Tag Archives: intuitive eating

Why diets don’t work

We’ve all heard that “diets don’t work,” but do you know why? First let’s go over the definition of diet.

Dieting is any eating habit that involves the restriction or elimination of nutrients and/or the control, counting, and restriction of calories. Point systems are diets because the program has pre-restricted the calories for you; these are counted calories disguised as point values.

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Here’s why diets don’t work.

Metabolism Damage

When you restrict calories and nutrients you lose weight. This is why diets are so attractive on the surface and seem like they work. The problem is that internally your body goes into “deprivation mode,” craving the nutrients it’s missing and slowing the metabolism way down so as to store energy for crucial functions, such as fueling your heart and brain. When you “give in” to those cravings, the metabolism is slow to use the energy– one because it’s sluggish and two your body naturally wants to use the energy sparingly since it doesn’t know when it’s going to get those nutrients again. Often you won’t feel good eating something of which you’ve deprived yourself (like sugar or bread) thus blaming the food,  when really it’s your body not responding well because it’s broken.

When I went through the re-feeding process during anorexia recovery, I felt physically ill for about eight weeks while my metabolism re-learned how to accept and process nutrients again. It was another several months before my body found homeostasis.

Yo-yo dieting or chronic dieting puts the body in constant deprivation mode (also called starvation mode) and gives the body no semblance of normal. It can’t settle into a homeostasis where the flow of nutrients to body function is rhythmic and natural. Instead, dieting trains the body to reserve the nutrients and keep the metabolism slow so as to store energy for internal functions. Simply speaking, you hold on to the weight. The body isn’t sure when it’s going to get those nutrients again and it has systems and processes to run, so it’s going to store calories and use them wisely.

Here’s a replicated visual my eating disorder therapist showed me

 

Person A and Person B are both born at the same time. As they grow, they gain weight accordingly. Person A doesn’t diet at all, and over time her body settles into a consistent weight with minor (and natural) fluctuations.

Person B begins dieting and her weight drops. Each dip in the graph represents a diet with a corresponding weight drop. After each diet, though, her weight goes back up, increasing just a little more each time and never finding a consistent stability.

At the end of life, person B dies not only at a higher weight than non-dieter A but also at a higher weight than what her original weight before she started dieting.  If you are a dieter, have you sometimes noticed when the weight comes back, it’s often just a little more than the last time you put the weight back on? It’s not because you are a bad person who has a problem with self control. It’s because your body is trying to protect you, trained to operate in deprivation mode and with a broken metabolism.

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Distorted Body Cues

Dieting forces you to go against your body’s natural cues. When you’re hungry a diet will keep you confined from feeding your body what it needs. Diets say:

a) You can’t eat because it isn’t time.

b) You can’t eat the thing you are craving because it’s “bad.”

c) You can’t eat the amount you need because it’s “too much.”

The body and brain become confused.

Body says: “I’m hungry. I need (crave) a plate of meaty pasta and a slice of cherry pie. Pasta will give me long-term fuel; the meat will give me stamina; the cherry pie will give me the quick spark and pleasure to start the refueling process for all systems.”

Brain says: “Nope. You’re on a no-carb, no-sugar diet. You’re getting a chicken salad with no cheese and a sugar-free flavored water. You need better discipline. Cherry pie? What are thinking, fatty?”

Body says: “Hmm? Okay, so you’re giving me fiber, water, and a tiny bit of protein. I’ll do my best but don’t be surprised when I’m sluggish and you’re cranky.”

Binge eating happens when we’re in deprivation mode because the body is so desperate for nutrients we’re not paying attention to when the body says “Enough!”  Confused hunger and fullness cues become normal.

Some people experience the opposite problem where it seems like it takes more food to get full and that’s because the brain isn’t tuned in with what fullness actually feels like for their body. There are a plethora of reasons why some people eat more than they need (emotions, distractions, strict rules such as “must eat everything on my plate,” distorted view of portion sizes, etc.)

The bottom line is this: Dieting goes against your body’s natural biology. Your body knows what weight it wants to be, when it’s hungry, when it’s full, and what food it needs. It gives you all the cues to let you know what you need.

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It’s not a program. Or a lifestyle change. Its tapping back into your innate ability to feed yourself well.

If you are in the midst of a vicious dieting cycle or considering dieting at all, I encourage you to learn more from the book shown on the left here (not an affiliate link, nor am I affiliated with the authors in any way). It was introduced to me my first week of recovery, though it took  me months to learn how to apply it because I was so disordered in my habits and beliefs. Everyone at any size can find their homeostasis again, including you. No more diets, okay? You’re life is way too valuable and diets aren’t worth the sacrifice. <3

 

What does healthy mean?

