Can intuitive eating help with IBS?

Can intuitive eating help with IBS?

Firstly, what is IBS?

Before we answer the question “can intuitive eating help with IBS”, first, let’s get clear on what it is.

IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  Of all the medical diagnoses, this is one that does exactly what it says on the tin.  The bowel is irritated- whether it is gas, pain, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, or a miserable mix of all of them.  

Your experience of IBS can be on a spectrum.  For some it may be mild bloating and multiple excursions to the toilet after a night out.  For others, however, it can be toileting accidents and crippling pain.  A survey by the American College of Gastroenterology found a majority of IBS patients would give up 10-15 years of their life for an immediate cure for their condition.

The symptoms of IBS confusingly overlap with many other diagnoses.  Most notably for women- endometriosis or ovarian cancer are important to rule out.  Other possible diagnoses are thyroid disease, coeliac disease, and microscopic colitis.  It can feel like such a long road to an IBS diagnosis, but it truly is important to go through all the medical tests offered to rule out more serious diseases.

When to seek medical advice

IBS needs to be diagnosed by your Doctor or physician. 

However, if you have an IBS diagnosis, and you have any of the following symptoms, or a change in your symptoms, it’s important to see a physician right away:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Family history of colon cancer
  • Rectal bleeding/bloody stools
  • Night time bowel movements
  • Recurring vomiting

These symptoms indicate something much more serious could be going on. 

What are the benefits of Intuitive Eating when having IBS?

Intuitive eating is a framework of feeding yourself from the standpoint of self care.  While intuitive eating messages of “food freedom” and “eat what you love” can feel alienating when you are grappling with IBS, there is absolutely much value for you with Intuitive Eating. In my experience as a Gastro Specialist Dietitian who works with people on their relationship with food, intuitive eating can help with IBS. 

The first thing an intuitive eating-informed approach can teach you is that you are on the same team as your body. If you have had IBS for years, having negative body thoughts is the default, isn’t it?  “Why am I like this?”  “Why does my body hate me?” The truth is, our body is an extension of us.  Intuitive eating invites you to support your body as a form of self-respect. Our bodies don’t have to work perfectly for us to respect them.  

Another helpful principle from intuitive eating is making peace with food.  I know you might feel like food is out to get you, but I promise you, it isn’t.  The ice cream is just ice cream.  The black bean tacos are just black bean tacos.  Intuitive eating-informed work would have us approach foods with curiosity (rather than judgment).  What IF that food does not trigger you as harshly as you assume it would?  Are you avoiding foods because a food list on the internet said you should? Or is it because it makes you discernibly triggered?

Another tenet of Intuitive Eating that people with IBS can find a lot of benefit from is one that, at first glance, seems 100% inaccessible:  reject the diet mentality. 

IBS affects how you feel, but it can also affect how you look, too. 

It’s helpful to be honest with ourselves- am I avoiding foods because I don’t want to look bigger? Or is it truly because I am feeling so ill?  It may truly be the latter, but I have had scores of clients whose motivating factor to work on their IBS is their poor body image. 

Diet culture has shamed them into thinking their body isn’t good enough unless they have that elusive “snatched waist.”  

Your body is a good body.  Intuitive eating work helps you see that.

So can intuitive eating help with IBS?

Yes, absolutely. These are only three, but there are many other valuable things Intuitive Eating can give you– even if you have a chronic condition like IBS.  I invite you to join in the conversation.  Intuitive eating is for you, too.

If you would like to discuss how healing your relationship with food can work alongside gut related conditions, like IBS, then you can get in touch with us on the button below. Sarah is our gastro specialist Dietitian who can support you with these issues, whilst maintaining or building a healthy relationship with food and you body. 

How can a therapist help with eating and body image issues?

How can a therapist help with eating and body image issues?

If you’re wondering “how can a therapist help with eating and body image issues”, you’ve come to the right place.  Lucy, our resident integrative psychotherapist has answered your most common questions on this topic.

What is a therapist?

A “therapist” is usually used as a general term for someone who helps individuals who are experiencing emotional and psychological difficulties to explore their issues and make changes in order to feel better. It is also often used as a short-hand for a psychotherapist or counsellor (essentially the same thing but with a slightly different training). A psychotherapist (or counsellor) specifically recognises the lasting impact of the past and is focused on looking at what has happened to you, rather than what is “wrong” with you and how that might be impacting the present.

