Becoming a Competent Eater

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Unconditional permission to eat this? Hell yeah.

Greetings lovelies! I figured it was high time I wrote about this particular topic because I’ve been seeing lots of comments here and on Facebook about people having difficulty becoming internally regulated eaters.

Intuitive Eating is fantastic and it was one of the books I read early on after quitting dieting for good. It’s one way to learn to eat normally – meaning, listening to your gut (literally) when it comes to knowing when to eat and when to stop, feeling relaxed around food, and feeling confident that you are eating exactly what is right for your body. Notice I didn’t say anything about it being a way to lose weight or a way to learn how to eat less. I just want to throw that out there – continually – so nobody is confused about what this eating normally business is all about. It is NOT about weight loss. Ever.

Anyway, as I said, intuitive eating is one of the ways to learn to eat normally – but it isn’t the only way. In my diet-ditching literary travels, I came across other philosophies, ideas, and models of normal eating. I’ll link to those at the bottom of this post, but for now I’m going to talk about my absolute favorite model, Ellyn Satter’s Eating Competence. I’ve been doing some self-study on this model and re-reading some of her books, and I am reminded that this was the model that really clicked for me. If you’ve been struggling for a while with intuitive eating, I suggest looking at this or some other models for normal eating inspiration. For now, I’ll just talk about Eating Competence.

What is the difference between Intuitive Eating (IE) and Eating Competence (EC)? The essential difference, to me, is that IE focuses on eating-on-demand; that is, figuring out when you are hungry, eating exactly then, stopping when you are satisfied, and then starting the cycle all over when you are hungry again, disregarding structured meal times in favor of listening to your internal regulation cues (there’s a bit more to it than just that, but for short form purposes, that’s the crux of it. Read the book for the full deal.).  EC also trains you to eat according to internal regulation cues, but relies on the discipline of providing yourself (and your family) rewarding meals at regular times, and the permission to eat as much as you like at each meal. Here is a more detailed explanation of the differences as written by Ellyn Satter herself. Both reject diet mentality and weight manipulation and embrace body diversity, both use internal signals of hunger and fullness to regulate eating, but one relies on meal-time structure and the other rejects it. I see both as useful models, and it just depends on what you prefer.

Personally, I love the feeling of knowing I have rewarding meals planned for myself – that feels like safety and comfort. It can be stressful to wait till I’m hungry to try to figure out what I’m hungry for AND how to get it. This works well if I’m out shopping and there’s a food court, but not at home where I have limited pantry space, or at work where I need to bring my lunch. So while demand feeding might work well for some, it just doesn’t work for me, especially if I want to have family meals every night (and I do). If you have kids, EC will be especially useful because you can all eat at the same time, and your kids will become competent eaters too.

So how does this meal structure thing work? There is definitely planning involved – but since we’re not planning to starve ourselves or trick our hunger, I view this as self-care, not external rule-following. You will provide yourself three meals (a must) and three sit-down snacks (if you need them) a day. Your appetite will eventually find the rhythm of structured meals once you are honoring it regularly. The meals must be rewarding – you don’t want to spend a lot of time coming up with meals you don’t want to eat. It’s a good idea to include foods from all of the food groups at the meals – a worthwhile guideline that ensures satiety. I suggest checking  Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family out of the library for the full deets – it’s not that long and it’s easy to read. I’ll also continue to write about Eating Competence and my suggestions of how to get there.

You will still spend time getting familiar with your internal hunger and fullness cues. There are steps outlined in Secrets that will get you there. I love step-by-step instructions for anything, so this book wins my heart not just for the structure component, but also some concrete how-to.

I can’t emphasize enough that this model hinges on unconditional permission to eat – whatever and as much as you like. Beware of impostors that try to take away that permission, with rules like “eat a vegetable before the rest of your meal,” “fill up on water so you’ll eat less” or “sit and chew your food slowly.” No “tricks,” just permission. If you find yourself making rules about how much to eat that don’t involve how much you actually want to eat, always try to come back to this statement: “I can eat as much as I want.” You don’t need to be perfect, just honest with yourself.

