The un-diet.

September 15, 2016

 

Following a specific diet invented by someone else, if you didn't realize, is a popular thing to do.  I attempted various diets when I was in college when I actually didn't need to lose any weight.  I was being encouraged to do a diet and I ended up eating a lot of weird processed vegetarian "meats". 

 

I grew up around in a chronic dieting mentality so I have a bit of experience in this realm, in addition to taking courses in grad school based on psychology of eating and approaching clients with chronic dieting mentality.  Dieting promotes body self-consciousness.  I was self-conscious about my body and remember wishing it looked differently.  Looking back now, that is ridiculous.  It wasn't until I lived in Australia, when I was 22, that I had an epiphany that my body was just fine, and that I wasn't going to internalize that it wasn't any longer.  And I haven't been on a "diet" since then.

 

Oh and diets don't work anyways.  Unless you are on a medically necessary diet for a specific condition that you have to follow for health reasons, diets aren't a long-term solution.  Diets perpetuate feelings of failure, guilt, ineffectiveness, and the ridiculous notion that some foods are good, clean and pure and some foods are naughty or bad.  Oh and there is just oodles of research to back this because Americans are obsessed with dieting and it is no coincidence that there is a high prevalence of eating disorders, obesity, and insane body standards. 

 

"Dieting is the most common approach to losing weight for the majority of obese and overweight individuals. Restricting intake leads to weight loss in the short term, but, by itself, dieting has a relatively poor success rate for long-term weight reduction. Most obese people eventually regain the weight they have worked so hard to lose. Weight regain has emerged as one of the most significant obstacles for obesity therapeutics, undoubtedly perpetuating the epidemic of excess weight that now affects more than 60% of U.S. adults."1

 

Body weight is affected by biological, environmental, and behavioral pressures, all of which are inherently influenced by genetics. 1  It is no secret that our environment is becoming more and more obeseogenic.  People work more, cook less, value convenience, eat processed foods, drive everywhere, and have a false sense of valuation on cheap eats.  There are a lot of generalizations in that last sentence, but the evidence is empirical. 

 

So this is all sounding very damned if we do, and damned if we don't.  But there are new ideas emerging that are moving away from a weight-focused approach and moving towards a health-focused solution.  There have been books and programs developed to promote this non-diet approach, which sounds sneakily similar to the diet industry, but the key points here are that the message is radically different, and that these changes are more focused on adopting realistic lifestyle changes.  They aren't perfect but it is a movement in the right direction.  I am going to list them below along with their principles and then I will tell you my own personal philosophy at the end.

 

Health at Every Size®

This approach focuses on healthy lifestyle by promoting behavioral changes related to diet and physical activity while emphasizing self-acceptance and well-being through an empowerment and intuitive approach.

 

The principles are as follows:

  1. Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
     

  2. Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
     

  3. Respectful Care: Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
     

  4. Eating for Well-being: Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
     

  5. Life-Enhancing Movement: Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.

There are numerous websites that go into more detail as well as resources and support groups and dozens of books that you can buy.  I think that the ideas of eliminating judgement and promoting health and self-acceptance are good- but unfortunately there is just mountains of research that links obesity to many chronic health conditions.  In an article by Medical Daily Dr. Louisa Baur, a professor of pediatrics and child health at the University of Sydney in Australia states, “we should be careful not to minimize these health issues [related to obesity] — while at the same time not stigmatizing those affected by obesity."

 

I think that we shouldn't judge people for their weight.  It means little to nothing about who they are as a person and it honestly isn't any ones business.  But I do think that the conversation should continue about obesity, but should be shifted to hating the game, not the player.  Instead of blaming people for being overweight let us as a society actually promote ideas that work towards eating whole, non-processed foods like: teaching people to cook, supporting small, family-farmers, feeding our kids wholesome foods in school, teach cooking and health classes starting at a young age, promoting physical activity in schools outside of just PE classes, the list could go on. 

 

Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating is an approach that teaches you how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body--where you ultimately become the expert of your own body.3  The principles are as follows:

 

1. Reject the Diet Mentality. Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.

 

2. Honor Your Hunger. Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.

 

3. Make Peace with Food. Call a truce, stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can't or shouldn't have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing When you finally “give-in” to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating, and overwhelming guilt.

 

4. Challenge the Food Police. Scream a loud "NO" to thoughts in your head that declare you're "good" for eating under 1000 calories or "bad" because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The Food Police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loud speaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the Food Police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.

 

5. Respect Your Fullness. Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you're comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or food and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level?

