Today I’m doing a “Throwback Thursday” post where I invite you, once again, to imagine how different life would be if we actually lived in a world where size doesn’t matter. Happy Thursday!
Are People Really Happy for People Who Lose Weight?
This topic of weight loss has come up quite a bit lately, even though we are a blog that professes (rightly) not to be about weight loss and definitely not about dieting.
I can’t even count the number of posts we’ve written over the years that say fitness is not measured by weight loss (recent case in point: Sam’s musing yesterday).
And anyone who knows me knows well that I do not compliment people on weight loss. Pretty much never, since that time Sam and I both remember all too well when we complimented someone who, in fact, had indeed lost lots of weight — because she had cancer! Yes, that ranks up there with the times in my life I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide. And of course, Sam’s recent weight loss has a lot to do with having her thyroid removed because she had surgery for thyroid cancer in the summer.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “you’ve lost weight! you look great!” is not a compliment. Granted, lots of people are trying to lose weight. And, granted, those people probably like it when people notice (maybe?) because heck, they’re trying. Why isn’t it a compliment? Because it implicitly says, “and you used to look like shit, and guess what? I noticed that too!” And it implicitly assumes that everyone wants to lose weight, that losing weight is a good thing in and of itself, that being fat is not good (and looks awful), and that people are entitled to monitor the size of others’ bodies. And all of that is crap that we shouldn’t be assuming and doing.
But here’s something: I wonder whether people are actually happy when someone they know loses weight (not because of cancer, but because of effort)? The reason I wonder is that at any given time, I would say a good 50% of the people I know are trying to lose weight or thinking about it, and more than 50% of those aren’t successful (not surprisingly, given this and this and this and this and oh so much more!).
So I’m going to go out on a limb here, and it may be a lonely limb that reveals me to be petty and small-minded: a lot of the time, people aren’t actually happy for you when you lose weight. First, there are the killjoy feminists like me who don’t really notice anymore when the people around them lose weight. I consider the not noticing to be a personal accomplishment of mine.
But even more than that, there are those people who are battling the odds when the odds are heavily not in their favour. That would be the majority of people on a diet or weight loss program, actively trying to lose weight. I’m going to venture that a good portion of those people actually feel a little screw turn in their gut whenever someone they knows beats the odds and actually “succeeds” at that elusive goal: weight loss.
Seeing people who, for whatever reason (sometimes cancer, sometimes dieting, sometimes grief, sometimes — though not nearly as often as we’d like — exercise) drop pounds can start an internal monologue that, far from being thrilled for the person, quickly turns inward to self-flagellation and a sense of failure: If she can do it, why can’t I? What am I doing wrong? What’s wrong with me? I’m such a failure.
I’m happy for you if that’s never you. But if that’s sometimes you, join the club. Because I do go there, still today–my non-weight loss noticing-self can go there.
So I’m just going to put this out there and be totally frank. I really can’t stand it when people talk about their weight loss. I don’t care what the reasons. I don’t care if you’re trying or not trying. I don’t care if it’s for performance or for looks or just because that’s what friends, family, and strangers like to talk about.
You know, you can dress it up any way you like. But to me it’s such a personal thing that our social world has made into a public thing. And I’m always stumped about what we’re supposed to say. “Good for you!” even when someone is trying just goes against everything that feels right to me. It’s like encouraging something that I see ruin the lives of perfectly excellent people who think that weight loss will afford them something they need in order to feel good about themselves (or better about themselves). I just can’t have the conversation anymore, with anyone. [I like Carly’s suggestion of saying, “how does that feel for you?” but those don’t feel like my words]
So this brings me back to the question of whether people are really happy for people who lose weight. If you’re like me, you’ve read lots of stuff on dieting and weight loss in your time. And they always talk about the saboteurs. Those are the people who want you to eat another helping because they cooked it, or a piece of cake because it’s a special occasion, or chocolate because it’s Valentine’s Day, and therefore thwart your efforts at weight loss. Are they happy when their loved ones lose weight? Sometimes, the literature says, they feel threatened.
