yes. 

So when it comes down to stories about so-and-so and her amazing weight loss, think critically about it. Maybe that person lost weight, but will she keep it off? Chances are good that she won’t (they say 90-95% of diets fail.) But getting stronger and eating a balanced diet make a lot of sense regardless of age or experience and they work with our biology — not against it. 

3 | Your friends are still dieting in various degrees.

It can be enormously difficult to live as an intuitive eater. It seems like everyone is on a diet, looking to spot reduce, or working to change their size or shape in some way. 

How can you possibly feel good about your body if everyone around you feels the need to change theirs?

Regardless of whether it’s a friend, family member, or colleague, I recommend having strong boundaries. Let them know what you’re trying to do (i.e. make peace with your body, accept your body, stop being at war with food…or your own words!). I find people are generally pretty receptive if you just let them in on your plans. 

Another option is to find some body positive groups to join or additional friends who are not as wrapped up in diet culture. 

4 | You’re consuming toxic media. 

Comparisonitis and toxic media consumption are totally linked, but the difference is this: comparing yourself to others is active and conscious (“I need to change”), while media consumption is (in my experience) tends to get internalized and grows from the inside out. Suddenly you want things you never thought you’d crave, like chiseled abs, a thigh gap, and a booty. You’re consumed with the idea that you’re not enough, not worthy, and not deserving, even if none of these things are true. 

One of the first things I get my clients to do is to ditch the negative media and surround themselves with more positive influences. Narrow beauty ideals may be the only ones we’re exposed to, but they’re not the only ones that exist. The body positive world is filled with gorgeous, diverse representations of femininity and appeal to a broad range of people. 

5 | You’re carrying unrealistic expectations for what your body should look like. 

I get it. We’re taught from a very young age to criticize our bodies and to treat them like projects. We’re taught we’re not good enough if we don’t meet the (arbitrary) ideal, and that regardless of our desires, we should always be working toward meeting it — that it’s “unwomanly" not to. 

But we’re not all meant to be Kate Mosses or Beyonces or Ashley Grahams, to be gaunt or voluptuous or “curvy in all the right places” or to have “legs for days.” That’s okay. Your body isn’t wrong. Over the course of our lives, our bodies are going to change. They’ll be bigger or smaller, firmer or softer, stronger or weaker. It is okay — and perfectly normal — to have cellulite, wobbly bits, and stretch marks. Pigmentation and moles. We’re not meant to be perfect. We’re only meant to be human.