The diet mentality is a false belief that society creates, that weight loss creates health, confidence, happiness, and success. This mentality steals joys from life by saying you should delay your dreams until you have lost weight. It’s the voice you hear over and over which categorises food into good and bad or healthy and unhealthy.
So perhaps you’re becoming aware that following rigid rules around eating in pursuit of weight loss is not serving you. Maybe it hasn’t resulted in long term weight loss after all? Maybe it’s ultimately led to binge eating, weight gain, food obsession and regularly eating past the point of comfortable fullness?
This article offers some tips on how to shift the diet mentality.
Where to begin with shifting the diet mentality.
1. Learn about Intuitive Eating
Intuitive Eating is an approach that can help shift the diet mentality. Because ultimately, that pursuit can cause all sorts of complex issues with food and don’t work. Instead, it helps you heal your relationship with food and lets your weight settle in a comfortable place that’s natural and healthy for you.
When beginning to learn about Intuitive Eating, the idea of letting go of dieting tools, food rules and restrictions can feel quite uncomfortable. I hear you.
There are many people co-opting intuitive eating into a diet, so be mindful of who you learn from.
2. Learn more about how the body weight is regulated
We’re lead to believe that weight is entirely down to our control. A classic thought people have is “maybe I will just lose weight and then do intuitive eating“. Unfortunately the people who say this don’t realise that intuitive eating isnot a weight loss or maintenance technique; it will restore you to whatever your “set point” weight is.
Tips for this step:
Educate yourself on non-diet approaches like Intuitive Eating. This will help you to address concerns about health and your weight. Sources include; “Body Respect“, and “Health at Every Size“.
Pursue coaching and/or therapy to start to process why you think you “feel better” at a lighter weight and heal the wounds of your body shame.
3. Think of letting go of the diet mentality like weaning a baby
You don’t suddenly switch a baby from breastmilk or formula to solid foods overnight. It’s a weaning process. If you’re at the stage where you know you need to ditch dieting (restrictive eating to pursue weight loss) in order to overcome a problematic relationship with food, it can feel very frustrating. You’re “consciously incompetent”, meaning you’re becoming aware of what to do, but you can’t do it just yet.
Imagine if you suddenly took milk away from a baby when they didn’t yet have the full skills to eat solid foods. They would likely get very hungry and upset. The same happens if you suddenly ditch dieting tools. You have nothing else to hold you just yet, and you’ve likely not learnt and practiced the skills to fully let go of dieting tools, rules and restrictions. This takes time, and that’s where self-compassion needs to come in…
Think about what your self talk is sounding like right now?
Would you speak like this to a friend or loved one?
How would you feel if someone said these things to you?
Compassion is the desire we have to help alleviate suffering in friends/children/animals. Self-compassion is directing that inwards to ourselves.
Why does it matter?
Having a higher level of self-compassion has been linked to a number of health enhancing behaviours, in particular, in relation to food behaviours. That includes, having fewer binge eating symptoms and body image concerns. It can basically help with those judgy voices that try to sabotage you moving through improving your relationship with food. e.g. “I’m such a failure”, “I can’t believe I did that”, “I’ve ruined my day now”, “I’m not worthy”, “I’m disgusting”.
So if your self-talk is negative, think about how you might respond to a friend going through a similar tough time?
If your self talk is something like:
“I am aware of hunger cues but I struggle to honour them”
A self-compassion response would be something like…
“The diet talk is really strong right now and we know that’s been a default mentality for you for a long time. No wonder you find it tough to honour your body’s natural signals. I know that many other people find it tough too. What’s great is that you’re becoming more aware of your hunger signals and listening to them. It sounds as though you’re doing really well with that. It’s great that we now have new information that you find it difficult to honour them… is this something you would like to explore further?”
Hopefully that’s given you some insight into some of the common mind battles that many people face when they are beginning to ditch the diet mentality. These are normal, and it will take time to wean off of restrictive thoughts or guilt around eating certain foods.
