How to Stop Counting Calories

How to Stop Counting Calories

So, you’re fed up of counting calories?

Well, you’ve come to the right place… in this article I am going to outline actionable steps on how to stop counting calories, once and for all. As a Registered Dietitian (for the last 9 years) and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor, I have worked with 100’s of clients to help them stop obsessing over numbers and find a healthier relationship with food.

If you’ve been counting calories for months or years, you’re likely feeling tired of it. Calorie counting can sometimes be a helpful tool. But for many people, counting calories in the long term can become exhausting and unhealthy. This was certainly my experience counting calories (more on this below). No matter how long you’ve been counting for, it is possible to stop and find a more liberal relationship to food. Keep reading for actionable steps on how to stop counting calories so you can start to feel more normal around food again

My experience with calorie counting

10 years ago, I used to count calories almost every day. Even when I wasn’t actively tracking them in MyFitnessPal or the like, the mental counter was still ticking over.
 
“If you have this snack now, then you can only have a small portion at dinner, otherwise you’re over the limit for the day”
 
And if I went over my self-imposed limit…one of two things would happen:
 
1) I would have to compensate somehow with exercise or less calories the following day
2) I would think “well I’ve screwed it now, so may as well keep going” and end up out-of-control eating and feeling extremely guilty about it
 
Oh, the mental turmoil of calorie counting. It was exhausting. I felt obsessed with food and had little brain space to think of much else. And I felt ashamed. As a Dietitian, I felt I should know better and knew it didn’t feel healthy to count calories. But I didn’t know there was another way. You see, in university we are still taught calorie counting as a bit of a “be-all and end-all”.
 
Luckily, I now realise how disordered all those constant calculations were and enjoy a healthy, nourishing relationship to food with zero counting. I do not miss obsessively tracking my food intake one bit. I now work to help others learn Intuitive Eating and other skills so they can nourish themselves without the obsession and counting. Keep reading to find out how for yourself.

Why is calorie counting so widely used….and is it worth it??

Calorie counting is often used by people use to try to lose or maintain a certain body weight, or follow a diet. There seem to be endless sources that encourage calorie counting, including:
  • Doctors, dietitians and government pamphlets
  • Media and social media
  • Packaged food labels
  • Exercise machines that have electronic displays showing the calories burned off each minute
  • Restaurants that list calories next to menu items
  • Phone apps and watch devices
Actually, it can be near impossible to avoid calorie information!
 
Calorie counting is touted an essential skill for anyone looking to alter their body weight or shape. But the risks and dangers seem to be rarely discussed. Calorie counting may become so habitual that you end up doing it automatically and have great difficulty stopping.
 
Let’s explore some of the risks and flaws of calorie counting in more depth…

Why calorie counting can be problematic

1. Calorie counts are inaccurate

It’s very difficult to determine the total amount of calories needed for an individual. We can take an estimate but the margin of error here is massive. This is because there are so many factors that influence our energy needs, including:

This study out of Stanford University showed that fitness devices including Apple Watch, Basis Peak, Fitbit have a large margin of error when it comes to measuring energy (calorie) expenditure. They showed that the most accurate device was off by an average of 27 percent. And the least accurate was off by 93 percent!

Also, our dietary needs fluctuate across days, weeks and months. Having the same number of calories each day just isn’t how humans are designed. We are not robots.
 
It’s also impossible to precisely calculate the actual calorie content of the food we eat, even with books, apps, and scales! Most calorie counts on food labels are inaccurate. This is because they are based on a system of averages that ignores the complexity of digestion.
 
Recent research reveals how many calories we extract from food depends on:
– which type we eat
– how we prepare our food
-which bacteria are in our gut and
-how much energy we use to digest different foods.
Current calorie counts do not consider any of these factors. Digestion is so intricate that even if we try to improve calorie counts, we will likely never make them perfectly accurate.
 

2. Calorie counting can lead to false attribution

Often, people adjust caloric intake based on daily/weekly weight changes, but this is false feedback. Body mass and fat are affected by many factors. And they fluctuate regardless of calorie consumption (as does the number on the scale). If you limit intake to a certain amount and lose weight, you may falsely assume that the weight loss was because of the calorie rules followed. In fact, it could be down to so many other factors.
 

3. Disrupted body function and cues

Eating according to a calorie limit (rather than internal sensations and drives), disrupts ability feel hunger and fullness cues over time. This makes it harder for your body to regulate intake in the future, meaning we are more vulnerable to eating past comfortable fullness. As well as experiencing increased anxiety about our food intake. Using arbitrary limits can also leave you undernourished. If we are deficient in a nutrient, our body will not function at it’s best and we may experience negative affects on physical and mental health.
 

4. Poor mental health

Strict rules are innately hard to follow. Especially when it comes to fighting our biology and body’s fuel needs as is usually the case with counting calories. When the calorie limit is inevitably broken, this is often seen as a “failure”. This may then contribute to us feeling rubbish about ourselves, and low self-esteem. People who become obsessed with counting calories may calculate and re-calculate figures all day long, and feel anxious about foods when they don’t know the calorie content. They may even avoid situations where this may occur (e.g. restaurants and social occassions).

 
So…. you can see there are many problems with calorie counting. That’s not to say it is a useless tool but in my experience as a dietitian – counting calories is destructive and unhealthy for the majority of my clients. And learning how to stop counting calories is a key step in rediscovering a healthy relationship with food.
 
But, if calorie counting is so flawed, then what’s the alternative? Well, if we let it, your body will do these calculations for you. And communicate the maths through internal signals of hunger and satiety. A non-dieting adult human or animal maintains a stable weight over time, adjusting the body’s intake and performance as needed.
 
The trick is to tune back into your bodies signals of hunger, satiety and fullness – the OG calorie counters!

