For years, the first thing I did in the morning was stand sideways in the bathroom mirror and examine the profile of my belly. Was I bloated? Was I heavier?
I would feel elated and triumphant if my belly looked smaller. Restricting my carbs yesterday had worked! It was worth it to go to bed with a tinge of hunger! I get to wear the tighter top that only works for my “good” days!
In short: I was succeeding at life today!
Other days — most days — it seemed like I was failing at life. I wouldn’t get to wear the tight top and I would feel guilty eating carbs today. I would feel obligated to restrict enjoyable foods, and I would go to dance class bundled up in bulky, inconvenient layers because I was ashamed that I wasn’t keeping my body under control.
Sometimes I would severely restrict my carbs in an effort to feel better about myself. My belly would get flatter, I would feel smug, and then inevitably gain the weight back.
I’m sure many of you relate to this experience, which is the Diet Cycle:
I recognize that throughout my experience with dieting and weight anxiety, my body was perceived by others (except by some in my ballet world) as thin. This meant that I experienced the thoroughly-documented phenomenon of thin privilege, and avoided weight stigma. (Even though I loathed my body, I wasn’t shamed for it or denied fair medical or professional treatment — I discuss this more in a previous post.)
Some people believe they would be happy if they had my body size. I’m qualified to tell you: no! While this type of body does gain unfair social privileges, it does not guarantee freedom from weight anxiety. Rather, your relationship with food and your self-perception determines if you have body confidence.
Now, my relationship with food is peaceful, intuitive, and easy… even after my history of anorexia, weight anxiety, and food obsession.
I want to talk about how I got here. But first, let’s talk dieting.
The Dangers of Dieting
Dieting may be the least effective way to maintain a healthy, stable weight throughout your life. In fact, dieting may cause weight gain: over 80% of people who go on a diet regain the weight they’ve lost, plus more (1).
Let’s define the term diet. Dieting is anytime you’re restricting a major food group or following food rules or restrictions with the intention of losing weight.
If you’re pursuing weight loss for health, it’s still pursuing weight loss.
Dieting is different than using a dietary protocol to overcome health problems without the intention of losing weight. However, restricting foods for health purposes often induces the Diet Cycle.
Health consequences of dieting:
- It slows your metabolism. Whenever our body senses food deprivation, it burns calories slower (1).
- This lower metabolic rate can continue even after caloric-restriction is stopped (2).
- Those who are lean, rather than obese, are more likely to gain weight with continued yo-yo dieting (3)
- Thinner folks may experience greater health risks when dieting (3).
- Yo-yo dieting may increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure for those with “normal” BMIs (3).
- “Weight cycling” i.e. yo-yo dieting is associated with an increased risk of heart disease for women (4)
- Dieting has a correlational relationship to the development of eating disorders. 14 and 15 years old girls who engage in extreme dieting are 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder (5).
We’ve been told dieting is the only way to live a moral, upstanding life. Learning that diets are bad for our health can be shocking, but this is what I’ve been saying on my blog since the beginning: “Hey everyone, mainstream medicine kinda got it really wrong.”
Consider, also, the impacts on mental health. You probably know from experience that dieting leads to feelings of insanity, frustration, and chronic guilt. This feelings aren’t because you’re doing it wrong… they are inherent in the diet trap.
Dieting and quality of life
“Dieting makes you fatter” is often enough motivation to find an alternative lifestyle. However, if you still feel obligated to diet, consider the impacts it has on your quality of life.
Research shows that reading the news for three minutes in the morning makes us grumpy — no surprise there, given the negative tone of newspapers. But this foul mood may set the tone for the whole day! Compared to individuals who read inspiring content in the morning, those who read bad news were 27% more likely to report their day as unhappy. (6)
Is it possible that starting your day with food obsession and weight anxiety carries the same impact?
You probably don’t need a study to know this, but body insecurity decreases arousal and orgasms for women (7). BMI, however, is not associated with sexual satisfaction (8), showing that body confidence rather than weight loss is the way to a better sex life.
Creativity and Life Purpose
I don’t have research to back this up, but as my friend Holly Higgins says, I am the evidence. You can’t double-blind me, randomize me or control me, but look at me and see the proof.
You know what I did when I dieted? I followed rules — food rules and life rules. I didn’t have the mental energy to challenge authority, assert my true self, and express my creativity. When I freed up my mental energy and quieted the anxiety from dieting, I stepped into a more radiant version of myself.
Impact on our Children
I don’t know about you, but I learned how to diet and criticize my body partly due to watching my mom’s food relationship. When mothers who talk about their weight, shape, or size are more likely to have daughters with lower self-esteem. Their daughters are also more likely to report feelings of depression and use dangerous weight control methods like binging, purging, diuretics, and laxatives (9).