The more you practice honouring your own natural hunger, fullness and satisfaction signals the more confident you will feel in letting go of the physical tools. These tools are things like counting calories, eating at certain times of day, compensating for food eaten by exercising more or cutting back elsewhere. A lot of self-compassion is required and if you’re struggling, additional support from a qualified practitioner may be beneficial.
Dating seems to be considered an emotional experience, but a necessary hurdle if you want to find a partnership. And when you’re of plus size (or if your appearance doesn’t conform to mainstream beauty standards in other ways), dating can seem riddled with even more challenges.
Maybe you’re fully aware of the damaging appearance-based nature of modern dating, and how it upholds patriarchal standards and oppresses people in many ways. But you’re still wanting to meet someone. And online dating seems to be the mainstream way of dating these days.
So how can you navigate the dating scene when your body doesn’t conform to societal standards?
Firstly, who am I to talk about this?
I have never lived and dated in a larger body. But I have dated online and I have some perspective as a voice in the non-diet world. As a Registered Dietitian and CertifiedIntuitive EatingCounsellor, I work with many plus-size people who experience oppression because of their size. I provide training to university students on weight-based discrimination, and I have some resources and ideas that may be helpful for you.
So whilst you may feel excluded by not fitting into conventional beauty norms when it comes to body size, the main point here is that you’re not alone in feeling frustrated with online dating. There is nothing wrong with you, and it’s not just you who finds it challenging. Anyone that doesn’t conform to cultural norms can feel harm from these systems and it sucks!
When you’re feeling discouraged by dating.
Have you ever been ghosted? Ignored?
Ghosting for those of you who haven’t yet experienced it is having someone that you believe liked you, disappear from contact without any explanation at all. No phone call or email, not even a text.
A 2014 survey conducted by Elle Magazine, identified that being ghosted is a phenomenon that approximately 50% of people have experienced—and an almost equal number have done the ghosting. Despite how common ghosting is, the emotional effects can be pretty devastating, and particularly damaging to those who already have fragile self-esteem.
Ghosting and being ignored can encourage us to get caught up in our bodies. Especially if we have a lot of internalised issues that we’re dealing with.
So what can you do?
Check-in with yourself. How are you feeling about your body, and/or sense of identity? Is it a good time for you to be online dating? Do you have the energy to cope if you are ignored?
The dating scene may suck the last bit of water you have from your energy tank, so how can you continue to work on feeling good about yourself (aka filling up your water tank)?
As Vironika Tugaleva, The Love Mindset quotes:
“Your relationship with yourself is and always will be directly reflected in all your relationships with others”
Now, I do not believe in needing to “love yourself before you can love others’. You can certainly be working on your body image whilst you’re with someone. But working on gaining confidence or acceptance in your body may result in you having a better experience dating. It may help you to build up resilience in the dating world and improve your body image, regardless of what others say.
Plus, if you’re doing this work on yourself, you’re more likely to seek people who are aligned and end up attracting the people who are actually right for you. It will likely set you up to be in a partnership with someone who will treat you well and align with your values.
The need for human connection and companionship is real. I hear you. However, if we jump into something that’s not right, we can subsequently result in having a negative relationship, ending in pain and leaving us in a more difficult place than where we started.
How is your tank at the moment? Does it need topping up? Consider taking time out of dating if it’s not working out for you right now.
Are you thinking beyond body appearance too?
The appearance-based nature of online dating keeps people from getting to know those who could actually be a great match.
Are you clear on what you’re looking for in someone that’s beyond body appearance?
I invite you to write a list of all of the things you’re looking for in someone that is not appearance-related.
And that list MUST include finding someone that is accepting of you as a whole human being, including the shape and size of your body.
Remind yourself that you made a narrow escape.