By the way, many dietitians know of Ellyn Satter’s pioneering work pediatric nutrition (the Division of Responsibility in feeding) so if you need professional help with this, be sure to ask your potential dietitian if she’s familiar with this work.

If you’re struggling with internally regulated eating, just know you have some options. There isn’t just one way to do this thang. I’ll never tell you one option is better than the other because it comes down to personal preference. Do some investigation and experimentation, see what works for you, and go for it. You’ll eventually hit meal-time nirvana and never look back.

Resources for learning to eat normally that I’ve read and recommend:

The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care by Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel

Overcoming Overeating by Jane R. Hirschmann and Carol H. Munter

Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle by Michelle May (there are variations on this book for diabetes and binge eating as well)

Ellyn Satter’s website is chock-full of good information, much of it from her books, if you want to learn more.

 

Dietitians Unplugged plug!

Episode 8 – The Beach Body Episode is available now! Listen on iTunes and Libsyn. Like our Facebook page to get all the latest news on our podcast and other non-diet podcasts. Our “challenge” to listeners continues to the end of May – don’t miss out on this fabulous chance to embarrass your hosts!

I’m Hungry…So My Body Must Be Broken

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It’s actually pretty simple.

“I’m so hungry…there must me something wrong with me.”

“I’m so hungry…it makes me want things I shouldn’t eat.”

“I’m so hungry…it’s really sabotaging my weight loss.”

I have heard all of these statements, and variations of them, A LOT. The only one I rarely hear among the general population these days is, “I’m so hungry…I really must eat now.”

We’ve attached an enormous amount of guilt to eating and worse yet, to hunger. We think our hunger is to be distrusted, that there is something wrong with our bodies when we experience hunger, and that we must do everything to thwart our hunger: ignore it, fill it with unsatisfying air food, quench it with copious amounts of water or coffee or tea or zero calorie soda (or worse yet an ungodly “master cleanse” concoction of water, maple syrup, lemon and cayenne pepper. Cocktail of champions.). We see our hunger as a symptom of a broken internal system…and that we would only be thinner if this hunger thing would just go away.

Back in the day, when I started dieting, I thought it was just us fat people ruing our hunger in secret. It probably was people of all sizes but everyone had somehow decided to keep it to themselves. Now that everyone, simply everyone, must share the intimate details of their latest weight loss regimen so they can be deemed good and worthy citizens, we know all about it. And because we know all about it…we think it’s the right thing to do. Everyone is suspicious of their hunger…why aren’t you?

I’ve heard it from fat people trying to lose weight and thin people who are secretly terrified to put on weight…I’m so hungry, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Well, as a very smart person once said on the internet, hunger doesn’t lie (Was it you that said this? Please take credit for it in the comments if so!). If you’re hungry, that’s your body telling you one thing: FEED ME!

It’s so basic, so obvious, you’d think we’d understand this. Even if, on an intellectual level, you didn’t know that hunger means “eat,” it kind of tells your body exactly what to do. If you were raised by wolves in the wilderness and never spoke a word of human, and you got hungry, your body would figure out what to do – it would directly you to eat. It would make even the most unappealing foods – raw badger, or whatever wolves eat – totally appealing. And then you’d eat and your life would be go on.

But back in the “civilized” world (where we are generally not being raised by wolves), not only do we instinctively know we should eat, we have all the science at our fingertips to know that hunger means EAT…and yet we resolve to not eat. Yay, civilized world.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that, at least in part, all this started from a collective sense of body dissatisfaction, the idea that our bodies are innately wrong and must be solved (brought to us by the people who have benefited in one way or another from the body insecurity of others). Then came the misinformation that we can not only solve our bodies, but that we should and we must! So if we think our bodies are a problem to be solved, and the solution is possible, and the solution is to eat less, and this means less than we are hungry for, then yes, of course you would learn to see your hunger as the enemy.