 

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor. The Japanese have the wisdom to promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living In our fury to be thin and healthy, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence--the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes much less food to decide you've had "enough".

 

7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food. Find ways to comfort , nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won't fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you into a food hangover. But food won't solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You'll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.

 

8. Respect Your Body. Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally as futile (and uncomfortable) to have the same expectation with body size. But mostly, respect your body, so you can feel better about who you are. It's hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body shape.

 

9. Exercise--Feel the Difference. Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze alarm. If when you wake up, your only goal is to lose weight, it's usually not a motivating factor in that moment of time.

 

10. Honor Your Health--Gentle Nutrition. Make food choices that honor your health and tastebuds while making you feel well. Remember that you don't have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It's what you eat consistently over time that matters, progress not perfection is what counts.

 

Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is an approach that focuses more on how to eat instead of what you eat. It is, "eating with the intention of caring for yourself.  Eating with the attention necessary for noticing and enjoying your food and its effects on your body".  There are actually many different approaches to mindful eating and no set tenets or principles that everyone who is practicing mindful eating is following.  I found this set of ideas from dietician Kate Merkle that I liked.

 

1. Start small. Practice taking three mindful bites at the beginning of each meal.

 

2. Pull in all of your senses at the beginning of a meal. Pay attention to colors, scents, temperature, textures and flavors. Give yourself a moment, without judgment, to notice that food has come into your personal space.

 

3. Slow down. Practice putting your silverware down every few minutes and taking a mindful breath. This will help with your attunement to hunger and fullness.

 

4. If you need a snack between meals, pause to check whether it's stomach hunger or mouth hunger. If it is stomach hunger, pair something protein-based with carbs.

 

5. Think of eating as self care, and make your eating experience a priority. Consider how you would feed a friend: You wouldn't have a friend just grab food out of the fridge. You would plate it, serve it with a beverage and offer your friend a seat. Give yourself the same respect.

 

6. Don't create a dichotomy of good foods and bad foods. Everyone has an internal rebel. What we make forbidden becomes desired. Legalize all food.

 

 

Basically it is about taking time to sit down and eat and to actually taste and enjoy the food you are eating instead of just mindlessly shoveling food into your gullet. 

 

Michael Pollan's Food Rules

Michael Pollan wrote a book called Food Rules and it was sort of in part as a response to an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.  He distills his philosophy into a few words, "eat food, not too much, mostly plants."  He expands this idea with 68 rules in the book version.  Here are the top seven:

  1. Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. "When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can't pronounce, ask yourself, "What are those things doing there?" Pollan says.

  2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce.

  3. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.

  4. Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot. "There are exceptions -- honey -- but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren't food," Pollan says.

  5. It is not just what you eat but how you eat. "Always leave the table a little hungry," Pollan says. "Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in German culture they say, 'Tie off the sack before it's full.'"

  6. Families traditionally ate together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. It's a good tradition. Enjoy meals with the people you love. "Remember when eating between meals felt wrong?" Pollan asks.

  7. Don't buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car.

Man.  Those have a lot of rules (I mean "principles") for not being diets.  These were created due to the overwhelming evidence that diets don't work and the fact that we as a culture are simultaneously obsessed with dieting and being thin while more than two-thirds (68.8 percent) of adults in the US are considered to be overweight or obese.

 

So what do I think?  I can get on board with ideas from all of these.  You can do it on your own, or get support from a nutritionist (ahem!), but at the end of the day it is about trying some stuff out, not bring to hard on yourself and finding what works for you.

 

Here are some great resources:

New York Times: Mindful Eating as Food for Thought
Chicago Tribune: Mama's Gotta Move: A Skeptics Guide to Mindful Eating

Self Magazine: Kelsey Miller, Author Of “Big Girl,” Explains How Intuitive Eating Changed Her Life

The Anti-Diet Project
 

References:

1. Maclean PS, Bergouignan A, Cornier M-A, Jackman MR. Biology's response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain. AJP: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. 2011;301(3). doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00755.2010.

2. Carbonneau E, Bégin C, Lemieux S, et al. A Health at Every Size intervention improves intuitive eating and diet quality in Canadian women. Clinical Nutrition. 2016. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2016.06.008.

3. What is Intuitive Eating? https://www.intuitiveeating.com/content/what-intuitive-eating. Accessed September 15, 2016.

4. Overweight and Obesity Statistics. U.S National Library of Medicine. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/pages/overweight-obesity-statistics.aspx. Accessed September 15, 2016.