Want Better Health (Without Dieting)? Build These 3 Habits Now

June 18, 2024

Self-Paced Course: Non-Diet Academy


You'll also love

learn more

A Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master's degree in dietetics & nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.

Meet Katy

Welcome back to Rebuilding Trust With Your Body, I’m Katy Harvey your host. Today on the show we are going to talk about ways you can legitimately improve your health, without dieting. Diet culture has led us to believe that in order to get healthier we need to be cutting out certain foods, drinking a bunch of green smoothies, and always focusing on weight loss in order to improve our health. All of that is nonsense, and often backfires and damages health, so what are you supposed to do if you’ve decided you’re not dieting anymore, you’re not cutting out food groups, and you’re not fixating on weight loss? 

I can promise you that it doesn’t mean that you are letting yourself go, or that you have to just disregard your health. 

There are TONS of things you can do to improve your health, and of course a lot of those things are going to be specific to your personal situation, and it will depend on what your health struggles or concerns are. 

What I’m going to share with you today though are 3 habits that are health-promoting for most people that you can apply and start building these habits right now. Remember that it takes time to build habits, and we want to approach it in a way that’s sustainable, so we’re going to talk about what that looks like, without turning it into a diet and without creating new sets of rules that you have to abide by. I know that it can feel like a bit of a tightrope to walk ok, so I’m going to help you see how you can add these habits as part of your intuitive eating process, and that it truly can support your actual health AND having a peaceful relationship with food and your body. 

Habit #1) Eat Breakfast With a Decent Amount of Protein

Let’s start with the “eat breakfast” part. That’s the first thing here. If you’re not eating anything for breakfast, it would be a health-promoting habit for you to start doing this, regardless of WHAT you’re eating. 

I know you might be thinking 1 of 2 things:

  1. “But Katy, I’m not hungry for breakfast. I’m just not a breakfast person.”
  2. “But what about intermittent fasting?”

If You’re Not Hungry for Breakfast:

If you don’t wake up hungry and you’re not a breakfast person, we can fix that. The reason you’re not waking up hungry is because your body isn’t expecting breakfast. Our hunger signals are part of our circadian rhythm (aka your “biological clock”), so when your body doesn’t anticipate breakfast it’s not going to send you the hunger signal for it. 

Another common reason people don’t wake up hungry for breakfast is if their overall food intake is skewed towards the end of the day. I had a client who was doing this recently, and she was like, “Katy, I’m just not hungry in the morning for breakfast.” I went through a food recall with her and really quickly I could see what the issue was. She was eating a tiny little bit at breakfast because she was trying to apply what we were talking about, and then she’d eat a pretty light lunch, sometimes a snack in the afternoon and sometimes not, then a pretty big dinner with her family, and in the evening it would be Game On with allllll the snacks. So we worked on shifting her food intake and making it more evenly distributed throughout the day, and go figure she started waking up hungrier for breakfast, and her evening snack became much smaller in size because she wasn’t so ravenous at the end of the day. 

If you’re not eating breakfast, and you end up eating quite a bit of your daily intake at dinner and in the evening, sometimes you’re not going to wake up hungry because you basically ate a bunch of food before bed. It sets up this vicious cycle where you’re hungry at the end of the day BECAUSE you didn’t eat breakfast and didn’t eat enough earlier in the day. And then you’re not hungry for breakfast BECAUSE you ate a bunch of food the night before. 

You can train your body to be hungry for breakfast by – you guessed it – eating breakfast. 

Typically what my clients experience is that within a couple of weeks of eating breakfast each day they are used to it and they’re waking up hungry for it and ready to eat. 

What About Intermittent Fasting?

We always used to hear that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” and now we are hearing that it’s best to hold off until later in the day to eat something so that you can be in a fasted state longer. 

What does the research actually say about this? 

