Why dieting works (for some people, some of the time.)

I don’t actually want to talk about the weight-loss aspect of dieting in this post, even though that is what you’re most likely to think of when you think of whether or not dieting “works.”

If short-term weight loss were the sole barometer of success, then just about every diet you can think of, including the completely nonsensical ones involving cabbage soup or apple cider vinegar + a healthy dose of pseudoscience, works. They will all induce short-term weight loss.

For a very small number of people – those who were going to lose weight anyway because they were somehow temporarily above their body’s naturally-defended weight, or those who have the good fortune to both not regain while still dieting, and have the emotional/physical/financial/temporal resources to devote themselves to the full-time, lifelong project of controlling their weight – they can even trigger long-term weight loss.

That number has never been very high in any diet plan, so it’s hard to count it as a success. By the same marker of “success,” you could say that chemotherapy works, dysentery works, smoking works, methamphetamine works, and chronic alcoholism works – because they all induce weight loss, and yet they are all pretty terrible for one’s nutritional health.

What I’m talking about when I say “dieting works” for some people, some of the time, is the fact that I hear stories from lots of people about how a particular diet approach (which they often insist Is Not A Diet! despite the fact that it comes with a strict meal plan, food rules, or some counting mechanism) helps a person eat normally and feel in control of their eating and feel healthier. To me, these are more important barometers of whether or not something “works” than weight loss ever will be.

So, being a person who is pretty anti-dieting, how can I reconcile the stories I hear about various diet plans making people feel happy and healthy, with what I know to be true about eating competence?

I’ve noticed two common denominators about many of these stories: structure, as in structured meal times, combined with a form of blanket food restriction, like one forbidden food group, counting points or controlling portions, or even a set of complicated food-combining rules. I’m going to talk about structure first, and restriction second.

All by itself, having regular meals at set times, and respecting the non-eating times in between those meals, can give a person a really helpful sense of control over their eating.

In the eating competence approach, structured meal times work for a few reasons:

  1. They are set at reasonable intervals, allowing a person to get comfortably hungry, but not TOO hungry, in between eating times.
  2. Within those times, you are allowed unconditional permission to eat what, and as much as you want. This allows you to have a sense of organization about your eating, but without it feeling restrictive.
  3. Since many cultures, the world over, seem to have organized their eating into mealtimes for much of human history, when you practice eating at meal times, you and your body will fall into a rhythm of hunger and fullness that feels damn near instinctive.
  4. It is also way more convenient if, like most people, you work a day job and don’t have the luxury of simply choosing to drop everything and eat whenever you feel like it.

The second common denominator in many of these stories is a set of food rules or a type of food restriction. Despite the fact that lots of people find rules and restrictions immediately threatening and unsustainable, there are plenty of other people who find them comforting, because they set helpful limits on a world of seemingly endless food choices.

If you just know that you are never going to eat bread (or sugar, or wheat, or meat, or whatever) again, because that’s the universal food rule you’ve decided on, it can making choosing your food much simpler than having to go through the internal mental struggle of asking yourself what you want from the entire universe of foods available, and then filtering your desire through a lifetime of internalized, half-remembered nutrition theories picked up from friends, magazines, family members, Dr. Oz, and diet books.

Similarly, portion-measuring and calorie-counting, while still technically allowing a person to eat any type of food they want, can be comforting because they eliminate the need to decide internally how much you are hungry for, and what level of fullness you want to reach, and then filter that decision through a lifetime of internalized, half-remembered rules about how many calories is too much, what people will think if you eat two sandwiches in one sitting, and whether or not you are a bad person for wanting dessert on top of a really big meal.

Most diets, in fact, attempt to combine a sense of permission within comforting limits, just like eating competence does – low-carb diets pull you in with promises of endless steak while prohibiting mashed potatoes, Weight Watchers says you can technically eat anything you want as long as it stays within your Points allowance, and food combining plans claim you can eat any food as long as it is combined properly with other foods (the upshot being you can never again eat a tuna sandwich or other common food items) – but in my opinion, they fail miserably.

The permission they offer is conditional and incomplete, and the limits they offer are arbitrary, artificial, and sometimes downright cruel, because they disrupt people’s foodways and traditions, and encourage them to override the internal appetite signals that actually are trying to steer them in the right direction.

Unconditional permission to eat food that you truly want, that is meaningful to you (and it might sound silly to say that tuna sandwiches or mashed potatoes have meaning, but they do), in amounts and combinations that feel right in your body, is true permission. Anything less is counterfeit permission.

The helpful structure of predictable, routine eating times interspersed with non-eating times where you are not left hungry or unsatisfied and longing for more, and can actually devote your attention fully to other matters – which requires you to devote enough time and thought to food that you get fed and nourished, but also gives you a break from needing to think about food – is real structure. Other forms of structure are often restriction in disguise.

So why do people find these forms of restriction appealing and helpful? Well, aside from helping people to negotiate a varied, complex, and ambivalent food world, I also believe these things feel comforting because we have been trained to distrust our own appetites.

This is often expressed through the idea of food addiction, which I will talk about in the next post.

You’re welcome to share your experiences, but I request that you not promote dieting or certain diets. People find it triggering, myself included.

Also – apologies in advance if I get a bit overbearing in comments. With the increased traffic and new readers, I’m being extra vigilant, so I may get over-explainy at times.

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156 Comments

  1. Alexie
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    This hits the nail on the head for me. Two things happened to me that changed my approach to eating and changed my life as a result. One was that I moved to middle Europe, where there are strict norms around food, and the other is that I had a bad health scare at the same time my mother had a stroke. I felt an urgent need to make a lasting healthy lifestyle change, that would help temper some of the health risks I have.

    When I started to look into some strategies, I was blown away by how little I actually understood about food and nutrition – and how little so many experts know about it, either. Changing my habits was a damn hard struggle, and I used all the tools I could find, including food journaling and measuring cups, for a time. Trying to separate genuine health concerns from weight loss was always hard too.

    The thing that really helped was being in an environment that is built around regular meal times and which respects food. Without that, I think I would have gone back to my usual, eating-on-the-run patterns long ago. The best part is that nothing is denied – it just has its place. An iron-clad Sunday ritual here is coffee and cake, and now I love it. I guess that means it’s both restricted and permitted?

    It’s really sorted me out and I feel less hungry than I used to and more in control of my life. A nice side effect is that I spend a lot less on food than I used to.

    It’s had one other effect on me – I am actively looking to participate in discussions and actions around food policy. It seems to me now that there are too many discussions about food and personal choices/personal responsibility, and not nearly enough about the food environment. I live and work in an environment where behaviours like eating at desks, skipping meals because of work pressures, or eating on the run in order to finish work tasks are seen as unusual or questionable.

    My friends back home, on the other hand, are not only routinely expected to put their meal times last, but are often perversely proud of working so hard that they don’t have time to eat. This view is encouraged by their co-workers and employers, so if they do stop to have a sit-down meal away from the desk, it attracts frowns.

    I’ve also noted that in the English speaking world, there is a relentless drumbeat of advertising telling everyone they don’t have enough time to eat, so should find a food shortcut, with the clear message that taking time to eat is counterproductive and a waste of time. If the nanny state really did care about people’s health and nutrition, countering that marketing voice would be a good place to start.

    • Posted October 17, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      I love your whole comment, and your experience is fascinating, but I especially wanted to agree with this:

      It seems to me now that there are too many discussions about food and personal choices/personal responsibility, and not nearly enough about the food environment.

      I absolutely believe that cultures where people take regular break and mealtimes are probably nutritionally healthier, and perhaps healthier in other ways as well – and not entirely because the composition of their diets might be different, but because the way they approach food and hunger and fullness is different.

      In North America, the rhetoric around healthy eating is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS focusing on personal choice, even though sometimes we give it the veneer of concern for “systems issues”…because then we return to suggesting that those systems issues get solved by people making different personal choices. This is bollocks. People need a supportive environment that provides quality food at reasonable cost, and the time and facilities to prepare and eat it. No amount of “personal choice” is going to fix the fact that many people don’t have that. And those who are in a position to make different personal choices are already relatively privileged and the least vulnerable to problems with the food system.

      • L.
        Posted October 17, 2012 at 11:13 am | Permalink

        (A different L. from the one below)

        Your last paragraph here fascinates me, Michelle. I totally believe it (our emphasis on individualism and personal choice permeates every facet of our lives) but would love to hear more about alternative perspectives. How do non-North Americans approach the topic of healthy eating? What does that suggest about how we North Americans can reframe our approach to eating? And how is the individual experience of hunger, fullness, desire for certain foods, etc. reframed within these revised approaches?

        These aren’t rhetorical questions… I don’t have answers in mind and am really curious about what you might say about these things.

        • Posted October 17, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

          I agree that these are great questions – unfortunately I don’t know if I can answer them, since I’m US/Canadian! Although there are pockets of places where mealtimes are respected, even here – one of my clients had a great experience in New Brunswick (or Newfoundland? I can’t remember which one) where the entire town seemingly had meals at the same time, and they were respected as a rule. She said her eating felt much calmer there.

          However, you might find these links interesting – they were sent to me recently by a reader:

          http://www.food.unt.edu/philfood/
          http://foodanthro.com/

          Anyone who knows about this topic, I’d love to hear what you have to say. (I also want to be careful not to imply that people in other places or cultures automatically have a single view of food and eating, or are universally healthy – it’s obviously going to be as complex and varied as it is among people in my own country and culture. I just do find a tendency to over-individualize problems/solutions in the US especially.)

          • Posted October 18, 2012 at 2:22 am | Permalink

            I live in the UK, and the approach to eating here is less restrictive. Also, the attitude toward work is different, and that affects how people think about eating. The press and the government are always spewing off about obesity and unhealthy eating habits, but people don’t seem to swallow the rhetoric whole like so many do in North America.

            People don’t feel as pressured to put long hours of face time in at work, and my husband says that nobody at his job (in science – they’re all very educated) pretends that they don’t eat. They eat largish, balanced, but not necessarily light lunches together in the cafeteria. This is in contrast to his coworkers in Toronto, who tended to either be eating huge restaurant meals or not eating properly. Mine were the same, come to think of it.

            I’m stuck at home right now, and I can tell you that the people who are home during the day in the neighbourhood (mostly with small children or self employed, like me) don’t think twice about meeting at a cafe for tea and between-meal cake. This makes me happy, as I love tea and cake.

            It’s also common to have an incidentally physical active day-to-day life here, similar to how things are in Toronto. Lots of public transport usage, and the whole city is built out of 3 to 5 storey walkups with no elevators (not exactly a paradise for disabled people!). I have a 3rd – 2nd in Brit – storey flat in a Victorian building, and there are 50 steps going up to it because the ceilings are 16 feet high. The train stations have even more steps, and the whole city is very hilly, so you get some exercise just walking.

            There are plenty of fat people here, though, especially around my size range (I wear a UK 20, US/Canadian 16 or 18W) or a little bigger. You don’t see that many folks who look like they wear over a size 30, though.

          • Kaz
            Posted October 18, 2012 at 5:38 am | Permalink

            I’m German, living in the UK. It’s a bit tricky because I don’t really know North American eating norms? So it’s hard to say where they differ exactly. I also don’t know how much of my experience is standard.

            Re: Germany, I think there’s a bit of a split between/movement away from traditional eating patterns and more modern ones. Which is: traditionally, you have bread/muesli/something along those lines for breakfast, a cooked meal for lunch, and bread for dinner (one of the more common words for “dinner” in German actually literally means “evening bread”). But that’s hard to bring in line with the modern workday, which doesn’t give you a several-hour lunch break in which you can go home and cook food or whatever. There’s cafeterias and the like – IME the food you get at German cafeterias tends to be of higher quality with more variation than the food you get at British ones, but my sample size is not the biggest – but many people just end up making sandwiches at home and having a cooked meal for dinner instead.

            Germany has a massive bread culture, with thousands of different kinds of bread – mostly whole-wheat, seedy, etc. – and I think that’s generally considered healthy with some snobbery and “bad for you!” directed at white breads. I know that I was absolutely shocked the first time I encountered someone who was claiming that bread was unhealthy and bad for you because CARBS, the concept just did not compute. On the other hand, even after many years living outside Germany and needing to figure out my meals however I can, there is a small part of me that feels having more than one warm meal a day is decadent and also means you are not eating the requisite amount of bread necessary for your health! You’ll get ill because of yeast deprivation or something! ;) Other people get a pass for being from a different culture, but I’m really most comfortable if I can arrange regular intake of bread.

            In the UK I’m a PhD student at a university. I can’t even imagine the idea of being looked at funny for taking a lunch break – for a while the PhD students had this thing going where a bunch of us had communal lunch breaks + crossword puzzle solving – people would bring sandwiches, warm up leftovers, or grab some form of takeaway from one of the cafeterias or nearby shops. Moreover, food/drink tends to be a big part of the department social life – there’s weekly seminars for each subject and for the postgrads that are either preceded or followed by tea and biscuits/cake, which is the big chance to catch up with people and gossip with the speaker. A lot of them also go to the pub for a drink and do lunches or dinners with the speaker. I’m not sure how much of that is because university culture is different, and also I’m in a male-dominated subject area which might play a role (some of the “but you are eating unhealthily!” stuff being aimed specifically or disproportionately at women).

