alcohol · beauty · body image · eating · fat · fitness · habits · health · injury · movies · running · self care · sex · stereotypes · weight loss · weight stigma

Sam watched Brittany Runs a Marathon and recommends that you don't

Catherine wrote a blog post about Brittany Runs a Marathon without watching it. That was definitely the wiser choice. See her commentary here.

She writes, “So why I am writing about a movie I haven’t seen? Because I think the movie/advertising/fashion/fitness industries have (sort of) taken in the message that it’s not okay to blatantly fat-shame people or overtly identify lower body weights with fitness, success and happiness in life. Notice, I said “overtly” and “blatantly”.”

Catherine goes on to identify “some strong fitspo messages buried (not too deeply) in this film:

  • Health problems should first be addressed by losing weight
  • Weight loss is possible to achieve through physical activity
  • Weight loss makes physical activity possible and easier and better and more fun
  • Some deep-seated emotional problems will resolve through weight loss and physical activity”

There’s a lot to dislike about the film that I knew before I hit play. It erases larger runners, it promotes weight loss fantasies, and it’s fat-shaming. All that I knew at the outset.

So why did I end up watching it? I sometimes watch “bad” TV or fluffy shows while cleaning. Easy to follow rom-coms? Sign me up! I hadn’t seen the floor of my room in weeks. There were Christmas gifts I still hadn’t put away, clean laundry, bags of gym clothes, yoga mats etc all over the floor, the bed needed making, the socks needed sorting and so on. I needed something longer than a regular half hour show to deal with all of the mess. I needed a movie length thing at least. I thought I could handle the fat shaming and enjoy BRAM for its redeeming features. The trailer looked, as a friend put it, cute. The Guardian called it a fluffy feel good flick. It is not that. By the end, I did not feel good at all.

Friends, it was not mostly cute with a side of fat shaming, which I expected. Instead it was a dumpster fire of stereotypes and it was also super sex shaming. All of this was lumped into criticism of Brittany’s self-destructive lifestyle. At one point in the movie someone opines–in a line that was supposed to save the movie, “Brittany, it was never about the weight.” Instead, “weight” is just a stand in for all of Brittany’s problems. Before fat-Brittany is taking drugs and giving men blow jobs in night clubs and by the end of the movie, thin Brittany isn’t just thin. She’s also turning down casual sex. The friends-with-benefits/boyfriend proposes. There was way too much moralizing about sex and drugs. And I say that as someone who is no fan of drugs or alcohol and is often accused of moralizing in this area.

This happens because Brittany isn’t just a fat girl. She’s a fat girl with low self -esteem. She could have just gotten some self-esteem. But no, she gets thin and then gets self-esteem. She could have gotten self-esteem and demanded equal pleasure in the casual sex. She could have started using drugs and alcohol in a responsible manner. Instead, no. She gets self-esteem, says no to drugs, and holds out for a real relationship.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t manage the weight-loss plot line well at all.

The Guardian reviewer writes, “The film struggles to square its protagonist’s weight loss with the pressure to present a body-positive position and ensure it doesn’t alienate the very female audience it courts. One minute it’s wryly poking fun at the expense and inaccessibility of gyms, the next it’s fetishistically cataloguing the shrinking number on Brittany’s scales. Indeed, as her body transforms, so does her life. She finds a new job, and supportive friends in her running club; men begin to notice her. Yet Brittany still battles with her body issues, unable to shed her identity as “a fat girl”. There’s a note of truth in Bell’s finely tuned performance as a character whose insecurities have calcified over the years, hardening her to genuine goodwill, which she frequently misreads as pity.”

For the record, fat Brittany is smaller than me. She starts out weighing 197 pounds. Her goal weight is 167. And we can track it because never in movie history has a person stepped on a scale so often.

(A blog reader pointed out a more charitable interpretation of why we see her stepping on the scale so often: “She steps on the scale a lot because she trades in her addictions to drugs and alcohol for an addiction to scale weight loss, which the movie portrays as an unhealthy obsession. What starts out as a good “oh look, I lost this many pounds now!” thing quickly escalates into a dangerous “go for a run, jump on the scale, dislike the number displayed, so go back out to run in the mistaken belief that it will make the number change” cycle. That’s why she steps on a scale so often. Because it’s NOT good that she does it.)