Being ignored gives you magical feedback from these people that they are not right for you! You’re a catch, and you’ve not yet been found. When you meet the right person who is emotionally available to you right now, they will be responsive, present, and you won’t need to scramble for their attention.
Love and relationships are available to anyone, and you are deserving of a partnership, regardless of your size.
If you’re looking for some non-diet new year resolution inspiration, you’ve come to the right place. Ending the exhausting cycle of losing weight and gaining weight is one way to improve your health and well being for 2022.
I am going to break down some common goals and give some reflective prompts to turn these into non-diet new year goals. Let’s get started.
“I want to exercise more”
Great! Here are some questions to consider to make this a non-diet new year goal:
Why do you want to exercise more?
If you were going to exercise for pure pleasure and enjoyment, and it had no impact on your body image or calories burned, would you still do it?
If not, what else would you do?
Do you prefer exercising alone or with others?
Do you prefer to exercise inside or outside?
What have you come up with?
What do you need in order to explore these?
When exercise goals are purely based around body change or weight loss, they can be unsustainable. Especially if you see no difference or if you’re unable to maintain these body changes. If you really desire some intuitive movement, but haven’t found something you like, this is a great opportunity to set a goal of trying out new forms of movement. Remember to be flexible with yourself and not too rigid. Intuitive exercise and joyful movement mean that you can work with your thoughts and feelings around movement to decide when and if you should exercise.
“I want to eat healthier”
Great! Here are some questions to consider to make this a non-diet new year goal:
1) On a scale of 0-10 how satisfied are you with your current eating?
2) What could help you to feel more satisfied? Maybe you would like to plan a bit more? Maybe you would like to add some more vegetables?
This goal is a common one, so it’s important to think about what eating healthier means to you – because “health” means different things to different people. Be careful though, because diet culture can raise the bar to an unrealistic standard. Healthy foods are the foods that make you happy, fuel you, keep you satisfied and feeling nourished. This generally involves eating a variety of grains, fruits, vegetables, fats, dairy, proteins, and fun foods over time, with regular meals and snacks. Are you setting your expectations too high?
If you’re looking to stop the endless cycle of restriction and weight gain, it might be time to reconsider your goals. Sustainable goals should be SMART. Small, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Based.
Here are some examples of non-diet new year resolutions:
Write a journal entry once per week to reflect and check-in with yourself / your eating and body image. You can do this by keeping a pen and journal at your bedside as a reminder and try to do this every Sunday night (or whatever night you decide is best).
Try a new form of movement that you are excited about once per month until you’ve found something that you love or keep it up because you’re having fun with it. To help keep things exciting, recruit a friend for these adventures. Ideas include hiking, rollerblading, walks around town/parks, indoor climbing, bike riding, fun runs, or a unique workout class like goat yoga.
Try-it-Tuesdays! (Or any day of the week). While at the grocery store each week, pick out a new food you haven’t had before but would like to try. You may find a new favourite food!
Have problems eating consistently throughout the day? If this is something you struggle with whether it’s due to busyness or disordered eating, one way to achieve this goal is to set a timer on your phone for every three to four hours that reminds you to eat. Carry a few snacks around in your bag to help ensure options. Remember that you don’t have to stick to a timer to eat, if you feel hungry before the timer, eat! The whole point is to make sure you are fuelling consistently throughout the day.
Want to cook more? Set aside time each week to find a recipe you are excited about and then if you’re able, gather the ingredients during your next grocery run. Think about what things are standing in your way of cooking more and make alterations to help. If time is a barrier, can you purchase pre-chopped vegetables, chop them yourself the day before, try out a food delivery service, or make it a social event where you cook with a friend? Maybe the goal is you try out one new recipe a week or one new recipe a month. Either way set your cooking goal in a way that you know you can work towards achieving it.
6. No goals. Maybe you are not in a place for a goal. That’s fine too. Do what is best for your own health and well-being.
