Dieting is a train ride and intuitive eating is a sailboat cruise

One of the characteristics that most of my clients have in common is that rules make them feel safe. They want to know what to do and how to do it. They want to be go from Point A to Point B in as little time as possible.  From an early age, we learn that one of the most important things that we can do is be thin and fit.  Diet culture provides a rulebook on how to do this, as most of diets provide strict set of guidelines that will determine if you succeed or fail.  When the diet ends, of course, 97% of people gain all of the weight back, and 2/3 of these people gain back more weight than they lost.

 

Trains are similar to weight loss attempts.  They will get you from the station to your destination, but what happens after you get there?  And what if you want to stop and look at the scenery, or explore one of the towns that the train passes through? Will you even allow yourself to look out the window, or are you too busy looking ahead to notice the beauty in the changing landscape outside?

 

A sailboat ride is dependent on the wind, the waves, and storms. When you start out on a sailboat, you don’t know what is going to happen. You can have supplies ready, but you might not need them. They might go overboard, and you have to sit with being uncomfortably cold or wet until you get back to port. Intuitive eating is the same. You could prepare all your food for the day but end up not being very hungry. You might not bring enough and then eat a lot later because you got too hungry. Your friend might surprise you with a lunch date, which throws all of your eating plans out the window. Intuitive eating allows you to be flexible, to go with the wind, and the water, and the changing of the tides. 

 

Sailing allows you to sit in the sun for a while and enjoy the view, which is essential for a life well-lived.

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What it Means to be An Anti-Diet Dietitian from Christy Harrison, RDN

The anti-diet movement is a radical, much-needed departure from Western culture’s 100-year obsession with thinness. But where there are radical departures, there’s often also genuine confusion and deliberate obfuscation. So as one of the more vocal dietitians in the anti-diet movement, I wanted to take a moment to set the record straight about what “anti-diet” really means. 


DEFINING “ANTI-DIET”

I’ve seen some people define anti-diet just to mean anti–fad diet—as in, Dr. Quacky Quackerson’s 5-Step Fat-Loss Plan, or Sally Instagram Star’s 7-Day Detox.

But that definition is too narrow.

Don’t get me wrong: Dr. Quacky Quackerson and her ilk are undeniably terrible. They’re part of the problem; they’re just not the whole problem.

The whole problem would be diet culture, Western society’s toxic system of beliefs that:

  • Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal;”

  • Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years;

  • Demonizes certain foods while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of your food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power;

  • And oppresses people who don't match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which means you experience internalized stigma and shame—and perhaps external stigma and discrimination as well—for all the ways in which you don't meet diet culture's impossible standards.

You don’t have to be following any “official” diet to be caught up in the culture of dieting, which is endemic to Western society.

Diet culture isn’t a singular diet, “eating plan,” “program,” “protocol,” or “lifestyle change,” although all of these things are part of diet culture. (So is a lot of what passes for “wellness” in this day and age.)

Diet culture isn’t just fad diets, or even the diet/“wellness” industry as a whole; it’s also all the subtle, low-level ways in which certain types of bodies and foods are held up as being “good” and others are denigrated as being “bad.”

Diet culture is the fatphobic comments casually dropped into our movies, TV shows, books, and pretty much any other art form you can imagine.

Diet culture is elementary-school nutrition classes telling kids that certain foods are “unhealthy” and should be stricken from the menu.

Diet culture is your mom’s advice that you should really consider shrinking your body if you want to find a “suitable partner.”

Diet culture is eating-disorder-treatment centers putting larger-bodied patients on restrictive diets that only worsen their disordered eating.

Diet culture is the false narrative that weight loss prevents or cures health issues.

And in one of the shadiest moves of all time, diet culture even includes people trying to sell the anti-diet movement as a weight-loss method.

So what does anti-diet really mean? Anti-diet means anti–diet culture.

It means standing against this oppressive system, in all its sneaky, shape-shifting forms.

ANTI-DIET DOES NOT MEAN ANTI-HEALTH

Being against diet culture doesn’t mean being against health.

On the contrary, I and every other anti-diet health professional I know are very much in favor of helping anyone who wants to pursue well-being (although of course health is not an obligation), using truly evidence-based, diet-culture-free interventions like the Health At Every Size® paradigm.

For example, anti-diet dietitians can offer nutrition counseling for medical conditions.

Anti-diet does NOT mean anti–medical nutrition therapy (MNT).

MNT is any evidence-based nutrition intervention that registered dietitians use to help people manage conditions like phenylketonuria, celiac disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and other legit medical diagnoses.