Some types of therapists include:

  • A person-centred therapist has humanistic training and holds the view that everyone is an “expert” in their own lives and has the capacity for growth and change. The counsellor provides a safe space for this exploration by offering empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard.
  • A psychodynamic therapist focuses on how the unconscious and past experiences shape current behaviour. They might help you to talk about childhood relationships with your parents and other significant people and consider the impact of these. A psychodynamic therapist might be more directive and/or interpretive than a person-centred one.
  • A cognitive-behavioural therapist usually focuses more on the present and uses specific practical techniques to identify intrusive negative thoughts and beliefs and seeks to challenge and change these into ones that are more helpful and less harmful.
  • An integrative therapist is one who uses techniques and theories from different modalities to tailor an individual approach for the client.
Some therapists use creative methods (music, movement, art), some bring in ideas from philosophy or neuroscience and some use mindfulness and/or meditation. Whatever their background or training, the aim of any psychotherapist or counsellor is to build a trusting and non-judgemental relationship that helps to develop understanding, acceptance and self-compassion and improve your psychological wellbeing.

What kind of therapist can help with food and body image difficulties?

Any therapist can potentially help with food and body image difficulties but it might be helpful to look for one who specialises in disordered eating, eating disorders and/or intuitive eating. Often these issues will have started in childhood and so a person-centred, psychodynamic or integrative therapist is often the most appropriate and will help you to consider:
  • What were/are your parents’/carers’/siblings’ relationships with food/body like?
  • What messages were you given about food (implicitly and explicitly) growing up? – What messages were you given about your body (implicitly and explicitly) growing up?
  • What societal/ cultural messages were/are there about food/bodies/movement?
  • Which significant events from childhood might have impacted how you felt about food/ your body?
  • How and why might food be a coping mechanism for psychological or emotional issues?
They would then help you to consider the impact of these on your current distress, in order to understand disordered thoughts and behaviours, process and challenge the shame you might feel about these and move to a place of healing through acceptance and self-compassion. This often leads to a more neutral or even positive relationship with your body and a peaceful relationship with food, allowing you to live a fuller and happier life. A cognitive-behavioural therapist focuses more on current beliefs that you have about food/body and explores what evidence there is to support these and offers alternative perspectives. This is useful too and an integrative therapist will often lean on these techniques combined with an exploration of the past. This is often the most effective approach.

Can a psychotherapist diagnose an eating disorder?

A therapist cannot diagnose a mental health issue: this is done by a psychiatrist (either after a referral from your GP or privately). You can talk to a therapist about any diagnosis and this is often helpful so that they can consider whether they feel their approach is appropriate, how best to work with you and to help you understand them better. You do not have to have a mental health diagnosis to work with a therapist.

Will a psychotherapist talk about medication?

You can talk to a therapist about medication (and a therapist might ask if you are taking any) but it is not for a therapist to tell you whether you should be on medication for your mental health. Again, this is something to discuss with your GP and/or a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a doctor who specialises in mental health. A therapist cannot prescribe as they are not a doctor and should not direct you in any way about medication.

Will a psychotherapist help with dietary advice?

A therapist will focus on your relationship with food rather than on what you eat. A dietitian or nutritional therapist has expert knowledge about nutrition and should be sought for advice on this. You can talk to a therapist about food but a therapist should not give you a meal plan or advise you on what to eat. It can be helpful to see both a dietitian and a psychotherapist/counsellor when healing from eating and body issues.

How long does it take to work with a therapist?

This depends on you and on the type of therapist. Cognitive-behavioural therapy is usually short-term (often six to ten weeks). Other types of therapy are usually longer-term. Issues with food and body are usually enduring, originating in childhood, and therefore an extended period of weekly sessions is often required to work through them.

So what next?

If you would like to know whether therapy could be right for you, you can get in touch via our form, and book a free discovery call with our psychotherapist Lucy ([email protected]). Here you can discuss your challenges and see whether this type of support is right for you. Support can be provided alongside support from your Dietitian, or independently. 
What Is the Difference Between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

What Is the Difference Between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

Are you confused and wondering “what is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?” You aren’t the only one! I often get asked what the difference is between the two. This article will run through key differences between a dietitian and a nutritionist. It will help give you a better understanding of the type of professional that might be the right fit for you.

Are nutritionists and dietitians the same thing?

The short answer is no. But there can be many similarities. The table below summarises the key differences between a dietitian and a nutritionist.