Seeing family can be stressful, especially whilst recovering from body image or eating issues and diet talk comes up. Here are some tips for making it through season festivities and boycotting diet talk!
You do not have to stay in a conversation that is making you feel poorly about yourself or is triggering for you. Excusing yourself from diet talk to grab a glass of water, use the restroom, or to go catch up with a different relative. These are all reasonable ways to exit a conversation like this.
The holidays usually coincide with lots of delicious foods that family only prepare for special occasions like this. Unfortunately, you may hear someone say, “I am being so bad right now!” for experiencing those foods. While I would like to reiterate that not responding to a statement like that is always a valid option, you could respond with, “Did you steal the food or something?!” This will help lighten the mood and given folks a reminder that enjoying delicious holiday food is NOT an immoral thing. This instagram post might help too!
If someone approaches you about a recent body size change of yours, here are a few different responses you can try out:
“I’d prefer not to talk to you about my weight but would love to talk to you about _(blank)_.” What is something that you are really excited or happy about in your life? Have a few conversation pieces ready to slip in here to change the direction of the conversation.
“I don’t really find that question appropriate.” This is a little more straightforward but may also help deter future questions of similar substance. You owe onlookers nothing, whether you’ve become larger or smaller, you do not ever need to explain your body to someone else.
“I choose to not focus on my weight. How’s your family?” I put this response in here because a perfect response is to ask the person about themselves. Never underestimate how much people love talking about themselves.
You can be bold. If you are in active recovery from an eating disorder and things are getting to be too much, certainly leave the conversation. But if you feel as if speaking up may fare better for subsequent gatherings you also have permission to be bold. You can 100% tell someone, “I am recovering from an eating disorder so, yes, my body changed. In the future don’t address my body like it’s a topic of conversation.” Or even, “Yep, weight gain (or loss) happens when you’ve recovered from an eating disorder sometimes!”
You can kill the diet talk with kindness. If someone is trying to approach your body size change in a mean spirited or negative way, and maybe says, “Oh no, what happened? Have you gained weight?” you can respond with, “Yep” with a smile and give them a compliment on a non-body size related thing, like their shoes.
If the heat isn’t on you, but listening to someone else’s latest diet or body size change is stressful, here’s how you can change the subject: “Aside from your weight or aside from your diet, how are you doing? I would love to hear about your job, family, hobbies, etc.”
Remember, your self-worth is not tied to the scale and this is something that you can communicate to the people in your life. If people are not respectful of the boundaries you have set, it’s time to catch up with someone else. You are an interesting person with so much more to you than one physical attribute.
What do you think would happen if you stopped relying on external tools to tell you what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat (aka calorie counting, food tracking, points systems etc.)? If your thought process looks like this one you are not alone:
For most, the absence of rules and regulations leads them to believe that the above image will be their fate. But, if restriction really worked, wouldn’t we all be thin by now? It is estimated that 57% of women have been on a diet in the past year! In reality, we know dieting/restriction in and of itself leads to that feeling of a loss of control around food. The real progression should look like this:
As we learned in our last article Why Can’t I Keep The Weight Off, the reason for this progression, is actually linked to our bodies own survival mechanisms. To our bodies, no matter their size, restriction equates to famine. Famine brings on hormonal responses that make us hungrier and increase food seeking behaviour. No, your body does not understand that the latest fad diet isn’t a famine. No, your body doesn’t understand that the latest “lifestyle change” is not a famine.
Restriction is Dangerous and Damaging
A good way to know if you are ready to stop feeling consumed by guilt around what you should and shouldn’t be eating, is if you are able to recognise the less obvious forms of restrictions that may be harming you. According to Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, the founders of Intuitive Eating, recognising and acknowledging the harms dieting and restriction has caused you is the first step to dropping the problematic diet mentality.
Pursuit of Weight Loss can Interfere with your Physical and Emotional Well-being
When has the pursuit of weight loss interfered with your ability to enjoy life? Here are some common examples:
Ordering the less appealing menu item or skipping a night out altogether to avoid the more appealing foods.