            Really, judging by what US folk say, it seems as if food and health may just be seen as a bigger deal in North America? There’s definitely harangues about obesity epidemics here, but I’ve never, ever encountered people making comments re: the food I eat and buy, and I don’t always pick the “healthiest” option and am also slightly overweight according to BMI.

          • Posted October 18, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

            I love bread. Obviously I need to move to Germany where people properly appreciate it.

            It’s funny how North Americans *whine* more about food and health, and some of them take individual steps (usually rather extremist, faddish steps) to try and change their eating and health, but no one seems to want to make any substantive changes that would actually help most people on a broad scale (aside from hand-slapping measures like banning the sale of large sodas or trying to put a “sin tax” on junk food.) It’s like a circus of idiocy.

            Make all food, particularly nourishing staple foods, more affordable. Make sure people have adequate income supports to buy food if they need it. Create a culture where it is expected and encouraged that people take proper meal breaks, and maybe even have time/skills/facilities to cook their food. Get rid of all the dumb faddish rules about diet and encourage people to listen to their own bodies and eat what feels good and what leaves them healthy. I think these things would make a difference – of course it would take real work to implement instead of just hand-wringing, moralizing, and doing busywork.

            Okay I am getting way too ranty this morning.

          • Kaz
            Posted October 18, 2012 at 5:51 am | Permalink

            Actually, just remembered something re: health in the UK – there is this “5 a day” thing, in which the rule of thumb is that you should eat 5 units of fruit and veg a day (here’s a page on the NHS website talking about it). I thought this was more universal but Google is only turning up UK pages so apparently this isn’t a thing in the US? If you buy fruit, veg, juice, fruit-product snack bars, etc. in shops, they’ll frequently have something like “1 serving is 1 of your 5 a day” or the like written on it, and you can often get tiny packets of apple slices or whatever that are supposed to be one unit. What I haven’t seen but have heard of from US folk is dividing up further and going “this fruit good, that fruit bad”.

            Another thing re: food labelling is the traffic light system, in which food items come marked with a little circle divided into five slices (for calories, fat, sugars, salt, saturated fat), each telling you how much of each is in there and coloured red, yellow or green depending on how much proportionately to your daily intake – forex, I am looking at a carton of apple juice right now and it’s yellow on sugar and green on everything else (along with a little badge saying “a 200ml serving is one of your 5 a day”). I find this pretty obnoxious because of the “green = good, red = bad” signalling.

          • Posted October 18, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

            It used to be a thing in the US and Canada. They now recommend adults eat like 7-9 a day. (When most people weren’t even eating 5 a day to start with. Haha, yeah that’s totally gonna work and not scare people and make them feel discouraged and hopeless.)

            Dr. Oz (or some guest on his show) once straight up told someone that their choice of watermelon was “unhealthy” because it has a high glycemic index. FFS, it is WATERMELON. How much are you going to eat? Even 2 cups of watermelon still only gives you like 22 g of carb, so no, even with a high glycemic index, it is not going to raise your blood sugar much at all. It is also still a fruit. Way to make someone feel like they can’t even eat FRUIT correctly. That’s totally going to encourage them to eat more fruits and veggies over the long-term!

            Needless to say I don’t like traffic light labeling. It’s just stupid. No one particular food is good or bad. Nutrition works out over the long term and requires a variety of different foods with different nutritional profiles to balance out.

          • Posted October 18, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

            This is actually a reply to Kaz, but I guess we hit the maximum nesting.

            I’m a US-American living in Germany. After six years, I still have trouble eating the German way. Besides not actually being that fond of bread (I much prefer pasta or rice dishes), I just can’t get used to eating a big meal in the middle of the day and not much at all (and nothing warm) at night. When we visit my in-laws, I wind up not eating enough to keep me from being hungry by bedtime because my hunger doesn’t match the meal times/expectations.

            I do get, and see others getting, food/health comments from others here, though. >.<

          • Posted October 18, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

            I’ve lived in the US, Canada and the UK in the past 10 years. In my experience, Americans and Canadians eat a lot more fruit and vegetables than Brits do. The British system for labelling food is the worst of the three countries’. It focuses exclusively on things the government thinks you should minimise or control (calories, sodium, sugar) and doesn’t even mention micronutrients. The US nutrition labels are the most informative.

            I suspect that Americans are heavier than Brits because they have a different and more diverse ethnic heritage (thus, more people with naturally large builds), and because they go on more weight loss diets, and weight loss diets tend to make people gain weight in the long term. I don’t think that Brits necessarily have healthier habits than Americans.

          • Hanneke Debie
            Posted October 19, 2012 at 2:16 am | Permalink

            Chiming in from the Netherlands here;
            We usually eat breakfast cereal or bread in the morning, and take sandwiches with us for lunch. In the evening we eat warm meals. Yeah, like Germany, bread is comsumed a lot here too. I have found that the ‘bring your own lunch’ thing (instead of eating it in a cafeteria) is regarded a bit weird by certain other cultured. At work we do tend to lunch together though, and people very rarely skip this meal when at work.

            I have alsp spent a few days at Turkey for work, and I noticed that everyone will go out to a restaurant for lunch – all together- and it’s usual that companies give a lunch creditcard (or something like that) to their workers which can be used in almost every restaurant.

            Btw, regarding the whole ‘proud to skip a meal for work’ thing; I think if someone would proudly proclaim to do that here, people would just stare and ask ‘are you silly? You should eat some real lunch!’ I think it also goes hand in hand with an old and very well known saying here: ‘just act normal and you’ll be acting silly enough.’

          • Posted October 19, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

            Hahaha, I love that saying. Thanks for chiming in.

          • Mab
            Posted October 19, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

            Greetings from France :)

            First, I think the biggest difference between my country and North America is the way we consider food : here, food means having a good time with friends, colleagues, family, so even if the food is bad, if the company is good, it’s okay. Meals are a time of exchange and conviviality, so it’s important for us to take our time so we can talk (and, well, eat) We can spend hours and hours on sunday family lunch ! (like, you start around noon, and end around…4 pm ?)

            And there’s no such thing as “french paradox” : here, food and water are like, the most controlled things in the country ! (so even when you buy low cost food, you know they fall under certain rules)
            And there’s a lot of initiatives to help people get healthy food at a low price (for example : I’m a uni student, and I can get organic vegetables once a week thanks to a student association, for around 8€ !) And I’m not talking about the national health plan, essentially pointed toward children : eat at least 5 veggies a day, exercise (like, walking 30min a day), and try not to eat too much sugar/salt/fat. Those messages are broadcasted on tv adds, and there’s a lot of kid shows about it (usually 5min programs) (but concerning all those things, I think it’s because in France we’re living under a “welfare state” model, so it’s a matter of public health, not personal choice)

            And to conclude : pleasure. You can’t talk about food in France without the notion of pleasure. Even if, of course, people here are concerned about dieting, weight loss and health too. And, Michelle, when you were talking about meaning for food, you’re totally right, and it’s deeply connected with pleasure :) I’ve read a book about that, and the author explained that food wich means something to us would be more fulfilling than an “empty” one (for me, it’s crepes, and stewed beef or calf with carrots/potatoes/white wine. They remind me of my family and my hometown, and since I’ve moved far away for uni, I’m feeling really homesick, and I’m just dying to eat those dishes again)

            And…that’s all, I guess XD (of course, this is my personnal vision of things, maybe another french person would say something totally different)

          • Posted October 19, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

            Very interesting, thank you so much!

      • Alexie
        Posted October 17, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        The thing that seems to me to be especially toxic about the ‘it’s all your choice’ approach, is that it equates food with morality. Hey, if it’s all your choice, then we can parse that choice and work out something fundamental about you.

        It’s something I really notice now when I go to the US – people define themselves by what they eat, or whether they go to the gym. There is a halo of smug superiority around such people, based on nothing more than their personal food preferences.

        I eat organic home cooked meals quite a lot, but in my environment, there are no status points to be earned, ‘cos everybody does, to some extent. I’m just a sheeple, doing sheeple things. It just turns out that a culture of food that’s been built up over a very long time works very well – and I think we’re crazy to throw that wisdom away. Especially when what you get in exchange is the chance to squeeze out some more work.

        • Alexie
          Posted October 17, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

          BTW! I’m not calling anybody crazy who eats on the run because of time pressures. I did it myself. I’m suggesting that an environment where the economics forces people to prioritise stress and work pressures over self care is awful.

          • Posted October 17, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

            Yes! This comment thread is making me want to move to Europe or Brazil…

          • Posted October 17, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

            I agree with you. People sometimes just gotta get the job done with eating, but I dislike that we have an environment that pressures many of us not to care for ourselves.

      • Posted October 17, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        In North America, the rhetoric around healthy eating is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS focusing on personal choice, even though sometimes we give it the veneer of concern for “systems issues”

        I agree, and the other thing is that even when we focus on systems issues, it’s how the systems prevent or allow us to make certain choices. Food deserts don’t allow people to choose healthy foods, or the availability of fast food allows people to make unhealthy choices. And it’s all about the what [we eat], not the how [we eat]. Food deserts are basically seen as THE systems issue, and it’s about how we’ll give certain people an excuse to not buy the right foods because they can’t help it.

        Occasionally people will talk about how we can eat whenever we want now instead of at meal times (which relates to “how”, not “what”), but there’s not much support for making employers respect lunch breaks and things like that. Because that would involve respecting eating instead of treating it as something that no one really needs to do and we should do as little as possible.

      • Posted October 17, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

        In North America, the rhetoric around healthy eating is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS focusing on personal choice, even though sometimes we give it the veneer of concern for “systems issues”…because then we return to suggesting that those systems issues get solved by people making different personal choices. This is bollocks.

        So true!! Another thing I’ve noticed about the USA is that the “everything is personal choice” thing is coupled with a huge amount of unrestricted advertising, something that’s psychologically designed specifically to undermine/change your personal choices. If you look at the restrictions on food advertising in other countries, especially in regards to children, they’re stunningly different to America’s. Personally I spend a fair amount of personal energy at the moment avoiding advertising as much as I can – I’m trying to figure out what my choices are, not what the advertisers want my choices to be!

        • Posted October 18, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

          I loathe advertising so much. I get rid of TV service periodically because I get so fed up with commercials, even with a PVR setup. I can’t express how much I hate them. And I agree, they are designed to be manipulative.

    • Jacquilynne
      Posted October 17, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      I lived in Brazil for awhile, and my experiences there were similar to what you describe — meals were regular and the expectation was that everyone stopped to eat them and enjoy them. Working people either took long lunches to go home and eat, or businesses provided full, healthy meals to their employees who stopped working in order to eat them. Breakfasts and dinners were smaller meals taken at regular times, they weren’t 100% the same every day, but the offerings tended to be similar day in and out.

      It was a much healthier eating environment for me, but one I find difficult to replicate on my own. It’s a lot easier to break for a large hot meal at lunchtime when a) that’s not when your west coast office gets in in the morning and b) you have a domestic staff to do the work of actually making lunch.

  2. L
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Dear Michelle,

    I’m a longtime reader, but this is my first time commenting. I’ve been struggling to reconcile HAES/size acceptance as I have come to understand the two philosophies with my own behaviors. I’m trying to word this comment in a way that makes sense (still working on my first coffee!) and isn’t triggering — please forgive me if anything is unclear/harmful. And feel free to tell me to delete this (or go ahead and delete it) if it’s inappropriate.

    For me – and I would *never* promote this to anyone else – a counting mechanism makes me feel like a competent eater. I have learned the hard way that I’m an extremely poor self-regulator – I can’t recall a time in my life where I could eat instinctively and still feel good. It’s not even about weight or following food rules. I’ve expressed frustration many times to my partner that I feel like I’m missing the “fullness” gene. If left to my own devices, I go for foods that I want that make me feel good in the short term (20 minutes) and leave me a sweaty, achy mess from blood sugar spikes an hour later. I gave intuitive eating a really good try in the two years after I graduated from college – suffice it to say that it just didn’t work; I ended up malnourished, at a size that was unhealthy for me. (Maybe it’s because of the aforementioned blood sugar condition -? I’m not sure.)

    So – while I love the HAES principles, and I’m striving to implement Ellyn Satter’s ideas for family mealtimes at home – I’ve arrived at an impasse. Is there room for someone like me in HAES/size acceptance – where private use of a counting mechanism helps keep me mindful & helps me avoid choices that I know from years of experience will inevitably make me feel like crap?

    I so admire those who can eat intuitively and eat in the manner you described in your post – but I just fail at it.

    What makes the issue of special interest to me is that I have a young toddler. The very last thing I want to pass onto him is my history of neuroses about food – I want to encourage him to be healthy, strong, and happy at whatever size he ends up being. My partner eats intuitively, has no history of restriction/dieting, and is a great role model for our son as far as food goes. I’m hoping that he takes after his father rather than me.

    Thank you for all that you do – I can’t even count the number of friends I’ve referred to your blog. You’re extraordinary.

    • Posted October 17, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      Hi L – no problems at all. I think you worded things just fine, mainly because you’re not saying “I count calories [or whatever] and it works for me, therefore it should work for everyone else too!”

