An obvious yet commonly denied fact about diets and diet products is that they all fail us over the long-term. Most of us will regain any weight lost by restricting and depriving ourselves, and then some. Fortunately, there’s an alternative — a non-diet approach called intuitive eating.
If you’ve struggled with traditional diets, intuitive eating might be right for you.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is an evidence-based approach to authentic healthy living. It teaches you to tune into your inner wisdom about what your body needs, and balance those needs with the wealth of health information we have access to.
Compared to traditional diets based on counting and restricting, intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to achieving a balance between health and happiness. At its core, it’s about eating in response to your hunger and fullness cues. It gives you the green light to respect your body’s signals about when, what, and how much to eat.
For so many who have struggled with weight-loss diets, intuitive eating is like a breath of fresh air. It’s about:
- Developing a healthy relationship between food, mind, and body
- Asking yourself what you really need
- Respecting your body enough to realize that it deserves for your needs to be met
- Re-discovering the pleasure and satisfaction of food
That’s right, food can bring you pleasure, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about that!
Intuitive Eating begins with rejecting diet culture. It teaches you how to embrace your eating personality and learn from it. It gives you full permission to honour your hunger and teaches you how to recognize fullness.
This approach provides you with food freedom and promotes body respect. Intuitive eating empowers you to gently honour your health and teaches you how to re-discover the satisfaction factor.
And last but not least, it is an approach that’s backed by science.
Working with a non-diet dietitian who coaches clients on intuitive eating principles can be truly life-changing. Research has shown that those who practice intuitive eating achieve:
- Improved diet quality
- Weight maintenance
- Lower cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Higher self-esteem, well-being and optimism
- Less restricted eating
The Problem with Weight Bias
In today’s health and wellness obsessed culture, weight is closely tied to health. Appearing to be a ‘healthy weight’ alone is enough to convince people that you’re eating well and taking care of yourself. With this unhealthy focus on weight, many turn to dieting to solve their health and happiness struggles.
We live in a world where people who take up less space are viewed as more competent, intelligent, attractive, happy, and successful. At first glance, it may seem that the value system we’ve adopted celebrates health, well-being, and vibrancy. However, this widely accepted belief that larger bodies can’t be healthy, well, and vibrant at the same time is highly flawed.
Research shows that our negative, weight biased, anti-fat attitudes affect everything from workplace success, to the media to health care. Thus, it should come as no surprise that 42% of adults worldwide have reported trying to lose weight.
There are countless diet programs, supplements, and detox plans available on the market to help us slim down and “get healthy.” Every year, January comes with a tidal wave of motivation, inspiration and discipline. We think we need more of these to finally lose the weight and achieve health and happiness. But these things aren’t enough; these things aren’t the problem.
Our Diet Culture
Can you go anywhere these days without being exposed to diet and weight loss talk? Probably not. It has become an unquestioned and expected part of our discourse.
Monday morning at the office, talking about the weekend’s indulgences and how it’s time to buckle down and get back on track.
Over lunch, discussing how a mutual friend looked leaner than usual the last time you saw them, and speculating about how they did it.
In the gym after the holidays, overhearing others’ guilt over too much dessert, too many cocktails, and the fear of stepping on the scale to assess the damage.
It’s clear that when we think we have a weight problem, the solution is to diet. What’s more, even if we don’t have a weight problem, we’re conditioned to believe that life will be better and brighter when we lose those last 10 pounds.
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight does have health benefits. There’s lots of science to support that. But the range of options we have available to achieve and maintain that weight can go from health promoting to downright dangerous pretty quickly.
The Weight Loss Industry’s Dark Secret
No matter what diet you follow, if you restrict calories enough, you will lose weight. Diets ‘work’ in that sense. But what the diet industry doesn’t tell you is that weight loss dieting can have some unintended side effects.
Continually restricting what you eat alters your relationship with food. It also wreaks havoc on your self-esteem. Over time, it may lead to eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating – all very serious mental health disorders.
Chronic dieting can also significantly impact how your body works — especially the way your body responds to food and how it stores calories. Eventually, restricting what you eat makes it harder and harder to lose weight with every dieting attempt.
Are You Dieting Without Even Knowing It?
You don’t have to be on a named weight loss diet to be engaging in dieting behaviour. Many people make subtle attempts to manage their weight under the guise of being more health-conscious. Diet behaviors might include:
- Restricting your eating to only certain times of the day
- Eating only foods you deem to be “clean”
- Exercising or skipping meals after eating unhealthy foods
- Avoiding hunger by drinking diet soda, coffee, or energy drinks
- Cutting carbohydrates or avoiding entire food groups without a medical reason
- Eating what appears to be healthy in public and eating differently in private
These may all seem like normal, harmless habits. But these pseudo-dieting tactics are examples of disordered eating behaviours that have become mainstream and widely accepted within our society.