 

Fruit and Veg at every meal

      5 Steps to Stop Counting Calories

      1. Inform yourself of the dangers/cons of counting calories.

      So you can feel confident in your decision to stop (read the above section on “Why calorie counting can be so problematic”, if you haven’t already)
       

      2. Explore what calorie counting has provided you

      Many times giving up calorie counting may also mean giving up:
      – a sense of control
      – a means of achievement
      – the pursuit of weight loss
      If this is the case for you, it may be worth exploring (with your journal, or in dialogue with a loved-one or a professional) how these patterns came about and healthier ways to cope.
       

      3. Delete sources of calorie information

      Delete the apps. Ditch the fitbit. Avoid reading food labels.
       
      Even if you delete these, you may still find yourself doing sums in your head. That’s ok and it will fade naturally with time as you begin to place emphasis on internal cues to eating (i.e. Intuitive Eating – more on this in point 5). However, if you do catch yourself doing sums, try to distract yourself or interrupt it with a healthier thought.
       

      4. Reduce gradually

      If going cold turkey on calorie counting feels too scary, try cutting down gradually. For example, pick a snack or meal where you won’t count or track and do this for one week. The next week, pick another meal or snack to stop counting, and so on.
       
      If giving up calorie counting is causing lots of anxiety for you, consider seeking help from a registered dietitian or psychologist trained in disordered eating to support you.
       

      5. Learn Intuitive Eating Skills

      Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based approach to rediscover a healthy relationship with food. Using a series of tools and skills, the framework helps you move away from rigid external rules, to finally trust your body and its signals again
       
      A big part of Intuitive Eating is relearning how to listen, and appropriately respond to hunger and satiety cues. This is really helpful when trying to stop counting calories. The freebie below has tips and tools that can help you get started with this.

      Conclusion: How to Stop Counting Calories

      In summary, calorie counting has many flaws, inaccuracies and dangers. If you are feeling fed-up with counting, stopping is certainly possible. Intuitive eating offers an alternative framework for nourishing your body that focuses on hunger and satiety signals, rather than numbers or rigid rules. It provides a structure for you to learn to nourish your body properly, without counting calories.

       
      • Do you want to eat foods that you enjoy without obsessing?
      • Do you want to improve your health through good nutrition, with the most up to date evidence-based advice?
      • Do you want to bin your list of food rules and stop your life revolving around healthy eating or planning what to eat?
       
      If you answered ‘yes’ then Intuitive Eating is right for you! Explore my article on “Intuitive Eating Tips for Those Starting Our” HERE to learn more.
       
      Do you want to work with a qualified professional who nurtures a good relationship with food? You can read more about what that looks like HERE.
      How to do Intuitive Exercise

      How to do Intuitive Exercise

      Intuitive Exercise, also referred to as Intuitive Movement goes hand-in-hand with Intuitive Eating. If you’d like to learn more about exercising intuitively, then you’re in the right place. This article will describe what intuitive exercise is before breaking down some steps you can take to get started.

      Do you enjoy exercise?

      My clients often come to me not enjoying exercise. There are a few common reasons for this:

      1. Exercising has been coupled with weight-loss diets
      2. They are exercising excessively and/or compulsively
      3. Negative experiences growing up – being teased in P.E. class, not being picked for teams or being forced to run laps
      4. Rebelling against parents or partners who push exercise
      5. It can be physically less accessible for those with larger bodies and also off-putting

      The diet culture we live in also compounds these factors. We are surrounded by messaging that promotes exercise as a way to meet unrealistic body ideals. Toxic phrases like, “no pain, no gain” and, “sweat is fat crying”, are pushed upon us. Exercise is something we should do rather than something we want to do.

      Many of my clients have been mentally and physically worn down by crash exercising, usually accompanied by dieting. Beginning an exercise program whilst dieting is often a recipe for disaster. This is because on a diet, energy (calorie) intake is usually restricted. When exercising, you need more calories to fuel increased activity. If you don’t get enough then exercise will be depleting, not invigorating.

      Who wants to constantly subject their body to something that doesn’t ever feel good? No one in their right mind! Yet we often end up blaming ourselves for just not having enough willpower.

      What exactly is Intuitive Exercise?

      Intuitive Exercise is the practice of connecting to your body to figure out how it feels and what type of movement it needs that day. Instead of picking what type of exercise you think you “should” do, you use your body’s internal cues to figure out the best type and duration of the movement.

      You choose to move your body for self-care and health benefits, instead of doing it to lose weight. Some days this may mean an intense gym class, while other days it may mean restorative yoga or a walk. It can also be non-intentional activities like dancing with your kids, gardening or taking your dog for a walk. It doesn’t have to be planned or something structured, but it also can be if that’s what floats your boat. Intuitive movement is flexible, not rigid. It gives you the space to explore what feels good in your body. This shift in mindset allows exercise to become more enjoyable and less stressful. It can become something to look forward to, rather than dread.

      Here are my 6 best tips to get started with Intuitive Exercise

       1. Begin when you are ready

      If you have leaned towards over-exercising you may not feel like getting moving again yet and that’s ok. Likewise, if you’ve had negative experiences with exercise that have led you to stop exercising, you may need to work through some barriers before picking it up again. If you are working to overcome compulsive exercise, a temporary break may be the best thing for you. You may want to take spend some time finding the right body inclusive equipment/clothing, surroundings and movement that feels inclusive and safe for you to participate in. Deferring movement a few weeks or months won’t make much of a difference in a life-long commitment. 

      2. Focus on how it feels

      This one is key. Focus on how the movement feels rather than tallying steps, miles or calories on a Fitbit. Paying attention to the felt sense from within your body is like cross-fit for your intuition. Instead of just gritting your teeth through a workout, explore how you feel during the activity and throughout the day afterwards.

