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4 Unexpected Ways that Food Freedom Will Make You Happier

September 5, 2023

Self-Paced Course: Non-Diet Academy


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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

Let’s go back in time. Put yourself back in the moment that you first decided that you didn’t like your body and you wanted to do something to change it.

Maybe you were a kid who got teased on the playground or in gym class and you looked down at your chubby thighs or your big belly and you decided that you wanted to fit in better.

Or perhaps you were at the doctor for a checkup as a tween, and the doctor mentioned that you could stand to lose a few pounds and encouraged your mom to get the sweets out of the house and to make you exercise more. 

Maybe your mom saw you struggling with your body image, and she had you come to Weight Watchers meetings with her as a way to try and help you avoid the same shame and struggles that she has had her entire life with food and her body. 

Perhaps you felt relatively ok about your body until after you had kids and you couldn’t lose the baby weight, and you decided that it was time to buckle down and “get your body back.”

Whatever your reason, you decided that enough was enough and you were going to fix your body. You were unhappy with yourself, and you assumed that weight loss would make you feel better. 

I am guessing it probably did make you feel better at first. You might have felt like you were taking charge of your health, or that you were going to become more popular, or that guys would finally want to date you. Maybe you felt more confident as you lost some weight and bought new clothes. 

“This is working!” you thought.

But eventually things shifted. You started cheating on your diet, or sneaking snacks when your mom wasn’t looking, or you were “good” with food all day only to find yourself chain swallowing Twinkies in your bedroom at night and hiding the evidence.

You probably felt ashamed and out of control. And eventually I’m guessing you started to regain any weight you might have lost, and probably more. Turns out this it the norm with dieting – to lose some weight initially and then regain it, and for about ⅔ of people who regain the weight they’ll regain more than they lost. Which is why dieting is the #1 cause of weight GAIN.

Dieting “Works” for a While

All of this can be so confusing, right? When you were first doing the diet, it was “working” in the sense that you were losing weight and you might have been feeling more comfortable in your body, maybe you felt like you fit in better with your friends, and maybe your health did improve…but it was all temporary. 

The process of trying to stick to a diet, or a calorie limit, or clean eating, or a healthy eating plan is kind of thrilling at first. You’re on that high of feeling excited about doing something for yourself that feels positive. 

But then it becomes a grind. Eventually you found that you didn’t want a salad for lunch, and you were tired of snacking on an apple and almonds, and you started to get bored with grilled chicken. You are probably sick of tracking your food in MyFitnessPal, or keeping track of your calories or points. 

Let’s face it, it’s a big huge bummer to go to a party, or a holiday gathering, or a social event when you’re on a diet. 

If you’ve ever walked sadly past the dessert section at the grocery store, or skipped the chip aisle because you don’t trust yourself to keep these foods in the house, you know how hard it is to have any type of boundary with these foods if and when you do have some at home. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where you told yourself that you can’t have it because you’ll inhale it when you get home, and then that’s exactly what happens when we’ve deprived ourselves of these foods (and it’s also why decharming works, and why it’s something that I encourage all of my Non-Diet Academy students to do as part of making peace with food). 

My overall point here is that dieting and most versions of “healthy eating” might feel good at first, but it eventually becomes too depriving and unsustainable and you start to crave the things you’ve told yourself you shouldn’t have. It’s not a recipe for joyful living. In fact, it’s quite stressful.

The 4 Unexpected Ways that Food Freedom Will Make You Happier

The flip side of how miserable dieting makes us and how it steals our joy, is that food freedom can make you SO MUCH HAPPIER.

A while back I asked the people in my Facebook group, Intuitive Eating Made Easy, what has been the biggest benefit of ditching dieting and embracing intuitive eating, and here were some of their answers:

  • “The feeling of freedom I have around food and in life in general. Also, I am so less judgemental of others because I have removed that from myself.”
  • “Having time for things that aren’t consumed in diet culture. Actually being able to take care of myself”
  • “I no longer feel like I should not participate, like talking to new people, swimming, dancing.”
  • “The end of binging and of my tendency to finish off containers of food when I wasn’t even hungry, and the beginning of actually enjoying giving my body the nutrition and enjoyment of food once again!”

I had dozens of comments like these that came in, and it is so incredible to hear these real life examples of how people just like you have found peace with food, and more enjoyment in LIFE, and next I am going to distill these 4 themes that are ways food freedom and intuitive eating can make you happier:

1) You can more easily allow yourself to be in photos and to make memories in your life

Being in photos, going places and doing things out in the world can be really challenging when you don’t like your body. And when you don’t let yourself do things, it’s a way of missing out on life. When you don’t allow yourself to be in photos, you’re essentially erasing yourself from the memories associated with your life. 

You know that moment when there’s about to be a group picture taken, and everyone rushes to be in the back so that their body doesn’t show? What if you didn’t have to do that anymore? 

When you have freedom with food and acceptance towards your body, these types of fears won’t hold you back anymore. You won’t skip out on the happy hour or the pool party because of your body shame or fear that you won’t be able to stick to your diet. You’ll go to these events because you want to be fully engaged in life. 

Life gets bigger when you’re not spending all of your time and energy making yourself smaller. 

2) Social situations are less stressful

The other day I was at lunch with a group of friends, and we went to this cool place that was kind of like a food court where everyone could pick which cuisine they were hungry for. Jackson and Lucas wanted pizza and pasta, and Trevor and I wanted Mexican, and it was so cool that we could all get what sounded good to us. 

