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Intuitive Eating: Say NO To Dieting

Intuitive Eating: Leave Dieting Behind

It may feel like it’s your fault – but it isn’t. The truth is: diets never work. Instead, intuitive eating is the key to a healthy relationship with your food, eating, and body. Here’s how and why!

Diets: A Never Ending Cycle

It’s the same story with every diet you start: “This time it’s going to work! This time I’m going to be stronger! This time I’m going to stay committed!”

The unfortunate truth of dieting is that it will never help you achieve your long-term weight loss goals. In fact, statistics show that 95 – 97% of all dieters regain their lost weight within 1 to 5 years. Even worse, between one and two thirds of dieters gain back more than they initially lost. The 3-5% who actually maintain their weight loss often do so through disordered eating behaviors and extreme exercise.

Disordered Eating is Startlingly Common:

An unbelievable 75 – 80% of American women have unhealthy thoughts, feelings, or behaviors related to their food and bodies. Thirty-five percent of “occasional dieters” progress into pathological dieting, also known as disordered eating. This can manifest itself as unhealthy food or calorie restriction. Examples of this are a refusal to eat certain foods, severely limiting caloric intake, or eliminating entire foods groups or macronutrient categories. Does “carb free” ring a bell?

Of those with disordered eating, as many as 25% of people advance to full-blown eating disorders. This isn’t happening just among adult women. About 50% of teenage girls are actively dieting and a staggering 80% of 10-year olds are afraid of being “fat”. Do you remember being one of those kids trying to lose weight? Is this what you want for your daughter?

Men and boys aren’t immune to body dissatisfaction, chronic dieting, and eating disorders either. Their preoccupation is often related to increased muscle mass. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, approximately 1 in 3 people struggling with an eating disorder is male.

Consider the following questions: Do you worry about what you eat day in and day out? Do you worry how your food choices will affect your body, the way you look, and the way your clothes fit? Do you wake up each morning praying that today will be a “good” day and you will eat what you are “supposed” to eat?

Excessive food worries leads to body worries, and excessive body worries leads to body bashing and a lack of respect for your body. All this causes you to perpetuate a war between food and your body when food is the very thing that is supposed to nourish you.

How did you get started in this negative cycle?

If you are like most of my clients, it was born out of a desire to lose weight. You decided to go on a diet, which required restricting certain foods, most likely many of the foods you truly enjoyed. However, ultimately you decided it was worth feeling deprived if you could lose weight.

Then one day, you caved. The desperation to eat the beloved food you restricted for so long overwhelmed you. You made a decision to eat that restricted food and ended up overeating. Then came the feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, and the “I did it again” thinking. You recommit to the diet, vowing to restrict those beloved foods again. This takes a lot of energy. It strips away the pleasure of eating, being social, and living your life because you are so pre-occupied with what you should eat and how to count it in your diet. And, the cycle ensues.

Dieting and food restriction in the pursuit of weight loss and the “thin ideal” sets people up for a lifetime of disordered eating, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, lowered self-esteem, and depression. Unfortunately, we live in a society steeped in a diet culture that makes it almost impossible for us to trust ourselves around food. Our culture is obsessed with thinness that it pushes women and men into chasing diet after diet to achieve the perceived ideal weight, shape, and size. This is often done “in the name of health”, but in reality, it is all supporting an underlying belief that equates thin with worthy.

Here’s the truth: No form of dieting is going to work for losing weight and keeping it off. The key to getting a healthy body you love without dieting is to change your relationship with food through the process of intuitive eating.

What is Intuitive Eating?

The philosophy of intuitive eating encourages you to focus on eating habits and behaviors in a kind and compassionate way, while ignoring (or “starving”) the number on your scale. It teaches you to attune to your inner hunger and fullness signals as your guide to eating. In this way, you develop a peaceful and satisfying relationship with your food, mind, and body.

You were born an intuitive eater. Simply stated, intuitive eating is eating based on your physiological need to eat, not based on situations you’re in or emotions you’re feeling. Every individual is born with the instinct to know when they’re hungry and need to eat and when they’re satisfied enough to stop eating.

Think of when your children were born. As well-meaning parents, you might say “She didn’t eat enough; there’s 3 more ounces of formula left in the bottle,” and try to feed her more even if she’s pushing you away. Your child was doing what was innate to her: eating when hungry and stopping when satisfied. As a child, you might remember being told to clean your plate if you wanted dessert or being rewarded with a treat if you got hurt. These tactics temporarily suppress or ignore your body’s natural cues. After years of ignoring these cues and signals, many people have forgotten what it’s like to hear and honor their internal signals.

The Benefits of Intuitive Eating:

Intuitive eating has been scientifically proven to be associated with higher self-esteem, well-being, body appreciation, and body acceptance. Intuitive eating is also associated with less disordered eating, food preoccupation, food-related anxiety, binge eating, and depression. Research has also shown people who practice intuitive eating typically have lower cholesterol levels, lower body mass index, less insulin resistance, and reduced risk of overall heart disease. Intuitive eaters truly experience pleasure from eating and are more likely to eat a wider variety of foods. Intuitive eating helps you attune to your inner signals of hunger and satiety and rebuild the trust in your body. In essence, you are relearning the instincts you were born with.

While diets are about restriction, intuitive eating is about permission.

I realize there is a lot of fear wrapped up in the thought of no longer dieting, even though you may feel miserable on the yo-yo diet rollercoaster and its accompanying weight cycling.

Here are 4 tips to get you started on your intuitive eating journey:

1Commit to a diet-free lifestyle

Recognize that there always seems to be another diet lurking around the corner for you to try and that these are just marketing ploys. The current trend of clean eating and “lifestyle programs” are really diets in disguise. Decide that you will no longer “follow” a diet or let someone else tell you what and when to eat.  Instead, you will listen to your own body and ask yourself if you are hungry before eating.  If your answer is “no”, then dig a little deeper and find out why you are reaching for food.

2Throw out the scale

Do you weigh yourself every morning or even several times per day? Does the number on the scale influence your mood for the day? Most likely it does, even if you don’t consciously realize it. Your weight fluctuates day-to-day and is a measure of more than just fatty tissue. It includes your bones, organs, muscle and substances such as water, food, and waste that pass through your system. Begin to measure your progress by other factors such as improved blood work, blood pressure, mood, energy level, and overall satisfaction with your movement toward becoming an intuitive eater.

3Forget about failure

Instead, recognize that your path towards intuitive eating is a learning experience. There is no place for feelings of failure in intuitive eating. There might be bumps in the road, but those are obstacles which become opportunities for you to learn. Stay positive and you will succeed.

4Seek out caring support to help you on your journey

Don’t think you have to “go it” alone. Changing your mindset around your food and body is a process. It’s important to surround yourself with like-minded people and a registered dietitian who is trained and certified in intuitive eating. This will equip you with guidance and positive feedback on your journey.

If you are tired of living a restrictive lifestyle due to chronic dieting and want to finally live your life to the fullest, try these 4 steps to get started on your intuitive eating journey, and rebuild the trust and respect your mind and body deserves.

For more on this topic:

Eating Disorder Recovery over Passover: Making it Possible

Challenges that make eating well hard

Daughter Dieting

Connect with the author:

Registered Dietitian, MS, RDN, CDN, CDE
West Hempstead, NY
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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Great article , much needed as many are now embarking on this new health awareness and trying to tackle the diet culture that has infiltrated our world and mindsets. Very informative.ty

    1. Learning how to integrate gentle nutrition with listening to your inner wisdom will change your relationship with food forever! Let’s spread the word!

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