And I get it: if you are in one body but feel you should be in another body, you may indeed feel betrayed every time you feel that pang of hunger that tells you to eat just when your diet tells you not to.

But guess what we’ve finally figured out? Our bodies are not something to be solved, and the solution doesn’t even work for very long anyway. Upon starving to lose weight (because simple “lifestyle changes” didn’t accomplish the task), our bodies learn how to use energy more efficiently and store more as fat. They learn how to gain weight on the little we feed them while we are actively ignoring our hunger. You might be able to outrun your hunger indefinitely, but your body will take its revenge down the road, either in the form of weight gain or more intense hunger – take your pick.

To all of those who lament their hunger…your hunger is most likely not malfunctioning*. Your body is not broken. Consider honoring that hunger pang with some food that you love, or that makes you feel good. See what happens. Will you eat until you literally explode? Unlikely. Only the guy in Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life” ever did that but that was just mean, fat-shaming fiction.

It’s time to admit that the body has wisdom. The body decides its own weight, not the wishful-thinking part of the brain that is coerced daily by messages that profit from your body dissatisfaction. Make friends with your hunger, learn how to truly honor it, and it won’t lead you astray.

*Yes, there are some diseases and conditions that can cause excessive hunger. Most of us don’t have those diseases, and that’s not who I’m talking about.

Podcast!

Check out the latest Dietitians Unplugged podcast in which we discuss the misconception that intuitive eating is for weight loss.

The Italy Diet: Just Don’t

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERACan I tell you about the time I went to Italy and it was the beginning of the end of my terrible diet?

About a year after I had vowed to get my “best” body ever, I was ready to take a three week vacation to Italy. I had dreamed of going to Italy ever since I was in high school and now it was finally happening.

The itinerary included Venice and as many towns in Tuscany we could fit in, with Sienna and Florence as the main events.

There was only one problem: how the hell was I going to stay on my diet once I was surrounded by so much wonderful, non-diet-approved Italian food?? The “Points” value of all that cheese alone was incalculable. In my regular life, I was walking around in a mild to moderate state of hungry most of the time. I was also a strict pescetarian at the time, for reasons which are still unfathomable to me because they had nothing to do with my health or my love of animals.

If you are thinking right now, “What’s the big deal? Everyone eats what they want on vacation!” then you, my friend, have not been to a Weight Watchers meeting. When someone declared gravely, “I am going on vacation,” we would all nod in sympathy and rally around the person with suggestions of how they would be able to stay “on plan” and not gain weight. Then the leader would say, “But of course, enjoy yourself. It shouldn’t be all about the food anyway,” and what she really meant was, keep dieting.

And when someone came back from vacation, having gained a few pounds because it is so miserable to diet on holiday, the confessional would take on the proportions of a mental health crisis. Between the pre-vacation panic and the post-vacation guilt, you’d wonder why anyone on a diet would bother to go. Ironically, sometimes the vacation is the reason we wanted to lose weight in the first place!

But I digress. Off to Italy I went.

In Venice, I woke up to a breakfast of brioche and chocolate spread. Did you know chocolate spread was a thing in Italy?! I didn’t! I spread the chocolate over all of the little breads and pastries salaciously. Was I allowed to eat this? Do they even have Weight Watchers in Italy*?? I was convinced that none of the Italians I had seen on the street the day before would hesitate. So I ate it and then wished for more. For three days in Venice, it came.

Quickly I learned that in Italy, pizza is not considered a junk food. It’s just food! Vegetables were abundant on menus everywhere – but not just sad, fat free affairs. No! Roasted eggplant, peppers, mushrooms and zucchini swam in rich green olive oil. Ohhh, my diet! I ate them anyway. I would starve back in America, but in Italy, it seemed wrong to even consider it.