  • A randomized control trial showed that skipping breakfast is consistently associated with worse blood sugar control and higher A1c levels. It also showed that fasting until noon triggers postprandial hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar after you eat), and an impaired insulin response after both lunch AND dinner.
  • In a randomized trial of people with diabetes, they compared a small mostly carbohydrate breakfast to a bigger breakfast that was high in protein and fat, and they found that the high protein and fat breakfast led to greater reductions in blood sugar, A1c, and more satiety (so they were less hungry throughout the day).
  • A meta-analysis of randomized trials concluded that intermittent fasting and skipping breakfast does NOT improve blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, inflammatory markers, insulin, fasting glucose, leptin or ghrelin. 

It’s important to know that there are NO large RCTs on intermittent fasting and cardiometabolic benefits, and there are not robust consistent results showing benefit – especially not any benefit that we couldn’t get in other ways with other strategies, such as pairing together carbs and protein for blood sugar control.

The other concerns I have with intermittent fasting are that:

1) you already have a fast built into your life – it’s called sleeping

2) it teaches you to disregard and ignore your body’s cues. If you’re trying to make peace with food, this is NOT the way to go. It’s a total set up for binging, and it can really mess with your quality of life. 

So, hopefully you’re on board with me that eating breakfast – especially a breakfast high in protein – is a health-promoting habit. 

What do I mean by “high in protein?” And does that mean you shouldn’t have carbs? 

No, absolutely not. In just a second we’re going to talk more about pairing foods together, and you definitely still need to eat carbs at breakfast. When it comes to having a decent amount of protein at breakfast, that’s of course going to vary from person to person, and inside my programs I help my clients figure out what it means for them. I would say for you listening, take a look at what you’re currently eating for breakfast, and if there’s not about 20-30 grams of protein, you might try increasing it and see how it feels. If that feels like too much, you can always back off, but it at least gives you a feel for the general vicinity you are aiming for. (If you feel that you need more specific guidance on this for your body’s personal needs, feel free to reach out to me via email or DM.)

And OF COURSE with intuitive eating, we’re not focusing on numbers, and we’re not going to be rigid or diet-y with this. What we’re talking about here would fall into the category of “gentle nutrition” which is principle 10 of intuitive eating.

That’s where we get to take nutrition science, and apply it without the diet culture BS that is all about depriving ourselves and obsessing about weight loss. This isn’t about deprivation .It’s about lovingly PROVIDING your body with what it needs in order to feel good and function well. 

Habit #2) Combine Carb, Protein and Fat (Most of the Time) When You Eat

I had this client inside Non-Diet Academy who was SO SCARED to eat processed food when she first started. She had been immersed in all of this reading about how bad processed food is, that she should only be eating whole foods, plant-based foods, and clean foods…and she was driving herself nuts. 

She was terrified that she was going to become unhealthy if she let herself eat the foods that she was afraid of. Yet at the same time, part of her desperately wanted to eat those foods. She craved things like candy, granola bars, pizza, and Poptarts. But if she ate them she felt tons of guilt and would punish herself by either being more restrictive and trying to eat super “healthy” afterwards, or she’d go to the gym to make up for it. 

So what we did was look at the way ALL food breaks down into individual nutrients inside your digestive tract. She started to see that the Poptart she ate was breaking down into molecules of carbohydrate and fat, not all that different from the avocado toast she sometimes had.

Once she started looking at the food in terms of what it’s breaking down into, it allowed her to neutralize her fears and judgments over time and she started to see that she can mix and match foods together to give her body the nutrition it needs AND to include the foods she desired without becoming unhealthy. 

