If you’ve read anything from my blog – first of all, thank you – I’m sure you’ve asked yourself questions like, “What is Intuitive Eating?”, “How can I stop dieting without gaining weight?”, or “What if I just want to be healthy and this works for me?”
These questions are valid and I even asked myself similar ones in the beginning of my journey over two years ago.
1. “If I don’t restrict my food, I will eat ice cream all day!”
This misconception is at the top of my list because it’s probably the most common one I hear. Whether it’s ice cream or pizza, everyone is concerned that they will have no “willpower” to prevent them from binge-eating these types of foods.
The fact is – restriction is what often leads to binge eating. We call this concept the binge-restrict cycle.
Think of your diet habits as a pendulum. If you pull the pendulum further and further to one side (restriction), eventually the force will be so significant that it can pull no further. Then, the pendulum is forced to break and, you guessed it, swings all the way to the other side (binge eating). In reality, our bodies crave homeostasis, or balance. Pendulums are comfortable (and sustainable) right in the middle where they can effortlessly sway from side to side instead of swinging from one extreme to the other.
Now, this doesn’t mean that binge eating is always caused by restriction, but that restriction can be a leading cause.
Do you ever find yourself specifically craving or drooling over foods that you are trying not to eat? Do you end up eating those foods anyway after unsuccessfully avoiding them? And do you end up eating so much that you regret the entire decision and decide to get “back on track” the next morning? You my friend, are experiencing the binge-restrict cycle.
So, what does happen then?
Allowing yourself unlimited food freedom is the ultimate way to avoid the binge-restrict cycle and guilty feelings around food. Giving yourself permission to eat whatever foods you want + need allows you to focus on the more important aspects of mealtime, like having good conversations and enjoying your food’s flavors and textures.
Knowing that food is constantly available prevents your body from thinking you are starving and, in turn, stops the obsessions around food.
Our bodies don’t know the difference between calorie restricting and starving, so it responds to them the same way. When in this “starvation mode,” your body responds by slowing down metabolism to lessen calorie expenditure, holding onto fat stores to conserve energy, decreasing the rate of physiological functions , such as digestion, and more.
The mind and body are more connected than you realize and your thoughts around food do matter.
2. “How can you say people shouldn’t diet if we have such an obesity problem?”
This is a very, very valid question so I want to be as thorough as possible when explaining the answer.
I. The first thing I want you to think about is why we continue to have an “obesity epidemic” if we seem to think losing weight and maintaining weight loss is as simple as eating “healthy” and exercising. The answer is: it’s not that simple.
Weight can be attributed to many different factors (other than food) such as genetics, environmental factors, income, stress levels, cultural background, and other lifestyle factors. Food choices alone do not determine your body size or health.
II. The approach we have been taking obviously isn’t working.
The fact is: 95% of diets fail. If you go on a weight-loss diet, you are increasing your risk of gaining more weight than before, developing comorbidities like diabetes and heart disease, and possibly an eating disorder.
The reason for this is weight-cycling – when your weight goes up and down as a result of chronic dieting. It is more beneficial for your body weight to remain stable, even if it’s at a higher weight than you’d expect.
III. The so-called “obesity epidemic” is deeply rooted in weight stigma.
Weight stigma is discrimination or bias against someone solely based on their weight. This is a huge problem, not only in our culture but in healthcare as well.
The thing about weight stigma is that it can be disguised in many different forms. One of those forms is the use of BMI, a.k.a. where the terms “over-weight” and “obese” come in.
The original BMI scale is based on TWO things: height and weight. It does not consider what kind of body type, body composition, or genetics you have. This means that it is incredibly inaccurate when defining someone’s health status.
Even with this knowledge, we continue to base our feelings around our health with the results of our weight. Are you seeing the connection yet?
We can not determine someone’s health status by their body weight.
The reason why I reiterate this point so many times is because our weight bias is so strong that we often times don’t realize when we are using it.
For example, healthcare providers tell us that obesity causes disorders like insulin resistance and heart disease. But is there any evidence of this? No.
The science is that a higher weight is correlated with a higher risk of these disorders.
If you’ve ever been to college then you know what I’m about to say…
Correlation does not mean causation.
This means that even though a higher weight is correlated with a higher risk of insulin resistance and heart disease, this is not enough evidence to conclude that it is the cause of them. What we do know is that these disorders are caused by multiple factors including lifestyle factors, environmental factors, genetics, and eating habits (which includes chronic dieting).
If we know this, then why do healthcare providers continue to scare us into thinking being “overweight” will lead to these disorders? Because of their weight stigma.
Instead of addressing the root cause of the disorder, doctors will tell you they’re caused by your weight.
You have diabetes? You need to lose weight. You can’t sleep at night? You need to lose weight. You have arthritis? You need to lose weight. You fractured your toe? You need to lose weight.
We are taught to fear being fat, we are taught that being fat is unhealthy, and we are taught that being thin is the only ideal body type.
Let go of this outdated, non-science-supporting, and stigmatizing mindset. And instead, question why you believe these things. What has society taught you about your body? How have others treated you because of your body? What have you thought to yourself about your body? Most likely, your answers are the result of diet culture. Let’s break that chain.
3. “If I just want to take care of my body and look good, what’s the problem?”
I understand the desire to be healthy and to feel good about yourself and your body image because I have been there, done that.
Let me be as clear as possible, being anti-diet is not being anti-health.
The whole purpose of Health At Every Size is to give people of all shapes and sizes the equal opportunity to pursue better health.
If you’ve read my blog post, What Being “Healthy” REALLY Means, then you know that each of us has our own definition of “health.”
Of all of our different definitions, none of them should mean “smaller body size.”
It is possible to pursue health without pursuing weight loss.
Sometimes weight loss is a result of healthy lifestyle changes, and that’s okay. Sometimes weight gain is a result of healthy lifestyle changes, and that’s okay.
Let your body navigate the size it thrives best at. If we constantly defy our bodies by restricting calories, over-exercising, and creating stressful mental environments then we will never reach our full health’s potential.
Additionally, what is so wrong with a little belly fat or thigh jiggle? Why are we so concerned with our outward appearance and not with our internal character? If we focus so much on ourselves, we leave little room to focus on the important things and we spend less time working towards the life God has set out for us.
You are more than a body and more than a selfie on Instagram. Be more.
So what is the best and most sustainable way to pursue health? Give yourself permission to eat, move your body in a way that you enjoy, decrease your stress levels, and enjoy life’s precious moments instead of wasting them with calorie counting and self-contempt.
Thank you for reading and taking the first step towards leaving diet culture behind you.