      • Are you able to handle stress better?
      • What’s your alertness like?
      • How’s your mental outlook?
      • Are you motivated, energised?
      • How are your sleep and appetite affected?
      • Are you feeling more connected to your body? Moving your body and using it can help with a more positive body image

      When we notice positive feelings from an activity, we are more likely to want to continue doing it.

      If you feel depleted and exhausted, take that as feedback from your body that it needs more rest, fuel or restorative movement.

      Intuitive Movement 

      3. Decouple exercise from weight loss and focus on the health benefits

      By making weight loss or burning calories the focus of your exercise, you’re less likely to be able to do it consistently. Or become obsessed with food. This is because when weight loss inevitably doesn’t happen, slows or rebounds, we lose motivation. Researchers have proposed that it’s time we decouple exercise from weight loss because this minimises its’ more important health benefits. If you lose weight as a result of exercising, that’s cool. But movement has massive benefits for health separate from weight loss. By placing the focus on these, we are more likely to stick with this health-promoting habit.

      Physical Activity Benefits

       4. Make it enjoyable

      A growing body of research shows that focusing on pleasure from exercise could be a pivotal factor in sustaining consistent activity. What if, instead of focusing on fitness targets such as intensity and duration, you focused on the level of enjoyment you get from exercise?

      Enjoyable exercise is very individual so it’s important to figure out what works for you. Some people like team sports or the company of a friend on their walks. Others find that after a busy day meeting the demands of others, some time alone is what they need.

      Tips for making intuitive exercise enjoyable:

      • Choose activities you like! It doesn’t matter what it is – a dance party in the kitchen with the kids, a team sport, restorative yoga, a spin class, a walk in nature, a bike ride – it all counts
      • Mix it up – by completing a variety of activities throughout the week you’re more likely to remain engaged and not get bored
      • Listen to music, a podcast or an audiobook whilst walking
      • Get rid of apps and trackers that keep your focus on numbers and away from the enjoyment

      5. Develop an Intuitive Exercise plan

      This can be helpful if your days are jam-packed and making time for movement is a struggle. There is no need for a rigid structure. However, many of us lead busy lives and sometimes it’s necessary to carve out time for things we want to do. Ask yourself, “when can I consistently make time to move my body?”. Figure out when and where, and schedule it in as a commitment to be honoured, like any other meeting or appointment.

      6. Rest Rest Rest

      A common fear is that of, “once I stop exercising, I won’t start again.” This is consistent with the all-or-nothing style of thinking commonly seen in dieting. You can prove to yourself that not exercising today doesn’t mean not exercising again. Simply test yourself by having a day or two off and resume when you are able. The more you come back to exercise after taking a break from it, the more you can challenge this fear.

      Rest is as important for our health as exercise is. The saying, “the only workout you’ll regret is the one you didn’t do” is just plain wrong. Missing a workout is a better option than causing yourself an injury, missing sleep and feeling exhausted, or compromising recovery from illness. Sometimes taking care of yourself means not exercising. Resting gives muscles time to recover and also keeps exercise feeling enjoyable and invigorating.

       

      Intuitive Exercise Rest

      In Summary:

      If you are tired of militant or all-or-nothing exercise regimes then Intuitive Exercise provides a mindset shift you can use to re-discover enjoyment from exercise. Intuitive Exercise shifts the focus onto how it feels to move your body and away from weight loss and numbers. Human bodies are designed to move and activity has a myriad of health benefits. By focusing on these and seeing exercise as a way to take care of ourselves, we are more likely to keep it up.

      It is worth noting that working on a healthy relationship to movement often goes hand-in-hand with working on a healthy relationship to food. Intuitive Eating is a proven framework used to rediscover healthy relationships with food and exercise. My FREE 7-step download outlines steps to food peace and freedom with an audio guide and actionable workbook.  

      How To  Stop Dieting and Eat Normally

      How To Stop Dieting and Eat Normally

      Let’s talk about some initial steps you can take to learn how to stop dieting and eat normally. If you’ve clicked on this article, I’ll take a guess that you’ve been on and off diets (or pursuing weight loss in some form) for quite some time. Maybe you have tried to stop dieting before, only to get tempted back for “just one last time”? The constant, obsessive thoughts about food, the restricting, and binging, the hating your body are getting exhausting. Are you thinking there has GOT to be another way?

      Are you feeling tired of dieting?

      If you’re fed up with being stuck in the cycle of yo-yo diets, know that there is a way out – it’s called Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based approach to health and wellness. It helps you tune into your body signals, stop the binge-restrict cycle, and heal your relationship with food. This is achieved by working through principles that will guide you back to a natural way of eating. It is steered by internal body signals and wisdom (i.e. hunger, fullness and satisfaction) rather than external rules.

      Unlearning dieting is a process

      The process of learning how to stop dieting and eat normally again isn’t usually as simple or easy as we might like. Especially if we’ve been following external food rules for a long time. Even if you feel more ready than ever to hop off the dieting bandwagon, it’s normal for uncertainties, fears and sticking points to crop up throughout the process. Below, our clients describe some very common fears and struggle with letting go of diets:

      “Trusting myself around food. Especially when alone and there are no limits. I am not in touch with what my body wants/needs.”

       

      “I don’t listen to my body. I eat what I think I must eat instead of what I want to eat.”

       

      “The overload of available information on what I should or shouldn’t be eating, how I should or shouldn’t look. This means being constantly disciplined, thin, healthy, happy and IN CONTROL.”

      If any of these resonate with you, please know that you are not alone. There will be ups and downs whilst figuring out how to stop dieting and eat normally, However, if you stick with it, it will likely be one of the best, most liberating things you do. You can check out videos and written stories of clients who have broken free from dieting.