Let me be clear. Disordered eating behaviours are not the same as having a diagnosed eating disorder. Disordered eating behaviours are less severe. But if these eating behaviours become more extreme and restrictive, and go unaddressed, you could risk developing a full-blown eating disorder.
The underlying problem is this: dieting teaches you that you need to live according to set of food rules, and that without these rules you are “letting yourself go” and accepting a fate of overeating the wrong foods. In the process, you lose touch with your innate ability to choose the right foods, in the right amounts, in a satisfying way – the real keys to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
What is the Non-Diet Approach?
The non-diet approach is a refreshing alternative to dieting. It’s an approach that promotes
What does this mean?
What you eat is just one factor that determines your overall health. How you think and feel about food and your body (your mental health as it relates to food and eating) has just as much, if not more, of an impact. The non-diet approach considers both.
Instead of subscribing to the belief that health looks one way and that we should all be striving to fit neatly into this “box”, the non-diet approach holds space for the diversity of body shapes and sizes that naturally exists among humans.
Eating should not make you feel guilty. Having a healthy relationship with food means learning to separate your worth from your food choices (and exercise), and that you are not morally superior or inferior based on your food choices.
Give Yourself Permission To Redefine Health
If you’ve stuck with me this far you might be wondering how you can possibly eat better and be healthy by ditching diets and food rules and trusting your instincts instead. The key to understanding this piece of the non-diet approach way of life is reframing how you think about health and healthy eating.
Yes, body weight can be an indicator of health, but there’s so much more to being healthy. Your health is also determined by your social connections, race and ethnicity, work environment, genetics, access to medical care, physical environment (pollution, water quality, access to healthy food), sleep patterns, mental health (mood, life satisfaction), your income, and your level of education, just to name a few!
If I’ve piqued your interest, I hope you can give yourself permission to take the focus off the number on the scale. Instead, be open to building and maintaining health-promoting habits that will last a lifetime.
Rethink Healthy Eating With The Help Of a Non-Diet Dietitian
Food, weight, and health have become so closely tied in our diet-obsessed culture that they can be hard to separate. But with this new definition of health, comes a new definition of healthy eating. With the help and encouragement of a non-diet dietitian, you’ll come to learn that healthy eating:
- is about a diet that’s full of variety, not about living by a list of foods to include and foods to avoid.
- is a neutral place where food does not impact your self-worth, and where food does not cause you to feel guilty nor empowered.
- means being able to enjoy foods you love! It does not involve feelings of restriction or deprivation.
- measures portion size by respecting your body’s hunger and fullness cues to tell you how much and when to eat.
- appreciates that food provides more than just fuel or nutrients — it connects us.
Through this definition of healthy eating, it is still possible to consider nutrition as a part of the non-diet approach. By giving yourself unconditional permission to eat what you want, when you want, something amazing happens. Over time, you learn when you don’t restrict foods, the power they have over you diminishes.
You know that thing that happens when you tell yourself you’re not allowed to have chocolate, and then chocolate becomes the only thing you can think about? And by the time you get to the point where you give yourself permission to have just a little, you end up eating way too much?
By removing the restrictions, you learn to eat all foods more mindfully and enjoy them fully. There’s far less appeal when you know you can have those foods whenever you want. As a result, you adopt a sort of natural, effortless portion control.
In this way, intuitive eating is an effective strategy for navigating the increasingly complex food environment we all live in today.
Is a Non-Diet Approach Right for Everyone?
After all this talk about diet culture, food rules, hunger cues, and body trust, you’ve likely got a feeling about whether intuitive eating and the non-diet approach is right for you. If you’re still trying to make up your mind, give the following list of statements a read to figure out which camp you fit into.
A non-diet approach IS for you if:
- You want to improve your health (both physical and mental) and repair your relationship with food
- You’re ready to reject diet culture
- You’re willing to let go of weight loss as your main goal
- You’re prepared to make mistakes and let go of perfection
- You’re willing to trust your body and devote the time and energy required to respect and fulfill its needs
- You’re excited to experience freedom from food rules
- You’re excited to truly enjoy food and the eating experience again
- You’re ready to accept whatever size your body naturally settles at when you are eating intuitively to honour your health
A non-diet approach IS NOT for you if:
- You have an active, diagnosed eating disorder
- Your main goal is weight loss
Where Do You Go From Here?
If you’d like to explore intuitive eating further to assess whether it may be right for you, I’d love to talk! Please let me know how I can help by Contacting Me.
It would be my pleasure to work with you and help you create the thriving life you’ve always wanted.
If you’d like to learn more about what it’s like to work with me and how I practice as a registered dietitian, please read the About Page.
Intuitively Yours in Health and Happiness,