Many anti-diet dietitians offer MNT, and they do so without having diet culture anywhere in the mix.

Of course, some dietitians offer MNT with a side order of diet culture (e.g. moralized beliefs about health and weight, demonizing gluten or sugar or carbs, etc.), but it doesn’t have to be like that. You can be anti-diet and pro-MNT, and in my view, MNT without diet culture is a beautiful thing.

What’s the difference between MNT and a “medically necessary diet,” you might ask? Isn’t it just semantics?

Actually, no. The word “diet” has its roots in moralization about food and health (more on that in my forthcoming book), and the way it’s been used since the 20th century layers on weight stigma and healthism as well.

That’s why for anyone who’s been burned by diet culture (yours truly included), the word “diet” doesn’t feel good in any context, even when it’s ostensibly just used to mean “the foods you eat everyday.”

I’ve had clients who were years into recovery from chronic dieting tumble back into a well of diet-culture beliefs and disordered behaviors just because a doctor told them they needed a “low-fat diet” to manage their acid reflux or a “gluten-free diet” to treat their celiac disease. Living in diet culture is traumatizing, and it can have real, lasting effects.

So I avoid using the term “diet” even when discussing nutrition interventions for medical conditions, and say “MNT” (or just “nutrition therapy”) instead. If you’re a fellow anti-diet dietitian, I’d love it if you joined me in doing the same.

“Anti-diet does NOT mean anti–medical nutrition therapy.
— Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CDN

OK, SO WHAT’S AN ANTI-DIET DIETITIAN?

An anti-diet dietitian is one who’s opposed to diet culture.

Recently some “regular” dietitians have been getting their feathers ruffled by the growing number of RDs calling ourselves “anti-diet,” claiming that the term is divisive. 

Unfortunately, the title of our profession has the word “diet” in it, which can be extremely problematic for anyone who’s been scarred by their experiences in diet culture, for the reasons I just discussed.

So my colleagues and I in the anti-diet movement use the phrase “anti-diet dietitian” to help show people who are wary of dietitians and anything with “diet” in the name that they’re safe with us, and that diet culture has no home here.

If you’re a fellow dietitian—or anyone, of any occupation—who shares those views, you’re welcome to sit with me at the anti-diet table anytime <3

Guest Blog: Brooke

I received a wonderful message from a client the other day that I hope will be helpful to some. With her permission, here it is. Enjoy!

Hi Amy,

I wanted to share something with you that happened to me just last week. It’s kind of awkward for me to share, but I’d categorize it as a breakthrough (or at least an interesting experience) that I wanted to share with you.

As you know, I’ve spent the majority of the last 30 years either severely restricting or bingeing. The rollercoaster of starvation and overabundance has taken its toll on my emotional wellbeing and my body. While the pursuit of IE has certainly removed the intense anxiety that comes with both EDs, I’d say the hardest remaining battle for me has been separating the belief that my self-worth comes from attractiveness and that attractiveness comes from being skinny. To be clear, it’s hard for me to admit this as I don’t see vanity as something to be proud of, yet I have spent years of my life defining myself this way.

Anyhow, here’s the story. Last week I had a business trip scheduled to go to Vegas for a few days. I was traveling with a former colleague turned friend and we had plans to both work and play hard. That said, I perseverated about the trip for weeks agonizing over packing and the fact that I didn’t have any night life clothes that I felt were fun or “cool enough.” What this translates to is that I was feeling embarrassed about the weight I’ve gained since seeing a lot of my industry colleagues that I haven’t seen in a year. And if I am being perfectly honest, I was most embarrassed about seeing my male counterparts, thinking how grossed out by me they would be. I figured they would all judge my weight gain as being lazy. That they would think I was gross. Thus, I had convinced myself that they would think less of me.

When I was getting ready for my first night out I was feeling pretty down, but suddenly realized I had two choices. I could either go out slouching my shoulders, hating myself and sit in the corner trying to be invisible or I could put my shoulders back, smile, be (act) confident and enjoy what I love (which is dancing). Instead of being embarrassed about my body dancing, I just did what I would have done a year ago.

And? I had a blast. And? This is the even more awkward thing to say - numerous men hit on me. And while that is not the purpose of going out or having fun, admittedly it helped me realize that my beauty and desirability is not predicated by being skinny. Men still found me attractive. In fact one guy came across the bar to introduce himself because he said he was taken by my smile and I looked like I was having so much fun so he just had to meet me.