Forget the weight loss and the sex, even the running themes aren’t handled well. Friends tease Brittany when she first starts running because she isn’t a real runner. The longest she’s run is 5 km. Rather than tackling the “real runner” thing head on instead the film has Brittany run a marathon and become a real runner by the friend’s standards. Even her triumphant marathon finish is marred by Brittany’s continuing to run on her (spoiler alert) injured and possibly still stress fractured leg. We don’t know that but we do know she’s holding her leg and crying, running and not able to put much weight on it, and her first attempt to run the marathon was derailed by a stress fracture.

There is nothing to love here. Nothing cute or funny or feel good or fluffy.

Friends, don’t watch it. Not even on an airplane.

eating · eating disorders · fitness · food · habits · Happy New Year! · holidays · new year's resolutions · overeating

Still Recovering From Holiday Overeating? Here’s what I’m doing next.

CW: Discusses disordered eating habits and negative self-talk.

Continuing with my normal life.

No, seriously. The moment the celebrations are over and I feel like, “hmm, maybe it’s time to eat fewer cookies, get a little more sleep and find that gym membership card again,” then I’ll just take one thing and do what is normal for me. I’m not going to ramp up, push hard, or go strong. It is not time to atone, make up for, or negate.

I’m just going to let myself fall back naturally into my old routines. It might take a few days, or a week, or whatever, but I’ll find them again. The key is to not spend my time wallowing in guilt or blaming myself in anger. The more emotion I put behind the transition, the harder it is.

I know because I’ve been there before, and not just at the holidays. You see, for nearly as far back as I can remember, I’ve dealt with compulsive overeating. I stole food and hid it in my room as a little girl. As a teen, I would spend my allowance on donuts and pastries that I would eat while walking home from school. I managed my emotions, my sense of loneliness and isolation, depression, traumatic experiences and their aftermaths with food.

I have spent the better part of the last decade extricating myself from these patterns, and while I can’t say I will never overeat unintentionally again, I can say it occurs less and less frequently.

One of the most powerful tools that helped me was to learn to remove emotions from my observations of these patterns and to switch my internal talk to neutral observations. “Why was I so stupid and ate all that cake again?!” has become “I have eaten more cake than I planned on eating.”

I don’t immediately go into damage control mode. I don’t promise to eat only a salad for dinner that night or swear off cake for the rest of the week. I don’t immediately go out for a run or plan a brutal lifting session. I try to just notice it and move on.

I think the noticing is important, although I haven’t read this anywhere else. My friends who are chronic dieters often seem to do a “I’m eating whatever I want, I don’t care” move and then use that as a way to “ignore” what they are overeating. From what I’ve observed on the outside, this seems to backfire as shame and guilt in the long run. It looks like the act of pretending one doesn’t care builds up increased levels of emotional connection to choices rather than diminishing them.

So, the first step isn’t to pretend I am neutral, but to acknowledge the feelings and the choices and consciously rewrite the observation into a neutral statement. “I care about how much I’m eating and I’m going to eat this cookie anyway” is a much more powerful sentiment than trying to convince myself that I don’t care when I actually do.

Then, when I’m ready to make a different choice–the party is over, I’m not out to brunch with friends, I’m back from vacation, and it’s just another meal–I do whatever I would normally do. The only exception is if I really, truly, just don’t feel like it. If my “usual” is dessert after lunch and dinner, but today I’d rather start with a piece of fruit at lunch, then I eat it. But I have to be honest with myself–it doesn’t work to try to convince myself that I should only want a piece of fruit. And this goes for the other direction as well–if my “usual” is a piece of fruit and I really want dessert, I have to be honest with myself about that, too. Again, the act of trying to convince myself creates too high of stakes and too much emotion. So, I have a serving of what I really want while practicing being neutral, and then I get back to my normal routine.

This works with other habits and routines I’m trying to get back to, too. Stopped going to the gym? Letting myself stay up too late? Need to call my parents more often? I observe it. And then allow myself to do one thing that I used to do that helped me maintain that behavior in the past. I only commit to trying ONE thing. It may be as small as putting it on my calendar or packing my gym bag. I break the inertia, do that one thing and observe it without judgement. And then try again.