       

      Stop Obsessing and Regain Control With Food: Your 7-day Guide 

      Practical, easy-to-implement tips to feel less obsessive and out-of-control around food.

      Stop Obsessing and Regain Control With Food: Your 7-day Guide


       

      Here are my best tips on how to stop dieting and eat normally:

      1. Identify what a diet is, and isn’t 

      I have seen so many clients who are confused because they don’t consider themselves to be dieting. However, they still feel trapped and know that something is “off” with their relationship with food. This is so common because diets are sneaky these days! In recent times the weight loss and wellness industries have had to adapt to the fact that the word “diet” no longer sells the way it used to. Consumers are savvier to the fact that “diets” don’t work. Instead we hear terms such as “eating clean”, “lifestyle change”, “cleanse”, “detox” or “8-week challenge”. These are just diets wrapped up in new, shiny packaging. If it restricts the way you eat and takes you away from being able to listen and respond to your body – it’s going to keep you trapped just like a diet.

      2. Recognise the harm dieting has done

      In the long term, science tells us that diets do more harm than good. Not only do the vast majority of people regain the weight they lose, but weight loss diets also lead to poorer mental health. They take away from our social lives, lead us to have lower self-esteem and feel more dissatisfied with our bodies.

      I know that before I found intuitive eating, all of these negatives rang true. Recognising this was what allowed me to take the leap to try something different. Take this 3-minute quiz to help you identify if you are ready to stop dieting.

      3. From now on, no foods are off-limits

      You know how once someone tells you not to look down, you immediately have to fight an urge to do so? It works the same when telling ourselves we can’t have certain types or amounts of foods. That’s one of the reasons diets are so hard to stick with. The only way to get rid of the “forbidden fruit” factor is to allow yourself ALL foods. No labels, no good or bad foods, because really, no food is morally good or bad. It’s all just-food.

      When you first allow yourself to eat all foods, it is extremely normal to initially go overboard eating things you always considered to be off-limits. It is important to allow yourself to go through this phase so that your body and brain can re-establish trust with each other. After a few days or weeks, these foods will lose most of their lure. Just like when you buy a new item of clothing, wear it every day, and then it ends up in the back of the draw with the rest of the jumpers you once loved? Maybe you still like it, but you don’t need to wear it every day. Sure, you might always have a thing for cookies, but if you know that you can have some anytime you want, you won’t have to obsess over them.

      4. Start to listen to your hunger and fullness

      If this is tricky for you, know that you are amongst the majority. It is extremely common after years of dieting and eating according to external rules to lose touch with what it feels like to be hungry or full. Biologically speaking, it’s near impossible to stop eating, when your body needs food, so getting in touch with early hunger signals is important. Don’t stress, you are not broken. These signals are still there and you can learn to hear them again. It will just take some time and a bit of trial and error. The best way to start tuning back in is to take a minute to pause before and after you eat to feel your hunger. You can use the scale in the free document below as a reference. I also recommend keeping a hunger journal like this one:

      5. Eat regular, satisfying meals and snacks

      In general, to feel your best and avoid energy dips, you don’t want to be going much more than 3-5 hours without food. Some people struggle to initially hear hunger and fullness cues, so regular eating can help to “get the machine churning”. This can create a rhythm from which you can tune into those signals again.

      As well as physically filling you up, your meals and snacks need to mentally and physically satisfy you so that you do not feel restricted (remember: restriction leads to bingeing). This means choosing foods that we crave or that “hum” to us. To ensure physical satisfaction, I often talk about the importance of choosing options with “staying power” with my clients. These are usually those which include a source of each fat, protein, carbohydrate, and fibre.

      6. Learn to sit with your emotions

      A lot of us use food to quash unpleasant emotions that we’d rather not feel. This is normal to some extent, but we really don’t want food to be our only coping mechanism. If emotional eating is something you struggle with then an important part of learning how to stop dieting and eat normally will be learning to cope with these emotions without food. You can get more in-depth tips on emotional eating in this article. 

      7. Expect setbacks and let go of perfection

      The cool thing about intuitive eating is that you can’t get it wrong. It is a process of learning and self-discovery. On a diet, you’d probably punish yourself if you broke the “rules”. Eating too many cookies or too much ice-cream for example, whilst learning to eat intuitively is not a failure. It’s a neutral occurrence and a valuable learning opportunity. Get curious about your own behaviour and try to be compassionate and forgiving with yourself. When we speak kindly to ourselves, we are more likely to make healthy choices and feel better.

       

      In Summary:

      Learning how to stop dieting and eat normally is 100% possible but it is a process and will require being brave, compassionate towards yourself and trusting the process. Intuitive eating is a proven framework we can use to break free from the diet cycle. You can get started today using my FREE 7-step download, with audio guide and actionable workbook.  

      Fear of Weight Gain: 7 Tips To Overcome Getting Stuck In It

      Fear of Weight Gain: 7 Tips To Overcome Getting Stuck In It

      Overcoming the fear of weight gain…

      Overcoming the fear of weight gain is something I talk about often with clients. When we first speak, many feel excited at the thought of letting go of diets after years of pursuing weight loss. They are excited (albeit a little nervous) to re-learn to honour their body and free up brain space to live more fulfilled lives away from food obsession. 

      However, there is sometimes a shadow that can come hurtling over…

      but what about my weight? If I fulfill my hunger and try to foster a normal relationship with food, I will just end up eating all the time. This will just lead to weight gain, which frustrates me and makes me question whether that is the adequate pathway.”

      By now you might have felt that you can’t keep going the way you are. 

      Either you’ve tried numerous attempts to lose weight, only to be back at square one…

      Or, kept your weight down through restriction, but food thoughts consume you and steal the joy from life.