There are key differences in:
  • Professional title
  • Legal regulation
  • Places/types of work
I know and collaborate with many brilliant dietitians and nutritionists alike. If you choose to see a nutritionist, it’s best to seek out a registered nutritionist. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist but registered nutritionists are degree-trained professionals. So they must meet standards and follow evidence-based care protocols.

Should I see a dietitian or a nutritionist to lose weight?

Either should be able to help with concerns about your weight. If you see a nutritionist, make sure they are a registered nutritionist. This will ensure you get safe care.
Have you been wondering if it’s possible to ditch diets without gaining weight? I work with clients, teaching them how to stop dieting and start eating normally again. I do this through an Intuitive Eating Framework. Click here if you’re interested in learning more about my services.

Which is more suited to my goals?

It depends! If you have an existing medical condition, I would recommend seeing a dietitian. Dietitians are specially trained to provide dietary therapy for conditions like eating disorders, diabetes, heart disease, IBS and many others.
Otherwise, either a registered dietitian or registered nutritionist could suit your goals. My advice is to seek out a professional with experience or a special interest in your concern. For example, I have experience working with people with weight concerns and disordered eating. I use a framework called Intuitive Eating, to help clients find their healthy weight. We do this without using restrictive diets. There are dietitians and registered nutritionists who specialise in all types of concerns. These include food allergy & intolerance, sports, irritable bowel syndrome, hormonal health, diabetes and more. Try to find one who suits your needs best.
Keep reading to learn more to understand what is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist

Is the professional title protected by law?

Registered Dietitians: A key difference between dietitians and nutritionists is that dietitian is a protected title. Registered dietitians are the only nutrition professionals regulated by law. They are governed by an ethical code. This holds them to a high standard of work.
Nutritionists: Nutritionist is not a protected title. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, even if they have no qualifications. Nutritionists on the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN) hold the title of Registered Nutritionist.

What qualifications do dietitians and nutritionists have?

Dietitians: Have a BSc Hons in Dietetics. Or a related science degree with a postgraduate diploma. Or a higher degree in Dietetics. Dietetic courses include biochemistry, physiology, applied sciences and research methods. Dietitians also study social and behavioural sciences and the theories of communication. The Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) must approve all courses.
Nutritionists: You do not have to have any qualifications call yourself a nutritionist. But, there are qualification standards for registered nutritionists. Only degree courses that have met strict standards are accredited by the Association for Nutrition (AfN). Graduates from these courses have direct entry onto the UKVRN. It is not a legal requirement for a nutritionist to be registered with the UKVRN. A nutritionist who is not registered may not have the knowledge and skills to provide safe care.

Who regulates dietitians and nutritionists to ensure you’re kept safe?

Dietitians: Dietitians get regulated and controlled by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). Only those registered with this body can call themselves a dietitian. The HCPC is an independent organisation. Its role is to protect the UK public. The HCPC keeps a current register of health professionals who meet its standards. It takes action if registered health professionals fall below those standards. Registered professionals must keep up-to-date through compulsory Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
Nutritionists: Registered nutritionists belong to the voluntary self-regulated professional register, UKVRN. The UKVRN is under the Association for Nutrition. Registrants must keep up-to-date through Continuing Professional Development (CPD). Nutritionists do not have to be on the register to have the right to work in the UK. Unregistered nutritionists are not regulated by any external body.

Where do dietitians and nutritionists work?

Dietitians: Dietitians work in many settings including
  • The NHS
  • Private practice
  • Industry and education
  • Research
  • Sport
  • Media and public relations
  • Government and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs)
A key role of a dietitian is to train and educate other health and social care workers. They also advise on diet to avoid the side effects and interactions between medications.
Nutritionists: Nutritionists work in non-clinical settings. These include
  • Government
  • The food industry
  • Research
  • Teaching
  • Sports and exercise industries
  • International work in developing countries
  • Media and communications
  • Animal nutrition and NGOs
Some Nutritionists work in the NHS under the supervision of registered dietitians. Nutritionists often work as freelance consultants. They cannot work with hospitalised or other acute patients, without supervision from a registered dietitian.

Summary to answer “what is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist”

In summary, there are differences in
  1. Regulation
  2. Qualifications and
  3. Area’s of practice
between dietitians and nutritionists.
Only dietitians are able to work individually with hospitalised patients. Nutritionists are not able to provide unsupervised Medical Nutrition Therapy. There are many wonderful dietitians and registered nutritionists alike out there. If you choose to see a nutritionist, it’s best to ensure they are a registered nutritionist. Registered nutritionists are regulated. This increases the likelihood of you receiving safe and evidence-based care. 
By now you should understand what is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist. Katherine Kimber is a a Registered Dietitian, and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor. She has a first-class Undergraduate and Masters’s degree from Kings College London. If you’re looking for a registered dietitian to help with concerns regarding weight, body image and/or disordered eating, Kat offers 1-on-1 and group services in these area’s. Click here to read more about Kat.

