Dieting is NOT Self-care

DIETING ISNOTSELF-CAREOne thing that gets my angry inner goat going like nothing else is the constant insistence out there in the world that dieting to lose weight is the equivalent of “eating healthy” or “becoming healthy.”

As a former dieter, and someone who treats long-term chronic dieters and weight-cyclers in my private practice, I can tell you that while this might start out as the intention, it almost never ends that way.

And while some people who do make positive changes in their eating habits may experience some weight loss, there is little evidence that eating “healthier” will absolutely lead to significant long-term weight loss for the majority of people, or turn large people into small people. This is why people tend to resort to diets that involve calorie deprivation to achieve weight loss.

I want to point out, however, that while a nutritionally-dense diet may not lead to weight loss, it can certainly help to improve your health (but is not the whole picture of “health”) and is worth pursuing if that is what you want to do.

But let’s be honest: most diets are not about getting healthier. They are about losing weight, which we are told will automatically make us healthier. Unfortunately, this is not always true.

When I “successfully” dieted for 16 years, at my thinnest and most restrictive point, I ate few fruits and vegetables (“waste of calories”), ignored my hunger for so long I wanted to cry at times, then secretly binged when I couldn’t take it anymore, and ate a mostly monotonous diet of “safe” foods. During this time, I developed crippling back pain from over-exercising and osteoarthritis in my feet, likely hastened by the complete lack of calcium in my diet for so long (though also likely genetically determined). I fought a psychological war with the scale daily that usually resulted in defeat for me, no matter what the number said.

This was not pursuit of health in any way. These are the things I needed to do to maintain weight loss, because simply eating healthfully didn’t.

I was thin, but I was not healthy either physically (witness my body breaking down, and feeling weak, tired, and hungry most of the time) or psychologically (thinking about 24 hours a day about food in a very disordered way, feeling constantly dissatisfied with my body despite its thinness).

I am not an isolated case; many of my clients arrive in my practice with some version of the same story. Their diets may have started as an attempt to eat “healthy” (albeit focused completely on weight as the main measure of health) but they ended up in a never-ending cycle of restriction and binge-eating, feelings of shame around their bodies and failure to follow a diet, and often higher weights than they started at. They are also very confused about how to eat in a way that actually supports health and well-being without feeling deprived (which is why they have come to me).

Let me tell you this: it isn’t that hard to have a balanced, nutritionally adequate diet when you feel relaxed around food. Behavior change can be challenging, but it is much less so when you see body shame for what it is and leave fatphobia behind. That is why dieting isn’t really about health – because diets involve intense shame around your current body and a desire to make it something it isn’t.

When changes feel really hard or unsustainable (and sometimes make you want to cry), consider that you might actually be on a diet. If your diet changes are supposed to produce a tangible change in the appearance of your body, then you are on a diet.

And if you’re worried about health, know that a non-diet approach actually will support making positive changes for health.

In the meantime: This article is a great example of how diseases like diabetes are more likely related to nutritionally inadequate diets than higher weights. It makes so much sense when we look at how long-term yo-yo dieting may be linked to development of diabetes as well as weight gain. Again, “successful” deprivation does not equal health!

Looking for help with Diabetes?

Check out our group series, HAES Care for Diabetes. We will be running this intermittently throughout the year. Stay tuned for new dates soon!

Need help with your relationship to eating?

I have an online course that only takes minutes a day to get all the best tools in my non-diet toolbox to help you get more relaxed around food. Check out Dare to Eat.

4 Things That Happen When You Ditch Dieting

I did a guest blog post for non-diet dietitian Taylor Wolfram over at her site Whole Green Wellness! Check it out:

Say goodbye to dietsI spend a lot of time talking about how I quit dieting and why (hello – life of misery). I discuss how we know now that dieting does not actually produce long-term weight loss for most people, and how diets are a part of an oppressive culture that doesn’t encourage us to live fully expressed lives in which we can feel good not just about our bodies, but our total selves.

But today I’m going to talk about what it’s like to take those first few steps away from dieting and diet culture…. Continue here to keep reading

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Want to work with me in person? I’m now taking clients in my West Los Angeles office as well as virtually anywhere in the world. Learn more here.

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.

Take my FREE mini-course!

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.

