How It All Started
My dieting career started when I was only 9 years old. Do you remember when your dieting career started?
That was when I learned that certain body sizes and shapes were considered better than others and that it was my responsibility to manipulate mine by controlling what I ate and how I exercised. Throughout adolescence and early adulthood, I dieted myself to higher and higher weights. Multiple times, I was able to lose significant weight; but it always began to come back fast and furious when the diet was over.
Even though I was a walking encyclopedia of diet and weight loss advice I just couldn’t make it last and I felt like a failure. I felt broken, angry and exhausted – all I wanted so desperately was to be thin so I could finally feel happy, feel like I belonged and just stop obsessing about food all the time.
Nope, this isn’t the part where I tell you about the magic diet that ended this suffering forever.
Nope, this isn’t the part where I tell you I decided to just give up dieting forever – even though I could see all the carnage it had caused in my life but I just wasn’t ready to give it up yet.
My Last Diet
I started my very last diet as a post-partum mom. I was so desperate to get the weight off and I focused on nothing but that for over a year and lost a significant amount of weight. The diet was a very, very low carbohydrate diet and I had even dabbled in fasting – not eating for up to 5 days at a time. I was married to my eating plan, it had become my religion and my obsession.
Everyone wanted to know what I had done to lose the weight. Honestly, I felt so good about myself. What I didn’t know is that I was about to hit diet bottom.
And then it happened…
My body was finally going to say enough and start to fight back for my survival (because it doesn’t know that diets are voluntary starvation). First I noticed my hair falling out in alarming amounts, next I lost my period and then one day I finally snapped.
I literally ate the pantry in an out of body experience type way (can you relate?). Relentless, out of control binge-eating and self-hatred ensued for many months. I didn’t know at the time but this was classic diet backlash. I assumed it was some sort of weakness or flaw in my character (diet culture teaches us to blame ourselves when our incredible bodies kick in to try to save our lives).
A primal urge to eat as much as possible overtook me and I felt helpless, worse than that I felt like a failure both personally and professionally. I withdrew from family, friends and my work. I stopped doing the things I loved.
This time “falling off the diet wagon” was different
I knew that there was more at play here than my lack of willpower, and it certainly wasn’t my lack of knowledge. My background is in biological sciences so naturally, I had to look for evidence, gather the facts and try to put together a theory that could explain this.
Sure I had “gone off the wagon” before, BUT THIS WAS DIFFERENT.
I dove into research, and it was actually incredibly easy for me to find the answer.
Everything I was experiencing was well documented as a normal response to semi-starvation. A plethora of evidence suggests that I wasn’t alone and that 95% of people regain the weight within 5 years, with 66% gaining more than they lost.
I was floored. There was an actual scientific explanation for why this was happening to me and why it happens to others. And it’s not willpower, commitment or motivation – it’s literally a hard-wired genetic survival mechanism.
Right then and there I committed to never dieting again, and this time I was dead serious.
Hating my body and living in fear of food and the scale is not the life I wanted for myself and it sure wasn’t what I wanted to model for my two young daughters.
This is where my journey to intuitive eating and body acceptance started. I had to examine and challenge every belief I had about myself, my weight and food.
I had to get really honest with myself about why I was obsessed with shrinking my body, why I had so little trust in myself and my body and recognizing the damage that dieting had done in my life.
I was so worried that I would lose control
When I first decided that I would never diet again I felt so scared. Surely I would just blow right up without a set of rules and do’s and don’t around food.
I felt nervous. I had relied on diets for nearly 25 years to control my weight – but I finally realized that they were, in fact, causing my weight gain.
I was desperate to find another way. A way to live a better life, without dieting. At first, I sort of grasped for whatever seemed to give me some direction but didn’t feel as much like a diet. I knew that eating certain foods made me feel better so I started there and slowly started allowing more foods in.
First I tried just sticking to whole foods only, still felt out of control. Then I tried intermittent fasting with eating any type of food in my eating window. My body made it very clear that it didn’t agree with this. Next I tried just eating all my favorite things in whatever quantities I wanted – but I didn’t even enjoy that and still felt guilty and out of control.
I was still labeling myself as “good” or “bad” depending on what I had eaten that day.
Consciously I knew I wanted to make peace with food and my body and become a normal eater. But it was as if I was going through the motions without making the real change. My behavior was changing but my diet mentality was not.
Then I Discovered Intuitive Eating
Intuitive Eating is a self-care framework that makes you the expert of your body and its hunger signals. It can help you heal from the mental and physical side effects of chronic dieting. It teaches you to reconnect with your own inner wisdom about when and what to eat, without relying on external rules. It is an eating philosophy based on body respect, a healthy attitude towards food and body image. Foods are neither “good” nor “bad” and eating any food should not cause feelings of shame or guilt.
Dietician’s Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch first coined the term “Intuitive Eating” in 1995 as the title of their book of the same name. After many years of working in clinical practice as Dietician’s, they recognized the long term damage that dieting for weight control was doing in their clients.
Intuitive eating can be re-learned. I say re-learned because we were all born intuitive eaters and over time absorbed external ideas about food, weight, and dieting which led to us interfering with the precise weight and appetite control system that we all have within us.
Intuitive eating taught me exactly how and why the diet and food restriction mentality was causing my binge eating, emotional turmoil, and weight gain.
Doing this work allowed me to gain the freedom and lightness I had always been looking for. It lifted the emotional weight, finally allowing me to be more present in my life and trusting my body to be my inner nutritionist. I was finally able to stop using willpower and exerting conscious control over every bite I ate (that was exhausting!) and stopped feeling constantly guilty about food.
The bingeing stopped, the weight gain stopped and reversed a little, food seemed to lose its power over me and I finally felt like I had my life back.
Since we live in a world consumed with weight obsession and thin idealism, being an intuitive eater is always a work in progress. It’s not a one and done thing but it is a better, healthier and happier way to live – there’s proof!
The Research-Backed Benefits of Intuitive Eating
To date, there are over 100 studies examining the benefits of intuitive eating.
An intuitive eater is defined as a person who “makes food choices without experiencing guilt or an ethical dilemma, honors hunger, respects fullness and enjoys the pleasure of eating.”
Studies link intuitive eating to healthier psychological attitudes, lower body mass index (BMI) and weight maintenance, although not weight loss.
One of the major benefits of intuitive eating is better psychological health. Participants in intuitive eating studies improved their self-esteem, body image and overall quality of life while experiencing less depression and anxiety.
Intuitive eating interventions also have good retention rates, meaning people are more likely to stick with the program and keep practicing the behavioral changes than they would on a diet.
Other studies have looked at women’s eating behaviors and attitudes and found that those who show more signs of intuitive eating are less likely to display disordered eating behaviors.
Getting Started With Intuitive Eating and Rejecting Diet Mentality
Get curious. Take a look at your current eating habits without judgment.
Are you eating according to rules or “shoulds” or expert advice? Do you eat things you like or are the things you like “forbidden”. Do you regularly eat past comfortable fullness, or try to ignore your bodies hunger signals?
Stay tuned for my next post about the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating.
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