Why Am I Always Hungry?

Why Am I Always Hungry?

Why Am I Always Hungry?

Registered Dietitian, Katherine Kimber answers the most common reasons people wonder “why am I always hungry”. 

There it is again… that insatiable hunger, you’ve already had lunch, and it’s your 4th trip to the fridge to seek out food. “Why am I always hungry”, you ask. Huffing to yourself.

Whilst I talk a lot about intuitive eating, honouring your natural signals, and listening to your body, you might be wondering why you’re still back and forth looking for food, when you know you’ve already eaten and you’re not hungry! This article dives into 9 common reasons why you feel hungry all of the time.

In principle, eating should be quite simple. You get hungry, you eat, you move on with your day. But unfortunately, our diet plagued society teaches us that we can’t be trusted to listen or respond to our own bodies. That we try to control and stop feeling hungry. That we need to look to external sources (like the clock, apps, portion sizes, labels, calories, meal plans, points systems) to tell us when to eat, what to eat and how much to eat.

These external sources can teach us to go to our head to make decisions around food, as opposed to connecting with our bodies and what it really needs. And whilst of course we do need to use our mind to make decisions, there is a difference between a a diet driven mindset, and a self-care mindset:

(a) “I can’t possibly be hungry. I just ate breakfast an hour ago. Eugh. Why do I always feel hungry” (diet mindset, results in guilt, not honouring body)


(b) “I’m noting hunger signals despite eating breakfast an hour ago (curious mindset). My body needs more food today. I better eat something (connecting with the body, recognising the need to eat, which is a self-care, compassionate mindset)”

Listening to the diet mindset (a), can create body distrust, and disconnected eating. We are made to feel guilty, for simply nourishing our bodies.

In this article, I am therefore going to outline 9 common reasons why you might feel hungry all the time, and how to connect with your innate wisdom and know what your body needs. 

But are you really eating enough?

Hunger doesn’t just show up in the stomach, so this is really important. Because the only way to satisfy physical hunger is by eating enough food. The single biggest reason why you might be feeling physically hungry all of the time, is simply that you’ve not eaten enough at your last meal, throughout the day, or even yesterday.

Whilst diet culture teaches us that we can’t be trusted around food, and that we can’t control ourselves, I want to remind you that you don’t need to “earn your food”. You don’t need to deprive or withhold yourself. In fact, by doing so, it might be suppressing energy levels, and limiting your ability to pursue things that are important to you. Hunger is normal, healthy and a sign that your body is working. Having regular hunger signals may be a sign that your body is working as it should! When we habitually ignore these signals, they atrophy over time and our ability to listen and respond is compromised.

What does physical hunger look like?

Physical hunger can show up in a number of places, not just the stomach.

For example:

  • Head: achey, light headed, dizzy, distracted, poor concentration
  • Energy levels: tired, sleepy, sluggish, meh
  • Mood: hangry, irritable, cranky, snappy, moody, low
  • Stomach: gurgling, rumbling, emptiness, stomach ache, gnawing, sicky feeling
  • Body: shaky, quivery, low blood sugar, salivating, sicky feeling in throat or chest

Developing awareness of, and sensitivity to, these internal physiological sensations (more technically known as interoceptive awareness) through consistent practice and listening, can help you to develop more trust in your body. Preliminary research also indicates that eating in response to early signs of hunger may help improve long-term blood glucose control.

Are you filling up on rice crackers and celery? (Aka high bulk low calorie foods?)

Foods with a lot of bulk will make you feel full. However, if they are low in calories, they may not be satiating. These foods contribute to feelings of fullness, but have short-lived fullness, because they are low calorie foods. It’s the reason why, for example, you could eat a meal consisting of a big vegetable salad, with a can of diet coke, and truly feel full, but end up hungry again shortly after or feel as if something is missing.

High bulk low calorie foods: Usually fruits and vegetables. For example, a large salad without protein or starch or vegetable soup might leave you feeling physically full but unsatisfied. 

Air foods: Air foods fill up your stomach, but offer little (if any) energy. They are typically foods eaten on diets such as rice cakes, low calorie cereal bars, and sugar free drinks.

