Your Stomach is not a Bottomless Pit…It Just Feels Like It

sweets
Feel like you could eat this all the time?

As a dietitian who helps others get over disordered eating after years of dieting, I’ve heard this many times: “I don’t have a limit when I’m eating. If I let myself eat what I want, I won’t ever be able to stop eating.”

To this I say: bunk. It just feels like that.

Everyone has a stopping point*. You might not think so because maybe you, like I did at one point, have stood beside the cheese tray at a cocktail party scarfing ungodly amounts of mediocre cheese cubes fearing you’ll never stop. Maybe you did eventually stop at that “I’m gonna burst!” point and regretted the whole ordeal. And maybe you simply don’t know your stopping point, as I did not, because you are hungry much of the time…so very, very hungry.

Here’s a little secret: dieting and calorie and food restriction create a false impression in your body that you are a bottomless pit. That you are a vessel that will never be filled, especially when you are confronted by a favorite or particularly delicious (or sometimes even mediocre) food. Maintaining a body weight lower than what is natural for you will also cause your body to constantly crave food, large amounts of it. This is a pretty reliable biological response regulated by a cascade of hunger hormones, and anyone who diets will in all likelihood experience this kind of mega-hunger regularly.

On the flip side, honoring your appetite (aka, eating intuitively) has the opposite effect. Once you begin to eat satisfying amounts of food when you feel hungry and your body weight adjusts toward its natural set point, your bottomless pit starts to find its bottom. As you practice honoring internal cues more often, you may start to find that your stopping point is not, in fact, stuffed but satisfied. You may even find yourself easily leaving food on the plate, or turning down the offer of a homemade brownie if you are simply not hungry for it.

My bottomless-pit acquaintances are incredulous when I suggest that they do have stopping points. They don’t trust their bodies. Some are invested in maintaining a certain external appearance and don’t feel their natural appetite will support their desired size (and this might be true).

I sympathize. I was once a bottomless pit too. But I became sick of being ruled by food and by fear of the cheese tray. And I became tired of living my life solely to support a certain body size when there were so many other interesting things to do.

When I started truly honoring my internal signals of hunger and satisfaction (thank you again, intuitive eating), eating what I really wanted, and letting my body be, I no longer had fearsome insatiable cravings. Yes, I gained some weight, but in time (and with a lot of intentional effort) I began to lose the fear that had driven my need for a smaller body size; honoring my appetite came from a place of love and, for me, was the truest act of self-care (aka Health at Every Size®).

Eating what you want and as much as you want may feel scary at first. As your body adjusts, that fear may turn to comfort as you realize you are taking care of yourself and your needs and you no longer have to fear your own bottomless pit.

*Sufferers of Prader-Willi Syndrome excepted.

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Tired of being ruled by food and fear? I created this free, 3-day mini-course, Kick Diet-Mind to the Curb, to help you understand the rational behind WHY dieting is so damn dangerous to your body, mind and soul, and what you can do about it. Click here to give diet culture a kick in the crotch. This also gets you on my newsletter list.

On Becoming the Invisible Woman

invisible + DUMy whole life, until very recently, I have felt invisible. I have always been surprised when people I knew, but thought did not know me, say to me, “I remember you from…” (this happened a lot on Facebook back in its early days).

I’m like, Really? You knew who I was?

I am not sure why I felt invisible, but I really didn’t like it. I did a lot of things to ease that invisibility, like wear really flashy clothing, or make my hair crazy big, or wear a lot of make-up.

And yet, I felt I remained essentially invisible. Whether it was real or not, it felt real, and I think there are societal reasons for that.

Once I started getting very visible online and talking about all things Health at Every Size®, anti-diet, intuitive eating, body acceptance, fat positive, I realized my invisible days were well and truly over. They needed to be, because this movement needs more voices, my own included.

And once I joined a female-dominated profession (dietetics) I saw my voice welcomed as equally important to the others around me. This had not been the case when I had worked in the corporate world, I’m sorry to say, and I didn’t flourish in that environment.

So I’ve gotten kind of used to…visibility, lately. Imagine my surprise, then, when I ended up in a situation recently where I felt like I was turning back into the Invisible Woman.