      Does this sound right? If so, you might be wandering “where do I go from here?”

      Where to from here?

      This is where a Health At Every Size (HAES) approach can come in. 

      HAES is a weight-neutral approach to health care. It promotes the pursuit of healthful behaviours (like eating vegetables, moving your body, getting enough protein, etc.) for the inherent health benefits of those behaviours, rather than for the explicit purpose of weight manipulation.

      The reason being that the pursuit of weight loss can often do more harm than good…

      How pursuing weight loss can lead to harm…

      You see, there is a magical 6 month period where most diet research is published, After this period, regardless of the type of diet, almost everyone starts to put the weight back on. By 2 to 5 years later the VAST majority (95%) of dieters are back to where they started. To add to that, about one to two-thirds of people end up heavier than they were before they began. This fact is so well known that it’s counted as “Level A” evidence (meaning it’s the highest level of evidence possible in science). 

      The pursuit of weight loss can leave people jumping on and off of different ways of eating, looking for that magic fix (calorie counting, cutting out foods or food groups, going vegan, skipping meals, counting points). This can actually do a lot of harm.  Harmful side effects of dieting include eating disorders, increased emotional eating, disconnected eating, lack of trust around food and food obsession. And weight stigma is another factor that is also rarely spoken about.

      Letting go of weight loss might sound crazy. But I invite you to reflect on your own experiences and consider whether dieting has actually been a positive approach to health either. For many people dieting does a lot of harm to their wellbeing. As a result, they choose to follow a non-diet approach to health like Intuitive Eating

      And one of the biggest fears that can come with intuitive eating is… 

      “Okay, so if I pursue this approach, how do I overcome the fear of weight gain? I just don’t think I could cope with that”

      This is why I have asked Therapist and Body Image Expert Brianna Campos to answer this question with her top tips to overcome getting stuck in the fear of weight gain. 

      7 tips to overcome getting stuck in the fear of weight gain

      1) Acknowledge that you are not alone.

      One of the most common fears in people pursuing a non-diet approach is gaining weight. When we can recognise that we are collective with the same fear – we can work together towards an actual solution.

      2) Identify the source of the fear.

      On the surface, it might be fear of weight gain. But truly it’s the beliefs that come with weight gain that create the fear. Not the weight gain itself. What is the story you tell yourself about gaining weight? Does it mean you have failed? Do you believe it makes you less attractive/ ‘healthy” etc/ desirable? Carolyn Costin says that body image work is like a check-engine light. Turning off the light (weight -loss) doesn’t address the root issue. We have to look under the hood to discover where the issues stem from.

      3) Make space for the fear by having a dialogue with it.

      What is it saying to you? Ask the fear, what it’s trying to protect you from. Can you find ways that you know the fear is untrue

      i.e. Do you fear gaining weight will make you less likeable? You can reality test this. Ask yourself, would like someone less merely because of their body size? 

      ACTIVITY: Name one very important person in your life. Write out all of the things you love about them. Do these things have anything to do with their body size? Keep a running list of all the reasons why people love you too! I bet it has nothing to do with your size. 

      4) Explore what needs you may have.

      Does the fear come from people making comments on your body size? Perhaps you need to set a boundary around that. For example, walking out the room, changing the subject or directly saying you don’t want to speak about weight loss/dieting. Does the fear come from not wanting to buy new clothes if you get bigger? Perhaps consider trading out some older smaller clothes with flexible/stretchy newer clothes. This can foster acceptance and help you make peace with your body.

      5) Sit in the suck.

      This is not going to be easy.  You are undoing a lifetime of messaging around your body. Acknowledge that the fear is hard. Sometimes the fear will suck you in. This is okay. Validate all the things about gaining weight that suck and makes your life harder.  Feel the feelings you have around the oppression you may have faced due to your body.  Your fear is REAL. 

      6) Reparent yourself.

      The way we speak to ourselves is interconnected with how we feel about ourselves.  As these moments arise where you realise you are “fearful” of weight gain do the following exercise.

      ACTIVITY

      1. Ask yourself: do I have the capacity to explore this right now? YES or NO

      If no, put it in a container in your mind and tuck it away for therapy or journaling later.

      2. If YES, you might like to explore these questions/steps:

      a) What is the source of this fear? Is there a certain story I’m telling myself? Do I hold particular beliefs about my body getting bigger?

      b) Is my fear trying to protect me from anything?

      c) Do I have beliefs that certain needs that could be met by losing weight? (i.e. I believe that I will be more lovable in a smaller body)

      3. Grieve. Allow yourself to be sad/ frustrated/ angry etc.

      4.  When you are ready, ask yourself: What might a loving parent say to their child if they were feeling this way? 

      7) Continue to commit to learning.

      About fatphobia, body positivity and all the intersectionalities that come with body image work. Recognise it as a process that is not linear but one you can always keep learning & growing.

      In summary

      By reading this article, you’re already “doing the work”. Exploring where your values and beliefs have come from, and sitting with this discomfort is part of the process. If you’re at the start of your journey to heal your relationship with food, it may be helpful to put the desire for weight loss on the backburner. When you remove this from the spotlight, you can focus on other ways to measure progress and begin to honour your body and make peace with food. 

      To have fear and anxiety around weight is normal and is something that you, your therapist and/or Dietitian can continue to work through. Dieting and weight loss focused language keeps us constantly planning for the future, what you ‘would do’ or be deserving of once you lose weight.

      This can hold you back from enjoying, respecting and taking care of your body in the here and now.

      When weight loss is on the back burner, you can focus on how to take care of your body in the here and now. It creates space to allow you to think about what you need today to feel more comfortable, confident, and to get your needs met. What’s a goal or something fun you want to do short-term that doesn’t require changing your body? 