Low carb or artificially sweetened foods: These foods tend to replace carbohydrates with sugar alcohols and indigestible fibres. These replacements can make you feel temporarily full. If eaten in excess, they can cause bloating and discomfort. This includes some energy bars, sugar-free jelly, low carb desserts and snacks.

The body generally feels full and satiated on meals that contain a combination of starchy grains, fibre (fruit/vegetables), proteins, fats, calcium and a good dose of flavour, texture and satisfaction!

Are you truly satisfied?

There is one psychological dimension to physical fullness that wellness culture doesn’t often get us to consider, and that is satisfaction. I’m sorry, but celery juice just doesn’t cut the mustard. 

Fullness is the physical sensation of satiety, while satisfaction is the mental sensation of satiety. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (the theory of human motivation” is a model that teaches us that we’re driven by our unmet needs. Whether this be in food, relationships, careers. So if we’re not satisfying our needs, we’re not happy. We therefore seek out food that drives satisfaction. Satisfaction and pleasure are at the core of eating!

I have a little exercise for you. 

Think about the last meal you ate. 

How would you rate this on a scale of 0-10? 10 being the most satisfying meal you’ve ever eaten, and 0 the least?

Now think about this.

If you could boost the satisfaction (forgetting about what you may deem as “good/bad” food) what would you change?

Sometimes we need to add something extra to round off the meal, or change the environment, and generally boost the satisfaction factor of the eating experience. 

For example, eating in a more relaxed environment, adding some cheese to your pasta, or a slice of crusty chewy bread to a heart soup?

But why do I always feel hungry even after eating? 

Do you ever have that feeling of fullness in your stomach, but a desire to eat something sweet?

This is called “taste hunger” and is completely normal. Taste hunger occurs when you have a taste for a specific food that may present itself outside of physical hunger or alongside it.

Basically, taste hunger is when you want to eat food that just sounds good! Like a sweet, after a meal. It’s really normal to have the desire for a little something to round off your meal and provide the “satisfaction factor”. Like sweets, biscuits, ice-cream, fruit, yoghurt, hot chocolate etc. 

Diet culture teaches us that having something sweet is “bad”. This can lead to a negative judgement when we do eat something sweet, which can spiral into the “sod it mentality”. I’ve done it now, I might as well keep going.

So what to do?

Don’t panic and eat the sweet thing.  

I know I am definately not hungry, so why do I still eat?

It could be an emotional response. Below outlines the differences between emotional hunger vs physical hunger. If you know you’re definitely not hungry, you know you have given yourself permission around foods, are satisfied by your food choices, and still want to eat… it might be an emotional hunger. Sometimes what people deem as physical hunger is emotional hunger. And vice versa. The diagram below might help, and you can read more about this in my article on how to navigate emotional eating.

Emotional Versus Physical Hunger

Are you trying to pursue weight loss?

Dieting (which is the pursuit of weight loss), can interfere with our hunger hormones. 

There are two key hormones that help regulate hunger – ghrelin and leptin.

Ghrelin is the hunger hormone, produced by the stomach mostly, but also the small intestine, pancreas and brain. It goes up in response to food deprivation (aka dieting). Ghrelin receptors are located in the brain (a small part called the hypothalamus). The more you ignore hunger, the more ghrelin gets produced to make you eat. The body is pretty clever! It typically switches off when you eat enough food. It’s not a matter of willpower when you cave in, and the diet fails. Biology is trying to make you eat and survive. Your body does not know that you may have a fridge full of food, and a supermarket around the corner. 

However, for chronic dieters, ghrelin may stay elevated after meals as a result of being in a negative energy balance (aka withholding your body from energy). People who have lost weight, therefore, seem to have a higher level of ghrelin circulating around their blood, which can be elevated for a year after dieting! It’s no wonder weight loss maintenance is near impossible, when the body is working so hard to bring your weight back up. 

The only way to make your ghrelin turn off, is to eat enough. This signals to another hormone leptin to say “hey, stop eating”. 

The main message is that if you don’t eat enough, your body will continue to pump ghrelin, and make you feel hungry, until you eat.

Are you getting adequate nights sleep?

As mentioned above, there are two key hormones that help regulate hunger – ghrelin and leptin. When the body is sleep-deprived, the level of ghrelin spikes, while the level of leptin falls, leading to an increase in hunger. If you’re feeling abnormal levels of hunger and a desire to eat, check in with your sleep. Does this need some more attention?