Stop Dieting, Start Living

stop-dieting-no-nameWhen I was dieting, I had little time for anything else but thoughts of food and exercise: what I could eat, what I couldn’t, when could I eat again, and what would fit into my days’ “points” allowance; when I would exercise, how I didn’t want to but had to, and how many calories I would burn on the stair-stepping machine (which I hated).

At the height of my dieting mania, when I was “acceptably” slim, I chose to pursue a career that I thought would support my dieting obsession: registered dietitian.

Imagine that – I chose a career that would help me diet. So not only would my personal time be filled with food preoccupation, so would my professional time. Looking back on this, I am astounded. When I was much younger, I had wanted to be other things: writer, fashion designer, even comedian (despite my intense performance anxiety). Where did that person go once on a diet?

It is only now that my dieting obsession is over that I occasionally wonder what I might have chosen for my mid-life career change other than dietitian. I still do love food and nutrition (no longer in an obsessive way) and I’m glad, ultimately, that this was the path I chose because I also love the clinical aspect of what I do, and thankfully the HAES® philosophy has given my practice so much meaning and substance. But imagine if I’d had more mental freedom in making this choice. But making a career choice during what was basically a mental health crisis is not how I wish that had gone down.

In the years that I became so restrictive with food, I had few hobbies. It’s not because I’m not an interesting person – I AM – but because planning all my meals and then fretting about how long I could withstand my hunger was first priority. I had a brief flirtation with pottery, and though I’ll never be any sort of visual artist, I wish I had continued on with it because it was truly the most meditative thing I have ever done while still creating something. Figuring out how to simultaneously eat food I liked while eating the fewest calories took first priority.

Anyway, once I stopped dieting, I had to spend some time figuring out how to eat again. It took me about five years to learn how to eat instinctively. Five years! So even after I stopped dieting, I still had to spend time learning how to not-diet. That part was better, because at least I learned how to make bagels and French baguettes and kimchi.

Once I was done learning to eat, I finally had time again. So I started writing this blog, and then I was asked to write by a magazine, and then I was asked to speak and I started to become an expert in my field of non-dieting. I took hula hoop classes and dance classes and learn to boogie board and travelled without worrying how I was going to stay on my diet. I ate dessert when I felt like it and got big swishy skirts I never would have worn even when I was thin because I worried they’d make me look fat. I started to really live in a way that I was afraid to do even when I was thin and never good enough. In between, I stopped dieting, and started living.

How much time is dieting and worrying about weight taking away from you? What creative or intellectual or fun or generous pursuits have you put aside because you had to think about food, or had to negotiate constant hunger and longing? What great or satisfying things would you do if you were freed from this diet prison?

Only you can answer that.

Ready to Stop Dieting and Start Living?

If you’re ready to stop dieting, or already have, and would like some help with the not-dieting (so you don’t have to spend five years doing it on your own like I did), check out my new online course and group coaching program, Stop Dieting, Start Living, which will help you do just that. Registration is open until February 2 or until the class is full.

Free Group Coaching Call January 28

I’m hosting a free group coaching call on January 28 at 10 am PST. The topic is “Why can’t I stop eating even when I’m not hungry?!” I’m only sending the call details to people on my newsletter list so sign up here if you want in on the fun.

Join our Facebook group community!

We have a very cool little community going on over at Facebook called The Dare To Not Diet Society. Members give each other support, cheer each other on in their non-diet journey. I’m there too! It’s a body positive, non-diet, non-weight-loss focused community, and we’d love to have you.

Dieting as a Distraction

img_20161203_145718083_hdr_31363430996_oIs anyone else physically and mentally exhausted by the end of the Julian calendar year? This year was no exception for me, and with the addition of an emotionally draining U.S. election season that did not end in a way I had hoped it would, well, I went into a bit of a tailspin.

Actually, it was a huge, tornado-style tailspin.

Long story short, I ended up in a mildly depressed funk. I’d been here before, in the past, and I knew it would only last a few weeks during which I would remain a reasonably high-functioning human. But it doesn’t feel great. I do not sit will with the yuckiness of malaise.

As time marched on, I began to find myself preoccupied with my body. Specifically, how it looked. I found old, distant feelings arising – namely, dissatisfaction. As a result, I suddenly felt the tug of an old relfex: the desire to diet to control my shape and weight.

