I don’t diet. I’ve said it before, but what does that mean? Well, it means a lot of things. I means I don’t stress over new year’s resolutions, “starting on Monday,” “being good,” and worrying about the rules of a plan. I eat food. I don’t worry about weight loss. I live my life according to my goals and the weight is figuring itself out. Yes, it’s a foreign concept to me to wrap my mind around too—I’ve spent the last year studying it myself, not only on my own, but even in a class setting, and also had some coaching to work on coming into my own freedom with food. Am I there? Eh. I don’t think you ever “arrive” with food freedom, but my relationship with food improves every day and is at a much more balanced and less head-consuming place, so I’ll call it a win. It’s not just a physical journey…the weight will continue to come off, but I can’t will it away.
One of the major concepts I’ve studied is the idea of intuitive eating. This is not some new age-y concept or diet, but this is actually a mind-body approach to food developed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, based on ten basic principles. An explanation of the principles is found here: http://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/
I don’t 100% ascribe to all 10 principles, but to some degree I can get onboard with them. I feel like if I had to put into words and try to explain my idea of “I don’t diet” in detail, my take on the ten principles of intuitive eating is it. Just to be clear—the link above is Tribole and Resch’s definitions of the 10 principles of intuitive eating, below is my take on them. I am NOT a medical professional, this is solely my thoughts and opinions, and should in no way be construed as medical advice. (just had to throw that in there, ya know…)
- Reject the Diet Mentality. I’m all over this! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, and continue to say it. I don’t diet. I’ve been on more diets than I can count since I was FIVE years old. I don’t fault the pediatrician or my parents, it was the 80’s, the peak of the Jane Fonda era, but diets have led me to lose and regain literally hundreds of pounds in my life. They’re planned, calculated, structured, exhausting—and something you can quit. I don’t diet. Now, people often look at some of my food journaling habits, meal planning, being cognizant of what’s in my food and being conscious of choices as dieting. *insert buzzer* Nope. That’s being mindful—not in a fluffy woo-woo way, but I do those things for two reasons 1) my health. I journal my food not for quantity sake necessarily (though it plays into #2), but to look at trends. It is helpful when sitting down with my doctor and other healthcare providers to set up care plans for managing things like my migraines—it provides insight into triggers and how to better approach care through my habits. 2) Diets control food intake. Nowhere in my life–my doctors, my coaching/sports nutrition & dietitian folks—anyone, get to dictate a specific meal plan, amount, menu, quantity, etc. Sure, these people see my journal entries and teach, help, guide, and suggest things to enhance my diet (not “diet” as in a “weight loss plan” but diet as simply the nutrition I take in to sustain life), but they don’t make the choices. As someone with pretty lofty goals, varied training schedule, crazy life schedule, and a whole heap of other things, it’s very easy for me to overeat or undereat and allow my body to reach a point where it’s not performing at its peak. The habits I keep are to keep me accountable to my greater goals, but they aren’t diet rules to be broken—there’s a difference.
- Honor Your Hunger…And here’s where I go off the rails a little bit with Intuitive Eating, and get a (little) honest. This is an area in myself that’s very much still a work in progress and most of the time can’t be trusted of its own volition. I have a diagnosed eating disorder. I’m not at a place YET where I can fully trust all hunger cues. Some, I can. Others, maybe. A few, I won’t even go near. (And for the record, this isn’t a new thing—this has been years. I have received the proper professional care with the appropriate clinicians and am quite fine and dandy in my recovery—God, time, and heap of work is what it takes. And that’s about all the elaboration on this particular platform that I’m going to go into on the matter, as per usual, you want to talk, let’s talk). So, no, I don’t fully honor my hunger at this point in my life because I’m not at a place where I feel safe to trust myself 100% of the time with it.
- Make Peace with Food. No argument here. When calling off the diet mentality, I declared nothing was off limits in my life anymore. I can’t tell you the freedom that comes from no restrictions. It’s all in the land of choice—and the choice is up to me.