Are you setting unrealistic standards? 

Sometimes I notice my clients are setting an unrealistic standard for how much you “should” eat in a day, that they are consistently not able to. This is a sign that the standard is too high, and too rigid. Have you considered that you may not be allowing yourself enough food.  

Too often, I see something like this… 

  • Greek yoghurt & berries for breakfast
  • Nuts or fruit as snacks
  • Greens & protein for lunch and dinner

Later on results in… out of control eating, coupled with guilt, and more out of control eating, only to start again tomorrow.

Biology will always win. So if you’re cutting out food groups (especially starchy foods which are a great source of fibre) or not allowing snacks, flexible eating, and “fun food” into your life, this may be why you’re constantly feeling hungry, unsatisfied, looking for and thinking about food.

The body is really clever at regulating what it needs. It generally needs food that contains fibre (for example: whole grains, oats, brown rice, pasta, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, potatoes (with skin)), unless you have a specific medical condition where other recommendations have been made.

Medications to be aware of…

Some medication and medical conditions can increase appetite. The most common appetite-inducing medications include antipsychotics, antidepressants, mood stabilisers, corticosteroids, and anti-seizure drugs. If you think your medications are interfering with your appetite, it’s best to speak to your healthcare provider.

So what’s the verdict? Why am I always hungry?

I reiterate – the only way to satisfy physical hunger is by eating enough food. But as you can see, it’s also not that simple! There may be a number of reasons why you’re always feeling hungry, from not eating enough, not satisfying your true desires for fear of not being “healthy” or gaining weight, to looking for comfort, tiredness. Ironically, many of these behaviours are compounded by pursuit of weight loss, restriction and control. When we let go of this pursuit, and honour and connect with our body through intuitive eating, kindness, and compassion, a more trusting, connected and happy relationship with food is possible. 

If you’re not entirely sure what the subtleties of physical hunger feel like for you, and you would like to learn more, you may benefit from diving into my free audio guide and workbook. This includes actionable steps towards finding food peace, and food freedom. 

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How to stop food obsession

Nutrition Plan: The Pros & Cons of Following One

Nutrition Plan: The Pros & Cons of Following One

Nutrition Plan: The Pros & Cons of Following One

Are you in search of the next nutrition plan or diet plan that’s really going to “work” for you. Maybe you’re even committed to finding a nutrition plan that’s more tailored and personalised to your needs.

But I am going to take a guess that you’ve done this before. 

Am I right?

If you’re constantly “on” or “off” of something, or just generally “worried” about whether you’re eating right, you’ve come to the right place. 

In this article, I am going to explain what a nutrition plan or diet plan is, the pros and cons of following one, and offer up an alternative. 

First of all, what is a diet plan or nutrition plan?

In this context, I am referring to a structured set of guidelines that tells you what, when and how much to eat. It might be rigid, or allow a lot of flexibility. They are usually used for the purpose of pursuing health, for weight loss, or other body goals.

Examples of rules included in a nutrition plan might be:

  • Have protein at EVERY meal and snack
  • Drink water, X Litres a day minimum
  • Every meal must be balanced
  • Always include X pieces of fruit a day

There are also examples of more extreme rigid plans. For example, a Keto Diet Plan, 21 day fix meal plan, intermittent fasting plan, dash diet plan.

Why am I qualified to talk about this?

As a Registered Dietitian having worked in the NHS and in private practice, I have a wealth or experience. I’ve also navigated my own way out of a tricky relationship with food. I therefore, have first hand experience. I’ve worked in settings where I have delivered personalised, tailored, and flexible meal plans, gentle nutrition guidance and education. On the flip side, I have helped people cultivate more of a trusting relationship with food and their body, well away from meal plans and rules. So here’s what I have learnt.

The pros of following a nutrition plan or diet plan

    • A quick fix: Nutrition plans can initially offer something to follow, a sense of purpose, and can take the “planning” element away. For this reason, a nutrition plan might free up some time initially too.
    • Education: A nutrition plan, if balanced, might be able to offer some nutritional knowledge, Also, provide an outline of what a balanced healthy diet might look like.
    • Disease or chronic illness: In some circumstances (like for those on dialysis for kidney failure, with PCOS, diabetes) nutrition education can be very helpful. It can even be life saving when delivered in the right way.

The cons of following a nutrition plan or diet plan

  • Short lived: In my experience, many people find themselves on and off of them. They tend to be short lived, and many people find it unenjoyable, unsustainable and inflexible. As humans, we’re generally not well suited to stick to rules! 