      While the fear of weight gain is normal, it doesn’t need to be your reality forever.

      Additional Resources

      Article: “Body acceptance begins with grieving the thin ideal

      Books:

      Ted Talk: “Body Positivity or Body Obsession” 

      People to follow on Instagram: 

      Who is Brianna?

      Brianna (or Bri) is a Licensed Professional Counsellor in New Jersey. She has worked with Eating Disorder Recovery patients for the last four years and has a special interest in body image.  Brianna also teaches Introduction to Eating Disorders as an adjunct professor. She has a passion for about Health at Every Size®️ and taking an all foods fit approach to finding freedom with food and learning to love your current body. You can find her on Instagram @bodyimagewithbri

      What If You’re Told You Need To Lose Weight To Get Pregnant

      What If You’re Told You Need To Lose Weight To Get Pregnant

      What to do if you’re told to lose weight to get pregnant…

      If you’re in a bigger body and want to get pregnant, the chances are you’ve faced some problems. Have you been told, “you need to lose weight to get pregnant?” Were you dismissed in your request for help from a healthcare professional due to weight? This could be despite multiple attempts of weight loss which have not been sustained. Or a history of disordered eating that stemmed from the pursuit of weight loss. If these are your experiences, please know they are in keeping with the scientific research. This research tells us long-term weight loss is not sustainable and may lead to poorer health.

      Is it necessary to lose weight to get pregnant?

      Despite much of the information you may have received from the diet industry, teachers, loved ones, and professionals, weight is not something we actually have a lot of control over. All of the evidence we have on weight loss suggests that for the majority of people, manipulating our body’s weight shape or size is very difficult. Weight loss is possible, in most people, any weight lost will usually be regained within 2-5 years. Around 30-60% of people regain weight above baseline. 

      Whilst this information might be completely new, and different to what you’ve heard before, this can be explained by the set point theory. This theory has shown that our bodies have an internal thermostat or ‘pre-programmed’ weight that bodies naturally want to be at when they are taken care of (there is enough food available without restriction). This might not be the weight that society deems “should” be okay as per the Body Mass Index (BMI). When the body is withheld from food or restricted, the body works really hard to return to its ‘set point’. It does this by adjusting the metabolism to be more or less efficient with the energy it receives from food. It’s not something that can be ‘hacked’ or controlled, and it’s the body’s way of protecting itself. 

      Can you try to lose weight while trying to get pregnant?

      Diets are essentially a way to get your body into a calorie deficit. Whether it be counting calories, striving to be “healthier”, or juice detox. If it’s about weight loss and getting into an energy deficit, it’s a diet. Diets act by tricking the body into thinking it’s in a famine. The body’s natural response is to go into survival mode, conserving energy and increasing hunger signals to make us seek out food. This is where food obsession can kick in, and body systems that are not essential can be switched off. Including the reproductive system. As soon as the diet stops, the body is relieved by food being available again and makes the most of this by stocking up on fat stores just in case there is another famine. This is why it becomes more and more difficult to lose weight with each diet attempt, and why we can end up yo-yo dieting.

      So recommending dieting, and weight loss in the context of fertility treatment can be harmful. Fat people are told to do something that can actually promote infertility in the name of aesthetics and beauty standards! Unfortunately, many healthcare professionals are not aware of this, so you’re well within your rights to express concern at these recommendations, and to ask for weight inclusive care. 

      We, therefore, encourage rejecting this recommendation for weight loss in the name of fertility. This is to ensure the body is well nourished to geared up for a healthy conception. 

      If your doctor tells you you need to lose weight, there are a number of things you can do, outlined in the rest of this article. 

      Can losing weight improve egg quality?

      If you search the internet, you’re likely to find an array of lotions and potions and interventions that claim to improve egg or sperm quality. Whilst there are things that can be done to look after your reproductive health, these do not need to involve rigid routines and restrictive eating. These can add further stress and expense. Rather than jumping ahead, it might be worth asking your doctor about testing an investigation that might be available to you. These can include:

      • Blood tests to check hormone levels related to your menstrual cycle and ovulation
      • An examination to see if there are any physical obstructions like fallopian tube blockages or cysts on the ovaries. 
      • Semen testing measures things like quality, quantity and motility. 

      In terms of nutrition, one of the most important factors is eating enough food, and regularly keeping hormone levels stable. There are some key supplements including folic acid. This has been linked to increased conception rates, an increased chance of ovulation higher quality oocytes and a shorter time to pregnancy. It’s found in most pre-pregnancy supplements and is recommended to be taken 2-3 months prior to conception, and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. 40o micrograms are the standard dose, however, it’s important to speak with your doctor to see if this is right for you. Some people require higher doses. 

      Steps you can take to improve health without the focus on weight…

      With this in mind, many who are in bigger bodies trying to get pregnant choose to pursue a Non-Diet approach to nutrition (intuitive eating). Intuitive eating is an evidence-based practice that supports the pursuit of health without focusing on weight or body size. Importantly, does not trigger disordered eating or poor mental health. 

      That’s why I have invited fat positive fertility coach Nicola Salmon to the blog. Nicola is a fat-positive feminist and fertility coach. She advocates for change in how fat folks are treated on their fertility journey. Nicola supports fat folks (and others with disordered eating) who are struggling to get pregnant and find peace with their body. She helps them find their own version of health, and escape the yo-yo diet cycle.

      Here, she offers her top tips on fat positive fertility and getting pregnant with a bigger body. 

      Top 3 tips on what to do if you’re told you need to lose weight to get pregnant

      1) Release the vice-like grip that the scales might have on you

      We’ve been brought up to believe that our health is determined by the number on the scales and it’s just not true. Your weight tells me absolutely nothing about your health or your fertility. However, weighing yourself regularly brings a ton of stress and anxiety. 