      I’ve heard your story before, and I do believe that some people have a harder time with self-regulation than others. There are actually medical conditions (usually affecting the hypothalamus if I’m remembering correctly) that can leave people without much internal regulation or satiety signals, so it is a real possibility. If you have some kind of blood sugar thing going on, that can also make hunger/fullness more difficult. However, I have to admit I am skeptical of a lot of the claims of lacking internal regulation – not because people are dishonest, but because we live in a culture that tells all of us over and over again that we cannot be trusted. It is hard not to internalize that and believe it if you struggle with eating, even if it is actually untrue.

      I don’t think you have any obligation to anyone, including your child, to do intuitive eating it if it does not work for you. As long as you are feeding him well and enabling him to learn his own regulation skills (and if you are taking Satter’s advice, then you are), he is probably going to learn how to eat just fine. It’s true that he will at some point notice that mom does something different with food, and may even want to imitate you, but I don’t think it necessarily will result in him feeling weird about food.

      Whether or not you have a “place” in HAES isn’t really important to me, as odd as that sounds. If you believe that people don’t deserve to be treated differently or stereotyped for their body size, you are already my ally, regardless of how you choose to eat personally. No, technically, restrained eating usually isn’t considered part of the HAES philosophy, but that is less important than whether or not it helps you.

      When I quit dieting, I really struggled on my own for a long time to figure out how to eat intuitively. I never really made it work on my own. It wasn’t until I saw a dietitian who took me through the process that things clicked. Once I was eating normally, I also didn’t automatically lose weight, though I did stabilize for several years. I had to accept the fact that I was a fat person, and not someone who loses weight when their eating normalizes. Some people wouldn’t want to do that, or feel they wouldn’t be able to psychologically deal with staying at a higher weight and accepting it. That’s a decision everyone has to make for themselves.

      People absolutely have the right to do with food (and weight) whatever helps them to feel most comfortable and healthy, up to and including food restriction, even though it is something I don’t recommend for people, or choose for myself. Everyone has to make their own choices about their own body. But I did want to point out that sometimes those feelings of comfort come not from the food restriction itself, but from the structure that comes with it.

      • L
        Posted October 18, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

        Thank you so much, Michelle, for your kind & comprehensive answer. I’ve been thinking about what you wrote re: the role of the hypothalamus, and once I find a new* doctor, I may ask about having that tested. One of my earliest memories is the feeling of never feeling full/satisfied after a meal, and I grew up in what I think is the ideal home — no food was ever off-limits, my mom cooked delicious family meals, neither parent ever said anything about food and guilt, and food was something to celebrate and take pleasure in. In that respect, I was very, very lucky.

        This is a non-sequiter, but the day I realized that eating kale was no more “moral” than eating a doughnut was possibly the most liberating day of my life.

        *I need to find a new doctor because my former OB, who I loved so much for my pregnancy, put me on an inappropriately high dose of a blood sugar medication so I “wouldn’t gain weight back” that I’d lost. At the time, I was managing my blood sugar issues through food choices that made me feel physically good & happy movement/exercise I enjoy. Although it didn’t seem necessary, I took the medicine she prescribed. As a result, my blood sugars ended up so low that I could have easily fallen into a coma & died in my sleep.

        • Posted October 18, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

          Wow, that’s terrible about the medication. You deserve to feel happy and healthy and not at risk of going into hypoglycemia, even if that means you stay at a higher weight. Holy moly.

          It would probably also be a good idea to make sure your thyroid and all other major hormones are at proper levels. If you’ve got blood sugar stuff going on to start with, that is also very likely to affect how hungry/full you feel. I have no idea how they diagnose problems with the hypothalamus, or what that entails, but definitely tell your doctor about your history and see what you can find out. If you just turn out to be someone who biologically doesn’t experience hunger/fullness, then using external measures of food as your guide is probably your best bet.

        • Posted October 18, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

          Not only did she have her priorities wrong, unless I’m missing something she was very confused about how blood sugar worked–unless “low” is a typo. Having low blood sugar means all the sugar has been stored, and it makes you more hungry–wouldn’t that make you gain weight, not lose it?

          • Posted October 18, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

            I was thinking that too. Usually more medication/lower blood sugar equals more fat storage. But some of those oral agents may have different mechanisms I’m not thinking of.

    • Kate
      Posted October 17, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      I will also time to time using a counting mechanism to figure out where I am with food. Like you, I would NEVER promote that to someone else, but for me it’s comforting to do for a while. When it starts affecting me negatively, I stop.

    • KellyK
      Posted October 17, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      I think there’s a difference between counting to avoid feeling like crap and counting for the sake of “shoulds.” Not every food, in every quantity is going to make you feel good, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that when it tastes good. So saying “One cookie isn’t likely to affect my ability to stay awake this afternoon, but two probably will, and three will make me feel like I’m going to explode,” or “Meals under X calories with at least Y grams of protein and Z of fat tend to keep me from sugar crashing, so I’m going to try for roughly those numbers.” might be a really helpful thing.

    • Posted October 17, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      OP, you didn’t mention this at all in your post, but have you ever considered food allergies? maybe you could talk with your primary care doctor or a nutritionist to supervise an elimination diet (or do one on your own if you are feeling brave).

      i know that i am very likely sensitive to wheat, if not allergic, but i just haven’t been able to bring myself to do an elimination diet yet. it seems like a lot of work, and i just can’t seem to justify it to myself. that is probably what therapy is for, right? :)

      • Posted October 17, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        It is worth checking with a doctor, for sure.

        Regarding elimination diets, I just want to say that is a really tough thing to do, and the evidence is questionable (according to Dietitians of Canada, anyway) that some of these things are helpful, or that all of the diagnostic tests for certain food sensitivities are valid. That said, I have had clients who were helped by elimination diets, at least to identify food allergy triggers, if not as a permanent measure. Probably something you’d would want assistance with, preferably from a dietitian who works a lot with food allergy.

        Sounds really difficult and would scare the pants off me, personally!

      • L
        Posted October 18, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

        That is a great idea, and one I hadn’t considered. Thank you! I’ve had basic allergy testing before (nothing showed up), and it definitely seems like my body’s weird blood sugar stuff is the main problem. But perhaps food sensitivities could be an issue here too.
        I will definitely look into that – I don’t think I’d be up for a strict elimination diet, but I’ll check out other testing options.

  3. Jacquilynne
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    This was really interesting to me, because it reminds me strongly of how in control I felt when I was doing what I called the “No Choices’ diet. We talked about this in group, Michelle, but for the benefit of everyone else, at the time, I felt like every choice I was making diet-wise was a bad choice, so I sat down with a nutritional calculator, figured out a daily diet consisting of the things I ate anyway (plus some spinach) that hit my calorie goals and didn’t leave me short any major nutrient groups (when you added in a calcium supplement). It was a kind of random grouping of things, it included a specific order from Subway, a specific frozen Lean Cuisine, a specific granola bar, a certain brand of yogurt, the aforementioned spinach, a handful of almonds and maybe a couple of other things that I’m forgetting.

    And I ate nothing but those things for about 6 weeks. It made my relationship with food remarkably easy — if I was looking at something in a grocery store or in my cupboard thinking ‘should I eat this?’, the answer was easy — if it was on my list and I hadn’t yet eaten it that day, I should eat it. If it wasn’t or I had, I shouldn’t. No analysis, no label reading, no choices.

    I gave myself a social clause — I could eat dinners away from home with friends with no restrictions — that provided enough variety and I honestly didn’t mind it all that much. The key to not minding being: other than the spinach, all the things on the list were things I already ate at least once a week anyway.

    It didn’t hold up long term, of course (around the same time I probably would have gone crazy and eaten nothing but Haagen-Dazs for a week, I went home for Christmas, and although I probably could have declared that this was how I was going to eat while I was there and been accommodated, it would have been weird to eat that way around other people), but for those 6 weeks I really felt like I had my shit together.

    I’ve often thought about trying to introduce more regularity into my eating since then. Maybe not for dinners, but for breakfasts and lunch, constant repetition wouldn’t bother me. Perhaps deciding on a single breakfast and lunch and sticking with them for a week. Or deciding that on Mondays I have eggs for breakfast and grilled cheese for lunch and on Tuesdays I have toast and peanut butter for breakfast and Kraft Dinner for lunch and on Wednesdays, etc, and trying to perpetuate that across some months.

    I would want to choose to eat foods I like and eat anyway so not as a way of limiting my foods or how much of them I eat, but more as a way of limiting the choices I have to make every day. Deciding what I want to eat is often the hardest part of feeding myself, as half the time I feel like I don’t want to eat any of the things that are available to me and I stand in my kitchen staring into cupboards morosely, and the other half the time, everything I think of sounds like a good idea and I sit in my office running through potential menus in my head until I’m starving and finally break down and eat the first thing that comes to hand. Pre-deciding takes some of the pain out of the process, because I already know what I’m going to eat, and I don’t have to try to think about it in the moment.

    I don’t know why this seems so plausible to me, yet the idea of meal planning for a week does not. I think perhaps the times I’ve tried to do weekly meal plans, I’ve been too ambitious — thinking that when I’m totally going to cook five nights a week and eat leftovers for lunch every day, and then when I fail to cook the second night because I still haven’t cleaned the kitchen from cooking the first night, the whole plan goes to hell in a handbasket.

    And I don’t know if all of this planning constitutes good structure or counterfeit permission, either.

    • Posted October 17, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      I think that if your plan isn’t contingent on some form of food restriction (“I’m not allowed to have x” or “I can only eat y calories”) then it might actually just be meal planning and not counterfeit permission. What you are describing actually is just a really simple form of meal planning, even though you don’t credit it as such because it doesn’t quite live up to your extravagant cooking ideals. It wouldn’t be a bad experiment to try and see what happens. Obviously you can switch to different foods when you get bored.

      Deciding what to eat honestly is one of the very hardest parts of eating, I agree. I have fallen into a kind of pattern where I have a small number of basic choices at breakfast and lunch, and then dinner is on rotation. Snacks and side dishes and seasonal fruits and veggies vary, but the basics remain the same. I essentially have three breakfast items I choose from, and three or four lunch items I choose from. It makes life easier, and over time the options change as I get bored or go through phases. But at any given time, I’m not having to decide from the entirety of food in existence what I’m going to have for breakfast.

      • KaralynZ
        Posted October 17, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        For the longest time I had this notion that there’s something inherently wrong with meal planning if you’re not on a diet. Eat the same thing every night if you’re not dieting? Crazy!

        Then budgetary issues raised their head and the husband and I started trying to pack our lunches at work all the time. And we found that yeah, he really is usually happy eating some variation of chicken and rice for lunch every day. Me? I can make up a huge batch of black beans and rice on Sunday and take a portion of that every day to work along with some broccoli because I freaking LOVE broccoli.

        My coworkers think I’m nuts. But it’s food I like, it’s cheap and it makes me feel good, AND I don’t have to stress over, “ok what will I have today?”

        • Posted October 17, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

          A LOT of people I talk to associate meal planning only with dieting. Sometimes they associate cooking at home only with dieting too, which can make it really hard to learn to do those things just for enjoyment and well-being.

          Budget issues forced me into a similar situation. Was kind of a revelation! Unfortunately I got a lot of “good girl” head pats at work because I was eating “so healthy” even though I was just eating something that was cheap, easy to cook, filled me up, and tasted good. However, I survived :)

        • Posted October 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

          Also, I tend to think about it in terms of how much is flexible and how much is rigid. Like, we have green salad for dinner pretty much every Monday. Why? Because I go grocery shopping on Sunday, I tend to have time to chop vegetables that afternoon, and the leafy greens will keep until Monday evening.

          It works for us in terms of meal prep time; in terms of nutrition; in terms of taste, variety, and emotional satisfaction; in terms of budgetary constraints. And as long as it keeps up in this fashion, we’ll likely continue to do it. But if/when it fails to meet those needs — even if it’s just, “just this once, I want something *different* on a Monday!” — we’ll be open to changing it.

      • Posted October 18, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        My dad has brought the same lunch to work for the last twenty years. Peanut butter sandwich, a carrot, and two pieces of fruit (okay, this varies depending on season). I still boggle slightly over this. (Mostly over the TWENTY YEARS part.)

        • Posted October 18, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

          That is pretty impressive.

    • s.h.
      Posted October 17, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      “I’ve often thought about trying to introduce more regularity into my eating since then. Maybe not for dinners, but for breakfasts and lunch, constant repetition wouldn’t bother me. Perhaps deciding on a single breakfast and lunch and sticking with them for a week.”

      For what it’s worth that’s what I do, more or less. I make something on the weekend (for example, a large batch of oatmeal in the crockpot or scones) and that’s what I eat all week. Or if cooking just isn’t happening then I do cold cereal or something else that’s low energy and easy. I do a similar thing for lunches, where I eat the same lunch all week, often something I made or prepped on the weekend. For me, personally, eating the same thing for a week isn’t long enough that I’ll get sick of it, but it means that I don’t have to figure out every day what’s on the menu. Plus I cook for one, which means that eating leftovers works really well for me. I don’t consider it restrictive eating, more meal planning, but I find it useful for many of the same reasons you mention your 6-week diet worked for you.