  • Do not allow for spontaneity: What if you just fancy a bowl or cheesy pasta? Or you go to someone’s house and they cook something that doesn’t fit with the plan. Following a nutrition plan can induce guilt and anxiety, and not allow for spontaneity of life events.

  • Offer something to fall off of: Nutrition plans offer something to step onto, and then fall off. This can induce black and white thinking around food, and the sense of being an “all or nothing”. 

  • Induce rebellion eating: This is the voice that comes in when you fall off the nutrition plan, or eat outside of the guidelines. The voice that says “you can’t tell me what to eat” or “I can eat because I want to 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.

  • Result in the sod it mentality: When you have one biscuit 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 blown your diet plan or nutrition plan is enough to trigger eating more, regardless of hunger or fullness levels.

  • 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 a thing as perfect.

  • The irony of thought suppression: Don’t think of a pink elephant…. you thought 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 starting a new diet is enough to trigger overeating. A study on chocolate lovers found that when 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 the diet or falling off the plan, was enough to trigger overeating.

  • They can offer a false sense of hope: Nutrition plans give off the idea that there is a “perfect” or “right” way to eat. In reality, there is no such a thing as a perfect diet.

    If nutrition plans aren’t serving me, what’s an alternative?

    It can seem attractive to be told via a nutrition plan, what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat, especially when you’re feeling out of control around food. I totally see the attraction of gaining a quick sense of control.

    The thing is, being given more rules, and more things to follow, can actually exacerbate these issues in the long term. Many people that I work with don’t need more nutrition knowledge. In fact, they have a wealth of it. Maybe even too much, so much so, that it’s having a detrimental effect. 

    They need a different approach, and that’s what Intuitive Eating or non-diet support can offer. 

    Non-diet approaches teach people to become more connected with their body, and become the boss of themself. This means, never need to rely on a meal plan again. Sounds exciting right?

    Now this doesn’t mean letting go of all planning per se. Of course, a basic part of self-care is having food available at home to honour your needs as and when. But there is a difference between having a variety of meal options available to honour your needs, versus being strict around what you can eat, and when, without flexibility and spontaneity. 

    So what’s the verdict?

    In my experience, and from the research, nutrition plans and diet plans can do more long term damage than good. Especially in those that struggle with binge eating, secret eating, food obsession, and disconnected eating. They can result in a lack of body trust, and lack of ability to honour and respond to natural signals like hunger, fullness, satiety and satisfaction. Nutrition plans may be the very thing that exacerbated or even started these difficulties. 

    If you’ve been chronically dieting, or trying to pursue thinness or weight loss in some form, even the best, most flexible and gentle nutrition guidelines can still be embraced like a diet. Be mindful of what you read on the internet. It might be time to try something new! There is certainly a place for gentle nutrition planning. It’s a basic form of self-care to have food available to you day to day. However, nutrition and diet plans tend to be more rigid, less flexible, and aim to keep you in a calorie/macro framework, and this is where trouble can occur. 

    If you’re wanting to find out more about building more body trust and becoming the boss of yourself, without relying on nutrition plans, my 7-Steps to Food Peace & Food Freedom audio guide and workbook, might be a good place to start.

    Can You Stop Dieting Without Gaining Weight?

    Can You Stop Dieting Without Gaining Weight?

    Are you wondering if you can stop dieting without gaining weight?

    Perhaps you’re wanting to stop counting calories, begin reverse dieting so that you can eat naturally and normally?

    Whilst we know weight loss is possible for the majority it often can creep back on (and more).

    If you’ve experienced stopping dieting and gaining weight back, or have a fear weight regain after dieting, you’re not alone. 

    Stopping weight gain after dieting, is not about needing more willpower.

    Research tells us that our bodies are not designed to be withheld from food.

    In fact, there is level A evidence (the highest level of evidence available) to show that regardless of the degree of initial weight loss people experience, most weight is regained within a 2-year period and by 5 years the majority of people are at their pre-diet body weight.

    Our bodies try their hardest to protect our highest adult weight. 

    The theory behind this is called the “set-point” weight. That’s the weight that our bodies are genetically programmed to maintain – and this can vary across our life span.

    If you and I were to eat the same thing each day, and do the same amount of exercise, our bodies would not be the same size.

    Our weight is not designed to stay the same, despite what diet culture has us believe. 

    And our set-point weight can be changed, through dieting. But not the way that I think you’re wanting to hear.