In Tuscany, I dined in a castle where I ate delectable, tender tuna marinated in – you guessed it – olive oil. I ate pasta of every kind, in marinara, oil, pine nuts, cheese – too many “Points” to count, so I gave up. I even tasted my companion’s wild boar sauce – and to this day I regret that I wouldn’t let myself order a helping of my own.

I had an entire meal of chocolate – a Nutella crepe, hot cocoa of gooey chocolate lava. I remembered thinking, this is it, I’ve given up on diet food, I’m just going to eat chocolate for every meal now (as a now well-fed person, this does not actually sound appetizing). The death knell of my diet began to toll. Real food is beckoningGelato

Oh yes, and I ate gelato. Everyday.

I couldn’t believe Italians were eating food like this every day…but they were! All the time! And they weren’t worried about it!

I still worried and obsessed over every bite. I still worried about what the scale would say when I got back. This did not add to the enjoyment of my vacation.

I came back from my Italian holiday having gained only 2 pounds (and the sad fact doesn’t escape me that I can tell you exactly what my weight was before and after vacation 12 years ago). But in the following months, having tasted heaven, it became more and more of a private hell to maintain such a low body weight. At the same time, I wanted to eat more of the healthy (yes, healthy, this is the Mediterranean Diet you know!), scrumptious foods I had eaten in Italy without turning it into a diet-friendly abomination. These two endeavors could not be reconciled with each other, and over the next three years I inched up 10 pounds (and of course, I would gain more after I really gave up dieting for good. WORTH IT.). Italy had won. As it rightfully should have.

I will go back to Italy someday, not on a diet. I don’t imagine gorging on everything I see because, being adequately fed, I no longer have that need. Nor will I worry about every bite I put in my mouth. I simply know I’ll enjoy whatever foods I want and eat as much as I need to feel satisfied. I know I will sometimes eat gelato just for the hell of it (but probably not every day as that no longer sounds appetizing). My focus will be on a lot of other things, too, that I probably missed the first time when I was there on a diet, hungrily worrying and obsessing about food every second.

*they don’t

Coming soon: Podcast!

I’m super excited to announce an upcoming collaboration between the awesome Aaron Flores, RDN and myself: The Dietitians Unplugged Podcast! Topics will focus on Health at Every Size®, Intuitive Eating and body positivity. The podcast will be available on both our sites as well as iTunes. Watch for the announcement soon!

When They Tell You When to Eat

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Mmm…snack time.

I finally got around to reading my July/August copy of Food & Nutrition Magazine, the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics publication that I enjoy immensely for the bite-sized tidbits of information (more corny dietitian humor. Corny! Ha!).

When you’re a dietitian, everyone wants to tell you their theories on what they think is the best diet (one of my nutrition instructors told the class this is why she won’t tell people what she does for a living at parties. Don’t I know it!). Often someone will say to me, “I’ve heard that eating (5, 7, 9, the number varies) small meals a day is better than eating three.” So it was with great interest that I read the article “What Science Says About Snacking.” Well, what do you think? Three squares or nine mini-meals a day?

Turns out the evidence supports…both. Huh!? So says the article:

“Snacking may help control appetite, or it may contribute to recreational eating and excess calories. Research supports both opposing views. Beginning in the 1960s, studies noted that people who ate the fewest number of times during the day had the greatest amount of excess body weight, leading many health professionals to recommend frequent eating as a weight-loss tool. More recently, researchers have challenged the idea that eating frequently aids weight control…[Studies] suggested that the more often someone ate, the higher his or her body mass index would be.”

The article sited several different studies which supported both sides of the argument. One study compared men who ate identical diets as either three square meals a day or as 17 daily “nibbles.” The nibblers had better cholesterol at the end of the study – but would you want to eat 17 times during the day?! You’d better have a very flexible job if you decide to go this route!