      • Posted October 17, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

        I’ve done this before, too, and it works alright for me. I don’t expect a lot of variation with lunches, especially if I’m busy.

        • Karen
          Posted October 17, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

          This is really interesting to me. I also go through phases of having the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner but for me it’s more of a security thing. I suffered from ED, mainly bulimia, for nearly 20 years and have only really recovered since having kids (hey, if your body can do something THAT amazing it deserves respect and looking after!) I worry that the residual effect of the ED is that I am over-controlling about what I’ll eat (and susceptible to *fad* eating styles too if I spend too much time on the web!) because only certain meals make me feel safe, I suppose. For example I panic a bit at eating at friends houses or in certain restaurants and still struggle with eating foods I consider not on my ok list (I eat plenty of basic home-cooked food and tend to panic more at processed items that I don’t know the exact ingredients of). But having said that my mother (Dutch) and grandmother both cooked a limited number of meals on rotation and that was quite normal in households with a healthy food culture. Also, I think the choice thing is totally overwhelming for even non-disordered eaters – for example, Italian one night, Thai the next which would have been unheard of in countries with a strong national food culture. Anyway, sorry for the long comment, I’m so glad I’ve found your blog, Michelle, I think I’ve got quite a lot of work to do still and a lot of what you and the commentators write here really helps. Keep up the good work!

          • s.h.
            Posted October 17, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

            I think that food security plays a big role in why making food on the weekend to eat during the week works for me. While I’ve never had an ED, I *have* had long periods with some terrible eating habits where I’d be too busy during the day for breakfast and lunch and then I’d be starving and off-the-wall by dinner. So making meals for the week ahead of time (breakfast especially) has been a lifesaver and helps keep me eating regular meals.

            While I personally love having options for food choices like Thai one night and Italian the next, I try to limit the decision panic by rotating the meals that I cook/prep slowly. For example I might have two weeks of eating oatmeal for breakfast, where week one I put apples in it and week two I put apricots in it; the third week I might be sick of oatmeal, but I’ll still use apricots to make apricot scones; the forth week I might find that I’m sick of eating sweet things for breakfast, so I’ll take a day off of cooking for myself and buy a breakfast sandwich, and then eat hard boiled eggs and toast for the rest of the week, thereby resetting the cycle. So there’s variety, but it’s a slowly rotating kind of variety which limits (for me) the decision panic. I would feel very restricted in my eating if I could only eat within one cuisine, but there is definitely decision fatigue/paralysis that comes into play with too many choices. For me slowly rotating in and out of meals (with occasional hard-resets) I’m able to mitigate the decision making panic, while still not feeling like I’m trapped eating only one type of food.

      • F-Dizzy
        Posted October 25, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        I really don’t mind repitition for lunch either. The big thing for me is having something I can just grab out of the frige as I leave for work.
        My trick is that I own a large quantity of those cheep plastic single serving ziplock containers. Everytime I cook dinner insted of putting the meat in one container, veggies in another, etc. I put one “lunch” in each container. As I cook different things for dinner during the week I end up with a variety of different meals stacked up in the frige. If the stack gets too big, or if I have a really exhausting day at work, we have leftovers for dinner one night.
        The really great thing, for me, is at 6am when I only barely have enough brain power to get dressed I don’t even have to think about what to take for lunch. Any little container I grab is guaranteed to have a serving of meat/tofu and a serving of veggies, and since I liked it enough to eat it for dinner I’ll probably like it enough to eat it for lunch.

    • L.
      Posted October 17, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      I also find it a lot easier to have a very limited menu for breakfast. Recently, for about half a year, I ate the same thing for breakfast almost every day, and didn’t mind it a bit.

      Recently I’ve been trying to be more mindful about my eating and have noticed that it gets very hard for me to make decisions or take action when I’m hungry. If I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do, the closer it is to mealtime the more paralyzed I get, then I get hungrier, then it’s a vicious cycle that ends in takeout (expensive) or being rushed. Also, when I get hungry I’m unable to focus on much else, so I am not a person who skips meals.

      For dinner, I can develop some kind of a plan by the middle of the day, and for lunch, I typically eat leftovers, but since I have much less time to think about breakfast, it’s really helpful to have two or three “go-to” options in order to avoid paralysis and just eat.

  4. Brandy
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I think this post is fantastic and really shines light on the fact that fad diets are nothing more than that..fad. As a fat nutritionist myself, I like to encourage my patients to eat the foods they like and avoid the guilt trip that we force ourselves to go on just for simply looking at cupcake or God forbid a potato. I have been through the ups and downs of practically every diet out there. Yes, I may lose 10 pounds in one week but was I really happier? No. And best believe those pretty little numbers will be right back once I have the realization chat with myself and eat properly. You know that chat right? The “I am beautiful the way I am and I don’t have to starve myself to feel good about myself.” I have come to the realization that I am going to have good days and bad days but overall having that balance makes it ok for me. My body telling me that I’m hungry is not a sign that I’m doing great by holding off on a meal for another few hours. It’s a phone call from my body saying “Hey! What’s the deal?!” Food is not supposed to rule our lives, it’s supposed to be an experience. What’s life if you’re not going to enjoy it?

    • Posted October 17, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      Yay! I’m always happy to hear from other fat nutritionists. So glad you are helping people eat intuitively.

      Also, ironically, whenever I have those days where I’m like, “I’m so fat, I’d like myself so much more if I were thin,” I actually stop and remember how I felt about myself when I passed for thin – I despised myself. Being thin did not make me automatically happier. Though I’m far from perfect now, I have much improved body image than I did before, and I’m twice the size I was.

      • Posted October 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        Being thin did not make me automatically happier. Though I’m far from perfect now, I have much improved body image than I did before, and I’m twice the size I was.

        Me too! I’ve never exactly been thin, but when I was close to my lowest weight (just barely BMI-“overweight,” and on the border of plus and straight sizes), I hated my body so much, and wanted so desperately to lose 20 more pounds. Now, I’m a lot bigger, and a lot more comfortable with my body (although definitely not perfect either).

  5. demee
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I have an entirely unrelated question, but i don’t know anyone else i could ask. Ive grown accustomed to having about five diet coke cans a day, and am horrified that I’ve put on a significant amount of weight. Really thought i could get away with that. Do you have any insight on the matter? I devour everything you write btw.

    • Posted October 17, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Wow, that’s interesting. I have no idea if your weight gain could be related to the diet Coke or not – if you’ve gained a lot of weight suddenly and without much explanation, the best thing you can do is see your doctor, and get your bloodwork and some hormones checked, just to make sure nothing is going on under the hood. Stuff like thyroid, insulin, and reproductive hormones can have an effect on your weight. If everything seems to be normal, then you can take a look at your eating. I don’t think there is any evidence that diet soft drinks either cause weight loss or weight gain, so it would probably be something else.

      • Posted October 17, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        I read somewhere that diet soda can cause sugar cravings, since the body expects sugar from the taste but then doesn’t actually get it….do you know if there’s any truth to that? (I’m not sure if that would effect Demee’s situation, and I’m not a big soda drinker myself, but I am curious.)

        • Posted October 17, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

          I have heard the same thing, and I think I’ve even experienced this somewhat myself, but I don’t think there’s any good evidence on whether or not this is true. I just hear it anecdotally. They should do a study. If someone knows of one, put it in comments!

          • Donna Skelton
            Posted October 17, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

            This was the most interesting one I found in doing a little bit of pubmed research: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21701567

            It studied adolescents, but at least it tried to control for some variables.

  6. Lyntilla
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    The comments remind me of a book that talked about everyone having two or three breakfasts they like, 4 or 5 lunches and 5 or 6 dinners that they ate 90% of the time. (I’m playing fast and loose with the exact numbers, but you get the idea). So, in order to change your eating habits, rather than try to change everything at once, find a few new meals you like, first for breakfast, then lunch, then dinner, in increasing order of difficulty. Now, this was a plan that advocated restricting calorie, but I always liked the idea. It makes intuitive sense, at least to me.

  7. Michelle
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    This site is going to change my life, I can feel it. I first found out about the “healthy at every size” approach last year when I found a brochure about it and I was absolutely amazed. Imagine that I could actually be healthy NOW and not when I loose X pounds. All the principles speak to me on a basic level and it just feels so right to eat intuitively. But I am still struggling with coming to terms with this because I have been dieting since I was 10-11 years old. I have always been overweight and have learned to tackle a stressful life and a sensitive mind with food as a means of calming down, rewarding and soothing myself. Dieting regimes were introduced in my life when I chose to go away for 3 months during the 6th grade to a facility for overweight kids. I was sure it would be like the ugly duckling fairytale and I would be turned into a beautiful princess before I returned to my classmates. I did loose a lot of weight but since nobody bothered to talk to us kids about WHY we were overeating and only taught us to restrict food and do tedious exercise, the pounds went back on when I got home. And so began a decade of dieting and yo-yo weight, familar to many. I am much bigger now than I was when I first set out on my first diet. I feel sure that the fat acceptance and HAES approach is what will help me break this pattern. I just can’t decide if I have to go through a period of restriction so I can loose some of the extra weight which I feel is necessary in order to prepare my body for pregnancy and to have a strong, able body, and then turn to natural eating once I have reached a healthier weight level OR if I should eat naturally from this moment. I’m not expecting an answer (I think one day I will work with you to decide this) but I am just drawing attention to the fact that my mind is obviously torn between what I feel is instinctively right, and what I think I know is “hardcore” scientific fact. It is so difficult to make good decisions when the lines of communication are so confused. But I feel sure that I will figure out a good balance some day. Thank you for this blog!!

  8. Am
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Oh wow this exact topic has been weighing on me lately (no pun intended!). I feel like the entire industry is predicated upon the idea that “you cannot trust yourself so you need our rules in order to succeed”. You “learn” how to eat a certain way but you don’t necessarily work on building awareness of your own internal cues. Also, how you eat becomes a moral decision and once something takes on that dimension it’s no longer about what you choose but rather who you fundamentally are. Basically – “trust us because you are weak and a failure”. It’s all wrapped up in nice pretty packages but I believe it still comes down to those two basics.

    • Posted October 17, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. I think it’s negative and horrible. People really do know how to eat, otherwise we never would have survived as a species. We have internal regulation mechanisms to tell us when we are hungry and full, and to seek out a variety of foods for good nutrition.

  9. Kit
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    I seriously think there is a genetically predisposed weight range that (all other things equal) we would normally fall within. My weight gain I believe was because my hormones were out of whack, which was also not helped by a gluten/wheat sensitivity that made me feel like I had brain fog, weekly migraines, bloated tummy and other gastro symptoms. I spent 15 years repressing a large amount of stress – the cortisol had no where to go, it made me feel like eating high calorie dense foods which because I didn’t do exercise converted into layers of fat. I also think I had a lot of learned childhood behaviours about food – such as eating everything that was on the plate and not paying attention to stopping when my body said you’re full. When I let go of the stress, taught myself to listen to my body, got rid of the gluten, and started cycling the weight just came off.

    • Posted October 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      Yes, sometimes people go above their naturally-defended weight for various reasons – usually pretty intense reasons like you mentioned (underlying illnesses, hormonal imbalances, and drug side-effects are a really big one too.) Sometimes people then lose weight when those issues are resolved and they just go back to where their body seems happy to be.

      That said, sometimes people gain weight for weird reasons, and then when the reasons are resolved, they still don’t lose the weight. Some bodies seem to like to hang onto gained weight, even when circumstances change. So it’s hard to be able to predict whether or not someone will lose weight by normalizing their eating (or dealing with other underlying issues.) In my experience, it doesn’t happen very often, though weights often stabilize.

  10. Julie
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Where this has gotten interesting for me is the difference between “restricted because X said so” and “restricted because it actually makes me feel like crap.” I don’t restrict foods because of an external plan; I avoid (in general) eating certain things because I don’t want to hose the next three days of my life with brain fog or sinus pain or a really unhappy GI tract.

    When I interact with the latter as if it’s the former (I’m “not allowed” to have X), things go badly — some part of me will not go along with it. When I interact with the latter from a place of “I’m choosing not to eat X because Y happens when I do,” it feels really different, and I respond really differently.

    A lot of restrictive diets try to cover their restriction by using the language of choice, but in my experience, it’s really different.

    • Posted October 17, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Yes, this is a really important distinction I didn’t talk about in the post. I totally agree that avoiding food that makes you feel like crap is great, provided it doesn’t also cause you psychological misery. That can be hard to negotiate, but is really worth working on.

      I think knowing that I am ALLOWED to, say, eat an entire big bag of Skittles even though I know it will make me feel hungover is actually what allows me to decide whether or not I WANT to. Most days it is not worth it, but some days I’m like screw it, I want them all. I learn through natural consequences :)

      • Julie
        Posted October 17, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        Oh, I definitely say screw it sometimes and have cheese, even though I know that’s not going to go well. You know. Sometimes it’s worth it in the moment and that’s okay.

