The glaringly obvious, yet commonly denied fact of the matter when it comes to dieting is that all diets and diet products have one thing in common: they all fail us over the long-term as we slowly gain back all the weight we initially lost by restricting and depriving ourselves, and then some. So what’s the alternative? An evidence-based approach to authentic healthy living that teaches us to tune into our inner wisdom about what our body needs and balance these needs with the wealth of health information we have access to. It’s called Intuitive Eating.
The Problem with Weight Bias
In today’s health and wellness obsessed culture, weight is very closely tied to health. Appearing to be a ‘healthy weight’ alone is enough to convince everyone around you that you are doing well at taking care of yourself. With this unhealthy focus on weight, many turn to dieting as the solution to all their health and happiness struggles.
We live in a world where people who take up less space are seen as more competent, intelligent, attractive, happy, successful….
At first glance, it may seem that this value system we have adopted is rooted in celebrating health, well-being, and vibrancy. However, this widely accepted belief that larger bodies can’t be healthy, well, and vibrant at the same time is highly flawed.
Our societal bias against people in larger bodies has been well studied. Research has found that our negative, weight biased, anti-fat attitudes are affecting people in many aspects of life, from workplace success, to the media to health care.
As a result, it probably comes as no surprise that 42% of adults across the world have reported trying to lose weight.
After all, with study after study being published and reported on by the mass media linking a multitude of disease states to obesity, it’s easy to see how our weight status has become our number on concern. To help us slim down and in doing so fight off disease, there are a million and one diet programs, supplements, and detox plans available on the market. January of every year comes with a tidal wave of motivation, inspiration and discipline — the things we think we need more of in order to finally lose the weight and achieve health and happiness. But these things aren’t enough, these things aren’t the problem.
Can you go anywhere these days without engaging in or being exposed to diet and weight loss talk? I would argue no — unless you’re very careful about who you let into your close social circles. It has become an unquestioned and normal part of our discourse.
Monday morning at the office, talking about the weekend’s indulgences and how it’s time to buckle down and get back on track.
Over lunch, discussing how a mutual friend looked leaner than usual the last time you saw them, and speculating how they did it.
At the gym after the holidays, overhearing others’ guilt over too much dessert and too many cocktails, and the fear of stepping on the scale to assess the damage.
It’s clear that when we think we have a weight problem, the go-to solution is to diet. What’s more, even if we don’t have a weight problem, we have been conditioned to believe that life will be better and brighter as soon as we lose those last 10 pounds.
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight does have health benefits. There’s lots of science to support that. But the range of options we have available to go about achieving and maintaining this weight can go from health promoting to downright dangerous pretty quickly.
Traditional weight loss diets fall somewhere in the middle.
With the diet and weight loss industry ready and willing capitalize off our insecurities and sell us all sorts of quick fixes, it’s no surprise that the golden question has become “Which diet is best?” Research suggests that they all work, as long as you can stick to them.
What the Weight Loss Industry Never Told You
No matter what diet you follow, as long as you restrict calories low enough, you will lose weight. Diets ‘work’ in that sense. But what the diet industry doesn’t tell you is that weight loss dieting can have some unintended side effects.
Constantly restricting what you eat can alter your relationship with food, and may even lead to eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating – all very serious mental health disorders.
Chronic dieting can also have a significant impact on your body’s physiology! Especially the way your body responds to food and how it stores energy! This the science behind why it seems harder and harder to lose weight with every dieting attempt.
Not to mention weight loss dieting has a way of really negatively impacting our self-esteem.
Are You Dieting Without Even Knowing It?
You don’t have to be on a named weight loss diet to be engaging in dieting behaviour. Remember when I mentioned how pervasive diet culture has become? Well, the lines have become pretty blurry between honest heathy eating and various subtle attempts to manage weight performed under the guise of being health-conscious. For example:
- Restricting your eating to only certain times of the day
- Eating only foods you deem to be ‘clean’
- Exercising or skipping meals after eating unhealthy foods
- Avoiding hunger by drinking diet soda or coffee
- Cutting carbohydrates (or avoiding entire food groups without medical reason)
- Eating what appears to be healthy in public, and eating differently in private
These may all seem like normal, harmless habits, but these pseudo-dieting tactics are examples of disordered eating behaviours and how mainstream and widely accepted they have become within society.
Let me be clear. Disordered eating behaviours are not the same as having a diagnosed eating disorder. Disordered eating behaviours are less severe than the behaviours which constitute a diagnosis of an eating disorder. But, if these less severe disordered eating behaviours become more extreme and restrictive, and go unaddressed for too long, you could be at risk for developing a full-blown eating disorder.
The underlying problem with dieting at the root of all of this is an issue of trust. Dieting teaches us that we need a set of food rules to live by in order to prevent us from eating too much of the wrong foods. In the process, we lose touch with our innate ability to choose the right foods, in the right amounts, in a satisfying way – the true keys to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
What is the Non-Diet Approach?
