Have you ever felt like you had a lot of food rules to abide by? Or perhaps, someone close to you does? Paleo, vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian, Whole 30, plant-based, counting macros or calories, whole foods only, raw foods only—there are so many different diets out there in 2020. Now, a substantial body of research does back the Mediterranean diet, and there can be moral or ecological reasons for following a vegetarian or vegan diet. Likewise, some people have true food allergies or suffer from Celiac disease.
Qualifications aside, many of us have experienced “food rules” of our own, or of those close to us, propagated by diet culture that have no real basis in science. Food rules that are in service to the constant and desperate chase of a flatter stomach or more airbrushed-body. Remember—in the 80’s and 90’s it was all about “non-fat,” then, seemingly overnight, that disappeared and diet culture embraced “low carb.” Other trends, like Bulletproof coffee, Whole 30, and Keto have since surged.
Many of us have personal rules like not eating after a certain time, only eating whole grains, only eating organic, limiting dairy intake, or something else. There are so many. I bet if you stop and think, a food rule you have adopted in the past or currently live by comes to mind right now.
Here’s the thing: Diet culture is about making money. Plain and simple, end of story. Making money off of conditioning people to think their bodies are bad, and they are failures. If you’re a woman in the United States today, or a person in general, chances are very high that you’ve experienced this narrative, and you may know this story intimately. Here’s the sobering fact: the data largely tells us that dieting doesn’t work.
Evelyn Tribole, Registered Dietician, author, and godmother of Intuitive Eating, says, “There is a body of research that shows that dieting for the purpose of weight loss is not sustainable, and moreover causes harm biologically and psychologically and increases the risk of eating disorders, binge eating, weight cycling and weight stigma. The risk of developing an eating disorder from dieting is serious and recognized by a body of research as well as scientific and professional organizations.”
Whether you’ve dealt with some level of disordered eating yourself or know and love someone who has, you know that there’s little joy to be found in that all-consuming and very small world.
Thankfully, there’s an antidote to leaving diet culture behind: Trust your body. Know, love, enjoy, and trust your body. You know what you need.
To trust your body, you have to listen. You have to pay attention to what your body is saying, and respect your body enough to honor it.
This doesn’t mean, “My body is asking for three donuts, I’m doing it!” (although it certainly could mean that occasionally). This means paying attention to your thoughts and feelings before and after you eat. Then, eat slowly and mindfully.
Are you starving, and it’s hard to slow down? That could be a good indicator that you waited too long to eat. Are you not even really hungry, but feel emotional pain or anxiety? That could be an indicator that food (especially the caffeine, sugar, or alcohol that can go down so easily in those distressed times) is not necessarily what you need right now. After you eat, do you feel satisfied by what you ate? How are your energy levels? Does your stomach hurt? Are you constipated? Notice all of these things. There is no failure, only feedback.
There are several food and feelings journals online available for free; perhaps it would be helpful to record this data for a week or two to see what you notice. Sometimes, realizing that we always hit the chips after a stressful conversation with the boss is enough to help change the behavior.
Next, eat mindfully. Put your phone down. Look at your plate. Chew slowly and enjoy what you’re eating. Or at least notice whether you enjoy it. Put your fork down between bites. Look around or engage in conversation with your family members. Precision Nutrition recommends eating until you’re 80% full, because satiety kicks in about 20 minutes after eating for most people. And it feels good to be pleasantly full and not stuffed.
This is a practice. We don’t get there overnight. If you’re interested in learning more about Intuitive Eating or its ten principles, I encourage you to do some research of your own. This is not a tool for weight loss so much as a new way to relate to food, the experience of eating, and your own body. I have found it to be a powerful one.
Cari Honsinger is a Certified Personal Trainer at the YMCA in Walla Walla and a consultant at Trilogy Recovery Community. She is currently completing her Nutrition Coaching Certification from Precision Nutrition.