BODY+ PROJECT: No Diet December

The wisest piece of food advice I’ve heard lately is to not diet during the holidays. Why torture yourself? Why set yourself up for failure? Why inflict a “healthy” (AKA low-calorie, dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, ingredient-free, taste-free, satisfaction-free) dish on your family in the name of cutting calories? But here’s another thought: why diet at all?

Let me back up a little bit. Even though I’m a child of ’89, the word “diet” conjures up an image straight from the 80’s, complete with diet soda and a retro cookbook touting the outdated ideals praising only low fat and low calorie recipes. In my mind, it seems like an antiquated concept that must be solidly decided aloud: the declarative statement of a big haired woman saying to a friend with thinly-veiled condensation, “Oh, I can’t- I’m on a diet.” And with quite obvious condensation, I inwardly smirk and congratulate myself for progressing beyond this stereotype. But of course my ego carefully overlooks the diet mentality, which has become instinctual in our society yet rarely acknowledged in the open. And I’m certainly not immune from or an exception of its effects.

What is the diet mentality? It’s a pervasive, unconscious, and toxic belief that the body can not be trusted with food. If you’re one of those fancy folks with actual cable television, listen to the words used in commercials to describe food, especially the advertisements directed toward the female population. Here are a few common buzzwords: “guilt-free,” “indulgent,” “decadent,” “skinny,” “sinful.” This kind of language corrals food into two opposing categories: safe and unsafe, allowed and forbidden, salvation and temptation, should and should not, healthy and unhealthy.

And who benefits from the diet mentality? The people feeding it (wah wah) to you, from Big Food to every creator of the next big diet trend. As someone who hopes to become a dietician, I will also be making a career because of diet culture in a way- although I aim to end the cycle rather than perpetuate it for profit. Big food companies and diet companies ultimately don’t want me to get better or healthier; they want to make money. And the more I buy into the diet mentality, the more they’ll get.

I could rant on this topic for hours but I’ll keep my nutrition ravings to the above blunt statements (at least for this post.) Notice that this post uses personal pronouns, experiences, and beliefs- I’m not yet a medical professional and don’t aim to replace the advice of an actual doctor. I just know I wasn’t quite able to identify the problem or believe in a solution until I read and watched the experiences of others online with the same patterns. The same attempts at every new fad diet. The same cycle of eating “clean” with too few calories for a certain amount of time before gorging on calorie-dense “treat” foods- each phase punctuated by heavy guilt. The same wary judgement projected onto certain ingredients and macronutrients. The same false associations of weight gain to loss of value, attractiveness, lovability. The same held breath when stepping on a scale. The same silent but insistent fear of gaining weight. The same unquestioned mistrust of my body and my hunger.

Also note that these are feelings I’ve had reinforced since I was old enough to begin conceiving a body image- both before and after my full-blown eating disorder. These are feelings I’ve had with years of recovery from my eating disorder, years between me and my last binge and purge. I can’t even remember my last intentional restriction. While these feelings are certainly synonymous with eating disordered thinking, I believe they are a direct product of diet culture.

Shew. I hope y’all are ready for the good news because I certainly am after writing all that. As much as it honestly terrifies me, I’m ready to finally make my way back to my natural state, before I learned and believed all these problematic lies, back to simply listening to my hunger cues and responding honestly to them. Without binges, restrictions, fear foods, scales, guilt, or self-imposed perfectionism. The concept of intuitive eating seems to be my best bet.

Intuitive eating isn’t a new concept. It was popularized by the aptly-named book Intuitive Eating by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It’s currently Amazon’s #1 best-selling book on the subject of eating disorders. Admittedly, while I have explored and researched these concepts, I have yet to lay hands on a copy of this book as it remains not yet shipped from a certain eBay seller (side-eye.) In conjunction with knowledge of my personal history, my personal tendencies, and a bit of nutrition, I think these 10 concepts of intuitive eating (directly copied from the authors’ website) will help me not exactly to lose or gain weight, but simply gain peace with my body and dietary choices:

10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

1. Reject the Diet Mentality: Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.

2. Honor Your Hunger: Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.

3. Make Peace with Food: Call a truce, stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing When you finally “give-in” to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating, and overwhelming guilt.

4. Challenge the Food Police: Scream a loud “NO” to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating minimal calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The Food Police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created . The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loud speaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the Food Police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.