Let’s look at this strategy of combining carb, protein and fat (most of the time) when you eat. This strategy helps with your health in a few important ways:

  • Helps you meet your overall nutrition needs. A wide variety of foods gives you a wide variety of nutrients which is how your body is going to get all of the macronutrients (carb, protein and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that you need. If all you were eating all day was pretzels which are basically just carbohydrate, you’d be missing out on protein from things like meat and dairy, and fat from things like oils and dressings. If all you ate was grilled chicken all day you’d be missing out on carbs, which also means you’d be missing out on nutrients like folate and some of the B-vitamins that are found in grain products. You see, each food group provides different macro- and micronutrients, so it’s not a good idea to avoid things like carbs or fat. By pairing together carbs, proteins and fats you’re going to be giving your body the totality of the nutrition it needs, which is obviously health-promoting.
  • Promotes healthy blood sugar levels. Your body needs carbs to function properly. Full stop. We don’t need to be afraid of carbs. Carbs don’t cause diabetes. That’s not how that works. However, at the same time, eating carbs without including protein or fat means that you might get elevated blood sugar levels if you’re predisposed to insulin resistance, and by eating carbs on their own it tends to get used up really quickly as an energy source and then you’re hungry again shortly after.
  • Produces satiety and helps prevent overeating and binging. With carbs it’s easy to keep eating more and more if there’s no protein and fat with it to provide satiety and to give our body that sense of “enoughness.” So if you’re eating something like Cheez-Its, it’s easy to eat half the box and not feel full. However, if you pair the Cheez-Its with a cheese stick or a handful of nuts (both of which have protein and fat) you’re going to find that it fills you up and keeps you satisfied longer.

    On the other hand, if you’re just eating protein because you’re afraid of carbs, then you’re probably going to find yourself craving carbs and eventually feeling bored with unsatisfied by the protein foods. This is a recipe for eventually giving in and eating a crap ton of carbs, which then reinforces the idea that you can’t be trusted with them. But the problem isn’t that you can’t be trusted with carbs – it’s that you’re labeling them as off limits and setting yourself up to feel deprived and to want to gobble them all up when you finally cave in and eat something like bread, pasta or cereal.

    When you’re including carbs, protein and fat at most of your meals and snacks you’re going to find that you have more satisfaction, fewer food cravings, less overeating, more stable energy and blood sugar, and all of this is going to be health-promoting for your body.

Habit #3) Move Your Body – Within Reason

Research shows really clearly that exercise is supportive of both our physical health AND our mental health, regardless of weight. A study of almost half a million people showed that those who were more physically active had lower incidence of CVD, cancer, diabetes, chronic lower respiratory tract diseases, influenza and pneumonia, accidents and injuries, Alzheimer’s disease and kidney disease. (These things would be the most common causes of death.) What’s really interesting is that studies show that physical activity gives us these benefits, regardless of weight, and without weight loss happening. 

As great as that is, it’s really important to also acknowledge that research shows that there is such a thing as too much exercise. WE HAVE TO FIND THE MIDDLE GROUND. Too much exercise creates something called “low energy availability” and it can cause bone loss, cardiac issues, hormone issues, infertility and all sorts of other health problems. 

Just because being physically active is generally speaking good for our health, doesn’t mean that doing TONS of it is better for our health. Just like drinking some water is good for you, drinking too much water can cause water intoxication and kill you. We’re not going extremes around here.

Many of my clients have struggled with compulsion to exercise and feeling like they HAVE TO do it in order to feel healthy, to calm their anxiety, and to not gain weight. And it becomes a problem when yes it’s helping their anxiety, but it’s also CAUSING their anxiety if they can’t do it. There’s something called RED-S which is where people who are really active (you don’t have to literally be an athlete) are expending more energy than they are taking in, and their body is having to compensate for it. 

The other thing that a LOT of my clients struggle with is something called “exercise resistance syndrome.” There are usually 2 subsets of people in this category:

1) People who want to want to exercise. They logically know that it would be good for them, and generally in the past when they’ve been dieting they are also exercising, so they’re very on/off with exercise. But there’s also this big part of them that doesn’t want to exercise, and that can’t overcome that inertia to get themselves to do it, especially not consistently. These people tend to be beating themselves up and in so much shame that they’re not consistently exercising. 

2) People who actively hate exercise and have no interest in doing it. Perhaps they were forced to do it as a kid, or they have had some really shaming or traumatic experiences with exercise, or they’re sick of being told what they “should” do, so they’re kind of rebelling against it.

