In this episode of the podcast, I’m talking about something that so many people who are trying to ditch diet culture have experienced. And that is feeling like you still can’t quite trust yourself with food, even though you’re no longer dieting, and you’re trying to listen to your body. Here’s what it looks like:
- Maybe you’re letting yourself eat the foods you used to not let yourself have when you were dieting, but you’re feeling guilty for having them. And in the back of your mind you’re worried that this isn’t actually healthy for you, and that you’re going to have medical issues if you keep going this way.
- Maybe you’re finding yourself stuck in a phase of eating “whatever you want, whenever you want” (which is actually impulsive eating, not intuitive eating), and you’re not sure how to navigate out of this without it feeling like you’re dieting again. It feels like you’ve just given up and now you don’t know which way to turn.
- Perhaps you’ve gained weight, and maybe you even suspect that you’re above your body’s natural set point range, and you can’t wrap your mind around how on earth you can learn to accept your body at this place, especially if you’re having things like joint pain or medical worries.
Can you relate? If you’re in this place of feeling like you don’t have the true inner peace that you want with food and your body that you’re looking for, AND you know that dieting isn’t the answer (even if it’s tempting sometimes), then I want to normalize the heck out of that for you. And if you’re starting to wonder whether or not you’ll ever experience the freedom that people talk about with food and intuitive eating, then stay with me because that’s what this episode is all about.
I’m going to share my own experience in shifting from the diet mentality and being really hung up on so-called “healthy eating,” to becoming a full-fledged intuitive eater where I have the peace and freedom with food and my body that I’ve always wanted AND I am still mindful about my health.
It takes some mindset work to get there, and for those of you who are struggling with this, let’s talk about it.
Sometimes things feel harder before they feel better. We were *just* talking about that the other day in group coaching for Non-Diet Academy. Someone had shared that they didn’t expect their process of healing their relationship with food to bring up so much other stuff emotionally, and was telling them how normal – and wonderful – this is.
- We tend to use food/dieting to cope
- When we’re not using it to cope, the other stuff bubbles to the surface
- This is where the deeper healing occurs – so I want you to be open to this, and to embrace it, and of course to be gentle with yourself along the way, because this can be a lot.
Shifting away from the diet mindset and towards body trust and food freedom
If you’ve been listening for a while, you know that I’m a dietitian by training and I used to subscribe to the weight-centric model of healthcare. In my first job as a research dietitian I was helping to run clinical weight loss trials and I had some pretty rigid ideas about what “healthy eating” looks like.
Now, I’m not bashing this period in my career at all because it was part of how I came to see with my own two eyes the reasons that dieting doesn’t work long-term and the harm it ultimately causes. It was part of what led me to explore other ways of approaching health and nutrition.
For a while I was straddling the line between telling people how to diet and exercise to lose weight, while also working on listening to my body and trusting myself with food.
That dissonance, and frankly hypocrisy, was really uncomfortable and I knew I had to make a change. I had no authority over what approach we were taking with the nutrition part of these clinical trials I was working on. It was really important that we followed the protocol that had been laid out for us, because that’s how research works. And when I suggested that we write a grant to get funding for a new study using mindful eating, that was immediately dismissed and I started looking for a new job that would allow me to heal my own relationship with food and to practice what I preach.
Diet Mindset vs Intuitive Eating Mindset
Let me share some examples of the diet mindset:
- You still have judgments about food.
You feel like some foods are inherently “bad” for you, and others are “good” for you. You know that restricting and depriving yourself of the “bad” foods sets you up to binge on them, so you let yourself eat them, but you sometimes feel guilty, and you worry that you’re going to ruin your health. Or you might see a news headline about how “sugar is bad for you” and you click on it and get all freaked out again.
You might be thinking things like, “Of course some foods are healthier than others,” – and not realize that this comment lacks context and nuance. Because whether or not a food is supportive to our health depends on the situation. No food is always healthy/unhealthy for us. Yes, different foods have different nutrients – and that’s a wonderful thing. It doesn’t make one food good and another food bad. It just makes them different. And different situations call for different foods. So if this concept is still tripping you up, and you still feel judgment about certain foods, that’s ok – it just means we’ve got some more work to do.