Now, luckily for me, I have a few things going in my favor: 1. I committed way back to never diet again. I never wanted to experience the bitter combo of futility, sadness and hunger that dieting left me with. 2. I have wholly committed to honor the wisdom of my body and have promised to fully support it in whatever shape and size it takes, even if it’s a size and shape that takes me out of the realm of societal acceptability. So dieting again IS NEVER an option for me, and for that, I’m so glad. I know that feeling bad about my body in these instances is the symptom, not the problem.

I started to remember other times I experienced depression, and my reactions in those times.

At the age of 22, when my mother was dying, I turned to dieting to distract myself and exert some form of control on my clearly out-of-control life.

At the age of 31, when I found myself in a committed, long-term relationship that didn’t satisfy me, I turned to dieting to get my “perfect” body to solve my unhappiness.

It’s obvious that dieting or a smaller body could not possibly have solved either of those problems, yet that’s exactly what I did to try to ease my suffering because diet culture tells us that we only need to lose weight to make our lives better. So it wasn’t surprising to me at all that this reflex arose at this time of sadness and insecurity and fear. The urge to deny myself my most basic need – food – in order to gain control at a time when I feel I have no control over what happens is so strong, but makes so little sense and is not kind.

Instead of diving back into restriction, though, I decided to just sit with those feelings. I made space for them. I pondered them. I thought about how that solution worked out for me in the past (spoiler alert: not so well. I still had to deal with all those messy feelings and situations in the end, and I was hungry on top of it). I knew I would not diet, and I knew I would have to sit with feelings of body and life and world dissatisfaction and just do my best to deal with it.

In enough time, I felt myself emerge, ever so slowly, from the darkness of these thoughts. I have a great support system at home and that helps. I did some gentle yoga to get myself back in touch with the physicality of my body — to sense what it felt like rather than what it looked like. I’m living with uncertainty without using starvation as a proxy for control. I’m caring for myself in constructive, not destructive ways. My body is not actually the problem, and I don’t need to try to change it.

If you’re finding yourself going down this particular road, stop and give yourself a hug. Think about what you really need. You’d be better off in a Snuggie with a hot cup of tea on the couch doing some comfort-TV binge-watching than trying to diet again. If you need to reach out for help, do that. Just know that dieting and weight manipulation is not real control, it’s not real power, and it just weakens us further. That’s not something that any of us needs in hard times.

Tired of struggling on your own?

Exciting news! I’m launching a 30 day online course/group coaching program in February to help you get free of diet mentality and further along toward normal eating. I’ve created this very affordable option because so many of you have wanted to work with me one-on-one but it’s just not within your budget right now. Make sure to get on my newsletter list as this will be the first place I send out more information about the course, and enrollment will be limited and offered to those on my list first. Get on my list here.

Dietitians Unplugged News

Missing us? No fear! We’re just on a little end-of-year hiatus until January. In the meantime, catch up on all our episodes on Libysn, iTunes, or Stitcher.

Is Food Addiction a Real Thing?

donut
Are you addicted?

When my partner and I first moved in together, he – a naturally thin person whose eating is highly internally regulated and who has never restricted any food in his life AND even enjoys guilt-free overeating on occasion – suggested cookies as a grocery item list. I had just regained a few pounds after my most restrictive dieting period ever, and I looked at him like he was crazy. “Uh, NO! I can’t have cookies in the house or I’ll just EAT ALL OF THEM! I’m addicted to those foods!” He looked at me calmly and said, “Well, that won’t happen to me and I want cookies.” It would be four more years before I stopped dieting and the cookie tug-of-war would peacefully come to an end and I would once and for all stop feeling like I was addicted to sweets.

I recently had a conversation with a woman who considers herself a food addict and has been a member of Overeaters Anonymous for 16 years. She manages her self-described addiction by eating no refined grains and no sugar at all. She maintains a high-protein, low-carb diet. After talking a while I found out a few other things: 1. She was criticized for her weight at a young age, 2. She started self-restricting cookies when she was 7 or 8 years old, and 3. She was often a much higher weight, tried all the diets, and this total abstinence regimen is the only one that has “worked” for her in terms of keeping her weight down long-term. She also frequently talks longingly about what she can’t have but would love to eat. She sometimes bakes brownies just to enjoy the smell and gives them away to friends without having any. She said she never stops thinking of herself as fat, even though she is now “normal weight.” If ever there was a person my heart went out to, it was this person.

