Posts tagged Reject the Diet Mentality
Three Questions to Ask to Stop Feeling Guilt and Shame Over “Bad” Foods

Whether you’re new to intuitive eating, deeper into learning about the non-diet approach, or at a different stage of your eating disorder recovery, it’s very possible you still feel guilt or shame about — or judge — the foods you’re eating. This can feel especially irritating if you’ve embraced body positivity and intellectually know restriction — or holding on to the diet mentality — isn’t serving you. 

Guilt and shame around “forbidden” foods is one of the most common conflicts I address in my nutrition practice. And you know what? It has nothing to do with the food. 

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An apple and potato chips would be morally neutral if it weren’t for diet culture’s interventions. Moving away from restrictive tendencies and toward a more liberated approach to food requires vigilant questioning and criticism of the diet industry and its trappings. Who decides what’s “healthy”? How have I come to my beliefs about food? Why do I feel like eating multiple servings of a “forbidden” food is too much? What’s wrong with enjoying a chocolate bar? 

Dissolving judgment, guilt, and shame around food takes ample time, and isn’t easy or straightforward, here’s 3 questions to start asking yourself to make peace with food. 

1. How do I believe my feelings are benefitting me? 

When we speak about judgment, guilt, and shame about food, chances are good we’re talking about judgment, guilt, and shame about body. If you’re unsure if this is true, ask yourself this: If I totally loved my body and how it gets received in the world, would I care about the double cheese pizza I’m eating right now

I want you to get really curious: are you holding on to your thoughts and beliefs about food because you feel they’re benefitting you in some way? Maybe you feel a distinct charge around “carbs” because you believe they will lead to weight gain (false), or around sugar because you’re inherently “addicted” (no such thing.) 

If you are still trying to manipulate your body size or shape in some form or another — even in subtle ways — they can lead to feelings of guilt and shame around food. While food exposure therapy can be helpful at normalizing “forbidden” foods, deeper body image work and fat acceptance are necessary for completely neutralizing the charge. Fully recovering from diet culture and disordered eating requires complete acceptance of your natural body. 


2. What’s consistent about the foods I carry negative feelings for? 

We can get so caught up in the diet mentality bubble that we often miss its trappings. It’s important to question — and keep questioning — your beliefs and reactions about food. What’s similar about the foods you’re reacting to? Are you always eating these “forbidden foods” at the same time? In the same way?

It’s helpful to look at your food and eating patterns. Are there certain food groups that provoke a deeper reaction from you than others? Do you feel safe around fat, but not around sugar? What sorts of messages are you exposed to on a regular basis? Which foods are demonized at your office? In the room? Within your friend groups? 

Food exposure therapy doesn’t just happen at the table. It happens out in the world.

3. What do I think about when I’m eating these foods?

Do donuts remind you of anyone or anything? What about French fries? In the same way that certain foods carry positive connotations — enjoying fresh-picked raspberries with your grandmother, for example, or savouring an ice cream cone with your best friend on a hot summer’s day — we also carry more negative food experiences with us (I’m looking at you, negativity bias). Are those negative moments making it tough to neutralize certain foods? 

It’s important to look at the framework around the foods you feel guilt or shame toward. In my professional experience, the medium can be as important as the message. 

Now, I want to know: which of the three questions above do you find the most helpful? Does one resonate more than the others?

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? 

In Defence of Cookies: Why Sugar is Not a Drug

With the sheer amount of fear-mongering inspired by the unicorn frappuccino, I figured it was far time to set the record straight. While I love pure maple syrup and local honey, my kind of cookie includes some kind of sugar. And though there’s much to be said for “natural sweeteners,” I think we often forget sugar is a natural sweetener, too, sourced from the stems of sugar cane or the roots of sugar beets. 

Health experts are generally quick to criminalize sugar. Sugar is “bad”, sugar “causes obesity” or “leads to obesity”, sugar makes us fat, sugar gives us various diseases and leads to metabolic syndrome, sugar is the devil, sugar is a drug. And though sugar isn’t exactly a vegetable, there’s no reason why kale can’t co-exist with real, fresh-out-of-the-oven oatmeal cookies. 

Intuitive eating | Health at Every Size | Anti-Diet. In Defence of Cookies - why sugar is not a drug.

 

Pour Some Sugar On Me, Baby: Sugar and Survival

An article published in the European Journal of Nutrition back in 2016 reviewed the current literature on sugar addiction and the addictive potential of sugar, concluding that sugar does not, in fact, operate like cocaine. I’m exploring this study today and what it means for cookie lovers everywhere.

But first, I want to draw your attention to a little snippet from a book by the name of Sugar: A Global History: “Sweet foods cause the taste buds to release neurotransmitters that light up the brain’s pleasure centres. The brain responds by producing endo-cannabinoids, which increase appetite. This may have an evolutionary explanation…40 per cent of the calories in breast milk come from lactose, a disaccharide sugar that is readily metabolized into glucose, the body’s basic fuel. The sweetness leads infants to eat more, making them more likely to survive.” (7.)

Yes, loves. Sugar’s not all bad. It has actually contributed to the survival of our species. But we don’t need gobs of it, you argue. Sure. But I would also argue (with supportive evidence) that if we simply allowed ourselves to eat it, we would eat only what we wanted (and not feel powerless around it), develop resilience in the face of hyper-palatable foods, and learn how to balance it with other foods.