And then there are those people who are trying and getting nowhere. Are they happy for you? I’m not so sure. But I think it’s complicated. And that’s because successful weight loss is hard to square with the reality of how difficult it is to lose and maintain weight loss. And so when someone achieves it, we may be a little happy for them (maybe some people are super happy for them), but lots more people just use it as another reason to get down on themselves. And that’s the painful truth for many.
I don’t mean to be saying that that’s the only reason, or even the main reason, I don’t like to talk about weight loss (yours or mine). But it’s not a neutral subject, and it’s loaded with all sorts of cultural meaning that hooks into horrible attitudes that I don’t like to encourage. And even when someone’s reasons aren’t about that stuff, it’s still highly personal and that makes it at the very least an odd thing to advertise and go on about.
I can’t control what others want to talk about, but over the last little while, after a few conversations (with a few different people) that made me squirm and feel uncomfortable, I know for certain that I’m not taking part anymore. And for all of these complicated reasons, I’m going to be totally honest and say I’m happy for people about all sorts of things, but not super happy for someone simply because they’ve lost weight. I realize that makes me sound grumpy and petty, but there it is.
Losing Weight and Keeping It Off…
This topic has come up for me again lately because of (1) a barrage of email from Precision Nutrition asking me if I want to do it again (no thanks; see here for why) and (2) another excellent post from Ragan Chastain over at Dances with Fat talking about the ridiculousness of our obsession with weight loss. See her post “Even if Weight Loss Would Solve Every Problem.”
As she points out,
Even if becoming thin would solve every single problem in every single fat person’s life (and I don’t think it would), the truth is it doesn’t matter. Because we don’t know how to get it done. The belief that we know how to help people lose weight long term, and that weight loss leads to greater health, is a major Galileo issue of our time – widely believed, fervently defended, and unsupported by the evidence.
So we throw around this hope, this dream, that one day the research will tell us something different. But even the science team at Weight Watchers isn’t hopeful that this will happen. Here’s the dirt:
Weight Watchers own numbers show that the average person maintains a 5 pound weight loss after 2 years (a feat I feel could be accomplished by regular exfoliation and without paying a small fortune to Weight Watchers.) When asked by the Federal Trade Commission to do longer-term studies, representatives from WW refused because “it would be too depressing for our clients”.
No, we wouldn’t want to depress clients with…the truth. That would be unconscionable wouldn’t it? And why would the truth be depressing? Because, as Ragan Chastain quite rightly points out, we’ve come up with the kooky idea that losing weight is a cure all for everything that is wrong. And it’s kind of depressing to discover that the magic cure is almost unattainable.
Better to keep people hopeful and trying. That’s the WW strategy. That’s the PN strategy. That’s the strategy for just about every weight loss program out there. They use before-after pictures, but the small print says “results not typical.” And it’s rare to see “after” shots that are way after. Like two or more years after. Why? Because it’s really hard to see anything dramatic in a 5 pound weight-loss, which is what WW for example says that the average person maintains 2 years out. Pics from 5 years after would be an even harder sell.
So there are a couple of things going on here. First off, we need to seriously examine why weight-loss is ascribed all the magical happy-making qualities it is. What’s that all about? It’s not as if everyone who wants to lose a few pounds is facing major health risks if they don’t. It’s not as if everyone who is in the perceived “normal healthy” (ugh!) weight range is actually healthy. And it’s certainly not as if losing weight will solve our financial problems or marital problems or make our kids give us no grief or make the boss our best friend or stop our neighbor from dying or prevent us from getting in a car accident or make airline travel a pleasant experience, give us more vacation days, better sleep, and tickets to see our favourite band. And yet so many people, large and small alike, are filled with self-loathing and despair because they can’t lose weight and keep it off.
And then, we need to even more seriously consider why we reject the evidence before us about what a futile endeavor this actually is for the vast majority of people who undertake it. Please do not start on the “if people just did what they were supposed to do they would lose it and keep it off.” When we individualize this as if it’s all the fault of the people who can’t stick to the program as presented we miss the larger issue, which is that maybe, just maybe, these programs are a waste of time and money.