Ultimately, the article admitted, “Both the Evidence Analysis Library of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and experts at a 2009 symposium on eating frequency and energy balance concluded that scientific evidence pointing to an ideal eating frequency for weight control doesn’t exist at this time” (emphasis mine).

Not surprisingly, most of the studies looked at the effects of snacking or not snacking on weight, likely because many researchers remain hooked on the idea that weight=health. We know this is not true and there is ample evidence supporting this. But what about the effects of snacking on other metabolic parameters? The evidence is just as inconclusive. In the end, the article said, “While there is considerable interest in eating frequency, there is no consensus regarding an ideal pattern.”

Many diet plans have touted the effects on metabolism of many vs fewer meals a day, but once again,

“Although some dieters snack to boost their metabolic rates, research suggests these efforts are in vain. Studies that examine data for up to 48 hours after eating find that the jump in metabolic rate or the thermic effect of food is not dependent on meal frequency. Rather, overall metabolic rate is similar when a specific amount of food is eaten during few or many occasions.”

So even your metabolism doesn’t care if you snack or not.

How many diets have advised ideal meal patterns over the years as part of their foolproof weight loss schemes? More than I can count. And in the end, since science can’t agree, the best meal pattern is probably the one that you like the most – not for health reasons, but because it suits your life and appetite. Letting others dictate how often you should eat isn’t a guaranteed path to health or weight loss and might even be destructive to your body’s own intuitive internal regulation.

When I’m at work (and not on my own natural schedule), I tend to need snacks to quell hunger between meals because I eat breakfast earlier than I normally would. But at home, when I’m truly eating according to my own natural rhythms (waking up later, eating breakfast later, lunch a bit earlier, and dinner at my usual 7 pm), I find I don’t need snacks at all. So both methods work for me depending on my situation.

If you aren’t already in tune with your hunger and satiety signals, it’s worth it to invest some time in getting to know them well. Truly recognizing these cues from a weight-neutral perspective will help you best determine the eating pattern that is right for you. And don’t let the latest weight loss gurus tell you otherwise.

Just Eat the Damn Cake

cake2I hear it, or some version of it, at least once a week: “Oooh, if I have this [insert delicious or even just plain regular food here] I’ll have to do at least an extra half hour on the hamster wheel tonight.”

To which I usually cringe, roll my eyes, eat the thing in question, and then leave. I don’t have time for this kind of tomfoodery anymore.

I was recently at a goodbye work party with a fantastic spread of Mexican food. Someone had baked the best tres leches cake I had ever tasted – actually, make that the best cake I had ever tasted…ever – and as I stood next to it at the end of the buffet, the middle-aged surfer dude I work with sidled up to the punch bowl, eyed it nervously and uttered, “Hm…is it worth the calories?” Then look lustfully at the cake. “That’s another hour of exercise for me, I guess.”

I didn’t walk away this day. “Really? Because I’m probably gonna lay down for a nap after this,” I said. I suppose sarcasm shouldn’t be my first line of response, but I am what I am.

I get it. He probably doesn’t want to look like me. We’ve talked before and I know he watches his weight religiously. But if you have to do so much hard math about what you’re taking in and expending, if your energy balance is so fragile that a glass of punch or a piece of cake can throw it completely out of whack, then you’re probably not at the weight that your body wants to weigh – a weight I’d like to define as your happy weight.

Your happy weight, by my own definition, is the weight your body arrives at when you’re just living and enjoying life, eating normally and moving pleasurably. You might be trying to eat healthfully and get regular exercise, but those things don’t take up too much mental real estate. It’s the weight your body eventually returns to even after a week of vacation in Paris (two words: baguettes and brie). It’s the weight you maintain without constantly trying to deny yourself cake or breaking yourself at the gym every night. Because, in the end, trying to outrun calories doesn’t work for most in the long run and it’s no fun either.