- Treating intuitive eating as just the opposite of dieting
- If you’re stuck here, you’ve thrown all the rules out the window and are eating whatever you want, whenever you want and it becomes a free-for-all with food. And this might be exciting and kind of fun at first, but then that voice in your head kicks and says “This can’t possibly be a good idea” – which is true – but the story you might be telling yourself is that IE doesn’t work when the real issue is that your weren’t doing true IE in the first place.
True intuitive eating is about slowing down and checking in with your body. It’s about being attuned to your body signals, how different foods make you feel, and what your body needs in terms of your health. Just like we pay attention to hunger and fullness as signals from your body, you also want to pay attention to things like bloodwork, blood pressure, and even your weight can be a piece of data. ALL of this is part of listening to the feedback from your body.
IE and food freedom doesn’t mean you should just wing it with food. It’s about embracing a body-led approach to your eating, instead of following an external set of food rules and calorie limits.
- You might have some subtle food rules still operating beneath the surface that you’re not even consciously aware of.
Let me give you a few examples:
- Maybe you tell yourself you shouldn’t eat past 7pm
- Or you only let yourself have dessert after dinner or on the weekends but never with your lunch on a random weekday
- Perhaps you refuse to drink your calories and you get a black coffee even though you’d prefer a delicious vanilla latte or a caramel macchiato
- Maybe you’re still eating egg whites or are ordering your salad dressing on the side. Or you’ll eat thin crust pizza but not Pizza Hut pizza – now if you like these things, that’s fine, but let’s be curious about whether it’s a true food preference or not.
- Worrying about your weight.
People often think that they can’t possibly let go of their desire to lose weight, or learn to accept their bodies at their current size, or that if they don’t focus on trying to lose weight they’re going to be destroying their health. And this fixation on weight can really hold you back from reaping the actual health benefits of intuitive eating.
Dieting promises us that we will be healthier, lose weight, have better self-esteem, and we’ll have more balanced eating. But the research on dieting shows exactly the opposite. Dieting is shown to damage health because of the weight cycling (not to mention the sometimes dangerous behaviors that we do in the name of dieting), but you’ve got to remember that the yo-yo’ing of your weight is hard on your body in itself. Dieting is also the #1 predictor of weight GAIN, not weight loss.
Dieting also corresponds with worsening self-esteem, more depression, and eating disorders and disordered eating – which are way more common than most people realize.
Seeing Limitations vs Opportunities
I want to encourage you to see how each and every one of these things I just talked about is an example of seeing limitations instead of opportunities.
We also remain vulnerable to getting swept back up into the diet mentality. And I know what that feels like, because I’ve been there too.
I operated out of fear with food for many years, and I hit my breaking point where I knew I needed to change my mindset. I started to make the mental shift from having all these food judgments and rules, to dismantling this belief system and rebuilding trust with myself with food. Now, if you’ve been on this journey for a while you know that this doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process to shed all those diet rules and cultivate freedom with food.
Once you have the mindset that you can trust yourself to make wise decisions with food, you don’t have to categorize food as good/bad or healthy/unhealthy, you don’t need to track your calories, and you really start to understand and believe deep in your soul that your weight and appearance of your body don’t define your worth – that changes everything.
I encourage you to take an inventory on what you’re struggling with, what you’re afraid of when it comes to your eating and your health, and what insecurities or uncertainties you have about your intuitive eating process. The first thing I’d recommend you do is grab a copy of the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and read that.
The 3 C’s: Curiosity, Compassion and Connection
The most important thing, which took me a long time to fully understand, is that you’ve got to start living with a mindset of curiosity, compassion and connection with your body.
The fear and shaming and controlling just doesn’t work with food and health. It’s really easy for us to say “listen to your body!” and “diets don’t work” – but when you feel like you can’t listen to your body, or that your body can’t be trusted, or that dieting is the only way you’re going to be able to manage your health – then you’re not going to become an intuitive eater or have peace with your body. I struggled with that for many years.
When you have a mindset of curiosity, compassion and connection you stop focusing on what you should/shouldn’t eat or how much weight you’ve gained or lost this week, and instead you become grateful for what your body does for you.