Inside Non-Diet Academy this is one of those things that we tackle head-on, and we look at it through the lens of making peace with exercise, just like we’re making peace with food and with our bodies. We talk about different types of exercise, which I like to call “movement”: intuitive movement, joyful movement, purposeful movement, and that sometimes movement is boring self-care. We all come from a different place, with a different relationship with movement. 

One of my clients in NDA told me recently that she was both excited and nervous for the exercise module because she has a love/hate relationship with movement. She said that prior to NDA she had done either extreme challenges and training, or no movement. And she told me, “I’m not sure if joyful movement exists for me.” So that was something that we explored together, and she started to see that it is possible to find balance, peace and joy with movement. 

One of the people in my NDA alumni membership struggled more with feeling like she HAD TO exercise every single day. And she told me a few days ago that she has gotten to a place where she still does some form of movement most days, and it just feels like a normal part of her life and she loves how it makes her feel. The shift she made was that she’s not doing high impact exercise the way she used to. She has some knee issues, and she started to see that it wasn’t serving her body’s needs to be doing high impact exercise, so she learned to listen to her body and find forms of movement she enjoys that work well for her body. THIS is what finding the middle ground looks like. DM me on Facebook or Instagram if this is something you’d like to explore together inside NDA. I’m happy to chat about what that would look like. (I have live cohorts and a self-study version.)

I’ll share one more example to help you see that everyone comes from a different place, so the middle ground will look different for all of us. Another one of my clients was telling me how she has been gradually adding back in movement by doing 1 exercise class per week, and she’s adding in more incidental movement throughout the day. So she’s moving more, but isn’t going overboard with the classes and “formal” exercise. She’s also finding more ways to move her body that are less structured and can be done any time without changing clothes or going to the gym. 

There are so many ways to move your body, and it doesn’t have to be done according to a rigid set of rules. That would be diet mentality. So if you want to genuinely do something positive for your health, find ways to be physically active that work for YOU and YOUR BODY, and don’t go overboard with it. This is truly one of the BEST things you can do for your health, and again it has nothing to do with weight or weight loss. Exercise has benefits regardless of the size of your body, and it doesn’t have to correlate with losing weight in order for it to improve your health and lower your risk of disease. (Again, don’t go to the extreme with this because that’s not actually healthy. In fact, it damages your health.) 

Let’s recap those 3 habits to build for better health without dieting:

  1. Eat breakfast, and make sure it has a decent amount of protein
  2. Combine carb, protein and fat (most of the time)
  3. Move your body – within reason

Wrapping Up + Your Next Steps

If you’re listening to this and you’re seeing that there truly is so much more to health that has nothing to do with dieting and chasing the number on the scale, and you’d like some support and guidance for how to implement these strategies into your everyday life, then Non-Diet Academy is likely going to be a great option for you. I have poured all of my best strategies for health alongside making peace with food, your body and exercise, and I show you how it all fits together. 

If you’re desiring to improve your health, without dieting, and to foster these types of healthy habits that we talked about today, so that you can have health without nonsense, without wellness woo, and without obsession – and you would like to work under my wing, with my eyes and my ears and my expertise to guide you on what this looks like for your unique needs, then reach out to me in the DMs and let’s chat. I would never pressure someone to join if I didn’t wholeheartedly believe it’s a good fit, so we can have a zero pressure, very chill conversation about your current struggles and goals and if NDA is the right fit for you, I would LOVE to have you inside. And if not, I have other offers and programs that might be a good fit too, so just reach out and we can have a chit chat.  

That’s all for this episode. Thank you SO MUCH for being here. I love my podcast fam and I am so honored that you take me along with you inside your ears for these episodes.

In case nobody has told you today – you are worthy just as you are. We’ll talk again soon.

Listen & subscribe on your favorite platform:  Apple Podcasts  | Spotify | Deezer |  Google

Search for Episode 132: What They Won’t Tell You About Intuitive Eating That I Will

Looking for more support on your journey to food freedom and body acceptance?

Leave a Reply