On the set of a video shoot for a wellness mini-documentary by Vice UK, I was rendered irrelevant as I was overlooked, ignored by the males-in-charge around me, and eventually ended up on the cutting room floor (much to my actual relief). I don’t usually go around feeling like this is the case in most situations, so I decided I hadn’t imagined it after all. It was an upsetting reminder that outside my little HAES bubble of acceptance, there is still so much work to do.

If you want to hear the gory, yet hilarious, details of this story, listen to our podcast episode here.  WARNING: wheat grass was wielded as a torture device!

Anyway, I started to think about the many ways in which women experience erasure in our society. This is a real thing. It happens – and requiring women to diet to lose weight is one of the ways it is reinforced.

As a young, chubby woman, I was overlooked frequently as a potential partner for anyone. It was even hard to get a decent job back then. Once I lost weight and better started fitting into the cultural beauty standards du jour, all sort of attention — wanted, but also unwanted — was suddenly directed at me. It’s ironic that getting smaller somehow equated with better visibility, and yet it wasn’t real visibility. I ended up an ornament in so many situations, not a fully realized person with a mind and thoughts and ideas (and there would be so many repercussions for accepting this faux visibility, I later found out). I didn’t even feel visible to myself, and I had problems asking for what I really needed and wanted because of that. I had to fight for that kind of recognition, and although becoming older does not make the job any easier, I’m going to keep fighting for it.

Sarah Silverman had this to say not long ago: “As soon as a woman gets to an age where she has opinions and she’s vital and she’s strong, she’s systematically shamed into hiding under a rock.” Gawd, is that true or what?

We can’t let it continue to be true. We have to make our voices heard. We have to stop being afraid to take up space. We need to yell if we’re not being heard.

This is integral to our survival, to our very well-being, and to all the generations of women that will come after us.

Listen to the full Dietitians Unplugged podcast episode 23 here:

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I created this free, 3-day mini-course, Kick Diet-Mind to the Curb, to help you understand the rational behind WHY dieting is so damn dangerous to your body, mind and soul. Click here to give diet culture a kick in the crotch. This also gets you on my newsletter list.

Food is the New Classism

This week I wrote a post for one of my favorite blogs, ASDAH’s Health at Every Size® Blog. Enjoy!

The argument (really just a friendly debate; not an actual fight) has stuck in my head for years.

A self-proclaimed foodie friend and I were discussing the qualities of the best grilled cheese sandwiches. I declared that my favorite was still the kind made with processed cheese slices. She was horrified. “Ugh no!” she gasped. “That’s not REAL cheese!”

I burned a little with shame remembering my childhood growing up eating my mother’s classic grilled cheese sandwiches made with those processed cheese slices…click here to continue reading.

Take my FREE mini-course!

I created this free, 3-day mini-course, Kick Diet-Mind to the Curb, to help you understand the rational behind WHY dieting is so damn dangerous to your body, mind and soul. Click here to give diet culture a kick in the crotch. This also gets you on my newsletter list.

The Weight You’re Supposed to Be

Bulldog

One of the most common reactions to what I write about learning to accept our bodies at the weight they are and taking a Health at Every Size® approach is, “But I’m not at the weight I’m supposed to be…I should be XXX pounds because that’s what I was [when I was my healthiest weight; when I was an athlete in college; before I had three kids; before I developed this knee condition; when I ran marathons all the time].” I totally get it. Lots of us have that utopian time in our lives when our weight was perfect (or so we think in hindsight), our health was optimal, and we were going to live forever…and we so desperately want to get back to it.

Even when, intellectually, we know that dieting doesn’t work, that weight loss is typically short-term (<3 years) at best, that even when our own personal experiences tell us that previous weights were not sustainable, we resist in accepting this. I recently read a great term for this: data resistance, meaning no matter how clear the science is on this topic, people still want to believe that long-term weight loss is possible for more than a tiny fraction of people. The propensity for magical thinking is strong in us humans, and weight is no exception.

Let’s roll with it, then. Maybe you aren’t at your optimal weight. Do you want to diet to try to get there? Is that something that has been sustainable for you in the past? If not, why do you think things would be different this time? What happens if, despite all your efforts, you never get anywhere close to your desired weight? How do you live your life then? What happens if the weight you are now is your weight for the rest of your life? I think it’s worth it to have this conversation with yourself, so you at least have some options.