We hear stuff like this all the time. Sugar is addicting. Fat is addicting. Refined carbs are addicting. Salt combined with any of those foods is addicting. I was once accused of being addicted to cheese, which is ridiculous because anyone who knows me knows chocolate is my drug of choice! (If I thought of it that way, which I don’t)

To learn more, I emailed a colleague who specializes in nutrition for recovering addicts and food addiction. He sent me a paper which apparently is the foundation for food addiction treatment right now, “Understanding and Addressing Food Addiction” by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. The paper admits little is known about food addiction, which is why they have chosen to look at it through the lens of substance addiction. Food addiction was considered for the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) but rejected, so in the absence of any other diagnostic criteria, the Yale Food Addiction Scale (a scale that is primarily based on the diagnostic criteria for substance dependence) is often used to determine food addiction.

The paper talks about possible risk factors for food addiction including “obesity/overweight”, early exposure to “overeating and unhealthy eating” at a young age through family or peer groups, genetics, personality trait and psychological tendencies, and more. They state that the individual characteristics associated with food addiction are being female, over age 35, and overweight or obese (interestingly, the same people that are often on a diet). It discusses the relationship of food addiction to eating disorders (there is a higher correlation than in non-ED populations).  It talks about the similar neurological responses of the brain to highly palatable foods (the aforementioned sugar/fat/salt combo) and addictive substances. And in the end, it concludes:

“The food addiction model, like that of substance addiction, describes the ways in which certain food properties or ingredients can produce addiction in individuals who are susceptible to their effects and who consume them in a manner that induces the addictive process (i.e., eating certain types of highly palatable, calorie dense, and nutrient-poor food on an intermittent but repeated basis).  It allows for an explanation and an intervention strategy for those cases of disordered eating that are not adequately accounted for by existing psychological or medical causes.”

In other words, in the absence of psychological or medical reasons for an “addictive” response to food, it blames the food itself.

I find this paper, while highly referenced, problematic. I don’t think it’s asking the right questions.

One major problem is that nowhere does it mention restrained eating or dieting behaviors and their relationship to food-addicted behavior. This is a huge omission because it’s well-documented that highly restrained eaters often have frequent episodes of disinhibition (aka overeating or binge eating), especially with “forbidden” highly palatable foods (read some of that data here and here). Who on a diet hasn’t felt addicted to the very foods they weren’t supposed to eat? It’s no surprise to me that people with eating disorders have experienced more food addiction symptoms; high degrees of eating restraint are common in eating disorders.

I have qualms about treating food the same way as addictive substances. We don’t need addictive substances to live for the most part, and most of us, in our usual activities of daily living, will never come across those substances unless we search them out. They’re easy to avoid (cigarettes and alcohol being exceptions to some degree). Food, on the other hand, is everywhere, and we need it every few hours to achieve nutritional adequacy. One might encounter “trigger” foods multiple times in a day. This puts the onus on the addicted person to try to avoid contact with trigger foods or those who are eating them, and that could lead to extreme social isolation. I had a friend who, once he joined OA, couldn’t eat with me anymore because of potential exposure to all his trigger foods – which was becoming everything except non-starchy vegetables.

Yet another problem is that this paper views highly palatable foods as inherently bad for health; they simply aren’t, and there is no adequate body of evidence to conclusively show this (and we know now that our patterns of eating impact our health much more than individual foods). Many people can incorporate these demonized foods into a balanced diet quite easily without overdoing it or feeling ruled by them (those people all live in France, plus the three I know here. Kidding! I know four here.). In my experience, these are people relaxed eaters who have never dieted and never felt they had to change their body shape or weight.

A lot has been made of the similar ways that highly palatable foods and addictive substances light up certain neural pathways. But guess what – those are pleasure pathways. They also light up when we receive hugs from people we love, hang out with our pets, or have sex. So the lighting up of those pathways alone do not indicate addiction.