And before too long, it will be just another day.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found practicing neutral observations, picking up heavy things, and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

body image · diets · eating · feminism · fitness · yoga

Tracy objects to “yoga for holiday baking”

It’s that time of year where unsuspecting yogis or gym goers can be subjected to diet culture (not quite as bad as what’s to come in January, but still a risk) in class. It just slides into the running commentary that instructors need to maintain to keep the class moving along.

Image description: Christmas cookies (various kinds): gingerbread people, stars, stockings, trees, Santas, snow people, candy canes, snowflakes. Photo: https://www.959theriver.com/holiday-baking-yay-or-nay/

This happened to me the other day in yoga. I’ve been unable to run for a couple of months, so I’ve been going to hot yoga every day instead. It’s been a nice change (though I’m dying to get back to running). I’ve been a member at the same studio for at least a decade and I honestly have never experienced the normalization of diet culture there. But that commendable streak came to an end the other day when, in order to motivate a longer hold of a strenuous pose, the instructor said, “work off all that holiday baking!”

“Say what?” She lost me right then and there. I went back and forth in my head about whether I was overreacting. Despite that I don’t blog regularly here anymore, seven years as a feminist fitness blogger has given me a certain perspective and a keen awareness of nonsense that sucks the joy out of our workouts and replaces it with the suggestion that we need to whip our overindulgent selves into shape. I object!

I spent the rest of the class asking myself “do I say something or let it go?” On the side of letting it go: I know she meant it as a light-hearted comment. On the side of saying something: that’s how diet culture gets perpetuated; the yoga studio is the last place I expect to hear it; I’m probably not the only one who felt uncomfortable with the comment.

After my shower I approached the instructor. I had already decided to be nice about it. I love the studio and as I said it’s not a place I normally experience body shaming or anything other than body positivity. Definitely the comment was the exception not the rule.

Me: It was a good class but I have some feedback.

Instructor: Yes.

Me: I didn’t appreciate the comment about the holiday baking. I don’t come here to hear that sort of thing.

Instructor: I know! I’m sorry. The minute it came out of my mouth I knew I shouldn’t have said it. But I didn’t know how to take it back.

Me: That’s reassuring. Thanks for telling me that.

Instructor: Thanks for the feedback. I really appreciate it and I’m glad you felt able to express it.

I consider that a good news story. Instead of stewing in my juices, I opened up a dialogue. That yielded a shared understanding and also a willingness on the instructor’s part to do better in the future.

Using workouts to “deal with” holiday baking is a pretty normal message that is firmly entrenched in normalized diet culture. For most people it is just the way it is. But that’s not what we promote here. And it’s not what anyone who cares about body positivity and more self-nurturing motivations for our fitness pursuits should be promoting either.

I’m glad I said something. And I’m really relieved the instructor “got it” before I even opened my mouth.

eating · fat · food · health

Trigger Warning: Pseudoscience

CW: Discusses diets, food, BMI and commonly held misconceptions. If you like to believe everything you think is 100% correct, are prone to all-or-nothing thinking, or want your beliefs reinforced on all things health and fitness, you may not want to read this post.

I think I’ve reached the point that I need a pseudoscience trigger warning. I am finding myself angry to the point of nearly yelling whenever someone mentions their “love languages” like it’s anything more than a convenient construct. The other day, I wanted to ram into the minivan ahead of me on the freeway with their anti-vaxxer bumper sticker. If I have to listen to one more Republican politician espouse a conspiracy theory as if it were the truth, I might remove my car radio and throw it out the window.

I am a science teacher, and trained to think like a scientist. I believe in facts and research and data. And we live in a world in which science is discussed with such ignorance that the presence of a single study is enough to sway/reinforce the incorrect beliefs of people. No one discusses the preponderance of the data. No one is asking for the big picture data over time. And this lack of scientific literacy is hurting people.

I live in a city that doesn’t fluoridate its water because a majority of the voting public considers it unsafe. These voters aren’t thinking about the consequences for the uninsured and underinsured children who don’t receive regular dental care and benefit measurably from fluoride treatments. Instead, there’s a mindset that “impurities” or “chemicals” are “toxins” and therefore things we should all want to avoid. This is pseudoscience.