The fruit was never the problem; it was the fact that it was forbidden

“But I’m addicted to sugar!”: Food Addiction Theory

Once upon a time, someone — let’s call her Eve, since we’re already there — mentioned she was addicted to sugar. “I can’t resist the apple,” she said. Okay, so she didn’t actually say that, but let’s pretend a donut is an apple is a donut. While the food addiction theory claims “excessive consumption of palatable foods may be understood within the same neurobiological framework as drug addiction”, this isn’t actually all that helpful. 

Of course it would appear this way on the surface, but you could also say we’re only repeating the pattern you’d expect from us — the same one we learned in childhood (see: baby and breast milk). The same one that keeps us alive. As Linda Bacon explains in Health at Every Size, the more we restrict food intake and the lower our weight dips below set-point, the more our bodies reach out for hyper-caloric foods to gain the weight back. I would argue it's less addiction and more straight-up physiology. 

In Obesity Reviews (14 - 19-28), the question of whether food addiction theory is a valid or useful concept was evaluated by researchers. Food addiction, according to them, “has acquired much currency with relatively little supporting evidence. Despite continuing uncertainty about the concept and relative lack of support, it has remarkable, and in our view, unjustified, influence in developing neurobiological models of obesity."

We Need Sugar Detoxes...Because Sugar Detoxes Exist

The intuitive eating model advocates that all foods fit — including sugar. By giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat, challenging the food police, making peace with food, and honouring our hunger and fullness cues (including ‘taste hunger’, ‘meal hunger’, and ‘snack hunger’), we can cultivate a healthy relationship with food. 

This particular article (the one from the European Journal of Nutrition) found “little evidence to support sugar addiction in humans, and findings from the animal literature suggest that addiction-like behaviours, such as bingeing, occur only in the context of intermittent access to sugar (emphasis mine). These behaviours likely arise from intermittent access to sweet tasting or highly palatable foods, not the neurochemical effects of sugar”. 

So let’s unpack this a bit. 

Say we have two situations. 

Betty Anne deprives herself of sugar, though she wouldn’t describe it this way. She’d probably say things like, “I don’t keep sweets in the house” or “I shouldn’t” in response to a cookie, or she uses artificial sweeteners and always opts for diet soda. She feels “out of control” whenever she’s around sugar and has concluded that she is addicted. 

Keiko eats whatever she wants, including cookies, candy, and pastries. She looks forward to sitting down with a croissant and a coffee on a Saturday morning, having a cookie with her mid-afternoon cup of tea, and a great glass of lemonade. 

Keiko eats sugar. Maybe she eats sweet foods often. Who knows? What we do know is that Keiko doesn’t feel like she needs a “sugar detox.” She doesn’t view sugar as a problem needing to be solved; she views sweets as a beautiful and amazing part of life. She can take a cookie or leave it. She can enjoy a croissant or a soft-boiled egg. It's just one choice among millions of choices she'll make during the course of her lifetime. 

Betty Anne is another story. She feels like she has a problem with sugar because whenever she gets around it, she loses “control”, or what I prefer to call “choice.” She probably assumes there’s something wrong with sugar, though more likely she assumes there’s something wrong with herself. The one thing she probably hasn’t considered is that there’s something wrong with her pattern of behaviour

Keiko enjoys sugar regularly without emotional or physical restriction. Betty Anne restricts. In the article, the rats wanted more sugar because they were deprived of sugar (intermittent access) though the same couldn’t be said of the rats who carried an all-access pass

Which kid eats more cookies: the one who’s told to eat as many as s/he/their wants, or the one who’s told not to eat any and is subsequently left alone with a jar? 

I’d like to suggest that the problem is not that sugar is a drug. The problem is that we treat sugar like a drug. The problem is not sugar. The problem is our relationship to sugar.  

We deprive ourselves of it, restrict it, shame ourselves for eating it, tell ourselves we “shouldn’t” when faced with a slice of cheesecake, deny dessert, and go on sugar detoxes. But the reason we “need” sugar detoxes is because we have sugar detoxes. Are we hardwired for hyper palatable foods? Sure. But the purpose of this mechanism is — rather, was — to ensure we consume sufficient calories for lean times. 

Maybe the answer rests in not denying or fighting this mechanism — a seemingly futile task — but in learning how to work with it. 

Imagine a faux Garden of Eden. There’s a single tree with one beautiful, perfect apple. I want you to imagine more trees popping up everywhere — the fields are filling. Everywhere, buds burst open, flowers emerge, and apples quickly form. Everywhere you look, there’s gorgeous apples. 

Now let’s apply this to sweets. Imagine a land filled with cookies, cakes, pastries, pie…all of your favourites. You can eat them whenever you want. Maybe you go a little nuts at first; it’s been so long since you’ve had these things. But after a while you tire of them. Maybe you eat a croissant on a Saturday. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you eat a mid-afternoon cookie. Maybe you work right through the break without realizing it. 

You can either restrict food and access to highly palatable foods…or you can create an environment of abundance — both mental and physical — vs. scarcity — both mental and physical — so that you feel safe and secure. 

Maybe the goal isn’t to deny our biology or to attempt to combat it. Maybe the goal isn’t to say no (which just leads to danger, danger, danger — eat all the sugar!). Maybe it’s to remind yourself you have unconditional permission to eat.