5. Respect Your Fullness: Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or food and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level?

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor: The Japanese have the wisdom to promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living. In our fury to be thin and healthy, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence–the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes much less food to decide you’ve had “enough”.

7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food: Find ways to comfort , nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you into a food hangover. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.

8. Respect Your Body: Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally as futile (and uncomfortable) to have the same expectation with body size. But mostly, respect your body, so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body shape.

9. Exercise–Feel the Difference: Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze alarm. If when you wake up, your only goal is to lose weight, it’s usually not a motivating factor in that moment of time.

10 Honor Your Health–Gentle Nutrition: Make food choices that honor your health and tastebuds while making you feel well. Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters, progress not perfection is what counts.

Scared yet? After hearing about these tenets- even though logically I knew that they would teach me how to have a healthy relationship with my body- an immediate mixture of physical anxiety and terror whirled in my stomach. I can’t do this, I thought. What if I get fat? What if I lose control?

The sad truth behind this thought is that while I continue to act and live with a diet mentality, I am not in control of myself or my body. Oh, that age-old recovery lesson of letting go; it just keeps popping up in every area of my mental health. And I’m finally comfortable and confident enough in my recovery to begin loosening my grip and trusting myself… even if it’s just for the month of December. Even if that’s just what I have to tell myself to be willing to begin. Earlier today on Tumblr, I came across this quote and feel that it perfectly describes my overall goal with intuitive eating:

If you strip it of all the complex terminology and all the complex jargon, enlightenment is simply returning to our natural state of being. A natural state, of course, means a state which is not contrived, a state that requires no effort or discipline to maintain, a state of being which is not enhanced by any sort of manipulation of mind or body—in other words, a state that is completely natural, completely spontaneous.
– Adyashanti

Today was day two of intuitive eating for me. It hasn’t been perfect… I actually slightly over-ate while writing this post. Becoming enthusiastic and engrossed in the task at hand, the old habit of complete fork-to-mouth autopilot seamlessly switched on- plus this broccoli and salmon with lemon tastes so damn good. I’m also unsure of the exactly right approach to my Sunday ritual of weekly meal planning and prep tomorrow. But if my biggest problem today is that I gain a minute and therefore immeasurable amount of weight from a big dinner, then I’d say I’m leading a pretty good life. As a favorite quote from John Steinbeck said: “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

This post begins my new series The Body+ Project, which aims to address body acceptance, image, and peace through my personal experiences. After some more time practicing intuitive eating, I’ll be sure to write a follow-up post and link it here. In the meantime, if you’d like to follow my process on a more granular day-by-day level, I’ll be posting smaller and more frequent updates on my Tumblr under the tag ditch the diet. And if you’re a more visual person, I’ll tag relevant posts for intuitive eating on my Instagram with the tag #ditchthediet. Feel free to join in and tag me in any of your Ditch the Diet posts!

What are your thoughts on diet culture? What does a healthy relationship with food mean to you? What in the heck am I going to get at the grocery store tomorrow? Let me know what you’re thinking in the comments below!

Be kind. Live authentically. Practice gratitude. Hustle daily. Work hard. Stay humble.

This is a personal blog. As the creator, I may mention, discuss, and review products but I have not been paid or sponsored for any of my opinions. My opinions reflect only my personal feelings and experiences, unless otherwise specified. I do not claim copyright on any of the shown products. Any media, writing, or other website content published is created and owned by the author, unless otherwise specified.