The debate about organic produce focuses on these fears of “toxins” as well, instead on the very real dangers of overproduction, potential lack of sustainability or concerns for workers’ rights. And don’t get me started on the fear of GMOs. I am concerned about GMOs, but not for any personal health reasons–rather, I don’t like the idea that we are reinforcing monocultures, cloned products with no biodiversity designed to be sprayed with levels of chemicals potentially unsafe from the workers doing the work and the communities that live downwind. On the other hand, if we can design GMO versions of staple foods that reduces environmental degradation while providing sufficient nourishment for the food insecure nations of the world, who am I to say they can’t have it? There is NO evidence that these products are dangerous to human health once they reach the dinner table, and yet that is the only discussion we are hearing. We can’t have a meaningful debate about the real costs and benefits of these products when we aren’t even agreeing upon the basic facts.

Image description: Pints of beautiful blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and salmon berries.

Want to get pissed off at some pseudoscience? Watch pretty much any of the food “documentaries” created since Supersize Me became a blockbuster. There you can learn the half-truths behind the values of juicing, eliminating sugar, paleo diets, vegan diets, Twinkie diets, McDonalds diets, and so much more. Look for the warning signs of pseudoscience as you go–are they using anecdotal data and individuals while avoiding comparing larger sample sizes? Do they ignore the facts that run counter to their arguments? Do they set up false dichotomies requiring an all-or-nothing comparison–the worst of the standard diet against the best/purest of the proposed diet? If so, consider this your pseudoscience trigger warning.

Health, diet and fitness culture is rife with this sort of pseudoscience. Every named diet ever formulated has some sort of “data” to argue that it is the best way to make you healthier, happier, and fitter. Every single one of them cherry-picks the data, jumps to conclusions outside the purview of the research, and uses logical fallacies like false dichotomies to “prove” their superiority. Their goal is to sell their books, products, and edible non-food meal replacement products, not to inform you. And every time a friend or family member of mine begins to starve themselves in a new way or to take outrageously expensive supplements, it pisses me off. I’m not angry at them, I’m angry at the liars shilling these products and false promises.

I’m angry at the diet and fitness industry for convincing so many people that it is exclusively their own fault for having a larger body and that the solutions are simple. I’m angry that people believe they need to go “on a diet” in order to live a healthier life in a body that more closely meets their needs. I’m angry at the lie that we should exercise to control our body size and the willful ignorance that avoids discussing the dozens of other actually good reasons for regular exercise, regardless of our body size. Commercials, paid spokespeople, and poorly written news reports that ignore this bigger picture really do deserve a pseudoscience trigger warning.

But of course, it is the nature of pseudoscience to not identify itself as such. It would lose some of its intended power if it had to remind you first that what they were about to say has limited evidence to support it.

But wouldn’t it be wonderful if these warnings existed? Imagine a world in which news broadcasters interviewing the latest fitness guru had to first announce, “Trigger warning, everything we’re about to say has limited or questionable data to support it.” What if dietary supplements came with a bold statement that said “we cannot prove that anything will happen when you take this pill, and maybe it will make things worse.” What if any time your friend/family member/colleague began to espouse how great it is to go Keto they found themselves first saying “there is absolutely no evidence that this is going to work for me long term, but I’m going to try it anyway.”

What if your doctor had to say, “Now, there’s mixed evidence that BMI has a causal relationship to other risk factors, it is only accurate as a measure of body fat percentage for about 60% of the population, and it’s commonly used to reinforce anti-fat stereotypes. Given all that, I’d like to discuss how much you weigh.”

Think of how much more empowered we would be if these warnings were expected and required. I am so sick and tired of hearing bullshit being espoused as fact. We live in an era in which genuine experts are distrusted and suspected of ulterior motives, in which confirmation bias is treated as an acceptable alternative to hard truths. People rely upon the news, doctors, experts and friends and family to help them sort through the data to make the best decisions for themselves and their health. We can’t make good decisions with bad data, and until we find another way to sort through the pseudoscience, I would appreciate a trigger warning.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found yelling at her car radio during long commutes, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

body image · eating · femalestrength · fitness · food · sports nutrition

Dare *Not* To Compare

(CW: some mention of food regimens, food shame.)