    • s.h.
      Posted October 17, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      Yes!!! You’ve just hit the nail on the head with how I react to a lot of choices I make in my own diet that I was trying to figure out a way to articulate. I have many friends who are vegetarian, so over the past ten years or so I’ve gotten used to not eating much meat. When I think of it as “meat is evil, grrr” that doesn’t work, but when I think of it as “I want to go to a restaurant or cook a meal that all of us can enjoy” that works much better and there’s a lot less resentment all around. Now I’m so used to it that the idea of making/eating meals centered around meat feels as restrictive to me as not eating meat at all used to feel.

      On a slightly different note … paying attention to other people’s food restrictions (which, for the people in my life, have been mostly based on ethical concerns, allergies, or religious beliefs, not losing weight) has been invaluable to me because it’s made me more aware of what and why we eat the things we do and has actually opened up the world of food by pushing me outside of my comfort zone in order to make room for other people at the dinner table. It’s why I think the thought experiment “what would I eat if I couldn’t eat X” can be a useful one, particularly when thinking about cutting out food because of possible allergies or intolerances. It’s not a thought experiment that I’d suggest making into a for reals experiment, unless you’re only doing it for a day, but it has gotten me to think of and try new meals and foods try new things that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It can be a way of figuring out how restrictive eating only the food you are familiar and comfortable with can be.

    • MamaCheshire
      Posted October 25, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

      Yes yes yes.

      One of the worst things at the time that was of the best help to me later was gestational diabetes, when I a) had to structure my eating so I could test, b) discovered via testing that there are a couple specific food items that spike the heck out of my blood sugar, while other “culprits” are things I can consume with comparative impunity, and c) learned to correlate a specific “I FEEL LIKE CRAP” feeling I’d been having with a spike-and-crash blood sugar pattern.

      The irritating part of all this is that the worst spike-and-crash offender for me personally is…white flour. And I used to pretty much live on bread and pasta, and the whole wheat versions are always more expensive and sometimes not as tasty (and cause Issues of their own if over-consumed).

      I also learned that I feel better with a lower carbs-to-total-consumption ratio than I was used to, which is a PAIN because most of the foods that I enjoy that change the ratio are expensive and/or time-consuming to prepare and/or things that my spouse does not like to eat. And I have this annoying guilt complex about being the fat lady spending ALL THAT MONEY ON FOOD, combined with what feels like I’m spending money on “special diet” foods and not losing weight.

      I’m enjoying a late-night dish of one of those things that is expensive and only I like (Ben & Jerry’s Greek frozen yogurt, peanut butter banana flavor) because it was on sale, and it feels awesome, and not quite as guilty as it often does. :)

  11. LAT
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    (I have tried to be specifically vague in this post to avoid attracting diet talk.)

    I do believe in HAES. I recently had to change the way I ate due to being diagnosed pre-diabetic. I also was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in the past few years. Due to either the change in eating or the new thyroid meds, I’ve lost some weight. Not as much as people claim I should have by changing what I ate, of course. ;) But I do find that before I changed the way I ate, I couldn’t trust what my body wanted because I was supersensitive to certain foods. Once I cut down on those foods that spiked my blood sugar, I found that I could trust my body more often to tell me what it wanted. So in some cases medical restrictions may be necessary, but that’s part of the “Health” in HAES.

  12. Marie
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I’m starting to see where my irregular eating habits are causing me to choose food poorly. I’ve tried the eating until you’re just full which for me can be a small amount but then I get hungry every couple of hours and that’s annoying. With this type of eating, I get very little throughout the day and then I’m ravenous at night and feel like I make poor choices and I’m prone to binging a little. I really want to take on just focusing on eating three full meals a day and not feel guilty if I eat a bit past what feels like full. When I do, I get three to four hours of satiation and I like that feeling.

    I’m done with weight loss. It may happen or not. I just want to feel like food is my friend again.

    Thank you for your wonderful blog.

    • Posted October 17, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      You bring up a really important point – the “eating until you are just barely full!” advice that I encounter on a regular basis. Which, as you pointed out, actually results in a type of food preoccupation, because you have to eat every couple of hours. That’s not reasonable for most people. (And also often results in grazing through the evening – not because you’re somehow out of control, but because you have undereaten all day!)

      I think there is a range of comfortable levels of fullness, and I prefer to eat until I am full enough that I can comfortably get through 3-5 hours without eating. Sometimes I have to remind myself to get nice and full, not just “no longer hungry” in order to do that. Either way, as you saw, your body will regulate by making you hungrier earlier and more often, or by allowing you to go longer without food.

      • littlem
        Posted October 18, 2012 at 2:14 am | Permalink

        “You bring up a really important point – the “eating until you are just barely full!” advice that I encounter on a regular basis. Which, as you pointed out, actually results in a type of food preoccupation, because you have to eat every couple of hours”

        Not only that – but who has the brainspace to do that every time one needs to eat? And try to body-listen for that (alleged) 20-minutes-to-full signal?

        *sits on hands*

        What if one has a different hypothalamic response than the rest of us?

        So many questions.

      • WRG
        Posted October 18, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

        I’m really glad to see that someone’s brought up the issue of eating until you’re just barely “full”. I tried this for awhile and found it supremely frustrating. I would feel “full” after eating very little food–very frustrating in of itself–and then feel ravenously hungry within an hour or so. Repeat cycle, rinse, and continue feeling both physically and psychologically dissastisfied.

        I’ve pretty much come out of that supposedly “virtuous” yet sick cycle. I’m still sort of flailing around, trying to find something that suits me, although when all is said and done, I’m a pretty sane eater compared to a lot of those whose musings I’ve read out there in blogland.

        And don’t get me started on all those fad diets that are sweeping both Canada and the US. Personally, I believe in a higher proportion of fruit and veg than Werther’s candies in my daily diet, but I think that Werther’s candies (and chocolate even more!), have a place in a sane, well-balanced diet. I (unfortunately) tend to read blogs both in the HAES, FA world and in the dieting world and I have to keep reminding myself that eating yummy artisanal bread, or a piece of crusty baguette, or a banana, or some tiramisu, will not automatically put me on the road to perdition.

        On the topic of N. Americans not carving out the time to eat, I think things are getting worse and worse. I work in a profession where the only thing I do is go to conferences. Over the past 25 years, I have seen an increasing trend towards “working lunches” where people are literally given a few minutes to pick up a sandwich from the table at the back of the room and then have to come back to the table to continue the meeting. Usually, those few minutes stretch into 15 or 20 because it’s inhuman to make people work without a break. But I consider that 15-20 minutes is still insane. People need at least an hour to decompress, even if they continue informally talking shop in the meeting room.

        Thus endeth the rant.

        • WRG
          Posted October 18, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

          In re-reading what I just wrote, it looks like I think it’s unfortunate that I read HAES and FA blogs. Au contraire, I wish I could break my habit of reading the crazy dieting blogs and just stick with the sane world of HAES and FA.

        • Posted October 18, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

          Thank you for your rant.

          I just want to add a link I think is hilarious, and that everyone should read if they haven’t already – http://www.nwedible.com/2012/08/tragedy-healthy-eater.html

          • WendyRG
            Posted October 19, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

            Brilliant! thanks.

  13. Posted October 17, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad you wrote about this, because honestly intuitive eating feels very difficult for me. I’m fine with the permission to eat whatever I want, because restricting food tends to make me panicky, but it seems so unstructured, and I’ve pretty much noticed that left to my own devices, I’ll eat nothing but cereal, toast, chocolate, and maybe some fruit. I’m not naturally very inclined to eat a variety of food. So, I kind of need some structure. I haven’t been able to figure out how to make that work with intuitive eating. It’s not so much that I don’t trust myself, but that I’ve observed myself and well, I clearly don’t eat enough and I clearly don’t eat sufficiently.

    • Posted October 17, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      The unstructured thing didn’t work for me either. I would undereat for a while, then overeat to compensate for having undereaten. It made me feel awful.

      Focusing on having three meals a day, to start with, and then noticing when I needed formal snacks because I was getting too hungry between meals, made the difference for me.

      • Posted October 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        I’ll have to try that. It’s hard because my day lacks a lot of structure, but imposing some might not be a bad idea.

  14. Beth
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    It’s funny because this post brought up reasons why dieting never worked for me. I have more of a rebellious nature, anytime a food was ‘forbidden’ that’s what I wanted (even if I didn’t like it). As you mentioned, distrust is a big part of the diet industry. By trusting ourselves and our bodies, we can begin to see how silly so many of those diets or dieting rules are. It isn’t easy to get to that place though. I remember seeing some diet rules not long ago, and one was ‘don’t trust your body’. Instead of trusting my body to tell me when I’m hungry or what foods do or don’t make me feel good, I’m supposed to trust a person who has never seen or talked to me who also usually has no health or nutrition training and follow their arbitrary rules. It’s sad, ridiculous, and dangerous.

    • Beth
      Posted October 17, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      Did want to make sure it was clear that I’m not against structured eating, following the advice of an actual doctor, nutritionist, etc. It does bother me that so many ‘experts’ (who are experts at nothing but marketing) have permeated our culture and are giving out advice that is faulty at best and dangerous at worst, and that they have made us distrust ourselves for their own profits.

  15. Donna Skelton
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this, Michelle. It really helped to read this entry, as we’re in the middle of a Keas challenge at work. While the Keas product/challenge information provided does offer some weight-neutral fitness/health advice, it also puts an heavy point value on the goal of “tracking your points/calories”. It’s one goal that is worth the most on the challenge.

    On my health journey of life, I will “track” lots of things, but those things are more limited to “does my body feel like it got enough calcium today? (or fiber, protein, sugar, chocolate, etc)” and “is today upper body or lower body for weights?’ I’ve always been a fat girl (death fat really!) who believes that tracking everything would lead my natural anxiety/depression issues to end up being OCD issues that would be far worse for me in the long run!

    But God forbid, anyone suggest that tracking all of the morsels that hit your proverbial piehole will lead to disordered eating and to a unhealthy outlook on life in general. Instead it’s championed because everyone is so sure that it will lead to weight loss! (Except, of course, when people get to the point of losing 5-10% of their body weight and then plateau, which results in them trying to–from what I’ve seen ancedotally–shock their systems with even fewer calories/more activity to induce more weight loss.)

    Of course the other thing that these Keas-type competitions bring out is just out and out lying about what goals anyone is actually accomplishing. After all, participants are being bribed by our employer company to participate and wrack up team points by the promise of $200 per team member for the overall team winner (it’s a multi-national corporation by the way), and $20 gift cards for the winner team members of each division. Plus it brings out some real snarky attitiudes about those who take the stairs versus those who take the elevator–joint problems anyone?

    I’d love your thoughts on these kinds of “healthy” competitions, and I thank you for the blog!

    • Cathryn
      Posted October 17, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      I would also be interested to read your thoughts on the sudden corporate health culture. My company has participated in similar events, the most recent one involving pedometers and competing with our co-workers to see who logged in the most steps in a month. This was a team competition. Teams were chosen randomly. I felt like everyone was secretly hoping I wouldn’t get put on their team.

      As the ONLY very overweight person in my 41-person firm, I feel very self-conscious about my company’s efforts to promote healthy lifestyles. Other recent examples include a luncheon where we watched the film, “Forks Over Knives”, and a spur-of-the-moment calisthenics episode during one of our regular Monday morning meetings. We also had a guest speaker chiropractor who promised to show us how to “lose 10 pounds in 1 week” (no joke! and I decided not to attend).

      Again, being the ONLY very overweight person (and one of only a handful of women) in my office makes me feel singled-out, but I have no idea how to navigate this or talk about any of it because I feel like I’ll be labeled “fat-girl-resisting-healthy-changes”.

      • Donna Skelton
        Posted October 17, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        Ugh! I’d hate to be in a company that did that in such a small group atmosphere!

        I saw a chiropractor who was peddling the pregnancy hormone diet (HCA? I don’t remember what the sham is called), and, as much as I thought he was fine for chiropractic services, I told him flat out that no, I wouldn’t be doing that diet with him. Load of hogwash, see pubmed and other research ports… Sounds like that’s what the chiropractor who showed up at your company was peddling.

        While I can agree with moving your body so it doesn’t stiffen and do bad things, when the environment is that small and you’re a notable heavy, it’s going to create some angst. Sorry you went through that!

      • Posted October 17, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        Seriously, they watched that at work? Jesus.

        • KellyK
          Posted October 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

          I had to look it up on IMDB because I hadn’t heard of it. I’m pretty sure if I had to watch that at work, I’d bring along lunch–from Burger King.

      • Julie
        Posted October 17, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

        Oh, seriously? Not okay at all!

        My workplace does have a strong “wellness culture” that is completely steeped in the common definitions of health that don’t work at all for me. I’ve been able to give the whole thing the side-eye and avoid it, but I’d have to do some fancy footwork if it became a whole-company thing.

        So sorry you got trapped by the health police.

    • Posted October 17, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      Ugh, I dislike these kinds of competitions. They really have no business being in the workplace. It is overstepping a boundary – or The Division of Responsibility, as Ellyn Satter would put it.

      The good folks at ASDAH (Association for Size Diversity and Health) have had some great things to say about workplace wellness programs, and I am on board with them:

      http://healthateverysizeblog.org/2012/07/24/the-haes-files-whats-missing-promoting-health-at-the-workplace-part-i/

      http://healthateverysizeblog.org/2012/08/21/the-haes-files-whats-missing-promoting-health-at-the-workplace-part-ii/

      http://healthateverysizeblog.org/2012/09/25/whats-missing-promoting-health-at-the-workplace-part-iii/

      • Cathryn
        Posted October 17, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the links! It’s a relief to know I’m not alone in thinking the “wellness initiatives” at my office are crossing a line.