But there would have been a time in my life that this was way too overwhelming for me, and I might have even made us skip out on lunch and go eat at home. We had all been at the park with our kids before that and then some of the group decided to grab lunch. It would have been really easy to bail and say something about how busy the rest of our day was and to miss out. 

These types of social situations can be SO hard when you’re stuck in the diet mentality. And on the flip side, they’re SO fun when you’re not. It’s a rare occasion these days when we’re able to get together with these friends because all of us have young kids and life is busy. I’m incredibly grateful for this time we got to spend together, and we caught up on what was going on in each other’s lives. 

When you have freedom with food, you don’t have to avoid or be stressed out during social events. You can go to a football game and enjoy the soft pretzel with cheese, or you can go to a carnival and get the funnel cake, or you say no to food at these events too if you’re not hungry (rather than because you feel like you shouldn’t eat the food).

3) You have the mental energy for other things in your life that you value

A lot of people in my Facebook group talked about this. They said they have time for themselves again because they’re not spending all their time researching diets, planning out their food, meal prepping, weighing themselves, and all the other logistics that go into dieting. They also talk about the mental energy that they have for things in life that they value – things like relationships, hobbies, their work, their faith and spirituality, kids and grandkids, and things that make life meaningful.

There’s an entire body of research around this concept of living life according to our values, and it’s the foundation for a type of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT for short. 

The gist of it is that when we align our behaviors with our values we are more fulfilled. Now the trouble is that oftentimes our minds tell us to do things for instant gratification that don’t actually align with our behaviors. Let me give you an example. 

Let’s say that you value your relationship with your friend, and you two have plans to take a walk. As the day gets closer you start to worry about how much you’re going to sweat, or if you’re going to be able to keep up with her, or whether you’ll be able to talk because you’re short of breath because you haven’t been doing much exercise lately and you feel like you’re out of shape. 

So out of fear, anxiety and shame you cancel on your friend, and you initially feel relief that you don’t have to go deal with that discomfort. But you don’t feel happy or more fulfilled. In fact, you might feel a little guilty for bailing on your friend, and kind of bummed that you don’t get to spend time with her. Because your true value here was connection and friendship, and your behavior didn’t align with your value. 

You might be thinking, “But, Katy, one of my values is health, and when I diet and lose weight I am healthier.” I understand why you feel that way. 

Here’s the thing: the research is clear on how dieting doesn’t actually make us healthier. It damages your health, especially if you are weight cycling (which is the yo-yo’ing up and down with your weight). 

Dieting also sets us up for deprivation and binge eating, which also isn’t healthy. Plus when we think about health we have to factor in mental and social health as well. 

And even if your health looks better medically when you diet and lose weight, those improvements are often only temporary for as long as you can sustain the diet, which tends to be less than 5 years for 95% of people. You’re better off finding long-term ways to tend to your health, because again the dieting will make things look better initially but worse in the long run, and that’s what’s so confusing about it. 

If you value your actual HEALTH, then letting go of dieting and restrictive eating is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Healing your relationship with food is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It also allows you to approach your health from many different angles, including gentle nutrition, and it can also include health-promoting behaviors like getting enough sleep, and having strong social connections. 

4) You’ll find joy in food AND other things

This is one of the coolest parts of intuitive eating and food freedom. Rediscovering joy with food. Having a positive regard for food without all of the judgment, guilt and shame. We recently made homemade ice cream in one of those hand crank buckets and it was a fun family activity where the kids could help and see how ice cream is made. Not to mention it’s delicious. 

There’s also joy in doing things like making breakfast together on a Saturday morning, or decorating cookies for the holidays. If you have a garden you might get joy out of harvesting the things you grew and incorporating them into your meals. 

The other cool thing about food freedom is that you’ll experience more joy about things outside of food. You’ll most likely find yourself thinking about food less in general. When we are dieting or restricting ourselves what happens is our brains become more preoccupied with food. It’s a biological survival mechanism. 

When we aren’t obsessing about food anymore, we can quite literally have more fun in life. Sometimes we also use food for fun in a disproportionate way. If the only way we know how to experience fun, joy or pleasure is through eating then you’re also missing out on other things

When food isn’t the most important part of your way to have fun then you can experience joy in other ways. You might discover that for a date night with your partner instead of the restaurant you pick for dinner being the main focus of the evening, that you try to pick an activity where the activity itself is more of the focus. I’m not saying don’t go enjoy a meal, but to try and seek out fun and novel activities that will bring you joy. Maybe you go bowling, or check out the exhibit at a museum, or go to a concert or a sporting event. 

Food freedom allows you to get an appropriate amount of joy from food, and for food to also sometimes be just ok, and that’s fine too. Food doesn’t always have to be a 10/10. It can be a 5/10 and that’s fine. 

Food freedom allows you to get joy from other things, because you’re not distracted by food obsession, or avoiding situations because of your fear of judgment, and it allows you to find ways to enjoy life more fully, which I think most of us could stand to do. 

Closing Thoughts

If you struggle with your eating and your body image, healing your relationship with food is one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself. It will change your life in ways you might not have ever imagined, and a lot of them have nothing to do with the food itself. 

The ripple effect of no longer being consumed by your thoughts about food is that you are able to devote your time, attention and energy to other things in your life – and that’s powerful! 

I covered it all in Episode 93-4 Unexpected Ways that Food Freedom Will Make You Happier

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