You start operating with the belief that your body and your wisdom will tell you what you need, and you can incorporate science and modern medicine and nutrition in ways that feel good to you. Because of that, you start genuinely taking care of your body in ways that actually work. You see that diet and wellness culture leads us down pathways that are nutty and absurd and that aren’t actually healthy or sustainable. You’ll find that as you heal your relationship with food and your body, that it expands your LIFE in ways you wouldn’t have even imagined. That’s 100% been true for me. I absolutely am living life more fully now that I am not stressed out about food.
Shifting your mindset away from the food rules and judgment, and towards trusting your body and being chill with food is such a game changer, and it’s what it takes for intuitive eating to work in the way it’s intended.
So I have a little homework for you…
Pull up your notes app or a pen and paper and write down all the ways you’re operating with the diet mindset. Maybe you’re still feeling guilty for eating certain foods, or you’re having a hard time incorporating gentle nutrition without turning it into a new set of dieting rules, or you’re still trying to lose weight while also eating intuitively (even though that’s not actually what intuitive eating is intended for).
Maybe you’re measuring your “success” with intuitive eating based on your clothing size or the number on the scale – even though intuitive eating isn’t about these numbers. It’s about your relationship with food. I also encourage you to consider if there are ways that you’re still following sneaky diet rules. Are you measuring certain foods, or forcing yourself to eat things you don’t actually like?
I did this for a long time with whole wheat pasta until I owned my truth that I don’t like it and I remember when I told my husband Trevor he was like, “No way, me too!” So think of ways that you might not be truly making peace with food or challenging your inner food police. Maybe you’re having a hard time honoring your fullness, and you find yourself eating when you’re not actually hungry. That’s also an indication you are still operating in a diet mindset.
Write all of this down, and then start to think of ways you can shift this mindset into an intuitive eating mindset. It might mean pausing to take a deep breath and check in with yourself before you eat, or actively working to neutralize all foods and to put all foods on an even playing field morally speaking.
Remember that just because different foods contain different nutrients, doesn’t mean that they are good or bad – they’re just different. In fact, that might be a mantra you write in your journal. Another way to work on cultivating a mindset of food freedom is remembering that food freedom means that you have equal permission to say yes to a food, and to say no.
Food freedom means that sometimes you eat the cake because you want it, and sometimes you eat it just because it’s your kid’s birthday or your friend’s wedding, and you don’t feel guilty about this. But food freedom also means that sometimes you say no thanks when you genuinely don’t want a piece of cake in that moment – and you don’t feel deprived because you know that you can have cake any time you want it. Ironically, knowing that we can have it whenever we want it makes us want those foods less frequently in the long run.
So I want you to journal about where you’re hung up with diet rules, food judgments, feeling guilty, bashing your body…and to also journal about how you can shift your mindset using the intuitive eating framework.
Feeling Empowered With Intuitive Eating
If you want to go deeper with this, I’d love to invite you to consider joining my upcoming virtual workshop. It’s called the Empowered Intuitive Eating Experience.
In the workshop I’m going to do trainings on how to get clear and confident in WHY and HOW intuitive eating works to squash any self-doubt that you might have; we’re going to practice an attuned eating experience together and I’m going to walk you through how to check in with your body before/during/after eating; and I’m doing an updated version of my training on “decharming”…
This would be a GREAT next step if you’re someone who has been doing IE for a while and you want to accelerate your progress or go deeper, or if you feel stuck. It’s also perfect for those of you who are past clients or students who have taken any of my other programs including Non-Diet Academy.
We are going to focus on getting clear, confident and empowered so that you don’t feel like you’re floundering or wonder if you’re doing it right. Click here for more details and to register.
Now go listen to the full episode and let me know what you think!
Did you know you can listen to all this information in audio format?
Search for Episode 80 – Liberating Your Inner Intuitive Eater: Shedding the Diet Rules and Cultivating Food Freedom
Let’s get connected!
Looking for more support on your journey to food freedom and body acceptance?
- Join my Facebook group & community “Intuitive Eating Made Easy”
- Take my FREE quiz “What’s Your Unique Path to Food Freedom?”
- Save $120 on HelloFresh, my fav food delivery service!
- Check out my course, Non-Diet Academy