I still feel ashamed of the fact that I associate beauty with self worth. I would NEVER feel that way about someone else. So this was an awkward story for me to share. I also hope my story doesn’t sound conceited. That is so far from how I feel about myself. It just felt nice to be noticed despite what my inner monologue was saying. It was also nice to consider that perhaps my attractiveness is not at all predicated on being skinny.

Next step… believing I am worthy of love regardless of attractiveness. Baby steps.

 

The Weigh Out

This morning I saw my first owl. It was a snowy owl, historically rare in these parts, but becoming more and more common, unfortunately, because of climate change.  Nevertheless, it was a complete thrill to see her perched on the barbed wire fence at the Portland Jetport. I had gotten some advice on social media that at least one might be there, and so instead of my usual Sunday routine of leisurely coffee on the couch, followed by a slow jog down the road, and then breakfast, I threw on a sweatshirt, took my coffee to go and ran out the door. It made my whole day to see her ~ she looked fake, like a big white puppet owl that someone stuck up there on the fence. A car drove up behind me and she flew away, but it was just awesome ~ rare, sacred, and surreal all balled up into one brief moment.

 

Later, on my jog, I realized that had this been another time in my life, I never would have seen that owl. I was once so rigid about my schedule that I would have had to have gotten up at a certain time (early), done my running (early), had my (same) breakfast, and then have started my Sunday. I would have missed the owl entirely because any deviation from my usual routine would have made me uncomfortable. Mind you, these were not times when I was in the middle of an eating or compulsive exercise disorder, just “normal” life, questioned by no one and not considered odd ... and really, these times *weren’t* odd. We get in these types of patterns regularly, and it takes a lot of time, pain, and awareness to break them.  

 

And the thing is, they’re fine.

 

They most likely will never hurt your physical or mental health significantly, your relationships will not be affected, and you won’t lose your job. Do you hop on the scale each morning, or at least regularly to make sure your weight is in the “safe” zone, or at least not spinning out of control? ~ that’s  “normal”. You most likely won’t be called out by your mom/friend/partner for having the same breakfast every day ~ that’s  “normal”.  Work out at the gym several times a week, feeling guilty if you miss a day? ~ that’s “normal”.

 

The question is, are you free?

 

The way out is to become aware of these patterns and do the opposite of what that safe voice is telling you. A long time ago, I read somewhere (and I’m paraphrasing), “Safety is the most unsafe spiritual path that you can take.” I finally completely get it, you live with the lights on dim mode when you follow the path most traveled.

 

So have those pancakes and for God’s sake, stay off the scale unless you have to be weighed.

 

But above all else, please please please, go find your snowy owl.

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Patience

“The moment I let go of it was the moment I got more than I could handle.

 

The moment I jumped off of it was the moment I touched down.”

 

-Alanis Morisette

 

 

I recently met with a client, who, despite stopping all eating disorder behaviors, was still stuck in a negative loop of thinking about how much she hated her body.

 

“It’s like all day, every day all that I think about how much I want to lose weight. I absolutely despise my body, I can’t do intuitive eating!”

 

I asked her how long it had been since her last binge or restriction and she said it had been a few months.

 

“Still, she said, I don’t think that I’m cut out for this. It isn’t working, I want to lose weight even though I know that cutting back on my food doesn’t work.”

 

In all my years of working with people with eating disorders using intuitive eating, this seems to be the biggest stumbling block. Even though the eating disorder essentially disappears, the poor body image makes people think that they can’t do it or that they are somehow doing intuitive eating wrong…they aren’t.

 

The collateral damage caused by lifetime of dieting/restricting/bingeing. etc. takes time to clean up.  If you are upset by the way your body looks, that is normal and exactly where you should be. It’s not your thoughts or feelings that determine your recovery, but your behaviors. It’s normal and ok to be unhappy with your body – it’s the way that we are conditioned, unfortunately. “Doing” intuitive eating has little to do with how you feel about your body and whether you like it or not, it is about respecting your own hunger and fullness cues and eating what your body is asking for.

 

And then you’ll find, over time, that the letting go of the feeling that you “should” be feeling better about it turns to acceptance, which maybe someday even turns into appreciation – and that day will sneak up on you, because you’ll be too busy living your life to notice.

 

“Always say ‘yes’ to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? What could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.”

 

-Eckhart Tolle

She Said That She Wasn't Coming Back

One of my clients texted me last week and said that she wasn’t coming back for another appointment.

“I know that you’re right and I know that I shouldn’t, but I can’t live with this body!” she wrote, “...it’s impossible to love my body the way it is, I need to go a different route.” 

We had been working on Intuitive Eating to stop her binge eating and she had been struggling with accepting her body size the whole time. Her binge eating had completely stopped and she was moving her body regularly but she couldn’t help but think of IE as another diet...and she wasn’t seeing any “results”.

