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Riots Not Diets

How dieting fails to deliver what you really want

Updated August 31, 2022

In last week’s post, I asked the question, “what is the what is the feeling you imagine you’d have if you lost weight?” The answer is almost always something like love, respect, security, confidence, relaxation, ease or peace.

And yet the process of dieting/intentional weight loss actually delivers us the opposite: guilt around food, fights and frustration with our bodies, irritability, tension, and so on. Oh, sure, there are moment of victory and feelings of accomplishment. But they are quickly followed by fear of weight regain, a need to punish ourselves with intense workouts and tremendous guilt about the binges that inevitably follow periods of restriction.

So the peace, ease, respect, etc. that we are looking for when we decide to go on a diet can never be secured through dieting, The path to peace is peace itself, and when it comes to an alternative to food restriction, that path to peace is intuitive eating. 

Intuitive eating is a turning away from externally-imposed diets in favour of an internally-attuned way of eating. It sounds tremendously scary to folks who operate with a lot of food rules in their heads, because it threatens the appearance of control that dieting gives us.

(Dieting doesn’t actually equal control, by the way—dieting actually CONTRIBUTES to out of control behaviour around food, like binge eating. That’s because there’s only so long that we can biologically, physiologically restrict food or macronutrients until the body simply reacts to that deprivation out of a need to survive. It has nothing to do with moral failing or lack of willpower, and everything to do with the fact that you are a human animal whose organism is oriented towards survival.)

After clinging to restriction, control and food rules for years, the of idea of being allowed to make food choices based on internal cues—like hunger, satiation, emotional states, physical needs—can sound like you’re just letting chaos run the show.

It sounds like a toddler being set free in a candy store. It sounds like giving up.

Let me tell you what it’s really like, though, if you have food security and aren’t living in poverty or in a food desert.

You wake up in the morning and come down to the kitchen. As you make your favourite morning beverage, you tune inward: is your body ready for food now? Or maybe you’ll wait because you’re going to have a quick workout first and you don’t want a rock in your stomach, knowing you’ll honour your hunger when it comes. When you are ready to eat, you tune in again: is there something my body is hankering for?

Maybe it’s a macronutrient, or maybe it’s a very, very specific ingredient or meal. Maybe it’s a Sunday morning and you’ve got extra time, or maybe there’s something you check in with yourself and find you don’t want: hmmm, it’s been a while since you’ve had pancakes, but sometimes they can make you feel bloated—blech. And then there are seasonal considerations, like the fact that it’s peach season! You decide on a huge bowl of peaches, dolloped with a bunch of lovely yogurt, plus maybe some walnuts for crunch or hemp seeds for protein and texture. YUM. You go ahead and enjoy your breakfast guilt-free, eating as much or as little as you want, attuned to your sense of fullness, yes, but also attuned to your sense of EMOTIONAL satisfaction and well-being.

In other words, what’s intuitive eating really like? It’s like the peace, ease, freedom, autonomy, security, self-respect and confidence you were looking for all along.

There’s no guilt, no war, no rules, and certainly no weighing, measuring, counting. There is no judgement, only freedom. And no. More. Binges. Binges vanish completely because you’re not holding tension around food anymore, telling you that you have to be in control, giving you something to rebel against.

In next week’s post, I write about two of the scariest questions people face when they first encounter intuitive eating: how can I possibly trust myself to just relax around food, and what if I gain weight?