There are also important things to know before you decide what to do next. First of all, despite what we have been told ad nauseam by the diet industry, your weight is not really within your control, at least in the long term. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you are well aware by now that intentional weight loss has a 90-95% failure rate over the long haul (>5 years). If you’re new to this blog, head on over to my Scientific Lit page and have a look for yourself.

Your weight is really determined by a combination of your genetics, your metabolism, and your environment (past and present) – and not so much by the weight you actually want to be. Do you have fat parents or family members (genetics)? Have you spent any part of your life restricting calories or foods (environment)? And if so, did you know that your metabolism is probably running slower than if you hadn’t (metabolism, obviously)? Possibly most significantly, if you have made multiple weight loss attempts throughout your life or were put on diets as a child, your natural set point will be higher than what it might have been had this never happened. Unfortunately, we’ve all been fed the calories in/calories out bullshit, and have been taught that calories out are totally within our control, when in reality our sneaky metabolism comes along and adjusts everything to make sure we aren’t spending too much energy, because Lord knows the body loves homeostasis.

So now you’re well-armed with information about the spectacular failure of long-term weight manipulation. That’s all well and dandy, you think, but maybe I’ll be one of the 5% who keep the weight off. Maybe you will be! I was for a long while – before The Diet Monster took over my life and made me more miserable than I had ever been as a fat person. It’s a dicey gamble to make – you might be one of the 5% who manages to maintain long-term weight loss by making it your life’s work, OR you might be one of the 95% who gains some, all, or even more of your weight back, leaving you even fatter than you started. In the words of Dirty Harry, “You gotta ask yourself, ‘Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya??

“But I’m simply not healthy at this weight.” Hey, you might not be. I don’t know your particular health habits or your lab values. Just remember, though, that weight is not a health behavior; it’s a size. Health at Every Size® does not purport to say that everyone is healthy at whatever weight they’re at; it simply means that whatever weight you are right now, you can start to work toward better health. So maybe your health isn’t great right now – is losing weight truly the only way you can improve your health? What about improving your eating habits or activity level? If you consider yourself too large to exercise, check out The Fat Chick’s webpage for activity for people of all sizes. Plenty of studies show that fitness is a better determinant of health than fatness and recently even more are showing that weight loss in some populations is associated with greater mortality rates.

“Well, I’m just not comfortable at this size.” I understand; moving in a thin body is different than moving in a fat body. While I personally don’t notice all that much difference (I’m lazy at both ends of the weight spectrum!), I also recognize that my weight difference might not be as great as someone else’s and that my experience is not universal (I also developed osteoarthritis in my feet at my thinnest, so even that wasn’t a guard against joint problems). Whether your discomfort is physical or psychological, how much do you think our culture’s prevailing attitudes about weight are influencing your discomfort with your weight?

I used to feel like I had to suck in my stomach, no matter what weight I was. As I regained weight, my stomach was beyond sucking in – I could tighten those ab muscles all I wanted, but that layer of fat wasn’t going anywhere. Sucking in made me feel physically uncomfortable. Not sucking in made me feel psychologically uncomfortable. I felt out of proportion, and I felt like I was being outed by my tummy as a fat person. When I finally acknowledged that how I felt about my stomach had more to do with how the world views fat people and less to do with how I actually felt, I eased up on my expectations of my body. If your feelings of discomfort are 100% physical, consider a HAES® approach in which you could find activities that you are comfortable doing right now, and work your way up from there. Bodies are amazingly adaptable, especially when we are being kind to them.

I wish I could tell you that our desires controlled our weight. That it’s just a matter of trying really hard and you’ll have some satisfying weight loss that lasts forever without totally ruining the quality of your life. My own personal experience, the experiences of all the other people I’ve met in the fatosphere, and the bulk of available science on the subject does not permit me to do so. I can only recommend a kinder approach in which you let your body decide what it will weigh – it will do that eventually anyway – while you find your own way of living as healthfully as you want and can. That will give you a stable weight that is right for you. Because, with this one life you have, how long do you really want to struggle against your body?

Take my FREE mini-course!