Our culture has a wacky perspective on what healthy means. Culture says if you eat lots of greens, a bunch of protein, and little to zero carbs, simple sugars, and fat, then you are healthy. You will also be healthy if you force your body into shape by walking thousands of steps a day, crunch your abs flat, and burn more calories than you eat. If you don’t follow the rules and control yourself then you are unhealthy, which means you will stay fat or get fat if you aren’t already.  Culture’s definition of healthy is “skinny.”  Skinny isn’t enough, though, because even if you aren’t fat right now, you should probably “drop a few l-bs” because it will be healthier for you.

If you are following the rules but you aren’t slimming into those pants that are supposed to slim you down even more, and you’re feeling miserable about why your body is still craving sugar, then according to culture you need to have better self-discipline and take care of that addiction or you are just never going to be healthy. Shame on you.

I tried culture’s way and ended up in recovery for an eating disorder that almost killed me. Doing healthy culture’s way led me to the unhealthiest I’ve ever been in my life.

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Health has nothing to do with what I’m eating, how much I’m eating, how much I weigh, or what size I wear.  Health has to do with being connected to myself; healthy is between me and my body. Healthy is being able to tune into my body and know what it needs based on the things I feel–hunger, sadness, pain, pleasure, wonder, fatigue, etc. Healthy is responding to my body in a way that is respectful and loving without judgement, shame, or questioning.  When I am connected to my body and obliging what it needs and wants, then I am healthy. I can be whatever size and weight and eat all of my favorite foods and still be healthy because healthy doesn’t have a shape or size or criteria. Healthy doesn’t look a certain way; healthy is a state of being.

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There’s a difference between not feeling well and being unhealthy. When I am not feeling well, my body is trying to tell me something is wrong, and it will adjust until I do something to feel better, like maybe eat a sandwich; take a nap; go to the doctor. When I am connected to my body, I intuitively know what to do to feel better and I will do it. That’s healthy.

Conversely, when I am “unhealthy,” outside of being legitimately sick, then I have become disconnected from my body– viewing and operating myself from the perch of the world–the media, my friends, my family, my doctor, my peers, culture–and living from a space of perceived expectations without understanding that I am perfectly fine just as I am. There’s actually nothing wrong with my body, but I believe I am unhealthy because the world says I should be eating certain foods, weighing a certain amount, and looking a certain way. So I squirm in the discomfort, forcing and dieting my way into “health.”

I can’t think of anything more unhealthy than disconnecting from my body and forcing it to squeeze into culture’s expectations of what healthy means.

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Practically speaking, healthy is:

  • being in tune with my hunger and fullness cues.
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  • knowing which foods I enjoy eating and which ones I don’t.
  • eating what sounds good rather than because something is good for me.
  • listening to when my body wants to move and when it doesn’t.
  • understanding how my body moves and how it doesn’t.
  • accepting (maybe even loving!) my body as it is today.
  • appreciating what my body can do as it is today.
  • wearing clothes that fit me today.
  • resting when my body is tired.
  • challenging myself when I’m energized and uncomfortable.
  • feeling the feels when I’m triggered emotionally.
  • coping with life using tools that are right for me.
  • respecting what my body tells me ( e.g. More please. I’m done. That hurts. I’m hungry. Let’s rest.)
  • honoring the need for self care.

Healthy is not:

  • counting calories.
  • restricting/omitting food groups.
  • watching what I eat.
  • idolizing greens and protein.
  • demonizing carbs and fat.
  • controlling portions.
  • regimenting exercise.
  • burning more calories than I eat.
  • judging food as “good” or “bad.”
  • fitting into a particular size.
  • reaching a goal weight.
  • ignoring hunger or fullness.
  • demanding a certain number of steps in my day.
  • shaming myself for eating or eating something I supposedly shouldn’t have.
  • disrespecting my body’s call for rest.

What does healthy mean? Healthy means I am connected to my body–trusting and responding to whatever it’s asking for. 

How do I know if I’m healthy? I live in the freedom to eat and move how I want to; I feel good inside my own skin; I am at peace with myself regardless of the cultural noise around me about nutrition and body.

What does healthy mean to you?

Goodbye, Martha

Spokane at night: courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Spokane at night: courtesy Wikimedia Commons

My dietitian is moving back home to Spokane, WA. This is a very big deal. I didn’t think it was at first. I was happy to hear that God was speaking into Martha’s life, as to what the next steps in the Plan were for her and that she was listening. She never wanted to move back to her hometown.