Almost everyone who attempts weight loss fails. Yet doctors keep prescribing the same things and blaming the vast majority of people for “not trying hard” enough or “not doing it right”. Can you imagine if Viagra only worked 5% of the time and we blamed 95% of the guys for just not trying hard enough? It’s completely ridiculous. But when I point this out people roll their eyes and say “everybody knows” that you can lose weight if you really try.
Let me say it again – even if weight loss would solve every problem (and I don’t think it will), it doesn’t matter because we don’t know how to get it done and my opinion, based on the research that exists, is that it is a massive waste of time, money, and resources to keep suggesting, marketing, prescribing, and pursuing weight loss.
If people want to keep researching weight loss methods that’s fine, it’s also fine if they want to keep researching ways to help people fly like superman, but I certainly won’t be dieting or jumping off my roof and flapping my arms. Attempting weight loss to get healthier is doing something that nobody has proven is possible for a reason that nobody has proven is valid.
It’s been a long time since I built a blog post around quotes from someone else’s blog post, but this message cannot be delivered enough. We all want to think we’re exceptions. That this time we will do it and it will work because we’ll do it better, we’ll be more vigilant, we’ll be “good,” la, la, la.
But, and I hate to be a negative ninny about it but hear me now: a new diet will probably fail and even if you lose weight and keep some or even all of it off, that is not going to mean you’ll suddenly become happy.
But there are lots of other tangible things we can do to live now in the body we have today. So rather than obsess and wring our hands over the impossible, why not move on from that and live in reality?
Struggles and strategizing: back at the beginning, again
I struggle with my weight. It’s been a lifelong drama, with many supporting players: relatives, doctors, well-meaning (and not-so-well-meaning) friends and boyfriends, teammates on the many sports teams I’ve played for, nutritionists, therapists, you name it. Sometimes there’s relative peace—when I’m active, social, well-rested, not too-too busy in my work life, and my relationships are on an even keel—life is calmer and I worry less about it.
Lately, as menopause has announced its presence in my life (I’m sorry, but who thought this was a good idea? evolution, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do) the struggle has resurfaced. My sleep is interrupted, and I have less energy (but more mood swings—yay) and my cravings for sugar and carbs are at an all-time high. Add to this a heavier-than-usual workload this semester and 108 inches of snow in Boston (and by the way, it’s snowing again now—argh) and it’s no surprise that my average baked good consumption is up, and I’ve gained weight.
Samantha, Tracy, Nat and the guest bloggers have written loads about the failures and perils of diets—they don’t work in the long-term and contribute to lowered self-esteem and increased weight. I know this, too—my research areas are obesity, eating, and health behavior change. And yet I keep flirting with the idea of dieting again. For me, diets are like bad ex-boyfriends—I’ve forgotten the pain and suffering they imposed, how the relationships failed or even backfired. I just remember how good-looking or charming they were, full of seductive promises that “this time, it’ll be different”.
So what am I to do about being back in a state of weight-panic THIS time? Here are three things I’ve done this week. I’ll report back later on to let you know what’s happening—what is working, what I’ve jettisoned, what other responses I’ve adopted, and how I’m feeling.
1. I bought a book.
For an academic, nothing is more reassuring than book purchases, especially when one is confused, frightened, stalled, or in need of comfort. Just the thought of reading books, especially in a comfy study or library, is reassuring.
The book I bought is Gretchen Rubin’s “Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives”. The New York Times Well Book Club is running an online discussion, which caught my eye this week. Partly out of academic curiosity, and partly out of need to do something, I got the book and checked out the online discussion.
There are loads of books with loads of theories about behavior change, and of course this blog has talked about many of them. When I actually get around to reading this book I will fill you in. For now, all I’ve done is taken the quiz to set the stage for where I fit in Rubin’s behavior-change taxonomy. From there she has lots of suggestions for tailored strategies to optimize effectiveness.
Now, I have no particular expectation that this book is better or more effective than others; I will report back on my experiences later on. But for now, just owning this book feels like it’s helping me regain a little more perspective, which is good.