        Oh, and KellyK – when we watched Forks Over Knives, it was a Bring Your Own Lunch type of deal and I seriously stressed over what to bring fearful of being judged. Shoulda just went with BK! :)

        • Donna Skelton
          Posted October 17, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

          Veganism as a one-size-fits-all solution for everything that ails you. Great *sarcasm*.

          I’ll give my company that they didn’t force anyone to participate in Keas.

          However, they did “carrot” us with a discount on next year’s insurance costs if we took a health biometric screening on-site (or have your physician report your health data including blood work) and took an online health web survey. Supposedly they’re not tracking individual information, but I’m getting a bit concerned that I’ll be working for a company that tries to charge me double for my BMI at some point in the future.

          • ksol
            Posted October 18, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

            So veganism will cure the massive cold sores I get every time I’ve cut out meat? Wow! Who knew?

        • Posted October 18, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

          Bah, Im a pretty hardcore ethical vegan (yes, Im one of the annoying people) and I hate Forks over knives and the like. It’s propaganda with vague science and scaremongering. Jesus christ, as if no one eating ham could be healthy!

          I also believe the vegan-for-health thing takes the focus away from animals… compassion for all animals, including humans. The fat shaming in the vegan-for-health camp make me cringe so bad.

          • Posted October 27, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

            Lea, I’m so glad that you shared your thoughts. I’m also an ethical vegan and an alternative health care provider who has MAJOR issues with the health argument for veganism and the way that the argument is put forward.

            I couldn’t agree with you more about the correct focus of veganism being compassion and connection with other animals—both human and non-human. The vegan fat shaming has got to stop. Fortunately, I know of many people who share our opinion.

  16. em
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    This is very interesting. I have been a vegetarian for about fifteen years, and I no longer actually think of it as “restricting” my food intake, because the idea of eating meat has about the same internal resonance as the idea of eating cardboard–if I were to suggest to myself, “Am I hungry for steak?” it feels like I’m asking myself, “Do I want to eat this computer mouse?” In other words, kind of a perplexing question. It doesn’t really make food choice easier, I don’t think (there are too many types of cheese in the world, for one), and I wouldn’t say it makes me feel more at-ease about my choices in one way or another, but it does make me happy. I remember when I realized that I was old enough that I didn’t have to eat meat and no one could make me if I didn’t want to. It was a totally awesome, liberating feeling.

    • Posted October 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, vegetarianism is a whole other issue. Some people use it as a form of diet-like restriction, but people are vegetarians for lots of reasons, plenty of which are perfectly normal and intuitive. Sounds like it’s a good way to go, for you!

  17. Linda Strout
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Do you have any facts about the consumption of water? We’ve been told over and over again that we need a magical eight glasses of water to be healthy and anything else doesn’t count.

    Yet, historically, people didn’t have easy access to water and the species still survived.

    I’m guessing it is one of those things the body just adjusts for. Lots of water? Cool. Not much water? Also cool.

    Is it really that bad to have concentrated pee?

    • Posted October 17, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      I think the short version is: drink when you are thirsty. All food (yes, even dry foods) contain water. All liquids you drink are mostly water. So if you ate enough food daily, you could probably survive quite well without drinking any water (or any fluid, even. But you might feel thirsty.)

      The eight glasses a day thing was just a handy number people came up with to estimate an average person’s total fluid needs…but fluid comes from more sources than just water.

      I find I feel best when I drink about 4 cups of water a day + eat regular amounts of food and drink coffee and milk, etc.

      • Linda Strout
        Posted October 17, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        That’s more or less what I have uncovered after digging.

        The other thing about water I have noticed came from watching those survivalist shows on Discovery (if you get dumped into x area with y supplies, how do you rescue yourself).

        What comes up regularly is you aren’t supposed to eat anything if you don’t have water to drink with it, because digesting the food will pull water out of the rest of your body, thus contributing to dehydration.

        I can’t find any science for that, unless all you are eating is dehydrated food.

        Incidentally, seeing how hard it can be to acquire food in a survival situation, even for trained people, makes me appreciate having easy access to food.

        If anybody wants to check out the shows I watch, they are:

        Man Woman Wild wherein a trained army guy teaches his wife about survival. It’s fun to watch these two work together and occasionally fight together.

        The other is Dual Survival which has a hippy minimalist and a trained army guy work together to get out of whatever situation. Neither approach is better than the other and both respect each other’s knowledge and skills.

        • Posted October 19, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

          I have no idea where survivalists are getting their information from, but the only thing I can think of would be if you were in some kind of desperate danger of electrolyte imbalance from the only food available to you, in the absence of water, then it might make sense not to eat it? And yeah, maybe they are talking about dehydrated foods. But geesh. Usually eating food will help prevent dehydration all on its own.

  18. Anonymus
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    I’m currently kind of on a diet, in that I don’t let myself eat something which is unfortunately in a lot of foods, but the only reason it’s working for me is that I discovered, not so long ago, that I’m allergic to the food item in question. Avoiding this food means avoiding painful gastrointestinal problems that show up about halfway through the meal and last 6-8 hours after I’m finished. I tell myself that I’m allowed to eat whatever I want, but I can only eat the food item in question if I decide it’s worth the symptoms I get whenever I eat it. Almost all of the time, I decide it’s not worth it. Rarely, I decide that it is worth it, maybe because I have a hunger induced migraine and there’s nothing available that I can eat, but afterwards I usually regret it.

    I wouldn’t recommend this diet to anyone because it involves cutting out a lot of cheaper foods, and it means giving up lots of really yummy stuff. At the grocery store or at a restaurant, 90% of the food items contain the thing that I can’t eat, so it’s a really inconvenient diet to be on. I know some people are on the diet I’m on because they think it would help them lose weight, but I don’t know whether I have or lost any or not because I don’t weigh myself.

    The only reason I’m doing so well at sticking to the diet is that even my favourite foods don’t seem worth the symptoms I get. I’m fairly confident that I could stick to this for the rest of my life. I’m adapting slowly and finding other foods I like and getting used to the changes. But if I didn’t have these symptoms showing up everytime I eat the food item in question, I don’t think this is a dietary change I’d be willing or able to make.

    • Posted October 17, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Sounds like gluten-free to me, and what you described is the way I see people who have accepted the GF diet in a healthy way manage it. It’s not easy! But it sounds like you’re taking good care of yourself.

      • Anonymus
        Posted October 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, gluten free it is. I was trying not to say because I didn’t want to trigger anyone. I know there are some popular diets out there that are similar to gluten free (it’s common with the low carb diets), but it’s really not worth it if you don’t have symptoms that suggest an allergy/intolerance. I can live without cupcakes because it means living without tummy aches, but I can’t see why anyone would want to live without cupcakes if they didn’t have to. And of course my favourite food was pizza.

        Where I live, most soups and sauces are thickened with wheat flour, and most meat is fried and breaded with wheat flour, and I once ordered spinach at a restaurant thinking I’d be safe, only to find that it was thickened with wheat flour. and all the cheaper chocolates are thickened with flour (so that’s why they taste like candle wax!) and some brands of potato chips are half wheat half potato flakes which I found bewildering because potatoes are cheaper than wheat, and almost all of the tins of soup at the supermarket have a little bit of flour in them. some brands of ice cream are thickened with wheat flour. it shows up in the most bizarre foods.

        So I have rice cakes with a bit of cheese for breakfast, because that’s nice and easy and I don’t want to cook in the morning, and then for lunch (my main meal) it’s usually meat and potatoes or meat and rice, and sometimes some vegetables, and dinner is more rice cakes and maybe some fruit. I eat lunch out because it’s cheaper than eating at home, and the place I eat at knows me and they know to tell me when I accidentally order something like “bacon chicken with rice” and it turns out that it means chicken stuffed with a bacony bread stuffing, instead of the strips of bacon wrapped around a chicken breast that I was hoping for.

        My new favourite food involves cubed meat (pork, chicken, whatever) and garlic and onion and a bit of capsicum and tomato, all stewed together and served over potatoes.

        Some days, I make northern corn bread (I like it sweet). I use cornmeal and then instead of white flour I use corn flour and sugar to taste, and yoghurt because it’s cheaper than buttermilk (+oil, baking soda, baking powder, dash of salt). sometimes I add a bit of cinnamon. A pan of corn bread can last me a few days, and it’s nice for breakfast or dinner. Maybe someday I’ll leave out the cornmeal and see if I can get something that approximates cake.

        But it’d be more hassle than it’s worth if i weren’t gluten intolerant.

        • KellyK
          Posted October 17, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

          That cubed meat over potatoes sounds yummy!

          One of my friends is gluten-sensitive, and I’ve had good luck making chocolate chip cookies with gluten-free flour (Bob’s Red Mill, I think is the brand).

          • Linda Strout
            Posted October 17, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

            I am also allergic to gluten and yes, it is a pain. I probably have it easier than you do because I live in a fairly large city.

            That being said, check the larger supermarkets for gluten-free items. I have found baked goods in the freezer section (usually next to natural or organic frozen foods). Amy’s has a line of gluten-free frozen foods and I have found some gluten free cookies and crackers. One of the chains has put all the gluten free stuff in one section and I have seen gravy mixes and sauces that are gluten free.

            Bob’s Red Mill has lots of gluten free baking items and their website has a bunch of recipes.

            Good luck!

  19. standgale
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    I am currently experimenting with WW ProPoints through books I bought second hand, and the reason for this is, like you said, the difficultly of filtering and processing all the information I have encountered over the years. I want to eat healthier, but there are too many rules as to what defines health, and I very easily get over-loaded with information and get stressed about it. So the WW PP diet gives me a bit of a structure and a simplified set of rules where people have already worked out the “relative healthiness” of various foods. I am trying to balance this with my own food values however, and don’t think we should take these systems too literally.

    For me, the most fascinating part of the WW method, is the concept of “filling and healthy days” where you can eat “as much as you want” from the foods they denote as filling and healthy. These food are generally whole grains, fruit and vege, eggs, lean meats and low fat dairy. You can eat outside of this if you take from your weekly points. I like the basic aspect of this approach, where you are eating simple, unprocessed foods for the main part. This fits with my overall food philosophy. After experimenting with these methods of eating for a bit, I think I might adapt the filling and healthy idea so that it fits better with my own likes and values.

    I am also finding it useful to try these alternative methods of planning meals and food. Changing my habits lets me see what I like and don’t like about various “methods” of eating. I think experimenting with eating is useful because if you don’t explore alternatives, you can’t discover what is best for you. I have already found out some things that are stupid for me! :D this is useful information, and I know that certain avenues just make me feel crap. Hopefully I will also find out what makes me feel good.

    Whether or not this leads to weightloss, temporary or long-term we have yet to see, but feeling better and not having to stress over all the nutritional and health information we are constantly bombarded with will be the ultimate goals.

  20. Linda Strout
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    I know this particular post is about eating, but through the various things I’ve read, the topic of stomach stapling (or whatever variation on it) is occasionally mentioned.

    I know people do it to lose weight. I know that it is supposed to help with various medical conditions (by making you lose weight). I know some famous people have done it and seem to be okay.

    All I ever think about when I hear or read it about it is my friend’s cousin. She needed knee surgery. She was denied it unless she lost weight. She couldn’t exercise with her bad knees and didn’t have access to a pool. She reluctantly got the stomach surgery. She eventually died from complications.

    All she wanted was knees that worked.

    There are claims that obese people have worse surgical outcomes from any kind of surgery. I didn’t see any links in your list, but maybe I missed them. Now I’m wondering is these worse outcomes are due to poorer care after surgery, underlying conditions that aren’t properly addressed or if it really is just the fat itself (which I now doubt).

    I have another acquaintance who got the surgery so she could lose weight and get pregnant. When I was talking to her about it she mentioned that she couldn’t eat bread anymore because it could get stuck in the smaller opening. I’m sort of terrified for her but I don’t want to say anything. At least she seems to be getting proper medical care.

    I am really starting to think this surgery can’t be justified.

  21. Posted October 17, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had 20+ years chronic dieting/EDNOS, mainly on a restrict/binge cycle, and I was fully and utterly convinced that my body could not be trusted. And that *I* could not be trusted around certain foods. I believed I needed the structure of calories and restriction, and only eating within certain times. Which was, of course, not true, but it meant that when I started allowing myself to eat – without any of the counting or restriction – I had trouble with structured meal times and meal planning. I had lumped it all in together and saw it as part of the diet trap. It took a while, and a lot of trial and error, to separate it out and to realise that Structure Is Not The Enemy. ;) Structure is actually very helpful – it’s enabled me to (mostly) avoid getting so hungry that it makes me anxious… which makes me feel sick and not want to eat. It also helps me to eat something when I’m highly anxious. As in, “Okay, it’s dinner time and I don’t want to eat, but I know I’ll feel even worse later if I don’t. So how about I have a slice of toast, because that’s a comfortable food that I can handle even when anxious, and then I’ll reassess? And if I don’t want anything else, that’s okay too.”