Here’s the first lesson: never say “never” with God because he’s likely to stick you smack in the middle of where you declare you’ll never go.

I once told God I would never ask for healing for my anorexia because the disease kept me close to Him. (Conveniently it also kept me skinny.) Nine months later I found myself in anorexia rehab, specifically sitting in Martha’s office.

You guys, I am not being dramatic when I say Martha is half the team that saved my life. When I sat in Martha’s office on November 3, 2014, I was dying. I had no idea how close to death I was, of course, but Martha did. She was so tender and understanding with me, simply listening to my story. Despite all the tragic details in my thoughts, behaviors and attitudes about food and my body, I didn’t want to be there in that office with Martha. I didn’t trust her. I believed she was there to make me fat.

Martha wasn’t offended. She didn’t turn her back on me or chastise me. Instead, she listened and asked me sensitive questions and offered grace. Never once did she judge me, tell me that my thoughts and behaviors were wrong or “bad,” or warn me that I was dying. Instead she developed a meal plan for me. Because I was starving and her first priority was to feed me.

The re-feeding process was arduous and painful, not because of Martha, but because my body didn’t know what to do with the food I was feeding it. My metabolism was severely damaged. It would take almost eight more weeks of eating on my plan before my metabolism even “turned on” again, and several more months before it was healed and working properly. The whole time, Martha was by my side listening to my laments, my confusion, and my bewailing in response to the physical side effects and emotional turmoil that came with eating again. She answered my questions, explained what my body was doing, and helped me understand that even though I had completely disconnected from my body and tried to kill it (my words, not hers), my body was trying to protect me to keep me alive. My body was working really hard to get better.

It's not a program. Or a lifestyle change. Its tapping back into your innate ability to feed yourself well.

It’s not a program. Or a lifestyle change. Its tapping back into your innate ability to feed yourself well.

In the midst of this process, Martha introduced me to the idea of intuitive eating. I’ll never forget the day she told me I could “trust my body.” I had bought in so deeply, even went into debt, on the notion that my body was bad and all the food I had been eating or wanted to eat was bad. Our culture teaches that food can’t be trusted and our bodies are not okay unless we strictly control them. We’re taught that we have to restrict what we eat, how much we eat, when we eat, how we eat, and how often we eat. This is why we have 14,000 different diets to choose from. On top of that, culture says we should concentrate on exercise to burn the calories and the fat and the carbs. Not only do we need to burn off the food, but we should also be sculpting and toning and chiseling our bodies into “that” perfect shape.

So when Martha said, “Your body knows what it’s doing. It knows what you need and what to do with. But it requires that you first listen to what your body is telling you and then to trust your body to do what it does once you give it what it needs and wants,”– this was revolutionary thinking for me. And refreshing. And terrifying. (Read more about intuitive eating here) Oh and exercise? Yes, of course. But do so for the joy of the movement, not for the burn.

In March of this year I had fully transitioned out of my re-feeding meal plan and into intuitive Healthyandwelleating. It’s a long process learning how to trust my body, but my body and mind have never been healthier than it is today. Is my brain completely healed yet? No. It’s getting there. Is my body healed and healthy? Yes! (It isn’t fat either. And I eat carbs… and sugar. And fat. So there.)

I have Martha to thank and a good God who deserves the glory!

Martha was a God-send for me. Literally. I was dying; God sent Martha to bring me back to life. So it is a big deal that she is leaving now. I am sad she that she has to go; I am scared to not have her by my side as I continue navigating my recovery. But Martha has set me up for continued and life-long health (not mention advocacy for intuitive eating). There are people in Spokane who need her now; I respectfully and prayerfully say goodbye knowing she’s in the hands of  mighty God who has special plans for her life and the lives of the people she’ll encounter.  I trust God to stay by my side through the rest of my recovery (I still have my therapist, Tamara, who is the other half of the team that saved my life!).

Martha and I and my children did a radio interview with Rose City Forum about intuitive eating.

Martha and I and my children did a radio interview with Rose City Forum about intuitive eating.

Listen to the interview here: http://recordings.talkshoe.com/rss134258.xml

What is intuitive eating?

Do you want to be the ideal body type or do you want to be ideally healthy?

There is a difference, you know.

To be the ideal body type there are about 564,000 different diets, pills, exercise plans, and lifestyle changes to choose from. All come complete with rules, regulations, and restrictions that will guarantee the culturally ideal body type. However, they cannot guarantee that you will be ideally healthy.