2. I’ve stopped eating sugary foods (at least for now).
While talking with a therapist about my energy levels, cravings, menopausal moods and general dissatisfaction with life on planet Earth these days, she suggested that maybe stopping eating processed sugar for a while might result in improvement of my overall mood and well-being. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about stopping eating these:
but rather, stopping eating these:
I’m on day 3 of the no-baked-goods-and-other-sugary-stuff plan, and will report back on what I’ve done and learned.
3. I’ve changed primary care doctors.
This was a very big move—I’d been with the same doctor since 1998, and value familiarity, loyalty, and the deep knowledge base she has. But I never felt comfortable talking about my weight with her, and dreaded what she had to say, which never felt supportive. We squabbled about calcium and vitamin D supplements, and frequency of mammograms (she disagreed with the USPSTF recommendations which I wanted to follow). I would delay physicals in order to avoid being weighed. Again, even though I know how bad the effects of weight stigma are on women in healthcare settings, it still took me a long time to act.
The first meeting with my new provider was eye-opening: she spent an hour with me (unprecedented in my experience), and we talked about weight, activity, menopause, sex, etc. in ways that felt positive and centered on my goals and needs. I told her that I was willing to be weighed for my yearly physical and also when there was a medical need for complete accuracy (say, if this was a surgery pre-op visit). Otherwise, I said I really didn’t want to be weighed, that it was a deterrent to my seeing her She agreed, and we moved on smoothly.
Here’s how I handled the scale issue with the nurse (who I saw before the provider came in). She introduced herself and said, “I need to get your weight and height”. I responded right away with “I’m not going to get on the scale, but I’m happy to tell you my weight; I weighed myself this week.” She said okay. When we got to the scale, she said, “you’re not going to get on the scale?” I said no, but then told her my weight. Then she asked, “are you willing to have your height measured?” We both laughed, and I said yes indeed. It turns out I’m the same height as the last time I was measured.
The issue of primary care office visits and weighing of patients is controversial and far from settled. For what it’s worth, in a US National Institutes of Health document about treating obese patients, one of its recommendations is to weigh them during visits only when it’s medically appropriate. I’m not here to speak authoritatively about this issue, but I did want to include how I handled my experiences and fears of weight stigma in this environment.
I’m very lucky not to be on any prescription meds, so I don’t see healthcare providers often. But I’m hopeful about my prospects moving forward with this new practice.
I’ll report later on progress, shifts, and lessons learned. For now, thanks for reading.
Weight Loss, Body Hatred, and the Possibility of Other Motives
We spend a lot of time on the blog talking about body positivity and self-acceptance. But sometimes we also talk about weight loss. Whether it be for performance reasons, as I’ve discussed (with some skepticism that it makes it “okay” to have it as a goal) and as Samantha thinks about re. her cycling or to get the blood pressure in check, as Natalie has done, there are reasons other than normative femininity to lose weight.
But some people think that as a feminist blog, we should never ever talk about weight loss as something to aim for. Weight loss is associated the the pressure to be thin, oppressive norms, and a generally negative opinion of fat, fat bodies, and fat people. I
Not only that, but we have always taken a strong anti-diet position on the blog. Diets don’t work. The staggering statistics in support of their inefficacy speak for themselves. Almost everyone who successfully loses weight with restrictive dieting gains most (often more) of it back over time. Sometimes it takes a few years, sometimes just a few weeks. It depends on the method — fad diets and highly restrictive approaches to weight loss have the worst outcomes.
And if diets don’t work, why are doctors always pushing us to lose weight anyway? They give all sorts of unsolicited advice, making body weight monitoring a regular part of ongoing medical care even for people who aren’t having any health issues at all.
We reject the whole BMI thing. And both Sam and I promote the idea of finding activities you enjoy and getting out and doing them, no matter what your size and without having weight loss as a focal point.
We care about metabolic health, and are more likely to encourage everyone to eat more, not less! In fact, I’m not sure we have any posts that encourage people to eat less.
We’ve written about all of this and more. And yet sometimes we talk about weight loss. And a few people have let us know that it disturbs them. That it indicates to them that we’re not “feminist enough.”