    What I’ve found most interesting about eating with permission is that (a) I have completely stopped bingeing, and (b) I have the ‘binge foods’ in my house all the time, but they don’t interest me all that much. I thought these were the foods I craved, so I have them in the house because I have permission blah blah, but actually… I don’t really want them. Huh. Okay then. That has been a surprise. Apparently I don’t want bacon 5 times a day. Who knew?

  22. Posted October 17, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    I’m really scared to stop dieting. I’m currently 378 lbs and I have type 2 diabetes. I’m afraid that if I stop dieting that I will remain fat and die before I’m 40. I also have binge eating disorder (I was diagnosed two years ago) and I realize that dieting triggers the bingeing. I want to be healthy, but I want this dieting wheel that I’ve been on since I have been eight years old to end. How do I do this and still achieve a healthy lifestyle?

    • Posted October 17, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

      Hi Karen – I’m sorry you’re having a tough time. The best thing I can tell you is to focus on eating well for the sake of your health and blood sugar, and learning to enjoy exercise (if you don’t already) to help improve your insulin sensitivity. Maybe you will lose weight as a result, maybe not. If dieting were going to help you to lose weight, presumably it would have by now, right? Sometimes people gain even more weight than they otherwise would have through repeated weight losses and regains. If that is the case for you, then you must ask yourself if the risk of further weight regain to even higher levels is worth dieting for.

      I would suggest you see a dietitian who does diabetes counseling, but also understands Health at Every Size. They will be able to talk with you about what kind of eating is going to be best for your blood sugar and will be realistic about your weight and what they think is best for you to do about it.

      A dietitian and certified diabetes educator who often comments here is Lori – you should check out her site – http://dropitandeat.blogspot.ca/

      Sorry Karen – I should have also mentioned that it would be helpful for you to see a RD who also does eating disorder counseling, since you mention being diagnosed with binge eating disorder. If you go to http://www.eatright.org , you can do a search for a dietitian in your area, and you can filter by specialty (like eating disorders, diabetes, etc.)

      There is actually a really good book (some of my readers don’t like how it approaches weight, but I personally don’t find it too bad) called Overcoming Binge Eating by Christopher Fairburn that has a step-by-step program in it to…overcome binge eating. It might be really helpful to you. http://www.amazon.com/Overcoming-Binge-Eating-Christopher-Fairburn/dp/0898621798/

  23. Isidore
    Posted October 18, 2012 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    I know you know this, but when you say chemotherapy works, dysentery works, etc… those also only induce weight loss for some people some of the time. Kind of a sore spot for me since I’ve been told by many doctors that my chronic illness (that causes weight loss in most people) couldn’t really be as bad as I say it is (or as the test results say it is), because I’m just so fat.

    • Posted October 18, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      Ah, good point. Sorry about that. It’s true, even in extreme circumstances not everyone will reliably lose weight. The body is kind of amazing.

  24. Sandy
    Posted October 18, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    I am at the beginning of a “weight loss journey”. Not because I’m trying to fit into society but because I have become uncomfortable in my own skin. My “goal weight” will still leave me “obese” but I know I’ll be happy there. I also know that the recommended weight for my height is way lower than anything I could ever achieve or really anything I would WANT to achieve. I’m a big girl, and I’ll always be a big girl.

    That said, I am on a “restrictive” diet. After reading and researching I’ve come to the conclusion that grains aren’t healthy and I’ve chosen to give them up. I’ve turned to a diet of whole foods, rather than the diet of soda and fast food that I was eating. Nobody can deny that those things are unhealthy. I can’t say I’ll never drink soda again, but 6 weeks ago it was my ONLY beverage. I’d say I’m making a step towards health, in a safe and sustainable way. I have found that I’m less hungry, more satisfied and that I have more energy eating this way.

    I appreciate blogs like this because it’s nice to know that there are people out there who love themselves in spite of or BECAUSE of their weight. I do love myself. I often feel sexy, I have a husband who loves me and finds me irresistible. But I also think there is something to be said for realizing when one is unhappy with the shape of their body. I think there is a fine line between fat acceptance and shaming of those who DO want to lose weight for whatever reason. How do you balance that? Sometimes I feel like I’ve fallen between two worlds; the world where OMG YOU’RE SO FAT YOU HAVE TO LOSE WEIGHT OR YOU’LL DIIIIIIIIIE!! and the “fat acceptance” world where I often wonder if I’m a traitor because I DO want to lose weight (about 80 lbs).

    Anyway, I think this comment was pretty rambly, so you get bonus points if you made it through. ;) Thanks for your blog!

    • Posted October 18, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      I think when it comes to diet world vs. fat acceptance the most important thing is to make your own choices. Your well-being is more important than deciding you have to belong to any one camp. But I take issue with statements like “no one can deny that those things are unhealthy.” Well, actually, I can deny that because that’s what I think. That said, you know how YOUR body works best, and if giving up those things works for YOU, you know better than I do, and you are the one who gets to make that decision. It still doesn’t make those things universally unhealthy, and I am always going to be skeptical of any theory that cuts out an entire food group or an entire type of food, particularly a staple food people have relied on since antiquity. You still have the right and the choice not to eat it if it doesn’t work for you, though, and to consider yourself to be making a good choice…for you. See how that works?

      My problem with dieting is usually the fact that it is promoted as a universal cure, and I think this happens because people have to whip themselves up into a kind of gung-ho froth in order to go through with it and sustain it for some amount of time. Because it is uncomfortable and difficult – you need a head of steam to get through that. That often means convincing themselves they have found The One True Way, because somehow that is more motivating (at least on the surface) than figuring out “Hmm, this is what works for me.”

      Someone in your situation who decided to use a HAES approach instead might actually end up making the same choices (to cut out certain foods or soda), but they would be for different reasons – instead of losing weight, it would be entirely based on, “How does this make me feel right now when I eat it? And a little while down the road? And what are the long-term risks? Do I like it that much?” Some of those people might even lose weight, though as I’ve said before it doesn’t seem to be the most common outcome.

      I’ve made choices about what foods to eat for my health just based on personal experience and observation. None of them had to become universal rules about what food was good or bad, or what food was universally healthy/unhealthy for everyone else. I’ve described the conclusions I’ve come to in a couple of blog posts, but it basically boils down to making sure I drink enough water, eat enough fruits and vegetables and some whole grains, get enough protein (and I do feel the difference if I don’t eat meat, sadly – even eggs and cheese don’t fully make up for its lack), and don’t drink too much soda or eat too much sugar in one sitting (though the amount that I can eat comfortably is still probably a quantity that wouldn’t be allowed on the average diet program.) I try to regularly do enough walking or swimming that I can feel my heart pounding and get a bit worn out. All of these things help me feel healthy, though none of them have resulted in significant weight loss. They are all choices based on my individual circumstances and preferences and observations of how my body works best.

      If you are currently pursuing weight loss, it’s true that that means you are not “doing” fat acceptance or HAES. But that doesn’t mean you are a traitor – did you sign a membership card that stipulated you are to Never Lose Weight? No, you didn’t. None of us did. You are just making a different choice. That is your choice to make. It doesn’t make you a traitor to anyone or anything, unless you straight-up lie about it.

      • Sandy
        Posted October 18, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

        The idea with omitting grains is that they shouldn’t BE a food group, since people have only been eating them since the advent of agriculture, or about 10,000 years. Which really isn’t all that long in the grand scheme of things. It’s rather suspect that the rise in obesity is directly related to the USDA’s promotion of “healthy whole grains” and getting your 6-11 servings of bread products per day. Also, why is it the USDA (in America, obviously) who makes our food recommendations anyway? Wouldn’t that be a job better suited to the FDA? Does it raise any eyebrows that the organization slated to make money from “healthy” whole grains would be the organization to promote them as both necessary and vital?

        I urge you to read some of the studies by Robb Wolfe, Mark Sisson and William Davis.

        As for fast food and soda being unhealthy, I’m not sure how anyone could argue that they aren’t. Hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup have proven to negatively impact health, causing all sorts of things from diabetes to headaches to ADHD. Caramel color has been linked to cancer, excess sodium to high blood pressure. That doesn’t mean I believe people should NEVER eat those things, but I do believe that those things contribute to the general unhealthiness of the population.

        • Posted October 18, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

          I disagree. My philosophy and my training have led me to believe that all foods can fit into a healthy diet for many people. Individuals may have issues with certain foods, but they are not universal rules. Generally it is the overall balance of foods that makes a difference in a person’s diet, not any particular food (except in the case of certain necessary therapeutic restrictions for particular diseases/conditions.) And I am very skeptical of any philosophy that demonizes any particular food or food group. And we’re not having this conversation here today, since I do not get involved in food fights like this. People need to make their own decisions about what to eat, period. What works for you is not necessarily going to be right for someone else.

          If you want to talk about how bad grains are and whatnot, this is honestly not the blog to be doing it on. We don’t do that here.

        • Elly
          Posted October 19, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

          On the point about soda and fast food being unhealthy, I’m going to offer a personal anecdote. When I was a kid, I was chronically undernourished — which, as far as anyone could tell, was because I just wouldn’t eat very much at all. My parents offered me a variety of good-quality, high-nutrition foods, but I just didn’t have much interest in food most of the time, and trying to choke meals down was a terrible chore that I avoided. The result was that despite having very tall parents, I was one of the smallest kids in my class, and disturbingly skinny. (On multiple occasions, schools actually sent social workers to my house to investigate my parents, based on how underweight I was.) I was chronically low on physical energy, and had very poor physical strength. By the time I was in my early teens, other girls were growing breasts, menstruating, etc. (and again, family history didn’t suggest I should be a particularly late bloomer), and my body wasn’t developing at all — as is typical when somebody’s pretty much starving.

          Then I landed in a school that, in addition to the usual cafeteria food (which I’d never been willing to touch) had vending machines full of candy and sodas, and offered fast-food pizza, burgers, greasy fries, and ice cream in the cafeteria — and after I’d been there about half a year, my parents got tired of packing lunches that I didn’t eat, and just gave me some money and told me to buy lunch at school. I’d always been more willing to eat “junk food” than the “healthy” stuff my parents and doctors urged on me, so once I had the freedom to buy what I wanted, that was what I went for — and lo and behold, I started consuming a *lot*. Two things happened after that — first, my body weight increased incrementally, which meant I finally hit puberty, and fast (grew six inches in a year, went from flat-chested to very nicely stacked, started menstruating, and so on); and second, the influx of calories seemed to “wake up” more normal appetite processes, which meant I eventually started taking an interest in all kinds of food, including the “healthy” stuff — fruits, lean meats, whole grains, you name it. After a few years, my health and physical abilities were pretty solid, and you’d never have known from looking at me that I’d spent most of my life up to that point as a starving little runt. (I’m still shorter than my parents, but there’s no telling whether that’s a result of the slow start, or just my personal genetic makeup.)

          I have no doubt that in the long run, balance in my diet contributed tremendously to my overall state of health. But there is also strong evidence that it was all that “unhealthy” food that managed to meet my baseline nutritional needs well enough to trigger the whole process. Without them, it’s entirely possible that something similar might still have happened eventually in some other way — but the longer it took, the more years of good health I would have missed out on, and the less likely it would have been that my body would have bounced back as thoroughly. (As it was, I still ended up on the short side relative to my parents, but I’m not too bummed out about that; much easier to buy jeans this way!) I’m not disputing that the same foods also do serious harm to some people under some circumstances (nor that that may be the more common case), but since I figure I probably owe them my own health, I have no problem arguing that they aren’t “unhealthy” in any universal sense.

          • Posted October 19, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

            Thank you.

            I feel pretty strongly about foods not being universally unhealthy partly because, when you work in the hospital in clinical nutrition, you see stark examples where “junk food” actually allows someone to survive in ways that foods we would typically think of as “healthy” could not. It really underscores the point that different foods are best for different people in different situations, and the fact that you cannot universally define foods as healthy or unhealthy. All foods have their risks and advantages, and we all have to figure out how to balance those things in the context of our overall diet as best we can without driving ourselves up the wall.

  25. Posted October 18, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Paradoxically, going on a diet for the first time in my life at the age of 41 (now 42) has led to me feeling less restricted, because I don’t feel guilty about eating sugar any more. As long as I put the calories into my daily record, and my daily number of calories doesn’t go above a certain amount, it’s all good. It doesn’t tackle the heart of my relationship with sugar, but it takes the anxiety out of it, which for me has been a very good thing.

    • Posted October 18, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      Dieting as a method to assuage lurking, underlying guilt and anxiety about a particular food. Another one to add to the list.

      • Posted October 25, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        I’m actually at peace with the possibility I’ll never be at peace with sugar. I
        I wasn’t sure there whether you were saying that’s another crime to lay at the door of calorie-counting, or whether it’s one of the few things that calorie counting is actually good for. (This is my confused face.)

        I’m actually at peace with the possibility that I’ll never be at peace with sugar. There are things in my life that have higher priority for me (right now), and if measuring my calories every day in a way that is non-stressful for me enables me to avoid the guilt, I’m gonna do it and not worry about it.