To be ideally healthy requires only two things. Listening to your body and trusting what it’s telling you. This comes complete with the guarantee that your body type will be exactly as it was created to be; you will have no guilt or self-loathing of yourself as a person; and your quality of life will rest on the side of peace, contentment, and enjoyment.

I had chosen option A–ideal body type. I actually just skipped the diets and pills and found straight starvation combined with over-exercising to be more efficient in getting the body I wanted. It totally worked.

And also, I nearly died.

Note: Diets are a form of starvation. Diets dictate depriving, withholding, and/or restricting a nutrient (or several) from your body, thus starving your body of what it needs. Our bodies need all the nutrients. Whether you simply aren’t eating (as I was in anorexia) and/or you are strictly forbidding or restricting certain nutrients such as carbs, fats, sugar etc., through dieting or a lifestyle-diet, you are starving your body–>unless you have a special medical condition, such as diabetes or food allergies, that require an omission of certain nutrients. 

Here is what I am learning first-hand about option B:  Ideal health comes from eating intuitively. Eating intuitively shapes your body into the ideal body type meant for you. Your body already knows how to get to ideal health without external control.

Mind. Blown.

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Think of a dried-out sponge that’s all shriveled up and misshapen. When you give the sponge water, spongea steady flow of what it needs, the sponge soaks in the water and comes to life, returning to the size it was made to be and rendering itself usable to its potential as a sponge.  You turn off the water when the sponge is full. As the sponge dries out, you turn on the water, thus repeating the cycle. If you give the sponge more water than it needs, it takes a little longer for the sponge to dry out, but the sponge remains its natural size.

A sponge does exactly what it’s supposed to do when you give it what it needs.

Now, think of your body… all shriveled up and/or misshapen (from starvation). When you feed your body a steady flow of what it needs and wants, your body soaks in the nutrients (energy) and comes back to life, returning to the size it was made to be and rendering itself usable to its potential.  You stop eating when your body is full. You turn on the nutrients again when your body is hungry. If you give your body more food than it needs, it takes a little longer for your body to become hungry again, but it remains its natural size

With your body, you simply notice what it needs, respond accordingly, and your body bounces back to life, as the same size every time, and ready to be used in your life as you. Your body does exactly what it’s supposed to do when you give it what it needs. This is intuitive eating. 

Thankfully, the body is way cooler than a sponge.

The point is there are no rules and regulations necessary because your body knows what to do. Intuitive eating requires being in tune with and connected to your body so you can hear/feel what it needs and wants. You can feed your body what it wants because it reads both play foods and serious foods as energy. And when it’s had enough of any food (including your favorite), it will tell you, “I’m done.”

Your body will not betray you. If something doesn’t feel good or your body isn’t responding well, then its trying to tell you something.  For example, I have celiac disease, so if I eat something with gluten and I get sick, it isn’t that my body is rebelling or that gluten is evil, rather it’s my body saying “Mayday, Mayday, I cannot process what you have given me! Abort mission. Let’s recover… chicken broth and water, stat!” Once my body heals, it will give me a signal by shooting me a hunger pang and a craving… typically sushi. 🙂  This idea goes for any medical condition that needs special dietary consideration.

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Intuitive eating

Ignore the word “program” in the title. This isn’t a program. If I was their editor, I would’ve recommended a different title. 🙂

Intuitive eating is a sense we are born with; it is wrapped into how God created our bodies. So there is a process involved in recovering this intuition and reconditioning your brain to trust your intuition and ignore cultural ideals, noisy headlines and the diet mentality.  It takes time to build trust.

I don’t believe for a second God intended for us to count the grams of anything in our food; to track calories in and calories out (btw: if you have a metabolism, your math is going to be off); to spend hours focused on sculpting our bodies; to agonize over the numbers rising and falling on the scale; to utilize energy and emotion in self-shaming for not having the ideal body and loving the “evil” foods.

If you trust God with your life, you can trust the body He gave you. (If you don’t trust God with your life, you can still trust your body anyway because this part is biological.) Listening to and trusting your body will lead you to ideally healthy life and the ideal body type for you.

You can hear more about intuitive eating this Friday, June 12 on Rose City Forum; 12-1 pm (PST). My kids and I along with my dietitian will be talking all about intuitive eating, what it looks like for my family, and how it has played a crucial role in my eating disorder recovery. Log on to KKPZ.com to listen live. You’ll also have the opportunity to call in and ask questions. If you miss it, there will be a replay of the interview at 6 pm (PST).