Paul the trainer and I were gabbing in his kitchen post-workout, while I packed up my stuff and he warmed up his lunch. I was feeling invigorated by all the lifting, pulling, squatting and pressing and was looking forward to eating all the things at my fave café up the road.

I asked Paul what he was having.

“Chicken and rice; I have it every day!” was the reply.

I wondered aloud if he didn’t get bored of it; not a chance, he said. He told me he grills a batch of chicken each weekend and freezes it; he makes big piles of rice in his steamer and adds some to each chicken portion. Sometime he switches it up with meatballs, but that’s it.

kao-man-gai
A pile of white rice with sliced, skinless chicken on a blue plate. Paul didn’t mention any avocado, though.

For me, even the same (delicious and filling) thing each day would quickly get annoying; I suddenly wondered if I was doing it wrong. I asked Paul what else he ate.

He told me: protein shake or similar for breakfast; the lunch above; a small snack in the late afternoon; a small portion of stew in the evening.

My animal brain kicked in – in this case, not the brain that says “eat something now!”, but the brain, well trained by its old handlers, to fear food and loathe oneself for eating it.

God, I thought. I eat way too much!!

“Ha!” I said aloud, joshing to cover the rising panic. “That’s the opposite of me. All I eat is donuts.”

Of course this is not true; I eat many things including donuts – once a week, my ritual Saturday breakfast treat. And clearly Paul knew this, because he is a kind and supportive and body-positive trainer.

He said: “Really? No!! I mean, not all the time.”

CWlv5QXVEAEnVoq
Newman from Seinfeld: built for memes. “OH THE HUMANITY!” (NB: humanity needs many and varied foodstuffs to survive, including donuts.)

Let me translate. The above statement, said by Paul in that moment, meant: “No you do not only eat donuts! You enjoy your treats. You eat well and healthily for your body a lot of the time and your strength shows it.”

But in my head, filtered through my trained-animal-food-fearing brain, I heard:

“You indulgent slob!!”

1969-12-31+07.00.00+78+(1).jpg
OH YA BABY! 20 epic, multi-coloured glazed donuts on a wire cooling rack. My amazing local, Donut Monster, is worth the trip to Hamilton if you’re in the Toronto area!

What makes us compare our food and exercise choices to others? The same thing, I wager, that makes us compare every inch of our bodies to others’ bodies so much of the time. It’s a lived experience of being taught to compare, with the ultimate goal of shaming yourself into adhering to the promoted cultural ideal, as closely as possible. (Which of course is impossible. It. Is. Designed. To. Be. Impossible. Read that again, slowly!)

I grew up learning to compare. Maybe you did, too. My mom (bless her) would draw my attention to those around us who looked out-of-order: too big, outfit not age-appropriate, plate too full. She would quietly whisper shaming things; I knew they were directed at herself. But I’d hear them directed at me. I knew what not to do: look/eat/choose like that. I knew to compare and be wise.

Comparison is painful; we are our own worst critics, so we always come up wanting. It is also anti-communal; comparing means drawing hierarchical lines between me and you, rather than seeing what we have in common and celebrating that. Comparison has, thus, a very conservative political tendency: it discourages bonds between citizens, and therefore discourages change, revolution.

Comparison is also often limited in its nuance. It can tell us in broad strokes where the same/other stuff lies, but it usually stops there, shamed or prideful.

If you dig deeper, you tend to get more similarities than differences.

Take my experience with Paul’s lunch as a case point. After I got to my car, I reminded myself that my food, exercise and health choices lead every day to a body I want to be in and a life I want to be living. I took some deep breaths. Then I thought more carefully.

Paul trains several times a week, but he does not have the endurance regimen I do; he’s not racking up the kilometres on the bike that I do. Those kilometres contribute to my much-increased need for calories; those calories are pleasurable and they also help make me strong.

Paul’s wellness goals include maintaining his trim physique; my wellness goals are not as centred on such things anymore. I like wearing my selectively-chosen and carefully-purchased outfits; I’m cautious with my clothes budget and only buy a few items a year. It’s important to me to fit my beloved outfits well. Beyond that, I don’t care about the numbers on the scale. (And, like Cate, if I have to buy a new size next time, that’s fine; if the look is swish I’m in!)