I’m not big on defending myself as a feminist, either to anti-feminists or to other feminists. But what I want to say here is that Sam and I aren’t just feminists. We’re actually feminist philosophers.
Now, not all feminist philosophers believe exactly the same things. But one of the things that makes us fairly compatible is that we’re both fairly moderate and open to other ways of seeing things. This means that on our Facebook page, for example, we’ll sometimes post content that we don’t agree with,. We might do that just because it makes an interesting point worthy of consideration OR because it’s clearly getting something wrong in an interesting way.
But the real question for me when we post about weight loss, at least where feminism is concerned, is: are their any legitimate reasons for wanting to lose weight, reasons that have nothing to do with hating our bodies, trying to fit normative ideals, or even worse, hating and punishing ourselves.
And I think the answer to that is pretty clearly “yes.”
I think we’re right to be skeptical about medical reasons even though in some cases it could make a difference. The fact is, so does getting active and developing healthy eating habits. Weight loss could be a by-product of that, but setting it as a primary goal is probably going to be self-defeating anyway.
Then there are the performance reasons that athletes obsess about. I blogged about racing weight not too long ago. And Sam has talked about wanting to weigh less so she can fly up hills more quickly. In my post, I worried that after a couple of years of liberating myself from weight loss as a goal, aiming for “racing weight” or any kind of weight-related performance improvement could take me back to old bad habits associated with dieting: poor body image, weight obsession, worrying about food all the time, berating myself for eating.
I also worried that you can dress it up anyway you like, but aiming for weight loss for whatever reason is going to have the same results. Wanting to perform better doesn’t mean your weight loss is going to be any more lasting than if you did it for other reasons. Athletes don’t even expect to maintain their race weight or the weight they will compete at on game day through the entire year. It’s seasonal.
So I guess I have my worries about that too. Yes, we can have non-body-hating reasons to want to lose weight. And in the end, I think those reasons can be consistent with feminist ideals. But having different reasons doesn’t change the facts about sustainable weight loss.
Sam has blogged about weight loss unicorns before. They’re the people, and we all know some of them, who lose weight and keep it off. They’re unicorns because they are rare.
And even if someone has reasons for wanting to lose weight that are consistent with feminism, I myself avoid entering into any conversation with anyone where my expected role is to praise them for their weight loss efforts. I pretty much never do that because, as I blogged about here, I do not believe “You’ve lost weight, you look great” is a compliment in polite society. Rather, it bespeaks a kind of body policing. It’s really hard to be explicit about noticing someone’s weight loss (or gain) and not be engaged in body policing.
Weight loss and dieting have long been considered as oppressive tools, contrary to the liberatory goals of feminism. Besides blogging about it a lot I’ve also done a bit of philosophical work on the topic. For me, I know weight loss is a dangerous goal. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand why some people might want to lose a few pounds for reasons that are consistent with the aims of feminism, among which, of course, are the freedom to make our own choices without being condemned for them.
Multi-Grain Cheerios talks to women about dieting
While I was away working on the book with Tracy, I occasionally turned on the television in my room. It’s a bit of a novelty. I don’t have one at home.
I have a flat box with a screen in my house you see, but it’s not set up to get TV, hasn’t been since the kids were little and we set ourselves free. (I’m an abstainer, not a moderator, by temperament. See Moderation Versus All or Nothing.) We do watch DVDs and Netflix but I never really see ads except when traveling.
And while watching I saw an ad that surprised me. It was by Cheerios and it featured happy little girls and the last line, that’s what caught my ear, was “Because she will never diet.” I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but no. It was just fine.
Multi-Grain Cheerios talks to women about dieting (Marketing Mag)
“In an effort to create a dialogue with diet-fatigued women, General Mills Canada has launched a multimedia campaign for its cereal brand that it hopes will encourage women share their experiences and feelings about dieting via an online hub.
The ultimate objective, according to General Mills Canada vice-president of marketing Dale Storey , is for the brand will help foster a “movement” that believes “healthy, balanced living is a much more effective way to managing one’s weight and health than the yo-yo of deprivation dieting.”