I remember having similar thoughts about food during my dieting days. Looking at a piece of birthday cake or a slice of pizza, I’d mentally calculate how much extra time I’d have to spend at the gym that night to compensate. I was terrified the dial on the scale would inch ever so slightly, but steadily, upward. Maintaining a constant level of hunger was crucial to my success, but it sometimes resulted in overeating the exact foods I was trying to avoid, without the joy I would have experienced if I’d just eaten the damn thing in the first place. I was definitely not at my happy weight. I was able to buy size 6 clothing but I was so preoccupied with outrunning my calories that I couldn’t even enjoy it.

The reality is, when you are at the weight that is right for you (and only your body can determine what that is, not some diet plan), you can afford to live a little out of balance, a little decadently, on occasion without facing massive exercise compensation. After I ate 3 small pieces of that amazing cake (that’s just how good it was) I was done with sweets for a few days. I craved lighter meals with lots of vegetables. As far as I can tell, my weight did not change significantly (I don’t weigh myself).  The body has its way of bringing us back into balance if we will only trust it.

I hope surfer dude enjoyed the cake without too much guilt, if he could bring himself to have a piece. After all, cake is a normal, wonderful, usually occasional part of our lives. He probably would have been just fine. I know I was.

Diving Deep Into Intuitive Eating

EATI have been reading Fiona Willer’s excellent book, The Non-Diet Approach Guidebook for Dietitians, which provides a structured approach for dietitians teaching normalized eating (aka attuned eating aka intuitive eating aka mindful eating). I can’t recommend it enough for dietitians who want to work from a Health At Every Size® perspective with their clients. I’m really enjoying the material and it made me think about how I teach this approach.

My shorthand for intuitive eating has always been, “Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full.” But reading Willer’s book alerted me to something very important: there is a difference between full and satisfied. Satisfied is the absence of hunger that we need to pay attention to in our eating. The absence of hunger is actually the biological signal to stop eating – not feeling “full.” The difference may seem small, but it is in fact profound. It can be the difference between eating more than we need and eating just enough. Stopping when we are no longer hungry and waiting 10-15 minutes will take us to that comfortably full feeling, because it takes at least that long for our body to recognize fullness.

If I hadn’t given this a lot of thought before, I had to ask myself: Am I truly an intuitive eater?

When I first quit dieting, I decided to give myself a break and just eat. I hadn’t heard of intuitive eating yet, only HAES®, and was doing my best to figure out how to eat normally for the first time in my life. For the most part I didn’t binge – that was something I did when I was restricting – but I didn’t have a clue of how I wanted to feel before, during and after I ate a meal. I did become more of an intuitive eater as I learned more about it, but it’s a process that takes time and practice, especially after so many years of restrictive, regimented eating. Lately my efforts at eating well have concentrated around trying to find ways to get more vegetables into my day, but now I’d like to back up a bit and make sure my IE skills are where I want them to be.

So, because I will never ask my clients to do something I could not or would not do, last week I vowed to really start paying attention to my body’s signals around eating.

Hunger is not a problem for me – I recognize hunger like it was an old pal (although I as a dieter I considered it more of a frenemy). I generally do try to eat when I’m hungry but there are times when this is harder to do – like at work. I’m sometimes a poor planner around snacks, so I occasionally (all right, several times a week) find myself starving and without food at hand. Allowing my hunger to go on for so long – either because I am too busy or too lazy to get food – probably leads me to eat more than I need when lunch time rolls around. Thus, task number 1: make sure I have sufficient snacks throughout the day and access to a lunch I want in order to properly honor my hunger.

I realized last week that I have another hungry-habit that is a holdover from my dieting days. Never a morning exerciser, I like to work out (either at the gym, or by going for a walk) right after work and before dinner. But that means we sometimes don’t eat until almost 8 pm, some nights even later. No good – my significant other (S.O.) and I are both starving and miserable by then and a late dinner means trouble for my acid reflux problem. No to mention we tear into our meal like wild dogs at that late hour, sometimes holding our bellies in distress and dismay at how we ate more than we needed just because we were so hungry.