9 Replies to “BODY+ PROJECT: No Diet December”

  1. Gosh, thank you. Recently I’ve done a major life overall, moving states even, and as much as I try to reason my decisions to others to veil and mask in secrecy perhaps the biggest variable of all… well, an eating disorder, I finally decided to address it after well over a decade. Oy, doing so was so much harder than how easy it was to say that. The odd thing is saying it was a secret when it, truthfully, was ever so obvious is silly. After all, guys are susceptible to eating disorders too. Of course as much as media outlets, perhaps I should say social media outlets as the lines are so blurred these days, make out eating disorders to be so simple, as well as the fix to them, of course eating disorders are so much more complex as they adapt with us through life as our life changes, as if they are a part of us and not just habitual. They are as complex as we are and become. There is no easy fix when it can go on for so long. We find excuses to let eating disorders stay with us. I don’t mean it in a way that we choose to have eating disorders. It’s just as life has its complexities we put dealing with it on the back burner. I can say as hard as the past few years have been, I simply couldn’t worry about eating properly. While there can be some truth to that, I was still treating my lack of adequate eating as a symptom of my life rather than an eating disorder being the cause and a part of my life. Truthfully I always knew it wasn’t a symptom and I let it continue for over a decade, and the past few years took its toll. So here I am, finally having time and giving myself a chance to address it, I’m in recovery, well still starting recovery, but feeling better. I’m still in the beginning stages and have a long way to go but I wanted to thank you. As anxiety can be a big part of it, it’s hard to remember the healthy mentality behind doing better, like the principles of intuitive eating. Some days are harder as you have to mentally bolster yourself to push through old habits, habits that weren’t superficial as wanting to lose weight (I simply trained myself not to care about food). I’m sure we know old habits don’t exactly die. So this I will take to heart and hopefully remember it when I need it the most, especially before the holiday season. There are ways of approaching subjects that are supportive and comforting, and this is a perfect example. The derogatory approach that demeans a person for having a problem, well that age old tell just makes things worse typically. This actually makes a difference. Keep up the good work, cause it helps.

    1. Thanks so much for your reply! As always, well articulated and touching and as thorough as can be. Eating disorders are so insidious because eating (unlike substance abuse or physical self-harm) is a necessary part of our survival. It’s like having to make peace with a problematic ex who is just going to be around forever. I feel like the media is inching its way- ever so slowly- toward more truth concerning eating disorders but it’s always portrayed in such a narrow view: white teenage girl who is vastly underweight and needs to eat- and then once she gains back weight, all better! And while anorexia is the leading cause of death in teenage girls, it’s so, so, so much broader than that, both in those who suffer and how one recovers. It took me about a year and a half after I got sober to begin honestly working on my eating disorder and while it’s gotten a lot more instinctual and stable, I’m still working on it daily.
      This statement of yours in particular hits right on target: “We find excuses to let eating disorders stay with us.” As you read above, this has been incredibly true for me. While I haven’t been full-fledged acting out on it, there are still the echoes that I haven’t been willing to let go of quite yet. We’ll see how this month goes, I have a good feeling about it. Again, thanks for responding and you know that you can contact me any time on Facebook to chat. Hope you are well! Proud of you for acknowledging what’s going on with yourself and looking ahead with hope and positivity. ❤

  2. THANK YOU for the post! I am feeling validated at the moment because this is what I have been moving toward over the past year. I have greatly improved my level of fitness this year and love the effects – more energy, better sleep, feeling stronger – but my relationship with food and with my body image are still very messy.
    I read this just after reading a post about Shakeology… that one left me feeling vaguely guilty or distrusting, and this one made me feel like, “This is what I have been trying to get to!” And yes, there is the fear of gaining all the weight and feeling miserable again, but I think if I’m actually following the principles – especially 7, 8, and 9 – then I might finally be able to improve my relationship with food ❤

    1. Honestly… Shakeology is one of those diets that really irks me. If people develop a healthy relationship with food and themselves through it, go them but it’s been pushed on me on Facebook multiple times and… ugh. I can’t imagine drinking a nutrition shake, calling it a meal, and feeling satisfied both physically and mentally. Definitely not for me, especially after I read a blog post where someone boasted with that program that you could have a body fat percentage that was at the starvation level. I feel like we’re both in a similar head space mentally so thank you for commenting! There are times where I feel self-conscious for posting so openly about my disordered thoughts, like I’m crazy and no one else has felt this way ever (which is obviously not true.) I wish you the best and let me know how it works out for you! Thanks so much for reading and responding ❤

      1. I’m looking forward to reading more of your insights, especially as you go into the dietician profession and continue learning more about food! I definitely have shared similar thoughts as these, just not so refined, so I appreciate you writing as it helps me get some clarity on what I’ve been pondering.

  3. I read Intuitive Eating after therapy and all the lights in my head turned on. Such a good book at many points (you need to read). It was such a struggle at first and now I can’t imagine my life without it. I’m so happy you’re becoming an RD because I think you’ll make a huge difference on so many people’s lives. You have amazing insight.

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