Losing weight on your diet, receiving compliments and feeling shame in seeing people when the weight came back on.
Think about the ways dieting has caused you harm. If you are still unsure if you are ready to make the jump away from dieting, here is a quiz to help you decide.
No diets? What now?!
Maybe you’re someone who says to themselves, “Hey, dieting really messed up my life, I am ready to leave it, but I don’t know what to do next.”
This is where intuitive eating comes in. This is an evidenced-based way of eating and it is designed to help you feel better around food. By honouring your health and respecting your internal cues, you honour and respect your body. Starting intuitive eating can be tricky, but we have the resources to help support you. When we start honouring our hunger, quit labelling foods as being good and bad, and most importantly, show ourselves compassion and forgiveness, we can begin to listen to our body’s internal cues.
The State of the Science
For a lot of people, the news that “diets don’t result in long term weight loss” and that intuitive eating may be a better way to safely support health is a shocker. Who would’ve known that intuitive eating has over 100 published studies to support its use? Who would have known that scientific literature reviews examining the long-term impacts of dieting, would find that weight loss isn’t really related to positive health outcomes.*
That paper, published in 2013 by Janet Tomiyama echoes that of a similar paper that says, “The results for the treatment for obesity are remarkably similar and remarkably poor.” ** What the authors meant by that statement: The results of studies examining dieting were similar in that people wouldn’t maintain weight loss over time and these results were found in virtually all of the studies the authors examined.
The Futility of Dieting Is Not New News
This was a study done by Stunkard A. et al. in 1959. That’s right 1959. We’ve seen the opposite impact of what dieting is intended to do: the most predictive outcome of dieting being weight regain over time. We see this in long-term review studies of dieting dating back from 1959 to the present. Yet, dieting is still promoted by many healthcare providers.
*Tomiyama, A. J., Ahlstrom, B., & Mann, T. (2013). Long-term effects of dieting: Is weight loss related to health? Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(12), 861-877.
**Stunkard A & McLaren-Hume M. The results of treatment for obesity: a review of the literature and report of a series. Arch. Intern. Med. 103:79-85, 1959.
Switching dieting, food restriction, or control for Intuitive Eating (IE) may sound a little scary, but today I am offering some tips for those just starting out.
First of all, some of you may be wondering, “What is thisIntuitive Eating thing anyways?”
What Is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is an evidence-based framework, created by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It’s designed to help people break free from feeling trapped by food, and to help them find a more natural, and normal way of eating. It has over 100 published studies to support its use and is used by many Registered Dietitians who specialise in non-diet approaches. If you’vehit dieting rock bottom, this might be for you!
Let’s take a look at an example…
Intuitive eating is most easily thought of in the context of toddlers. Toddlers tend to eat when they are hungry, stop when they are full, and naturally seek out a wide variety of different foods. They may even leave half a biscuit or chocolate buttons on their plate… when was the last time you did this?
We are born with an innate ability to understand and regulate our own hunger. As we grow older, we can lose this ability. Being told to finish everything on our plate can teach us to unlearn how to listen to our natural cues. We then add in years of dieting, food judgement, ignoring our hunger and fullness cues and we can lose trust in our own bodies.
Intuitive Eating has been developed to help people build that trust up again in their own bodies to tell them what to eat when to eat and how much to eat. To heal people from food issues like binge eating, secret eating,food obsession, food guilt and much more.
It can help remove those judgmental voices that may sit on your shoulders telling you that you’re “good for eating a salad”, and “bad for eating a cake”. It can help you discover what foods you actually enjoy and what foods make you feel good, versus what you think you ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be eating. Ultimately, it can help you to find a more sustainable and healthy approach to nutrition and health too! Because food isn’t just about eating. Food and eating can affect our social life, our relationships, our self-esteem, and our day to day life in many ways.