Task number 2, then: we’re going to eat dinner when we are hungry, which happens to be right after we get home from work. We don’t want snacks then, we want to make dinner because we still have the energy for it. I’ve avoided this because I didn’t like exercising on a “full” stomach after dinner…but exercising on a “satisfied” stomach should be fine…once I get there.

Which brings me to discovering my stopping point. The truth is, I’m often stressed and rushing when I eat, either at work because I’m busy or at home because I’ve waited too late to eat. I’ve also always been a fast eater, speeding through meals as though I’d had to compete with ten siblings for food growing up (I’m an only child). So I’m not actually sure at what point I am stopping these days. I have noticed lately that I feel fuller than I want to at times, and I’d like to remedy that.

(Incidentally, I asked my S.O., who is a very well-self-regulated eater, “Do you stop eating when you’re full, or when you’re no longer hungry?” He honestly didn’t know. He sometimes professes to be a member of the clean-plate-club, but nearly 10 years of watching him eat has allowed me the secret knowledge that he is not – quite often he’ll leave behind food that he is no longer interested in, even if it’s just a few bites. Now there’s an intuitive eater. Except when it comes to pizza, his personal kryptonite, and then all bets are off. Hey, we’ve all got something.)

Over the years I’ve participated in mindful eating exercises in which one bite of food is experienced with all the senses. The Non-Diet Approach… also has a script for this kind of exercise. As you eat slowly and with attention, your body and mind have time to recognize that magic moment when the food tastes suddenly less delicious, your hunger is gone, and you know you are done. While you do want to try to enjoy every bite of food, you probably wouldn’t want to eat quite so deliberately every single time; the idea is for you to practice recognizing the signals of hunger/satiety so that eventually, heeding them becomes automatic.

Again, I have to be honest; lately I’ve been eating at my desk, while working. It’s not the best environment for enjoying my food or recognizing body cues, so I’m determined to make eating a priority not only at home, but at work too. Task number 3: I will step away from the computer, I will put down the pen, and I will be one with my meal. I will eat slowly and mindfully and wait for “not hungry.”

I’ve been practicing all of this the last few days: enjoying my food, honoring my hunger and satiety signals, noting the difference between satisfied and full, eating slower. And I’ve been surprised to find that I am eating less than I thought I would at meals and avoiding that unpleasant, too-full feeling I often get when eating out. The whole point, however, is not to trick you into eating less. Eating with the intention to eat less is just another diet. Checking in often with your body means you get to decide if you want to eat more or not based on what your body is feeling, not a misguided sense of how much you think you should eat.

I’ve got my work cut out for me. But after several years of being diet-free, I finally feel ready to really listen to my body and let it be the boss of how I eat.

For more reading on how to normalize your eating, I recommend these books:
Intuitive Eating
Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat
The Diet Survivor’s Handbook
Overcoming Overeating

What is Intuitive Eating?

Maybe you’re a dieter who wants to give up restrictive eating because you just…can’t…do it…anymore. Or maybe you’re someone who has struggled with overeating for some time. Either way, you’re wondering how you can eat healthier while still feeling relaxed around food.

The answer is simple: Intuitive Eating!

Intuitive Eating is a book by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch that teaches the reader how to stop dieting and start looking within for guidance around eating. The 10 principles of Intuitive Eating are:

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality
  2. Honor Your Hunger
  3. Make Peace with Food
  4. Challenge the Food Police
  5. Respect Your Fullness
  6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
  7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food
  8. Respect Your Body
  9. Exercise–Feel the Difference
  10. Honor Your Health

You can read about these principles in more depth on the Intuitive Eating website.