      The idea that fat folks struggle to get pregnant is based on the assumption that being fat is unhealthy. In reality, fat folks experience higher risks because they are not given adequate healthcare. They also often get shamed and judged when they access healthcare. Furthermore, we know that there are no intentional weight-loss interventions that have any long term results. Instead, the only long term results from dieting are the likelihood of regaining any weight loss, increased risk of disordered eating and eating disorders. Therefore, you might like to explore the action steps below.

      ACTION: What’s a small step that you can take to move away from the scales?

      • Can you move away from weighing yourself daily, to once a week?
      • Maybe you could even throw out your scales! (I smashed mine in the garden! It was very satisfying)
      •  Shift your focus to something else, like getting better sleep, improving your energy levels or feeling stronger.

      2) Practice advocating for yourself

      If the only advice you are getting from healthcare professionals is to lose weight, then it might be time to advocate for yourself. We are never taught how to advocate for ourselves, it’s a skill that we need to learn and practice.

      It’s important to acknowledge that advocating is work. It takes physical and emotional energy and it’s work that you should not have to do. It’s the systems that need to change.

      You deserve appropriate and respectful healthcare.

      However, unfortunately systems take time to change. This means that advocating for yourself to get that treatment may be the only option right now.

      Advocating includes finding healthcare professionals that will treat you. Or, communicating with your current healthcare team to demand the treatments you need.

      ACTION: What small step can you take towards getting your healthcare needs met?

      Ask local friends/online communities for recommendations for appropriate doctors/clinics.
      Spend 15 minutes writing down what your needs are around your healthcare. This way you can identify where they are and aren’t met.
      Write a letter (or asking your nutritionist/coach to write a letter for you). This can outline your needs and that you do not want to discuss weight loss/dieting at future appointments.

      3) Set boundaries with friends and family

      Friends and family can be a great support and get us through the hardest times in our lives. They can also say the most insensitive things when they don’t understand what we are going through. Especially when it comes to weight and fertility. 

      It may appear that talking about their own dieting adventures or giving you well-meaning diet advice is coming from a place of love. But impact always trumps intention and the impact of this well-meaning advice can be huge. It can trigger patterns of self-loathing, pain and shame within us. This can have a measurable negative impact on our health. 

      ACTION: How can we set boundaries with our close ones without alienating them?

      • Can you try telling them about your needs. For example, “talking about diets and weight-loss makes me feel shame about my body. I need you to talk about your dieting/weight loss advice to someone else”
      • Have a go at asking for their buy-in. For example, “did you know that there is no evidence that any form of intentional weight-loss actually works!!?! If you want to learn more I’d definitely recommend Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison”. 
      • Prioritise keeping yourself safe. If having conversations with others feels too difficult (and sometimes it does!), you can keep yourself safe by removing yourself from the harm. This could look like going to the toilet when your colleagues start talking about diets. Or quickly change the subject when weight loss comes. If possible, you could also avoid spending time with people who talk about dieting all the time. 

      In conclusion, being told you need to lose weight to get pregnant is simply not helpful for many. The biggest thing to remember is that you’re worthy of feeling safe and having support in growing your family. It’s okay for you to want to become a parent. You are not selfish or irresponsible. I am sorry if you have been made to feel ashamed or guilty. You deserve to choose when you grow your family. And most importantly, you are worthy.

       

      Food Guilt: How To Get Rid Of It

      Food Guilt: How To Get Rid Of It

      Food guilt is all too common and can steal the joy from the experience of eating. Not only that, it can take us away from experiencing our own body and identifying what feels good for us in the moment. 

      Does this sound familiar?

      “I find myself obsessing over food, which results in overeating “pleasure” food such as chocolates when I am not even hungry and then feeling guilty.”

      Because after all, you’re the best too to decide what, when and how much your body needs. 

      Not the food police. 

      In this article, I’m going to dive into what food guilt is, and strategies to get rid of it so that you can have a more peaceful relationship with food. 

      Before we dive in, let’s look at what “food guilt” really means.

      As per the English dictionary, guilt is defined as:

      “noun. the fact or state of having committed an offence, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; culpability: He admitted his guilt. a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offence, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.”

      So the reason we can feel food guilt is the sense of having “broken” something, or having committed a crime.

      Are you really committing a crime by simply eating food?

      Let’s look at an example:

      “I find myself obsessing over food, which results in overeating “pleasure” food such as chocolates when I am not even hungry and then feeling guilty.”

      In the case above the felt crime committed is:

      • “eating when not hungry”.

      This person is experiencing food guilt because they have broken a perceived rule. 

      Is this the reason you’re feeling food guilt too?

      You might be thinking:

      “but if I didn’t have rules or guidelines, how would I know how to eat healthily?”

      I hear you. And I am answering this question below.

      The problem is, these rules can be so deeply ingrained in our psyche that we just can’t spot them. And therefore, it can feel difficult to move away from feeling guilty. 

      But remember. 

      You LEARNED to feel food guilt.

      Therefore you can unlearn it.

      But surely we need rules to ensure we eat healthily?

      It’s important to note that health isn’t’ just about what we eat. It’s about having a healthy relationship with food too. So if we’re riddled with food guilt after eating certain foods, stress levels are going to be high, which isn’t going to be healthy either.

      Of course, it makes sense to have guidelines to provide some gentle education around nutrition. 

      However, diet culture* does more than this. It imposes quite rigid rules and ideas about what, when and how much we “should” eat. This can make us feel like we’re addicted to foods like sugar. No matter how well-meaning, it can actually do more harm than good for a lot of people. And it’s totally possible to not quit sugar and still be healthy! 