I have heard this refrain from countless clients over the years, no matter what kind of eating disorder or disordered eating they had. The most common reason that people drop out of treatment and return to behaviors is that they feel unable to love their bodies the way that they are. They feel like the only way out of the pain of living inside of them is to try to lose weight.

Unfortunately our society espouses the idea that if something is broken you should fix it. If you don’t like your body, you should try to, whether that means change it (this is the most popular “solution”) or work on your body image and learn to like it. I have had several clients over the years tell me that someone in their lives suggested that they focus on being grateful for what their bodies can do, “Just be happy that you’re not in a wheelchair” was one therapist’s suggestion.

We are born into a culture that perpetuates the idea that the thinner (more fit, healthy, toned, etc.) you are, the better, more powerful, more successful you are. It is nearly impossible to automatically start “loving” your body in a culture that bombards us with the message that thinness/fitness is the most desirable attribute that you can possess. Not only is thinner better in this culture, but fat is the worst thing that you can be. Larger-sized people are widely discriminated against, even though there has never been any evidence to support the fact that weight loss makes us healthier in the long run. And whose business is it to tell anyone how healthy they should be anyway? 

So how do we learn to love our bodies in a culture that’s absolutely saturated with both pro-thin and anti-fat ideals? We don’t try. The only thing we can do when we don’t like our bodies is to not like our bodies but continue on anyway.  Continue to eat in a way that supports your mental and physical health and continue to move your body in a way that you enjoy, when you are ready. Continue to see your friends and family and go concerts, movies, get-togethers ... nurture your lives. That’s it.

Acceptance doesn’t mean love, it means, “This is my body today and I am going to live my life whether I like the way it looks or not.”

And one day you will realize that your happiness was never about your body anyway.

When a Binge Isn't a Binge

I was meeting with a client a few weeks ago (I’ll call her Brooke) and she was recounting how her practice of Intuitive Eating had gone since our last appointment.


Brooke: My husband and I were getting ready to have dinner and his daughter came by for a visit. Since I had only planned on the two of us and my young son, I had a container of fresh pasta heating in the oven - the package said that it served 2-3 people. After we ate and his daughter left, I was alone in the kitchen cleaning up and I binged. I found myself planning it the whole time that we were eating the pasta. This is an old pattern and I fell right back into it!


Me: What did you have to eat during the binge?


Brooke: I had a graham cracker with peanut butter on it and a bowl of chips and salsa. It was that old behavior again - I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.


Brooke was feeling stuck in the same behaviors that had brought her to see me several months earlier. Although she had made tremendous strides in being able to eat “normally” most of the time, she was feeling defeated by this “mistake”. Her success seemed to be overshadowed by the fact that she felt that she had let the eating disorder win.


I went on to ask her what her eating pattern had been from morning until dinner time that day. She told me that she had an early meeting but wasn’t hungry before it so she didn’t eat. By the time she was able to have her lunch it was 11:30 and she was starving. She had a sandwich and some chips, which she said was a perfect match. Later in the afternoon she had an apple, which was also a match, and by the time she got home from work she was feeling hungry again. She knew that the pasta wasn’t going to be enough when she saw it on her plate so she began to plan to have something later, when she was alone. It didn’t occur to her to have something else with her dinner because no one else did, not even her husband.


I have heard many variations of this scenario over the years and it reinforced how important it is to review each day or situation that did not go as you may have wanted. Brooke did not binge at all that evening, as her mind had her believing, she simply needed more food but was not feeling secure enough in acting on her hunger with others around - she was feeling ashamed. Interestingly, Brooke has absolutely no problem asserting her needs in any other area of her life but I’ll save that topic for another time! When these thoughts are swirling around in our heads without being, they can take on lives of their own and become something they’re not. An integral part of the Intuitive Eating process is to take stock of each eating situation and learn from it.


Another skill that Brooke could work on is to always have food with her in case she gets hungry when she doesn’t expect to, such as during her meeting. She had to wait until she was starving to eat lunch which could have ended up in overeating and probably made her extra-hungry at dinner which further confused her process. Most importantly, in order to move forward, it is vital that Brooke notice when she is beating herself up. Yelling at oneself opens the door to shame which opens the door to more disordered eating. Just noticing that you’re doing it is a huge step! Brooke was relieved when she realized that she was simply hungry and needed more food for dinner. Unfortunately, our current society makes us question such a basic sensation as hunger, but the good news is that the practice of Intuitive Eating lights the path to freedom.