Intuitive Eating – Reject diets

intuitive eating journey light up

After a long break from blogging and initially starting my exploration of reconnecting to my body and Intuitive Eating, I am back!   I’m not sure what has happened this year, but it only feels like recently I have got any sense of momentum.  This expat might blame it on having COVID-19 and a very slow recovery early this year, but think that is just an excuse!  The main thing is that I am back now 🙂

intuitive eating journey light up

I have ‘done’ many diets, exercise plans, read and listened to many experts about how I should nourish and move my body over the years. I realise now that this has led, in large part, to a lack of ease and freedom around myself and my body and a true acceptance of who I am. As I approach 50 this year, I am keen to regain control of me and no longer feel dictated to about how or what I should look like and really stay true to myself and my own wants and needs. It hast felt like too long that I have listened to the world around me, rather than my trust my own body and intuition whose voice sometimes feels it has been taken away. The first step for me a few years ago was to allow my hair to turn naturally grey which I have embraced despite some fears around it ageing me, I also decided to listen to my body and stop drinking alcohol a few years ago too. Now I am on the next step of my reconnection with who I am, please join me on this journey!

So, to help me navigate and embark on this Intuitive Eating exploration I am reading two books:

Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole MS, RDN, CERD-s and Elyse Resch MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, FAND (no idea on what all these letters mean, but sounds impressive eh?) and The Intuitive Eating Workbook by the same authors.

I initially started these books much earlier this year and got a couple of chapters in, but have decided I will start again and share some of the key points with you, plus my personal observations and reflections.  I should also add that whilst I am looking to apply this to my own life I am also seriously considering becoming a IE coach too, but want to fully understand and integrate it as much as possible first.

So here goes:

Principle 1 – Reject the Diet Mentality

Basically as simply stated above, this first principle challenges you to become aware of and then throw away any idea, book, article, social media post, etc, that promotes or suggests that diets work.  Furthermore it asks you to get angry at the diet industry and their attempts to sell a diet to create weight loss or the life you desire.

They simply don’t work.

As someone that has been on a lot of very different diets or diet plans in my life, I can testify that they may have produced some temporary success, but I have struggled to maintain the figure I craved and put weight back on or not felt happy with my body generally. 

Intuitive Eating asks you to reject all notions of diets working which sounds confronting, although many of us know this already.  It addresses the fears that if we don’t have a diet we may end up compulsive eating or not really knowing how to eat having set ourselves rules (even subconsciously).  However, whilst there may be a period of over-eating or uncertainty over eating, over time you will learn to listen to your body and its cues to truly nourish your body and mind.

crossroads fork in trees forest

The allure of dieting

Dieting can seem to offer us a new exciting plan to create or attract the body, life, lifestyle, partner that we want.  It  is often more tempting in a more difficult or transitional time of life e.g. marrying, starting a new job, having had a baby.  It can help us create the false sense of control over our lives during this period and can provide an opportunity to bond with other people also talking about this or that diet plan.

Sense of failure

However, after a week or two of seeming success of following a plan and/or losing a few pounds, we can end up ‘falling off the wagon’ or not getting the results we hoped for. This can end up in a sense of failure as ‘I didn’t do it right’. It worked for x, y or z person but not for me.  What is never taken into account is that we are all different and our bodies are also all different.  Feeding the diet culture is like creating a rod for our own back that we will never succeed in.   Trying to follow a certain eating or exercise plan rigidly without any attempt to consider the individual, their health, lifestyle, emotional and physical state makes no sense at all if we think about it. And yet, so many of us still carry on with the diet or restriction mentality.

Self worth

And this is all bound up with it too.  For so many of us, especially women, our sense of self-worth is tied to our body and how we feel about it.  To be x size or shape is deemed to be ‘right’ in many of our minds.

Who says? 

Do our bodies all need to be the same? 

AM I only worth something if I am a certain size or shape? 

Would we say the same to our sons, daughters, nieces, nephews?