One of the creators, Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, describes intuitive eating as, “a personal process of honouring health by listening and responding to the direct messages of the body in order to meet your physical and psychological needs” (Evelyn Tribole). Basically, this is an approach where you learn to honour hunger and fullness while also respecting your body and your needs.
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.
Intuitive Eating is composed of 10 key principles:
In the spirit of Marie Kondo, say goodbye to dieting, it does not spark joy! The very first principle of Intuitive Eating is to “Reject the Diet Mentality.” Intuitive eating is not another fad or 21st-century “wellness diet” or food plan. It’s alsonot a weight-loss focused approach. So can you throw away the scales, drop the diet tools and learnhow dieting doesn’t work, and reflect on how dieting has not served you. Take some time to journal or reflect upon what you’ve tried so far, the ways it has interfered with your life and whether it’s resulted in the long term desired outcome. It is okay to miss dieting, or even mourn it for a little, whatever you have to do to respectfully say goodbye, thank it for whatever role it served, and move on. The pursuit of weight loss or weight control actually causes more harm than good for the majority!
2. Honour Your Hunger
One of the second most important steps of IE is to learn to honour your hunger. How can you possibly eat consciously and moderately when you approach food in a state of desperate hunger? Of course, you’re likely to grab anything in front of you, shovel it down with a load of air, feel overly stuffed and then potentially guilty about ‘overeating’. If you can stop yourself from getting to this point of desperate hunger, you’re more likely going to be able to implement some of the other principles. See this as the first layer of the process. So try rating your hunger on a scale of 0-10 before you eat something. Are you tuning into your hunger cues? Here’s a scale to get an idea of how. If you’re really stuck, a good cadence that works for many is eating something every 3 hours and not leaving more than 5hours between eating. This might look like breakfast, lunch, dinner, and 2 to 3 snacks throughout the day. Eating enough, and regularly, is crucial to feeling more in control around food.
3. Make Peace With Food
When we label foods with words like “good/bad” “healthy/unhealthy”, and “clean/dirty”, it puts food on a moral hierarchy. Of course, different foods have different nutrients in them, but eating a cookie doesn’t suddenly make you “unhealthy” and eating a salad doesn’t make you “healthy”. Plus, when something is “off-limits” we actually want it more.
Think about this. If you tell a kid not to eat something, what do they want to do? They want to eat it! The same happens with us adults. So if you place certain foods up on a pedestal (bread, cheese, chocolate, crisps are usual suspects) then of course the desire to eat them will be stronger.
So this step is about giving yourself permission to eat ALL foods! Yes, I know that sounds super scary. But the reality is, that restriction hasn’t worked either. Restriction in fact fuels the binge restriction cycle.
Restrict > Feel Obsessed > Binge > Feel Bad > Restrict again
One way to start making peace with food is to write a list of all the foods that you consider off-limits, or feel guilty about. Systematically, start introducing one at a time with your meals – at a time when you’re not too hungry, tired, stressed or generally in a vulnerable place. You might want to start with something on the list that feels the least problematic, and work your way up as and when you feel comfortable.
4. Challenge The Food Police
The food police are the thoughts, beliefs and the negative voices in your head, trying to tell you what to eat when to eat, and how much to eat. It judges everything you put into your mouth. The food police typically stem from diet culture.
From things diets have told you, to things people have told you, things magazines have told you, etc. It can be hard to know which food facts are true and which ones have come from diet culture.
“Don’t eat bread more than once a day”
“You should never eat processed/meal deals foods”
“Don’t drink your calories”
“Carbs are bad, try to limit these”
“Sweet foods are a treat and should only be eaten every so often”
“Whole unprocessed foods are best”
“Don’t eat lunch before 12pm”
“Eating less than XXXX calories/day is okay”
The problem with these? They teach you to go to your head for the answers on what you “should” be eating. And your body might be asking for something different. This can contribute to guilt, food obsession, or control eating, and keep you feeling stuck!