There may be truly food-addicted people out there, because anything is possible – but this “addiction” does not happen in a vacuum. If you showed me a food-addicted person who had never dieted, never felt bad about his or her appearance, never been exposed to our pervasive culture of food fear, and never observed or felt weight stigma, I might buy the construct of food addiction in which food is the problem more readily. If that food was broccoli, I’d have no doubt. But it’s never broccoli, and there are few people who meet that criteria.

We’re asking the wrong questions. Based on all I know about dieting, food restriction and disinhibition, food addiction tendencies are more likely driven by high dietary restraint, weight stigma, and a toxic culture of food-fear than a chemical dependency on food. The evidence is the many people who have gotten free of this feeling of food addiction once they healed their relationships to food, eating and their bodies.

So is food addiction a real thing? I think the feeling of addiction to food is a very real thing, yes. But is it the food itself that causes the addiction? In most cases, I don’t believe it is. And I don’t believe more restriction is the answer.

My feelings of addiction to sweet foods went away when I started to feed myself without restraint and abandoned body-shame as a way of life. Once I legalized all foods, the power any one type of food had over me disappeared. I think if we started treating food addiction with liberalization, not more deprivation, we’d quickly see fewer and fewer cases of it.

Need more free non-diet support? Join our Facebook Group!

We’ve got a nice little members-only, non-diet group going on over at Facebook, and we’d love for you to join. Click here for your invitation.

Do you feel food-addicted? Want help?

If you’re starting to feel it’s time to kick that feeling of food addiction once and for all, you might be ready for some one-on-one coaching. Click here to find out more.

Dietitians Unplugged: Virgie Tovar is a Fierce Fat Babe

Cover2Aaron and I got to interview one of my fat-activist heroes recently, Virgie Tovar. Virgie drops some serious knowledge on us about fat phobia, sexism, dieting and fighting a toxic culture. Oh and Babecamp! She is way fun and I’m addicted to her laugh.

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as we did making it.

#LoseHateNotWeight

 

 

Listen now:

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Want to Work With Me?

Ready for some coaching to get you to drama-free eating? Go here.

I Forgot to Eat the Damn Cake

cake3
I DID eat this cake.

A while back I wrote about my frustration when someone did that thing I now call the Dance of the Dessert, that “should I?/I shouldn’t!” thing and then they do and then they loudly proclaim their guilt to anyone in the nearby vicinity. Seriously: yawn.

Well, something completely the opposite of that happened to me the other day: I forgot to eat the cake. And until now, I didn’t even bother to talk about it.

You see, this is the kind of thing that might happen when you give up dieting and dieting mentality and embrace internally regulated, totally normal eating. You might do things like accidentally forget to eat some cake, even if you intended to. And you don’t feel that bad about it.

In my dieting days, I was definitely the person to worry about eating the cake (though I would still eat it because IT WAS CAKE). I was also the person to sneak back into the break room later on and cut off another “thin” slice and eat it furtively…and then cut off just another “tiny” slice because I I just couldn’t stop…and then I’d scoop up the icing dregs off the edges of the plate and lick the knife clean (apologies to all those who got to the cake after me…it was probably decimated). Ironically, I was the thinnest I’d ever been…but I still felt so wretched for eating that cake. More restriction would follow until the next cake or doughnut or brownie or tart or…

Last week reminded me how far I’d come since then. Two co-workers had birthdays, and therefore there were two cakes being served up during our weekly team meeting. I had just eaten breakfast and so wasn’t really in the mood for cake. I also have a sensitive tummy and I know putting too much in there first thing in the morning will be misery all day. So I declined the cake and planned to come back for some in the afternoon when I like to have a snack and would have a nice appetite for it – there was plenty and I was confident there would be some left by then.

The day wore on. I was out of the office during lunch so I didn’t get to the break room to see if there was cake left to have as dessert. I got back to the office and at mid afternoon had my current favorite snack of banana with Nutella (because Nutella is awesome). I went home.

Then it hit me…I forgot to go back and get a slice of cake. Damn.

It was completely my intention earlier that day to partake in cake, but in reality, I clearly wasn’t feeling it. And that is the wonderful thing about not being underfed or food-restricted all the time – you don’t eat cake just because it’s there and you’re starving. I also know there will be cake again, and that I will probably have some, which is why missing it this time wasn’t such a big deal.