Sneaky diets

Then there are some types of pseudo diets as Resch and Tribole call them – where we are setting ourselves rules, often at a subconscious level.  Some examples are:

– Only eating certain types of foods e.g. clean or plant-based, vegan, gluten free or veggie with the real purpose being to lose weight

– Only eating at certain times/days e.g. Fasting (which I did for several years, partly for health benefits, which may not be the case during menopause)

– Limiting carbs/fats/whatever food group

– Punishing or limiting ourselves if we ate something ‘bad’ earlier e.g. some chocolate

– Reducing food portion sizes generally

– Eating secretly or not how you really want to in company of others

– Judging what you have eaten earlier and therefore reducing food later in the day rather than responding to what your body wants or needs

– Having a very rigid ‘healthy’ diet with no flexibility

All this perpetuates what has been termed:

The Dieters’ Dilemma

This dilemma model was created by psychologists John P. Foreyt and G. Ken Goodrick.

intuitivie eating dieters dilemma expat

Do you recognise this in yourself? I know I do, even if I don’t always regain all the lost weight, it has yet to leave me with me feeling content in my body.

So how do we break the cycle?  

By deciding to completely let go of all types of dieting and restriction.

How do you let go of dieting?

This requires a complete break with old ways of thinking, very counterculture and a total paradigm shift. 

The first step is to recognise and acknowledge the damage that dieting causes.   Having done various diets (an exercise in the workbook helped me go through many of these and be truly honest with myself about all the restrictions I have put myself through) I can see that I have done many of the diets or pseudo diets and have ended up feeling no better in my body. I certainly haven’t felt very connected or appreciative of it, which makes me quite sad seeing as it is something I am so reliant on and will increasingly need to look after it.  

The question to really ask ourselves is if dieting got me to where I am now can it really be part of the solution?

It has been proven that dieting can teach our body to retain more fat, reduce our metabolism, increase bingeing and cravings (I know that the more I know I can’t have something, the more I am likely to want it!).  Studies have also shown that dieting or yo-yo dieting can increase the risk of both heart disease and premature death regardless of a person’s weight (Lissner et al. 1991).

That is even before we talk about dieting linking to eating disorders which are on the rise. Over 24 million people in the US are suffering from eating disorders and the percentage of those suffering doubled in the last few years, which was also exacerbated by the pandemic.   Those dieting in childhood in particular are much more likely to have an eating disorder by their mid-teens.  

Dieting also has a direct impact on mental health – feelings of self worth, esteem, anxiety, control.   The most corrosive part of dieting is that it erodes our sense of confidence, self-knowledge and self- trust.  That we do not have the answers to what we might need or want, that some external force does. This has a huge impact on all aspects of our lives regardless of our age, gender or background.

listen learn love scrabble letters

Do you remember as children when we ate without any sense of fear or control around food?   There were obviously some guidelines with which parents would allow access to some foods like sweets or fizzy drinks, but (provided we weren’t forced to clean our plate!), we were really in tune with our bodies and listened to its cues about what we fancied and how much we needed plus when to move and when to sleep.  Somehow over time, this starts to dissolve and we listen less and less to our bodies and more to society, friends, our culture and its’ messages often via tv, films, in magazines, etc. Telling us that we ‘have’ to eat a certain way, look a certain way, live life a certain way. And the say we get older and wiser!  We lose sight of that carefree attitude towards food and our ability to listen and respond to our own cues.  

Next, Tribole and Resch invite us to be aware of the diet mentality we are surrounded by (have a think about this for a minute as I know it is rife everywhere) and thinking particularly around willpower.  We cannot will ourselves to eat or not eat food or certain types of food.  It is totally natural to desire sweet foods on occasion or want something salty .  There is no one that knows how hungry or thirsty you feel right now, apart from you – no celeb, doctor or diet plan.  Only you know what you need (really need) and it may or may not be food.

sign difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations

No failure

Intuitive Eating says there is no such thing as failing.  You learn as you go about your body, mind, its cues, your habits and your needs.  It is all a journey that you can learn from as you go.

To do this we have to get rid of all elements of dieting in our lives, this includes the dreaded scales.