“But what about health?” you might be asking? There is a difference between following a rule that’s rooted in the diet mentality and not serving you, versus a rule that’s in your interest of self-care. As you move through this process, you will be able to feel more neutral about food, and therefore, make choices more on what feels good for you and your body. But this takes time, so it’s important to be kind to yourself along the way.
Examples of a kinder approach to food, eating and your body:
“I am lactose intolerant, so cows’ milk tends not to work well for me. I try to limit this in my diet as it gives me an upset stomach”.
“I am quite sensitive to caffeine, so for the most part, I try to avoid drinking caffeinated food or drinks in the afternoon as it disrupts my sleep and makes me feel anxious”.
“My cholesterol is high, so I try to add more olive oil, nuts and fibre into my diet to help support my cholesterol levels where I can.
“I am conscious of my dental health, so I try and drink sugar-free fruit squash or alternatives where I can. If I fancy a sugary drink or feel I need the energy, I will have one”
How to start challenging the food police? As you go throughout your week, and you make food choices, write out what the judgemental voices in your head say about that choice. Keep adding to this list (which are essentially your food rules). Begin to start to challenge these rules. E.g. where did I hear this? Is this really true? Would I say this out loud or inflict this on a friend? If the answer is no, it’s likely a diet rule that needs to be challenged. So challenge it. Work through this one by one, and do the opposite. For example, if your rule is “no lunch before 12pm”, and you feel hungry at 11:30 am, eat your lunch! Reflect on what happened. How was this? Can you offer a more balanced view of this food or rule?
5. Respect Your Fullness
When was the last time you stopped eating when you were comfortably full? Feeling BETTER for eating? When stuck in the diet mentality, we can often swing from being overly hungry (through restriction) all the way to being stuffed. With intuitive eating, no foods are off-limits and there are no rules. You can, therefore, feel safe in the knowledge that you can eat as much as you need to feel comfortable right now, and eat again when your body is ready for it.
How to start respecting your fullness? First of all, work on hunger and making peace with food. If you’re approaching any food when ravenous, or, if your brain isn’t convinced 1) you should be eating it, or b) you can only have this food once a week, of course, it’s going to be difficult to stop when you’re full. So start there.
If you’re confident in those parts, mindful eating, slowing down, and paying attention can help you to connect with what fullness feels like in your body. If you’re part of the “clean plate club” (aka can’t leave any food on your plate), practice leaving a forkful of something that doesn’t feel wasteful like bread, lettuce, or rice can be helpful to get your brain used to know it’s okay to leave food.
6. Discover Food Satisfaction
Wellness culture or “diet culture” is the culture that steals the joy from food, telling us what we “should” or “shouldn’t” eat, rather than tuning in to what we actually enjoy or find pleasure in. We can end up in this battle of not knowing what to eat. So how do you decide what to eat when you’re feeling hungry?
Do you just go with the first thing that comes to mind?
Do you eat whatever is around?
Do you choose foods based on what you think you should be eating?
Or do you choose what sounds good?
Rice cakes, kale crisps, and low-calorie cereal bars may not be leaving you feeling too satisfied. When we make choices based on what we think we “should” be eating, quite often we find ourselves at some point in the day or week, uncontrollably diving into the foods we are trying to avoid (cheese, cookies, chocolate, ice cream, etc.) Through mindful eating exercises, and really tuning into your taste buds, you will learn to discover what foods you actually enjoy, and what foods aren’t serving you too well.
So take some time, if possible, to eat without distractions. You could pick just one meal or snack to do this with. Sit down alone at a table, with your phone tucked away and the TV turned off. How does the food taste, smell, and look? Do you like the colour, flavours, and textures? Is this feeling enjoyable? This will help you learn what is actually satisfying to you. *Spoiler* if you misgauge your hunger and serve yourself more than you actually want, you can save it for another time!