In my opinion, rejecting dieting mentality and honoring your internal hunger and fullness cues are the core elements of Intuitive Eating. Within the this framework, I believe there is a lot of flexibility (it’s intuitive, after all!) to suit anyone’s needs. Long-time restrictive eaters might benefit more from “demand feeding” – eating whenever you feel hungry for food, even if it is not on a schedule. Some may enjoy a more structured approach, such as having regular breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack times, but within that structure, giving yourself food that you really love and eating as much as you want while honoring hunger and fullness signals.

Others might find yet different ways to eat intuitively. The main point is to not get to that overly hungry, starved place before a meal – the feeling I like to call hangry (yeah, you know it, hungry-angry) – which usually results in eating way too much. The other key is finding that magic stopping point, the one where your stomach says to you, in a very rational voice (which I imagine to sound a lot like KITT, the car from Knight Rider), “That was delicious, and even though I’m not stuffed yet, I really think I’ve had enough.” It sounds easy, but if you’ve been dieting a long time, these are skills you may have to re-learn (we know how to do this as babies). Depending on how long you’ve been ignoring these internal cues, it could take a while to become skillful at eating intuitively again, but rest assured it is way easier and a lot more enjoyable than counting calories.

What Intuitive Eating is not: Emotional eating. Eating to self-medicate. Eating to meet someone else’s idea of what you should eat.

What is the result of Intuitive Eating? Well, this is how it has worked for me: I can eat whatever I want without feeling instantly guilty. I eat more vegetables now. I eat salads because I am not afraid of the calories in the dressing. I rarely overeat. I never binge. I can leave food on my plate because I am satisfied. I can savor a meal at a restaurant without first eating the entire bread basket. I enjoy chocolate without hoovering it. I don’t think about food all day long. I can enjoy a meal with friends. I can have just one cookie. I forget about the ice cream in the freezer. In other words, I am free from the hold food had on me. The opposite of this was true when I dieted, and I was not relaxed around food or happy with myself. If you want the same kind of freedom, get the book or find  yourself a HAES/intuitive eating dietitian to help you.

There you have it — HAES® and Intuitive Eating make the basic recipe for a non-diet life! Freedom from diets tastes delicious.

If Not Dieting…Then What? A HAES Primer

So far I’ve talked about not dieting. You might be thinking, well, if diets don’t work, what should I do to be healthy?

While there are many factors that affect health, many of them not entirely within our control, I like to focus on the factors we can influence, namely eating and exercise. The Health at Every Size (HAES®) philosophy helps us to do that. Here are the principles of HAES® from the Association for Size Diversity and Health’s website (sizediversityandhealth.org):

  1. Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
  2. Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
  3. Respectful Care: Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
  4. Eating for Well-being: Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
  5. Life-Enhancing Movement: Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.

If you’ve been living with a diet mindset, this can be a lot to digest (pun intended. Dietitian humor is the worst!). As a long-time dieter, my first reaction was “What?! Not eat for weight control? No way.” As it happens, I was pretty hungry the whole time I was learning about this and I think that’s probably what put the nail in the coffin of my dieting mentality. “You’re right!” I thought. “I don’t have to be hungry to be healthy!” I stopped my self-imposed famine then and there and have been feeding my appetite ever since.

The bottom line here is that HAES® takes the focus away from manipulating weight and puts it on behaviors that support health.

I have met some folks who want to know if they can incorporate HAES® into a weight-loss strategy. The answer is a resounding…no. HAES® and intentional weight loss efforts are mutually exclusive. Weight loss may happen as a result of a HAES® approach as your body seeks its way to a more natural weight for you, but making weight loss a focus of health changes will prevent you from finding peace with eating and self-image. In short, you’ll never get to a non-diet life if you keep focusing on your weight.

While HAES® is the overarching non-diet philosophy, I sometimes feel it doesn’t tell you exactly how to get there if you’ve been floundering in Dietland for a long time. This is where Intuitive Eating (also called attuned eating or normalized eating) comes in. I’ll talk about that in my next post!