      The problem with rules:

      • They can induce rebellion eating: This is the voice that comes in when you break a rule. The voice that says “you can’t tell me what to eat” or “I can so I will” voice. It’s usually not attuned to hunger and fullness and is quite intense, rebellious and not satisfying. Because it’s usually about making a statement.

      • Can result in the sod it mentality: When you have more than 2 squares of chocolate and think “sod it, that’s me ruined for the day”. Dieters tend to evaluate their successes or failures of eating in terms of the current day. Even just thinking that you have violated a food rule is enough to trigger eating more, regardless of hunger or fullness levels.

      • Can be inflexible and don’t account for varying needs of the body: Just like our emotional needs very day to day, our hunger levels, and what brings us joy, pleasure does too. There is no such thing as perfect.

      • The irony of thought suppression: Don’t think of a pink elephant…. did you think of a pink elephant right? This is exactly what happens when we try to not eat something because we’ve been told not to. A large body of research indicates that thought suppression is ineffective.

      • The last supper effect: For many, just the anticipation of sticking to a new food rule is enough to trigger overeating. A study on chocolate lovers found that when the chocolate restriction was imposed for 3 weeks, it triggered an increase in the amount of chocolate eaten both before and after the restrictive period.

      • The forbidden fruit effect: A large body of research on children has identified that when we tell them not to eat that specific food (red M&Ms for example), the red M&Ms received the most attention and consumption. The same goes when you tell the children not to eat fruit… This means it’s not just an effect that is related to high fat and high sugar foods. It’s the forbidden factor that drives the want to eat the food.

      • Overeating: Restrained eaters are more likely to overeat at just the perceptions of breaking a food rule. Studies have identified that the mere perception of blowing rule was enough to result in eating past comfortable fullness. 

      (*Diet culture is a system of beliefs that worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue. This can make people spend a lot of their lives thinking they are irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin ideal.)

      So How Do I Move Away From Food Guilt?

      In short…

      1. Unlearning
      2. Re-learning why there is no reason to feel food guilt.
      3. Challenging 
      4. Time
      5. Patience
      6. Self-compassion
      7. Repeat 

      Once again. 

      You LEARNED to feel food guilt.

      Therefore you can unlearn it. 

      Intuitive Eating is an evidenced based framework designed to help people break out of a negative relationship with food. A key principle is challenging the food police! 

      ACTIVITY: Identifying your food rules

      It’s impossible to know what you’re working with if you don’t know explicitly what the rules in your head are. Take some time to have a good think about what these are. I strongly encourage writing them down. There is something in the power of having these written down in front of you. 

      • Do you have rules around snacking?
      • What about what time of day is okay to eat?
      • Do you look at calories to determine what to eat?
      • What about rules around drinks?
      • Are there any foods you try to avoid?

      Challenging food rules can help to remove food guilt

      Follower concern: “I followed the slimming world plan on and off for a long time – never really getting anywhere- but it’s kinda stuck in my head. I can have days where I feel guilty for eating bad or foods not considered okay on Slimming World, and just go down a rabbit hole of continuing to eat badly because what’s the point”

      The only real way to move away from food guilt is to challenge the rules that have been picked up along the way. When you challenge them, you get to discover for yourself, what feels good for you. Rather than have someone decide this for you. Because ultimately, all food should be guilt free

      Start with a rule that feels the least scary. Take a look at where this rule came from. Is it backed up by science? Or is it something that came from a personal trainer unqualified to provide nutrition advice back in the day and has just not left you?

      Example:

      Rule: “Carbs are bad. I should not have them past 12pm even if I crave them”

      Questions to ask yourself:

      • Should I really never eat carbs past 12pm?
      • Aren’t there times in the day when I do in fact eat a lot of carbs?
      • How do I feel when I don’t eat carbohydrates in the day?

      Reframe the thought:

      • “My past experiences demonstrate that when I try not to eat carbs past 12pm, I have little energy and find myself eating a lot of carbs at night anyway.”

      Reflection after challenging the rule:

      • “My past experience demonstrates that when I add carbs to my meals throughout the day and in the afternoons, I feel more in control around my eating in the evening.”

      What if I feel out of control?

      Follower concern: “I find that the biggest challenge is the guilt and shame that follows a binge. It’s hard to not fixate on what just happened and to move on.”

      A natural response to deprivation and restriction is to feel out of control. And that’s why it’s important to go into this with a safety blanket on.

      The safety blanket is full of:

      • A ton of self-compassion
      • Rest and sleep
      • Not being too hungry when challenging yourself – the primal drive to eat can take over and result in feeling more out of control
      • Be in a safe environment – whether this is at home, on your own, at work, with loved ones. Whatever feels right for you.

      It can take time to challenge food rules, and it’s expected that your brain may have conflicting messages. You might have a diet brain on the one side telling you to restrict and stick to the rules, whilst you’re trying to challenge them at the same time! 

      The more you challenge the rules that aren’t serving you, the more the judgmental thoughts will dissipate over time. This takes time and patience.

      If you’re feeling like this is too much on your own, or you think you have an eating disorder, it’s important to seek support from a qualified professional. You can also read more on “how to have better self-control around food“. 

      To summarise

      We’ve learnt that food guilt can be caused by the felt sense of breaking a rule. Whilst some gentle education around nutrition can be helpful, diet culture often inflicts more rigid and inflexible rules. These rules can consume our thoughts, and result in a backlash effect of rebellion eating and feeling out of control. 

      The positive thing is, you’ve learned these thoughts. So you can unlearn them! And when you’re clear on what these rules are, you can start to challenge them, one by one. With this, a safety blanket of compassion, time and patience is required. But you can do this, I know you can! And if you’re stuck, it might be worth investing in some professional support to help you navigate through.

      I’m rooting for you!

      Kat

      x

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