The non-diet approach is exactly what is sounds like: an alternative to dieting. It is an approach that promotes long-term physical health, mental health, size diversity, and a healthy relationship with food.
What does this mean? Eating should not make you feel guilty. Having a healthy relationship with food means you are not morally superior or inferior based on your food choices. Your eating habits should not impact your self-worth.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating is a non-diet approach to achieving a true balance between health and happiness. At its core, it is about eating in response to your individual hunger and fullness cues by respecting your body’s signals about when, what, and how much to eat.
Intuitive Eating is about developing a healthy relationship between food, mind, and body. It’s about asking yourself what you really need and respecting your body enough to realize that it deserves for its needs to be met.
A big part of Intuitive Eating is also about re-discovering the pleasure and satisfaction that should be a part of the eating experience. That’s right, food is meant to bring us pleasure, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about that.
Intuitive Eating begins with rejecting diet culture.
It teaches you how to embrace and learn from your individual eating personality. It gives you full permission to honour your hunger and teaches you how to recognize fullness. It provides you with food freedom and promotes body respect.
Intuitive eating empowers you to gently honour your health. It teaches you how to re-discover the satisfaction factor. And last but not least, it is a tried a true approach that’s backed by science.
Research has shown that those who are taught and follow the principles of Intuitive Eating achieve:
- Improved diet quality
- Weight maintenance
- Lower cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Higher self-esteem, well-being and optimism
- Less restricted eating
You can download your FREE introductory guide to Intuitive Eating by clicking the button below.
I completely understand that if you’ve stuck with me this far that you might be wondering how you can possibly eat healthy and be healthy by ditching diets and food rules altogether and trusting your instincts instead.
They key to understanding this piece of the non-diet approach way of life is reframing how we think about health and healthy eating.
Yes, body weight can be an indicator of health, but there’s so much more to being healthy. Your health is also determined by your environment, your genetics, your income, your education, and your social supports, just to name a few! With this information in mind, I hope you can give yourself permission to take the focus off the number on the scale and instead be open to building and maintaining health-promoting habits that will last a life time.
Rethinking Healthy Eating
Food, weight, and health have become so closely tied in our diet-obsessed culture that they can be hard to separate. But with this new definition of health, comes a new definition of healthy eating!
Healthy eating is about a diet that is full of variety. Healthy eating is not about living by a list of foods to include and foods to avoid.
Healthy eating is a neutral place where food does not impact your self-worth, and where food does not cause you to feel guilty nor empowered.
Healthy eating means being able to enjoy foods you love! Healthy eating does not involve feelings of restriction or deprivation.
Healthy eating considers portion size by respecting your body’s hunger and fullness cues to tell you how much and when to eat.
Healthy eating considers that food provides more than just nutrients — it serves valuable social and emotional purposes as well.
Through this definition of healthy eating, it is still possible to consider nutrition as a part of the non-diet approach. By giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat what we want, when we want, something really neat happens. Over time, we learn that when we don’t restrict foods, the power they have over us diminishes. You know that thing that happens when you tell yourself you’re not allowed to have chocolate, and then chocolate becomes the only thing you can think about? And by the time you get to the point where you give yourself permission to have just a little, you end up eating way too much?
By removing these restrictions, we learn to eat these types of foods more mindfully and enjoy it more fully. There’s way less appeal when we know we can have those foods whenever we want, and as a result, we adopt a sort of natural, effortless portion control. In this way, Intuitive Eating can be used as a strategy for navigating the increasingly complex food environment we live in today.
Is a Non-Diet Approach Right for Everyone?
After all this talk about diet culture, food rules, hunger cues and body trust, you’ve likely got a feeling about whether this type of approach is right for you. If you’re still trying to make up your mind, give the following list of statements a read to figure out which camp you fit into.
A non-diet approach IS for you if:
- You want to improve your health (both physical and mental) and repair your relationship with food
- You’re ready to reject diet culture
- You’re ready to let go of weight loss as your main goal
- You’re ready to make mistakes and let go of perfection
- You’re ready to trust your body and devote the time and energy required to respect and fulfill its needs
- You’re excited to experience freedom from food rules
- You’re ready to truly enjoy food and the eating experience again
- You’re ready to accept whatever size your body naturally settles at when you are eating intuitively to honour your health
A non-diet approach IS NOT for you if:
- You are currently receiving treatment for an active diagnosed eating disorder
- Your main goal is weight loss
Where Do You Go From Here?
If you’d like to explore Intuitive Eating further to assess whether it may be right for you, I’d love to talk! Please let me know how I can help by Contacting Me.
It would be my pleasure to work with you and help you create the thriving life you’ve always wanted.
If you’d like to learn more about what it’s like to work with me and how I practice as a registered dietitian, please read our About Page.
Intuitively Yours in Health and Happiness,