    When you repeatedly try to force your body below where it naturally wants to be, your body may eventually increase your set-point range in order to protect you from future states of food deprivation (aka dieting). 

    That’s why up to two thirds of people that re-gain weight, regain it plus more. The weight can just keep rising with each and every diet.

    Your body then tries to defend our highest adult weight.

    And I’m not here to shame weight gain or say that this is your “fault”. I am here to say that your body is just doing its thing to keep you alive, and if weight regain happens after dieting, calorie counting, restriction, it could well be because your body is just protecting you! 

    The cycle goes something like this… 

    So is it possible to stop dieting without gaining weight?

    The answer is not straightforward. Because weight is dependent on a number of factors including your genetics, dieting history, medications, body composition, health conditions, your eating behaviours, your relationship with food and the list can go on.

    Around 70% of individual differences in body weight are determined by genetics.

    And our bodies have their own internal thermostat to keep you at this set-point weight. 

    A bit like how our body controls its temperature within a tightly controlled range, the body has its own weight thermostat that sits in a part of your brain called the hypothalamus. It’s constantly working and being sent signals from your body fat stores to keep your body safe and happy.

    When your brain notices tiny fluctuations in fat stores, your body responds by telling your body processes (like appetite, carbohydrate cravings) to maintain your set point. It’s a finely tuned and robust process.

    Your set point can be anywhere along the spectrum, from thin to fat – and it might not necessarily fit within societies ideas of “healthy” or “ideal”.

    So in answer to the question “can you stop dieting without gaining weight?” – It’s pretty out of your control. 

    How do you figure out your set point weight?

    Your set point weight is the weight your body goes to when you:

    • Eat to your appetite
    • Respond to signals of hunger and fullness
    • Don’t fixate on your weight or food habits
    • Stop dieting – the weight it usually returns to (and this can creep up the more you diet)
    • Take care of yourself physically and mentally

    No measure can determine your set-point weight, but scientists estimate that the average person has a set-point range which varies between 5-10ks. And the only way to identify what your set point weight is, is to learn how to eat normally… It sounds simple, but I know how complex that statement is, in a world that’s telling you that you can’t be trusted around food, and need to control – how are you supposed to know what normal eating is?

    When you try to control your weight through dieting (pursuit of weight loss in any form), you disrupt your body’s internal regulatory system. It creates a disconnect between mind and body. The body is saying one thing (e.g. feed me, I am hungry), and the mind is saying another (e.g. you can’t eat again, you’ve already hit your calorie limit today), and boom… this is the perfect storm for binge eating, food anxiety, food guilt, eating past comfortable fullness, secret eating, etc. There is a disconnect between biology (the body) and the mind. Biology always wins. It’s powerful. 

    If you’re wondering why weight gain happens easily…

    The bottom of the set-point range is closely regulated, however, the top end is not so. That means your body sees weight gain as less of a threat, and it can therefore be easy to override the signals that say “stop eating”, subsequently gain weight, and rise above the natural set point. The set point weight then rises. Also, dieting not only disrupts the signals your body is trying to give you, but it can raise the set-point weight. Hence why body weight can increase with each and every diet.

    So what can you do?

    Battling with your set-point nearly always ends up with negative consequences, physically and mentally – with a side of body dissatisfaction and food preoccupation. 

    But the good news is that there is something else you can do instead, that has more of a positive effect on self-worth, and overall health and wellbeing. And most importantly, it challenges the popular and incorrect idea that weight is entirely in our control, is our personal responsibility, and determines our worth!

    Intuitive Eating is a non-diet approach to health, helping you connect with your innate inner body wisdom. It’s a weight-inclusive, evidence-based model with a validated assessment scale and over 120 studies to date. Research shows that intuitive eaters tend to eat more variety, have more body appreciation, more protection against eating disorders, more connection with their body, and:

    • Are not preoccupied with food or dieting
    • Do not label foods as good or bad
    • Place importance on taste/satisfaction of food
    • Choose foods that enhance body’s function
    • Have awareness & trust of hunger + satiety cues
    • Use hunger and satiety cues to determine when & how much to eat

    Are you ready to get out of the repeated cycle of losing weight only to regain it?

    To stop worrying about stopping dieting without gaining weight, and to try something new?

    If this sounds like something you might be interested in exploring further, why not try my free audio guide with an actionable workbook, with 7-steps actionable steps to finding food peace & food freedom.

    You’re not alone, you’re not “broken”, and I’m here for you! 

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