7. Honour Your Feelings Without Using Food
Emotional eating is perfectly natural and is usually an act of self-care. If you’re emotional eating, your body is just trying to say “hey, something is up”. And sometimes, the only tool you might have in your emotional coping toolbox is food! So taking that away completely, might feel really scary.
Emotional eating should not fill you with guilt. It’s part of being a human. However, if food becomes your only coping tool, it might not feel great. As you move through the intuitive eating journey, honour your hunger and remove the forbidden factor from foods, emotional eating can actually dissipate. However, if food is still your only or main coping mechanism that’s okay! It’s possible to identify other areas of your life that may be impacting your ability to tune into your body’s natural signals (e.g. lack of sleep, stress, boundaries).
I have designed this flow chart to help. If you feel you need more help with this area, check out my article on “how to navigate emotional eating” here.
8. Respect Your Body
Our bodies are pretty freaking cool. They are so many systems in place that allow us to survive. It’s time to accept that your body shape and size are special and unique to you and to not base your value or worth on a number. Your genes are set in stone, so being critical about something that you can’t change is not a helpful exercise.
Having abetter body image isn’t something that happens overnight. But how about you set a goal to be more generous to yourself more days than not? Or, identify one thing a day you can do that shows yourself care and compassion. This can look like a good bedtime, decluttering toxic social media from your feed, or spending a day break from work. You are worthy of self-compassion and care. You owe it to yourself to invest in yourself. If you need some more body positive accounts to follow,you can find some ideas here.
9. Exercise to Feel The Difference
When exercise is tied up in burning off food or earning food, it’s usually not enjoyable, and not something that is sustained. Intuitive exercise can help you to identify ways to bring more joyful movement into your life for fun, fitness and with friends, rather than to punish your body. It’s time to ditch rigid exercise plans if they aren’t serving you, and certainly, remove pursuit of activities that you don’t enjoy. If you find movement that makes you feel good, you’ll automatically want to do it more often without even realising!
Where to begin? When you next have a desire to exercise, ask yourself “would I do this if this didn’t change my body or burn calories in any way?”. If the answer is no, don’t do it. If the answer is yes, then ask yourself “would I do this any differently”. For example, you might want to move, but instead of a run alone, you want to walk with a friend or loved one? It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
10. Honour Your Body With Gentle Nutrition
This is all about nourishing your body with foods that satisfy you and make you feel good. There is no such thing as eating perfectly. This principle comes last because adding more information about nutrition in the earlier stages can just add more rules! It turns out that most people find eating a nutritious balanced diet feels good! No foods are off-limits and we can identify how ALL foods have an important purpose to serve. And it is about doing this consistently over time.
Where to begin? Take a look at my favourite diagram from The Rooted Project. Do you feel you have the balance? Which of these areas of a balanced approach to nutrition feels out of balance for you? After all, nutrition isn’t all about just the nutrients in the food. It’s about eating a variety of foods over time, in and amongst all of the other sections on the diagram.
And Last But Not Least… Be forgiving to yourself
The beauty of intuitive eating is that it leaves room for our imperfections. How many years have you been trying to shrink your body, and follow food rules and diet plans? I imagine a little while. So you can’t expect to undo this work overnight and that’s okay! Sometimes you will eat and feel overly full and sometimes you may still feel hungry. All of this is part of normal eating. Like most things in life, intuitive eating isn’t linear and ups and downs are to be expected. One thing I would encourage is to practice talking to yourself like you would your best friend.
Intuitive eating is complex and it’s a personal journey of building up your own toolkit of life skills. This way, you can be the boss! Not the meal plan/points system/or calorie counting app! Many people think that when they give themselves permission to eat and stop following the rules, they have ticked off this intuitive eating thing. It’s a lot more complex than that and there are many levels to unravel. If you would like to learn some more ways that you can get started on this journey, check out my free audio guide and workbook, providing you with7-steps to find food peace and food freedom.