A national TV commercial kicked off the effort last week. The 30-second spot, developed by Cossette – General Mills’ creative agency – shows young girls having fun and fusing those scenes with copy that uses dieting terms. For example, “She will never stress over yo-yoing.” The last line of the spot is “Because she will never diet.”
The awareness campaign is meant to make adults more mindful of their impact on young girls’ perceptions of dieting.
“We want this generation of women to be the last to diet,” said Jason Doolan, General Mills director of marketing, cereal, in a release.
To help further spread the word, Multi-Grain Cheerios has partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters to back its Go Girls! mentoring program, which educates girls 12-14 about living healthy and is one of the organization’s fastest-growing mentoring programs.”
Here’s the Cheerio’s Go Girls website. I think it’s pretty well done. What do you think? And I’m curious, as someone who doesn’t watch regular TV with ads, if this is playing in the US.
Intuitive Eating: What It Is and Why I Love It!
Recently I wrote about my (personal, not for everyone) decisions not to get further sports nutrition counseling and to stop weighing myself. I committed to re-acquainting myself with two books that helped me a lot back in the early nineties when I was a compulsive dieter and exerciser with a diagnosed eating disorder (that I didn’t believe I had because I wasn’t skinny enough).
The books were Overcoming Overeating: How to Break the Diet-Binge Cycle and Live a Happier, More Satisfying Life by psychotherapists Carol H. Munter and Jane R. Hirschmann and Intuitive Eating, Third Edition:A Revolutionary Program That Works by nutritionists Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. You can find my review of and experience with Overcoming Overeating here. There I say that while I liked a lot of the principles, Intuitive Eating resonates much more strongly with me. So today’s post is about this approach and why it’s working for me.
Intuitive Eating (IE) is based on ten principles, to each of which the authors devote a full chapter:
- reject the diet mentality
- honor your hunger
- make peace with food
- challenge the food police
- feel your fullness
- discover the satisfaction factor
- cope with your emotions without using food
- respect your body
- exercise: feel the difference
- honor your health with gentle nutrition
The authors introduce the concept of IE. They identify a number of different eating “personalities” who have an unhealthy relationship with food–the Careful Eater who is obsessed with nutrition, the Professional Dieter who is perpetually on a diet, and the Unconscious Eater who pairs eating with another activity, such as watching TV or reading, or just generally eats mindlessly because they are too busy, vulnerable to the presence of food (like the cookie jar or the donuts at meetings), or they don’t like to waste food (they’d rather clean their plate and then move on to their children’s or spouse’s plates), or they use food to cope with emotions.
The Intuitive Eater, by contrast, has what the authors consider to be a healthy relationship with food. They “march to their inner hunger signals, and eat whatever they choose without experiencing guilt or an ethical dilemma.” The authors believe children are born as intuitive eaters, but that social messaging leads many people to develop an unhealthy preoccupation with nutrition, weight loss, and food. The goal of the book is to help people who, in their words, have “hit diet bottom” become Intuitive Eaters.
The first four principles help to change the diet mentality, where food is the enemy and needs to be controlled and restricted to reach the ideal weight. Principles 5 and 6, feel your fullness and discover the satisfaction factor, nudge us in the direction of a more intuitive relationship to the food we eat. Principle 7 addresses the issue of emotional eating and offers alternative modes of self-care that are more successful. Principle 8 calls upon us to stop body-bashing, and, as Samantha has recently urged, respect the body we have.
Principles 9 and 10 are introduced last for a reason. The authors think that both exercise and attention to nutrition (The Careful Eater) can be used as covert ways of implementing The Diet Mentality. Not only that, many people with a history of dieting and food obsession have negative associations with exercise in particular. They strongly suggest that people work with the first 8 principles to become comfortable Intuitive Eaters and only then pay close attention to exercise and nutrition.
I can’t go into the principles in detail, but I want to say a bit more about my favourites.
Of course, I love the idea of rejecting the diet mentality. I’ve spoken of it here, here, and here.
Feeling your fullness (Principle 5) is the one that challenges me the most and that I have worked with most closely since I started this approach back in early January. The authors claim that “the ability to stop eating because you have had enough to eat biologically hinges critically on giving yourself unconditional permission to eat (Principle 3: Make peace with food).