My mom wasn’t the only woman who impacted my fear of food. Whenever an adult woman made a fearful or hateful comment about her body, I took it in and subconsciously turned it upon myself. We have a RESPONSIBILITY to uproot the body hatred that poisons our daily speech — our daughters, nieces, and students are listening.
I knew long ago that I’m not here on earth to have daughters of my own, but to help women and their daughters feel FREE rather than trapped by their bodies. I know this in my bones, and that’s why I’m passionate about this education.
But isn’t weight loss important for health?
While carrying excess weight can absolutely hinder one’s quality of life, science doesn’t show that body fat causes disease. Research fails to show a causal relationship between fat and disease, although there is correlation. In fact, fatness is correlated to a longer life. (References and more info here.)
The pillars of health include:
- Spirituality (life purpose/meaning
Often, we pursue weight loss as a means to the end of health. We may think we need to lose weight to gain the confidence (Emotional) to improve our sex life (Sexuality), try out a new exercise class (Movement) or apply for the soul-fulfilling new job (Spirituality).
It’s more effective to make health the goal, not weight loss.
Further, when we keep the focus on weight loss, we miss the other avenues that can improve our health. For example, loneliness can be a more significant factor in health than obesity, smoking, exercise, or nutrition (6).
Why isn’t “The Loneliness Epidemic” making headlines like the “Obesity Epidemic?” Let’s follow the money…
The 70 Billion Dollar Question
Consider the following:
If diets aren’t effective in maintaining weight loss, and weight loss doesn’t necessarily improve health, and weight cycling is associated with negative health issues…
… is it ethical to encourage people to lose weight?
I mentioned that the diet industry is a 70 billion dollar industry (10). Do you think that industry actually holds good intentions for its customers? Or, do you think the industry has created a lucrative cycle, where it offers an addictive, short-term high that keeps people coming back for more?
This industry knows that you didn’t fail the diet — the diet failed you. They’re counting on you to never realize this fact.
Escaping the Diet Trap
How do we escape the diet trap and reconnect to our bodies? We learn intuitive eating.
There are various definitions of intuitive eating, and mine is: You eat in a way that makes you feel good in your body, mind, and soul. Your relationship with food empowers you to live a delicious and fulfilling life.
- You eat what you want, whenever you want while feeling radiant and confident in your body.
- You stop when you’re full, and no longer feel the need to keep stuffing yourself to the point of shame and guilt.
- You keep your favorite foods around without fear of binging.
- You enjoy vacations, restaurants, and parties without stressing about food.
- You enjoy intimacy without body insecurities.
- AND you have a body you love without obsessing about a number on the scale
I know, this may be difficult to envision, especially if you’ve struggled with dieting and disordered eating for years. When I was in the throes of food obsession, I couldn’t dream of having this type of relationship with food or my weight.
Thanks to intuitive eating, I enjoy this much freedom. My clients do too, after I incorporated it into my nutrition practice. It’s a powerful, life-changing paradigm — especially when combined with the mindset-shifting modalities and energy medicine that is the foundation of my work.
Support for Intuitive Eating
Through my nutrition practice, I realized that I could only get my clients so far with dietary and supplement protocols. The underlying problems for many of my clients were fear of food, distrust of their bodies, and a need for control that was causing constant anxiety.
Nutrition can’t solve these problems, because they are cultural, spiritual, and mindset problems. That’s why I’ve shifted my practice to helping my clients eat intuitively and address these root issues.
While you can make the shift to intuitive eating alone, it often takes years to find your stride. Why? Because a history of dieting, disordered eating, and weight control make it really difficult to get back in touch with our body’s wisdom.
Many people try it out, but don’t trust or understand the process. Then they give up, believing it failed and that their only option is to go back to the diet paradigm for the rest of their lives.
In my practice, I’ve found intuitive eating requires three things:
- Mindset-shifting techniques
- Identifying the deeper issues underlying food control and obsession
Mindset-shifting techniques are the secret ingredients. They turbocharge the process by shifting subconscious beliefs and rewiring the brain. It makes intuitive eating easier, faster, and more sustainable.
Food and weight issues are manifestations of deeper problems. I’ve never worked with a woman who’s food issues weren’t related to to spiritual, emotional, sexual, or environmental causes. My training with spiritual leaders including Carolyn Myss, Jean Houston, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Martha Beck, along with my intuitive skills, allows me to address these underlying issues with my clients.
Accountability plays a critical role, because intuitive eating is outside our comfort zone. We’re not going to feel ready for it — we have to start taking steps forward even though we feel unsure. This is why it’s so helpful to work with a guide who knows the path and the pitfalls, and how to avoid them.
Ready to eat intuitively?
If you’re ready free yourself from food obsession, emotional eating, and weight anxiety, I’m excited to share the a free intuitive eating class I put together for you.
Click below to watch it: