The un-diet.

Following a specific diet invented by someone else, if you didn't realize, is a popular thing to do. I attempted various diets when I was in college when I actually didn't need to lose any weight. I was being encouraged to do a diet and I ended up eating a lot of weird processed vegetarian "meats".

I grew up around in a chronic dieting mentality so I have a bit of experience in this realm, in addition to taking courses in grad school based on psychology of eating and approaching clients with chronic dieting mentality. Dieting promotes body self-consciousness. I was self-conscious about my body and remember wishing it looked differently. Looking back now, that is ridiculous. It wasn't until I lived in Australia, when I was 22, that I had an epiphany that my body was just fine, and that I wasn't going to internalize that it wasn't any longer. And I haven't been on a "diet" since then.

Oh and diets don't work anyways. Unless you are on a medically necessary diet for a specific condition that you have to follow for health reasons, diets aren't a long-term solution. Diets perpetuate feelings of failure, guilt, ineffectiveness, and the ridiculous notion that some foods are good, clean and pure and some foods are naughty or bad. Oh and there is just oodles of research to back this because Americans are obsessed with dieting and it is no coincidence that there is a high prevalence of eating disorders, obesity, and insane body standards.

"Dieting is the most common approach to losing weight for the majority of obese and overweight individuals. Restricting intake leads to weight loss in the short term, but, by itself, dieting has a relatively poor success rate for long-term weight reduction. Most obese people eventually regain the weight they have worked so hard to lose. Weight regain has emerged as one of the most significant obstacles for obesity therapeutics, undoubtedly perpetuating the epidemic of excess weight that now affects more than 60% of U.S. adults."1

Body weight is affected by biological, environmental, and behavioral pressures, all of which are inherently influenced by genetics. 1 It is no secret that our environment is becoming more and more obeseogenic. People work more, cook less, value convenience, eat processed foods, drive everywhere, and have a false sense of valuation on cheap eats. There are a lot of generalizations in that last sentence, but the evidence is empirical.

So this is all sounding very damned if we do, and damned if we don't. But there are new ideas emerging that are moving away from a weight-focused approach and moving towards a health-focused solution. There have been books and programs developed to promote this non-diet approach, which sounds sneakily similar to the diet industry, but the key points here are that the message is radically different, and that these changes are more focused on adopting realistic lifestyle changes. They aren't perfect but it is a movement in the right direction. I am going to list them below along with their principles and then I will tell you my own personal philosophy at the end.

Health at Every Size®

This approach focuses on healthy lifestyle by promoting behavioral changes related to diet and physical activity while emphasizing self-acceptance and well-being through an empowerment and intuitive approach.2

The principles are as follows:

  1. Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.

  2. Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.

  3. Respectful Care: Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.

  4. Eating for Well-being: Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.

  5. Life-Enhancing Movement: Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.

There are numerous websites that go into more detail as well as resources and support groups and dozens of books that you can buy. I think that the ideas of eliminating judgement and promoting health and self-acceptance are good- but unfortunately there is just mountains of research that links obesity to many chronic health conditions. In an article by Medical Daily Dr. Louisa Baur, a professor of pediatrics and child health at the University of Sydney in Australia states, “we should be careful not to minimize these health issues [related to obesity] — while at the same time not stigmatizing those affected by obesity."

I think that we shouldn't judge people for their weight. It means little to nothing about who they are as a person and it honestly isn't any ones business. But I do think that the conversation should continue about obesity, but should be shifted to hating the game, not the player. Instead of blaming people for being overweight let us as a society actually promote ideas that work towards eating whole, non-processed foods like: teaching people to cook, supporting small, family-farmers, feeding our kids wholesome foods in school, teach cooking and health classes starting at a young age, promoting physical activity in schools outside of just PE classes, the list could go on.

Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating is an approach that teaches you how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body--where you ultimately become the expert of your own body.3 The principles are as follows:

1. Reject the Diet Mentality. Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.

2. Honor Your Hunger. Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.

3. Make Peace with Food. Call a truce, stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can't or shouldn't have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing When you finally “give-in” to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating, and overwhelming guilt.

4. Challenge the Food Police. Scream a loud "NO" to thoughts in your head that declare you're "good" for eating under 1000 calories or "bad" because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The Food Police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loud speaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the Food Police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.

5. Respect Your Fullness. Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you're comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or food and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level?

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor. The Japanese have the wisdom to promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living In our fury to be thin and healthy, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence--the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes much less food to decide you've had "enough".