In order to feel your fullness, the authors recommend conscious eating. Instead of moving into autopilot, they suggest paying attention, eating without distraction, pausing part way through a meal to register whether the food still tastes good and whether you’re still hungry. Samantha is doing the same thing with her recent attention to mindful eating. They introduce the idea of comfortable satiety, where you’ve had enough to eat but are not overstuffed. Respecting your fullness means stopping at comfortable satiety. In order to achieve this, you need to eat engage in mindful or conscious eating.
Their approach to both exercise and nutrition focuses not on weight loss but on how good both make you feel and how they act as methods of self care. In fact, the authors note that exercise is a great stress buffer. A good relationship with exercise, when it is a part of your life that you actually enjoy instead of see as an obligation, can go a long way to curbing emotional eating.
The IE approach appeals to me for so many reasons. I am convinced that diets don’t work for long term weight loss and I despise food tracking and monitoring. So the idea of learning to identify and respond to my body’s natural hunger signals provides an exciting alternative and a reason for optimism. Since I started focusing on mindful eating and respecting my fullness I have been much more capable of eating when hungry and stopping at the point of comfortable satiety.
I am eating foods I enjoy, engaging in exercise I enjoy, and have no hard rules around the foods I choose. My tendency is towards nutritious foods anyway. I love salads, legumes, soy, whole grains, and fruit. I have a sweet tooth which I satisfy with a whole range of things, from medjool dates and dried pineapple to my favourite vegan chocolate cake and home-baked coconut cranberry chocolate chip cookies. I have discovered a few things too, like I prefer mangoes to french fries. I have total permission to eat either, depending what I feel like.
The recommendation to toss the scale, found both here and in Overcoming Overeating, has been the single most positive change for me. I love not weighing myself and instead tuning in with how I am feeling.
On my recent sailing trip to the British Virgin Islands, I maintained an easy level of activity with snorkeling, kayaking, and swimming with a few push-ups and burpees thrown into the mix, ate when I felt hungry and stopped when I felt satisfied, and drank one totally indulgent virgin cocktail (I don’t drink alcohol) a day.
I am sure that I gained no weight and quite possibly lost some (of course I can’t be sure). What matters most is that I feel really good, like I took care of myself, ate well, and kept moving during my vacation. Though I experienced a bit of self-consciousness in my bikini at the beginning (I adjust more quickly to being totally nude than being in a bikini, as explained here), I respected my body and didn’t engage in body-bashing. After a day or two I felt good.
A couple of other things about the book.
Since the original edition came out in the early nineties, there have been quite a few studies on the approach to gauge its success as a health strategy. The authors have included a chapter about the science behind the IE approach. The chapter adds scientific validity to the author’s suggestions and makes a strong case that Intuitive Eaters experience both mental and physical health. Moreover, they cite studies that show it as a viable solution for the prevention of eating disorders and obesity.
It includes chapters on raising children to be intuitive eaters, and on using the IE approach to treat eating disorders. It also has a Q and A appendix to answer common questions about Intuitive Eating, such as “If I let myself eat whatever I want, won’t I eat uncontrollably and gain lots of weight?” The authors do not believe this will be the case because “when you have made complete peace with food and know that what you like will always be available to you, you’ll be able to stop after a moderate amount. If you’re only giving yourself pseudo-permission, it won’t work, because you don’t really believe you’ll always have access to food. So check out how genuine your permission-giving is.”
Finally, the book has a really helpful appendix that outlines strategies for implementing each of the principles.
I’m a total convert to this approach to eating. I don’t think about food all the time and don’t spend a lot of time planning my meals and snacks. I just make sure there I’ve always got lots of good food that I like on hand for when I am hungry. I do pay attention to nutrition though I am not a slave to it, and I am as active as I want to be, minimally doing at least one weight training or yoga session a day and one “cardio” activity a day.
I never track and I no longer weigh myself.
If you are ready to do something different and truly willing to commit to never dieting again, I highly recommend that you read this book.