Paul is also a man, slightly younger than me. As a woman approaching peri-menopause, I’m aware that things are changing around my middle in particular, and THAT IS LIFE, PEEPS. If I become a peri-menopausal and then a menopausal and then an older woman who can also climb the stairs up the mountain brow and cycle to Guelph and Milton to visit Sam and Susan and still dead-lift a Great Dane, who cares?

My whole life I’ve feared weight gain. Why? Somebody once told somebody who mattered a great deal to my mom, and she told it to me; all the magazines reminded me every week at the Safeway; and don’t even get me started on the bullies.

Things all these things have in common: FAKE NEWS.

Forget blanket, superficial comparisons. Try not comparing at all. What’s working in your life, your exercise, your food choices? Hooray!! What needs some work? Make a list, then maybe a plan, if you want.

But above all else, remember: the more we compare, the less of a community we are.

Do you tend to compare, positively or negatively? Does it work for you or cause you stress? Let us know!

advice · eating · food · research

Flip flopping my way down the grocery aisle

by MarthaFitat55

It’s hard to know what we are supposed to do these days. The most recent research suggests recommendations against red meat consumption are flawed, and it’s okay to plop a steak on the BBQ.

Published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the study says researchers have not been able to conclude definitively that eating red meat or processed meat causes cancer, diabetes or heart disease:

The World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer has indicated that consumption of red meat is “probably carcinogenic” to humans, whereas processed meat is considered “carcinogenic” to humans. These recommendations are, however, primarily based on observational studies that are at high risk for confounding and thus are limited in establishing causal inferences, nor do they report the absolute magnitude of any possible effects. Furthermore, the organizations that produce guidelines did not conduct or access rigorous systematic reviews of the evidence, were limited in addressing conflicts of interest, and did not explicitly address population values and preferences, raising questions regarding adherence to guideline standards for trustworthiness.”

Come again?

Three women of colour have shocked expressions on their faces.

I haven’t had time to read the study through, but let’s say that reaction was swift and blunt. After all, it was only last winter that Canada released its newly updated food guide recommending we eat less meat and more plant based options. I’m sure we are going to see more discussion because flip-flopping on food recommendations is something food scientists do really well.

Last month Catherine W looked at a study which assessed the life threatening properties of sugary drinks (aka sodas). Two years ago, the Independent trumpeted the value of sugar in maintaining our brain health. Apparently brains love sugar, even if our hearts, circulatory systems and pancreas do not.

Not even a year ago in October (18, 2018), BBC Food published an article extolling the virtues of eggs, saying the humble egg has impressive health credentials. But six months later, in March 2019, the New York Times weighed in on the risks posed by eating eggs (TLDR: cholesterol will kill you!). The study found: Each additional half-egg a day was associated with a 6 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease and an 8 percent increased risk of early death.

In the 80s and 90s , we all ditched butter to embrace margarine because we were told the heart-clogging abilities of butter would hasten our demise that much faster (hey eggs, move over!). Butter has been somewhat rehabilitated since then because additional research says a little is okay given that margarine and other trans fasts are actually a whole lot worse.

Oh noes: buttered bread, a boiled egg and a cup of tea for breakfast! Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

In all seriousness, what are we to do? The reality is, as Paul Taylor wrote in the Globe and Mail in March 2016, dietary studies, flawed as they may be, have a huge impact on public health and can shape nutritional habits and food buying patterns. More of us are reading labels, questioning sodium content, and looking more critically at the food we eat even when it’s being marketed as healthful (Beyond Meat Burger anyone?).

It’s a good thing when we can become more critical, and it is even better when we can vary our diet to eat from every part of the rainbow. Everything in moderation so we can ensure all foods can fit (some better than others).

About that study tho — as an omnivore, I will still keep eating meat, but my family and I have embarked on meatless Mondays with a goal to to eat meat free at least two to three meals a week. I’ll still consider the latest study, but I will place in the greater context to understand its implications fully. How about you, dear readers? Are you easily influenced by the latest food research, or are you likely to go your own way regardless of the latest fad?

MarthaFitat55 is a writer in St. John’s.

body image · diets · eating · eating disorders · fitness · food · sports nutrition

Intuitive eating — beyond sports nutrition

Image description: a single fresh strawberry with leaf still attached to the top.