- Challenge the Food Police. I think this was another easier one for me to give up over time—at least the food police that exists in my head. The external food police however, not so much. Because so much of the world is still stuck in diet culture, they look at weight loss, athleticism, and being mindful of yourself as a “diet” that I am constantly being bombarded with the “is that on your diet?” questions or “you’re being so good!” comments. I feel like a broken record some days, and I know for so many people that it really doesn’t sink in, but I find it very important to be very clear on the points that I don’t diet and that eating isn’t a form of punishment or reward—being good or bad, it’s just nourishment. The foods I eat are just choices, and they aren’t good or bad. This gets tiring too challenging the food police, because it feels like you’re constantly educating people sometimes. I don’t mind when it’s genuinely someone that wants to listen, but it’s not worth it when it’s just someone that looks at my weight loss alone and is hungry for the quick fix (pardon the pun).
- Respect Your Fullness. This one can be a challenge, but improving. Because of my brain processes coupled with my eating disorder, physical fullness is not something that I can easily recognize. I do rely on other cues like looking at portion sizes and how much I’ve consumed before consuming more in order to try to hone in on this physical sensation, not from a place of judgment, but from a place of being a “scientist” and gathering data to figure how I physically feel. This is a work in progress. I’m learning.
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor. Food should be appealing to the senses. Sometimes it is worth waiting a little bit longer for something I crave than reaching for the closest food item (ie: going home and cooking vs hitting the drive thru). When food tastes good, when it is truly what you “want,” then it is satisfying. Sometimes you eat more of it, sometimes you eat less if it—that’s not the point, it’s more satisfying to eat what you desire. Sometimes you want a cupcake, sometimes you want a salad. I promise—your body will not desire cupcakes 24/7 just because you have full permission to consume them.
- Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food. Emotional eating has been a big issue for me through the years, I’ve had to find different coping mechanisms not only for emotional eating, but the mindless eating too (you know, the autopilot in front of the TV at night where you have no clue how the chips magically jumped in your hand?). It’s hard but not impossible to change these habits. This is a lot of intentional action that first starts with awareness and redirection…and a lot of frustration, and sometimes failure. Also, the recognition that sometimes emotional eating IS okay, but when it’s habit or a commonplace, that’s a problem.
- Respect Your Body. I realize that when I reach my goal weight, I will not be a tiny person—it’s not how my body is built. I have curves. I have a booty. I have large legs. Yes, these shrink with weight loss, but they will never be “skinny,” and it’s not a realistic pursuit for me. I want strong. I want healthy. This whole journey started in my realization that I was not honoring God’s creation, and I’ve come to see that I don’t see myself made in His image either…I don’t know what that eventually will look like, but saggy-baggy weight loss skin and all, I know it doesn’t look like some air-brushed Instagram-filtered model. I feed my body to fuel it. I move my body to make it feel good and to challenge myself. I treat my body in such a way now to honor God’s creation to carry our His will. Case closed.
- Exercise–Feel the Difference. Exercise is not my punishment. I don’t get up at 4am as some sort of penance—I do it because I want to. I don’t exercise to burn what I’ve eaten, I exercise to train to meet my goals. I don’t torture myself—I want to see the limits of God’s amazing creation and what it can do. It can do incredible things—already surpassed what I’ve believed possible, so when I dream of the goals that I have, even as simplistic as crossing the finish of a marathon in just a few short months, it overwhelms me to tears because I never believed these feats were possible for me, that these were things just for other people to go out and accomplish.
- Honor Your Health–I don’t take my health for granted, and I am responsible in my choices. By God’s grace, I am extremely blessed to have never experienced any weight-related illnesses, but I’m not naïve enough to believe that I’m immune from disease if I don’t take care of myself. I have promised myself that I will take care of myself in training to prevent injury. I have a team of people that keep me well, with regular doctor’s visits, my coach, consults with a sports dietitian. All know my goals and boundaries and are on my side. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
So…there ya have it, how the principles of intuitive eating are interpreted for me. Is it perfect? No. Is it textbook Tribole and Resch? Nope. But it’s where I’m at right now that has broken me free from the never-ending hamster wheel of dieting.
Many people couple the concepts of intuitive eating in with the “health at every size” (HAES) movement. While there are some ideas of acceptance I support behind this movement, my reservations absolutely would stand in the way of me in any way of being considered a proponent of HAES. Maybe I’ll cover that in another post…