I created this free, 3-day mini-course, Kick Diet-Mind to the Curb, to help you understand the rational behind WHY dieting is so damn dangerous to your body, mind and soul. Click here to give diet culture a kick in the crotch.

Guest Post: 3 Strategies for Maintaining a Vegan Lifestyle in Eating Disorder Recovery

Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN of Whole Green Wellness is a non-diet dietitian who, like me, teaches others to ditch restrictive diets and learn to eat intuitively. But unlike me, she is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to veganism. She suggested we swap blog posts, and since the topic of remaining vegetarian or vegan during ED recovery has come up a few times in the online spaces where I hang out, I thought we could all learn something from her approach. Enjoy!  -Glenys

avocado public domain image
A vegan diet MUST include fat!

Hello, Dare to Not Diet readers! I am so delighted to swap guest posts with Glenys. The community of non-diet dietitians is growing and the more we can spread positive messages about food and bodies, the better! My areas of expertise include vegan nutrition as well as a non-diet approach to sustainable wellness. I help clients focus less on weight and body size and more on enjoyable lifestyle behaviors that help them feel happy and healthy. I’ve been vegan for 8 years and have been counseling vegan (and non-vegan) clients for nearly 4 years.

Unfortunately, some people wrongly assume that veganism equates to restrictive eating. I’m here to show you that veganism is about compassion, not about restriction, and that it is possible to eat intuitively without eating animals or their byproducts. It also is possible to recover from disordered eating and eating disorders while vegan. Did you know vegans who do not eat animals for ethical reasons are no more likely to have eating disorders than non-vegans? While some people with eating disorders may abstain from eating animal products as a method of restriction, veganism is not automatically a precursor for eating disorders.

To bring you feasible and effective strategies for maintaining veganism while recovering from an eating disorder, I interviewed Caitlin Martin-Wagar, MA, an eating disorder researcher and clinician who also happens to be vegan. She holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology and also is a doctoral student in Counseling Psychology at The University of Akron.

Be honest with yourself. When I first meet with vegan clients, I ask them about their journey to becoming vegan and their motivations for doing so. This helps me understand potential restrictive mindsets and also helps clients self-reflect on their own behaviors. “Make a list with two columns: one with the ethical reasons you are vegan and one with potentially eating disordered reasons you are vegan (if there are any). If you discover there are eating disordered reasons for your veganism, find ways to challenge those reasons and refocus on the ethical reasons you are vegan if you want to maintain a vegan lifestyle. For example, you can make sure you are including a wide variety of foods in your diet, including the vegan versions of non-vegan foods, like macaroni and cheese, pizza, and cupcakes,” Caitlin advises.

Have a plan. Eating disorder or not, having a general plan for eating, especially when traveling or attending events when you aren’t certain about food availability, is one of my key tips for vegan clients. Figure out your favorite packable snacks and keep them in your bag, car, desk, etc. so you don’t find yourself without food when you’re hungry. Caitlin says, “For people not in recovery, going a few extra hours without food because of a lack of availability won’t necessarily impact them psychologically. But for vegans recovering from eating disorders, accidental restriction can trigger eating disorder urges like bingeing, purging and further restriction.”

Challenge restrictive thoughts. I like to ask my clients about their favorite vegan foods and where they can get them. This helps them realize how many options they have. I also like to see if there are any foods clients may be restricting for whatever reason, such as oils, desserts and plant-based meats and cheeses. “If you notice restriction urges are triggered from not having certain foods that are not included in vegan lifestyles, remind yourself that you are not excluding these foods due to eating disordered reasons. Challenge these thoughts and show yourself you are willing to have high-fat vegan foods at times—this can help squash any concerns that you are restricting for eating disordered reasons,” Caitlin advises.

One more thing to consider: work toward becoming more accepting of diverse body shapes. Both Caitlin and I are passionate about challenging myths related to body size and health conditions in the vegan community. Having weight stigma or an attitude of health elitism is not only damaging, it strays from the compassionate core of what veganism is all about.

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or need support through eating disorder recovery, please work with a therapist and eating disorder dietitian. Everyone’s journey is different and no blog post can substitute for individualized therapy and guidance.

You can find Taylor at Whole Green Wellness.

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