As long time readers may know, I am a big fan when it comes to intuitive eating. I’ve written about it lots, including this post “Intuitive Eating: What It Is and Why I Love It.” So I was excited to see an article in Outside online singing its praises as the “ultimate anti-diet.”

Not everyone around here is sold on intuitive eating. Sam has written about her four worries about intuitive eating. I agree that it’s not a cure all that works for everyone. And as Sam says, it depends what you mean by “works.” She puts it like this: “I don’t mean weight, that’s for sure. I mean if you eat this way are you, on reflection, happy with the food choices you’re making? Are you leading a life you enjoy? Are you meeting your own food goals around nutrition? Do you have energy to do the things you love? “

For me, it goes back to the anti-diet idea outlined in the Outside article. Dieting breeds obsession. As someone with a history of chronic dieting and disordered eating, intuitive eating has freed me from that. It took awhile (see my post, “It only took 27 years but now I’m a bona fide intuitive eater”), but as an intuitive eater I am way more well-adjusted about food than I ever was before. Intuitive eating is more a response to chronic dieting. Granted, it may not work for everyone, but it does work for some.

In my reply (in the comments) to Sam’s worries, I said the following:

…many people who are drawn to this approach are dealing with a more psychologically deep set of attitudes and behaviours around food that, if they can get to intuitive eating, they can be free of. It works for me because for the first time in my life I do not obsess about food every waking moment. I don’t panic when I am at an event with a buffet table. I don’t hate myself when I take a brownie. I don’t gorge myself beyond full because I can’t figure out when I’ve eaten enough. And I don’t go to bed every night full of regret over what I ate that day (and it’s not because I’m always making “healthy” choices) and wake up in the morning planning my meals and snacks to the last unrealistic detail. I can also go hungry without panicking and recognize that’s okay. And that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no food around, but there may be no food that will do and I would rather wait. It’s okay to subject any approach that doesn’t work for you to criticism. That is what we as philosophers do. But for myself, who has a history of extremely messed up thinking about food and of disordered eating, it’s been an absolute life saver that’s taken me 27 years to reach. I don’t have perfect hunger signals, but being in touch with my hunger feels more like a hard won battle than a privilege at this point.

That’s why it’s inaccurate to say it’s only about listening to your body. As Christine Byrne, author of the article in Outside notes, there are lots of dimensions to intuitive eating besides “listen to your body.” On its own, for all sorts of reasons, “listen to your body” isn’t helpful advice. Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, authors of the 1995 book Intuitive Eating, identified a number of other features of intuitive eating, including the idea of challenging the food police (whether they’re other people or live in your head) and no longer moralizing food (it’s not good or evil).

Byrne also talks about the importance of a nuanced approach. A dietician interviewed for the article, Heather Caplan, comments: “For the purpose of sports nutrition, I’ll often have someone eat when they’re not hungry, before or after a hard workout,” Caplan says. “Not everyone feels like eating at 6 A.M., I identify with that. But I also identify with not eating and being hungry 15 minutes into a run.” Instead of honoring hunger, think of it as figuring out how food makes your body feel in different situations and honoring those feelings. If eating when you’re not hungry helps fuel a better workout or minimize post-workout soreness, it’s a good choice.”

A good choice serves your workouts and helps you with recovery. It’s not only about hunger signals.

I like how Byrne puts it: “Ultimately, intuitive eating is a way to make sure your needs are being met. What separates intuitive eating from traditional diets is that it’s 100 percent flexible—it can (and will) look different for everyone.”

That’s what makes it the opposite of dieting. Dieting is not about meeting our needs. Dieting isn’t flexible. The hallmark of a fad diet is that it looks the same for everyone.

If you’ve been avoiding intuitive eating because you worry that it seems not to fit with the nutritional needs of your sports activities, then thinking of it as a way to make sure your needs are being met might offer a new angle on it. My guess is that if you do not struggle or have not struggled with dieting, where food is an all-consuming mental obsession, then you really have no reason to feel drawn to this approach. But if chronic dieting of that kind is a thing in your history, then intuitive eating in all of its dimensions is an attractive alternative that can help bring some peace to your vexed relationship with food and your body. At least that is how it worked for me.

Does intuitive eating have any appeal for you?