I don’t tell you this story to brag about my internally regulated eating skills. I feel neither good nor bad about forgetting to get the cake. It was a neutral incident, so I don’t feel smug about it as I might have in my food-restricted days. My behaviors do not make me thin. They simply make me relaxed around food.

I’m telling you this because if you are still feeling crazy around food and it’s getting a bit much for you, I want you to know there is hope. If you are struggling with getting to normal eating, I want you to know that it does happen, and it’s a wonderful relief. Internally regulated eating is that happy place where you get to have your cake and eat it too…or not, if you simply don’t feel like it.

Have you registered yet for the Making Friends With Food FREE video summit?

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I was interviewed for this video series that talked to a whole bunch of experts on non-diet, non-weight centered, body positive health and nutrition – and the best part is – it’s totally free.

So get your dose of non-diet goodness with a video delivered to your inbox every day from July 25 to August 8 and register here now!

Dietitians Unplugged – Our This American Life Breakdown

Episode 12 is available now! Aaron and I had fun talking about the Tell me I’m Fat episode of This American Life.

Listen now:
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The ABCs of Weight Loss

Pacman eating dots
Pacman goes on a diet.

I was sick at home a few weeks ago and my appetite (along with my energy, my throat and my good humor) was shot. I didn’t feel like eating anything in particular, but I was still hungry and I knew I needed to put something on my stomach. I did what any sick person with no sense of smell and a craving for carby, starchy, sweet and/or cheesy foods would do – I picked and pecked at random selections of food for three days straight.

And suddenly I remembered ABC. If you’re a dieter, and maybe even specifically a Weight Watchers alum, you will know what ABC stands for. WW Leaders would chant this weekly to their loyal followers, reminding us why we might not be reaching our goal weights. “ABC – All Bites Count!” they would decree, and we’d nod our heads in unison.

Another way of saying this was “If you bite it, write it.” It means that literally every little bite you take must be logged into your journal. It means that no bite of food, no matter how innocuous seeming, no matter if it was a whole bite, or a half bite, or a measly nibble, should go unrecorded, because surely it will be that one bite that will take all your weight loss efforts down. Unless we stopped to figure out the points value of one quarter of an Oreo cookie and write it down, surely that one unrecorded bite might be the gateway drug to actually satisfying our appetites, and that would be the death knell of our weight loss. One cannot have a satisfied appetite and lose weight, we all knew that.

That’s how it eventually got for me, caught in the frenzy of weight loss and weight maintenance: seemingly innocent crumbs of foods here and there could not could not go unaccounted without worrying about how they would affect the scale the next week. And god forbid you end up getting sick, or divorced, or have a loved one who dies, or you lose a job, i.e. real life stuff…because those are prime pecking situations, and you are seriously not going to want to record anything when any of these happen (which explained why so many people dropped out when major life events occurred. Because you cannot diet and lose or maintain weight and still have a real life that can accommodate important stuff.)

And then there are those times, like at a party, when you have one bite, then another, and another and another and you think, “Oh what the hell, too many bites to remember, might as well go for broke,” and you eat so much that your belly hurts and you feel the shame of going so far off your diet that you’ll surely have to starve the rest of the week to make up for it.

What no one ever tells us is that even if we manage to write every single bite, we might not be happy or satisfied with either our eating OR our bodies. No one ever tells us, “95% of people who write down all their bites still regain most or all of their weight within three to five years after losing weight,” even though that is what all the current science tells us. No one seems to want to acknowledge that even if you are a super-bite-writer, a significant chunk of your life might be sucky because all you can think about is how you’re going to avoid the bites you might have to write. Because even if you are one of the miraculous 5% who maintain their weight loss longer than five years, your whole life will be dedicated to this one task.

Let’s be honest: having to account for every single bite you put in your mouth – whether it is “working” or not – is a fucked up way to live.

So although I was sick and sniffly and kind of miserable, I was really grateful for one thing: I didn’t have to worry about any of the bites. I could give my body the energy it was asking for, no questions asked, no bite-writing required. I’m going to stick with intuitive eating and eating competence because for me, that is eating well and enough and guilt-free. No more ABCs for me.

Dietitians Unplugged podcast – episode 6 available now!

Episode 6 is called “Clean Eating or Toxic Ideas?” and we had so much fun talking about this subject.

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