I have to admit, I feel very challenged by this.  I don’t weigh myself often, but I have done since my teens and I know it will be hard for me to just jettison them. I also understand it is an important and symbolic step in letting go of diet mentality and measuring my ‘success’ or my self-worth to a number on a scale.

 To be totally honest, yes I would like to lose a few pounds, I am probably nearly 10 kilos over the lightest I have been as an adult over 10 years ago and part of me thinks I would feel more confident, healthier and more comfortable if I was closer to that weight.  Equally I know that dieting hasn’t not worked for me and I want to be truly in tune with my body and love and respect it.  I am sick of punishing myself via food, drink and exercise and want to spend the rest of my life honouring me and responding to myself rather than anything externally. 

I don’t want to only feel comfortable and confident when I have a certain number on the scale. 

I deserve that for me right now and I can start right now.

So, all that said, I am going to ditch my scales and not weigh myself again.  It generally does not help me make me feel any better about myself and leave me feeling focused on a number or external goal rather than getting in touch with my body and me.

woman gazing at sky compassion

Compassion is the key

Finally, and most crucially, we have to be compassionate towards ourselves.  Diet culture does not have much, if any room for self-compassion.  There may be a certificate, a round of applause or a reduced number on a scale when doing a diet, but these are temporary and shallow ‘rewards’.  It is easy to get seduced by some of the perceived benefits in our culture of dieting  – having a common bond, rules or a code to live by or feeling part of a community of ‘thin’ or striving to be ‘thin’ people.

Intuitive eating is counter to all this so and so much of our societal messages so self compassion is critical – there are no real visible rewards or benefits that you can show externally and it will take time and patience. 

It is truly a journey of self discovery to really listen to your self and what you what and when and how much to eat.  It is hugely empowering in some senses but also can be quite overwhelming, particularly if you are used to following a plan or set of rules.  Starting to learn to listen to ourselves and what we want and need to eat, how we want to move ourselves (that is enjoyable and in tune with us) and how to meet ourselves with empathy and compassion is not a quick-fix solution. It will take time, some honest reflection (which the workbook is very useful for) and an awareness to be honest with ourselves when we see old habits emerging and tune into what is really needed physically or emotionally at that time it may be food, it may be a drink or it might be responding to our emotions or thoughts with kindness and compassion, rather than numbing with food, exercise, alcohol or whatever.

If you are recovering from trauma or have any mental health issues it may be recommended that you work alongside a psychologist (and possibly a IE practitioner) as you embark on this journey. Sometimes buried emotions can come to the fore when we change some of our entrenched patterns, for example when we have used food to mask challenging events or thoughts. If this is the case I would strongly recommend working alongside a professional whether they be in person or online.

I have worked on and off with a psychologist for many years – exploring my challenges with anxiety and depression and feel comfortable now to know when I need extra support and what my triggers, habits and tendencies are. I feel ready and keen to explore Intuitive Eating further and be keenly aware of how far I can see and reject the diet culture in the coming days.

I am very well aware of how prevalent a diet mentality or desire to be thin is, particularly for women. This has become more visible to me for those in my age group in recent months, many of us who feel that we should be a certain shape or size. This can be easier said than done when you are in your 40’s or 50’s and menopausal or peri-menopausal! The same diet or exercise plan is probably not right for us at this age and we need to listen and respond to our body’s changing needs. Yet so many of us still strive for the bodies or body shape that we had or aspired to have when we were younger.

To start to build a relationship with our own bodies having rejected or ignored it for so long is likely to take some time and be a challenge. I also know that dieting is something I have put a lot of energy into for soooooooo long.

I am ready to try something new.

I deserve this change.

My body deserves it.

This sounds like true freedom.

girl freedom in field sunshine

Have you rejected dieting in your life? How did you go about this?  Are you on an intuitive eating journey?  Do you feel like you are in tune with your body?  I’d love to hear about your journey.

Please do leave a comment below.

To read about my experience of Principle 1, Reject Diets – please read my Reject Diets review. Please also check out the next Principle, Honour your Hunger.

Images : Journey – Clemens van Lay, Crossroads: Caleb Jones, listen, learn, love: Brett Jordan , difficult roads: Hello I’m Nik, freedom; Jackson David

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