        • Posted October 25, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

          I wouldn’t say it’s a crime, but it’s definitely one reason why people use dieting strategies. It’s a tool, really, but as you said, it’s a limited solution.

          You have to do what makes sense to you and what gives you peace. Sometimes getting to the heart of the matter cannot be your priority, and that is absolutely your decision to make.

          But you highlighted another good reason why people often use dieting tools, aside from flat-out wanting to lose weight.

  26. Nadine
    Posted October 18, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    I was introduced to this blog a few days ago. I’m having a hard time apply this concept to myself. Part of the reason is because when I’m thinner I do feel better both phsycologically and physically. But I’m sick of dieting, then going off it and eating however I want to, to then gain weight again and feel bad.
    In theory I agree wholeheartedly, but in practice I don’t feel good where I am currently. How does one find that balance?

    • Posted October 18, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      It’s not easy, especially in a world that tells you that you HAVE to be thinner to be healthy. The best way of finding that balance, in my opinion, is focusing on eating and moving in ways that make you feel good and healthy, and letting your weight sort itself out. If you feel strong and well-nourished, you can feel just as good at a higher weight as at a lower one, without the drama around dieting and food restriction.

    • olympia
      Posted October 18, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      I can relate, Nadine. I’m having trouble finding that balance point myself. In my case, I have come to see that other than the annoyance that is “chub rub”, I feel pretty good physically at my current weight…. but mentally, it’s still a struggle to like how I look now. On the other hand, counting calories makes me nuts, it takes up so much of my brain space I have trouble doing much of anything else. So, I don’t know. There are trade offs everywhere I look! What to do?

      • Nadine
        Posted October 20, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        Olympia, it’s encouraging to see I’m not the only one who feels this way.

        For both monetary, time constraints, and to facilitate making healthy meals, I am trying to make weekly meal plans. For the most part it consists of planning what meat, starch and veg I plan on making for supper each night and then deciding day of what to make out of them.

        Both my husband and I agree that it saves us time and money when I do this. It also curbs the running out for fast food because we don’t know what to eat. Unfortunately I don’t always stick with it. But I’m trying . LOL.

        I’m also exercising more. I belly dance and just started swimming lessons. As a rather non-sports loving person, I’m trying to find activities I enjoy.

        I really hope as I get stronger, fitter, whatever you want to call it, that accepting I will have to continue these or other physical activities for the rest of my life, will result in me loving myself and the body I’ve been given.

        • olympia
          Posted October 22, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

          Exercise rocks! I find it’s not only crucial to good brain health but actually makes it easier to eat well. I’ve found that allowing for gentle exercise, not requiring that it be a burning muscle extravaganza, just going for walks is beneficial- makes it less likely to be something I dread (although I actually like fairly hard workouts much of the time, giving myself permission to never work out intensely again is helpful, strangely enough). I hope your exercise efforts are a benefit to you!

          One thing I keep going back to here is the line about how eating enough at regular intervals allows you to “actually fully devote your attention to other matters” during the time you’re not eating. Man, does that resonate! I really resent the amount of brain space artificially structured eating takes up- the tallying of calories and the like. It’s just so hard to trust myself. I do find- as I’m sure a lot of people do- that it’s very easy for me to eat a lot of simple carbs. It’s hard to figure out how to work those into an intuitive eating plan.

          • Betsy
            Posted October 26, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

            I feel as though I’ve finally switched from thinking of exercise as a form of weight maintenance to thinking of it as a form of energy maintenance. I discover when I don’t exercise in the morning, I feel scattered and weirdly unfocused the rest of the day. And if I don’t exercise for, say, a week in a row, I feel lethargic and mildly depressed. It’s interesting how mild or moderate exercise can at once calm and energize me physically and mentally.

  27. Celeste
    Posted October 18, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I just want to say that if you’ve ever read the actual Atkins Diet book, he never promised “endless steaks”. He always talked throughout the book about how you could have meats that other diets forbid, but…he wanted you to eat them until you were JUST satisfied. No more, no less. He wanted you to be mindful and to enjoy your food, and not focus on what you were being deprived of but rather to enjoy what you were having. He wasn’t stressing portion controls through physical measurement like some plans, but he wasn’t promising that you could gorge, either. At worst I would say it was kind of sales pitch. When he went through the list of what he ate every day on lowcarb, he spelled out his amounts. He just never told you that you had to measure yours.

    I think that there is an awful lot of assumption out there about what the plan really entails. I’m not saying it’s any kind of perfect plan, as nothing is 100% perfect for anyone. I’m sure it would be absolutely impossible for somebody with gout to follow, for example, as meats are high in purines that aggravate the pain. All I know is that it’s the only way of eating that ever got my cravings under control to give me any kind of chance at intuitive eating for what makes my body work and feel good. I hope I don’t sound overly defensive.

  28. Ruth
    Posted October 18, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    I experienced something similar to this when I became vegan. It was entirely for ethical purposes. After I stopped starving myself I was on an organic wholegrain traditional foods kick and, though I didn’t realise it at the time, I was still restricting (and vegetarian, but again, ethical reasons, that part was never a diet – or as I called it then, ‘lifestyle change’, ha!). I thought eating ‘intuitively’ meant intuitively stopping before you are full, intuitively chewing every mouthful 50 times (and fretting that there’s something wrong with your jaw because you physically cannot, it’s done by 15…), intuitively not eating sweets or deep fried food, all that nonsense. I’d started to learn about FA but it was very much: ‘well, that’s okay for other people, but I’m too fat’ and ‘it’s okay as long as you are not 150, 200, 300, etc. pounds’ – more like ‘very limited fat acceptance acceptance’! Anyway, at the same time as I was beginning to experiment with veganism, I got treatment for a long-term health condition, and the medication I had to take made me put on a lot of weight, really quickly, too. But between the FA I had been reading and veganism, I was able to deal with it, and became fully committed to both. Being able to say to myself ‘who cares how many calories/etc. it has, you are not bad to eat it, it is not hurting anyone, it’s just food’ has saved my life. It’s not an off switch, I don’t think I will ever find an off switch, but it’s like I can lock the anorexia in a room. And yeah, sometimes it yells and bangs on the walls, but whatever, I don’t have to look at it, and I certainly don’t have to tend to it! So I can see why people with a rocky relationship with food gravitate towards diets and other restricted eating styles. It’s like being a jobsworth: ‘oh, I’m sorry, eating disorder, but it says here that we can eat anything that isn’t from animals. Yes, yes, I see what you are saying, you don’t want to be fat, but unfortunately these are the rules. Yes, I see, I understand, but I don’t make the rules, so I can’t help further’. Just a way to make it shut up for a moment so you can get on with life.

    I can’t do set meal times or meal plans, and I’ve tried, because it would make budgeting and cooking easier, but I either buck against it or end up going down the rabbit hole. Although I don’t really think of veganism as a restriction per se because it’s not harmful, it is a restriction, and it’s enough of one that I don’t want or need any more. It’s like you said, it’s a comfort blanket, a night light against the cold truth that I’m a physical creature with physical needs. Makes it less scary. :)

  29. Linda Strout
    Posted October 19, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    More self observation!

    I just read an article about a young woman who posted a picture of herself in bra and panties as a protest of all the people who have called her fat over the years, and to celebrate herself.

    Once again I had to compare her nice neck and chin to my short wide neck and the chin/jaw that almost disappear into it.

    Link to the story I read: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stella-boonshoft/self-portrait-ask-me-why-_b_1987406.html
    Then I got to wondering ‘what did my neck look like as a kid?’ I dug up some toddler pics and sure enough – short wide neck. I’m going to look for some when I was a bit older, just to see what my neck was like as a skinny kid (I was a skin and bones kid too, all my weight came after puberty) but I bet the neck will still be short and wide.

    This accepting yourself business is hard. I need more tea.

  30. Lindsay
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Structure was the key to recovery from my eating disorder at the beginning. When I was in treatment, we were on meal plans based on individual caloric needs (one of the few ED facilities that uses calories instead of exchanges – their argument being that it was too easy to undereat using purely exchanges and that it was also more flexible and less restrictive – it worked well for some of us and not for others). Well I had structure and calorie counting on diets too, the difference there being that I was on a LOT more calories than I did on diets or even trying to maintain my weight in the past – I’d always assumed for a lot of reasons (misinformation being most of it) that my metabolism was slow, and I was appalled they would put someone who was far from needing weight restoration on the number I was on…well I gained a little weight at first but then to my shock it leveled off and stayed that way. I was kind of overjoyed that these people had given me permission to eat this much, that I was freed from feeling like I had to restrict my appetite. It sounds silly but having someone TELL me I didn’t need to keep trying to lose weight, that in fact I needed desperately to stop was such a relief on some level.

    I meal planned and calorie counted for a long time after treatment and after doing well long enough was told I could go off and began eating intuitively, which is what i still do now for the most part….I still stick to structure as far as three meals two snacks for the most part because it makes me feel better but with a lot more flexibility with times and with food amounts. Once I felt secure in having enough food and knowing I wasn’t going to go hunry or go on a binge it was then a lot easier to go off script and improvise…and my weight has stayed pretty darn stable. It wasn’t as hard once I wasn’t trying to push my body to be thinner than it wanted to be. I truly believe based on the experience with my own body and looking at the bodies of my family that I was simply born to carry a little more weight than some people. I just wish someone had told me that it was okay to look the way my body looks and to not be afraid of being fat back when I was 11 years old and began the diet that lead to a decade of hell. If I have children of my own I will definitely let them know, and if my career takes me into clinical practice in this area I will let my clients know too…

  31. Bec
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Interesting post.

    I think I do pretty well with structuring my eating, but the one area I struggle in is weekends.

    On work days it’s super easy – I eat a filling and nutritious breakfast from one of my main ‘go to’ options because I know that if I don’t, I will want to murder someone by ten o clock. I have 2 easy to make, healthy lunch options that I pick from each day, take with me and eat at more or less the same time each day. I take some tasty snacks to munch on if I get hungry during the day. I get home and have a shower-change-clothes-dinner routine running along just fine.

    On the weekend for some reason it is totally different. Not having the structure of a working day (and as a high school teacher my day tends to be very structured – timetabled classes, tea and lunch breaks and after school meetings etc) just messes me right up. I sleep in a bit and then either have nothing for breakfast or just a cup of tea. I get hungry toward lunch time but instead of making something decent I just wander the house grazing on random stuff. I do make dinner as normal but that’s probably the only meal that still runs as usual.

    I think it might be helpful to make a separate list of “weekend food” options as I think part of my problem is that I don’t want to eat the same on the weekend as I do during the week because I would go slowly insane from the lack of variety if I did this. But at the same time I have no freaking idea what to eat instead. So I just float around and nibble here and there and basically subsist on sugary things and tea until dinner time.

    • Posted October 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Most of my clients have this same problem. The answer is usually to find a way of incorporating structure on the weekends, even if your meals don’t happen at the same times by the clock as they do during the week. Sometimes an interval system works better on the weekend, some kind of agreement with yourself that goes like, “I will eat something within an hour of waking up, and then I will eat every 3-4 hours thereafter.” Eventually you might find that weekends take on a shape of their own, structure-wise. I tend to eat breakfast around 9 or 10am on weekends, lunch at 2pm, and then either an early dinner, or an afternoon snack and a later dinner. The most important point is to make sure that 1) I have actual, real meals instead of just nibbling and grazing, and 2) that I don’t let myself get overhungry in between them.

    • April
      Posted October 25, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

      I also teach, but I’m a college adjunct instructor, so I have (this term) 2 days where I go from 10AM-2PM nonstop, then 4-5:30, (and we’re in the newest building, impossible to get to my favorite place on campus for food before they close at 2PM, and no accessible fridge/microwave…I do just-add-water soups, (and some fruit and/or larabars)but get tired of them. Then M/W, I’m often in meetings 12-2, then office hours 2-5, then class 5-7.

      Next term, it’ll be a totally different schedule. I have a hard time figuring out a Real Food Plan that’s not just a rush of what fits in between things. Students also want to talk before/after each class, and I have to switch buildings, so even eating-on-the-way-between-classes is tough.

      (I’ve gotten a striiv pedometer, which is awesome, since it’s like playing a video game where your body is the controller–instead of passively recording steps, it has challenges that earn extra points for building your MyLand zome. I’m finally accepting that T/Th I will walk a _lot_ less than M/W/F, since I seem to like to walk in the mornings for a few hours, which I can’t do T/Th. And I should be grading more than working out. sigh. And I tend to gain weight when I start working out, so I’m trying to find a new primary care doc….I”m rambling, sorry.)

      Anyway, back to my main point – my day are either too structured to fit Proper Eating in, or too unstructured. I think that’s why I liked medifast when I was on it…. the main meals _were_ basically snack-sized things. I can’t do low/moderate carb for long, due to my depresso-brain though.

  32. Cory
    Posted October 21, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    As someone who was diagnosed with Celiac about 6 months ago, I’ve had to relearn to eat all over again. I was doing pretty well with eating competence and then BAM! So here I am, struggling again… but I’ll get there. The one thing I am sick of hearing is that fat people don’t have Celiac. Why, thank you for your medical opinion.

    I have been a serial dieter most of my life and I’m still fat :D So … call me a quitter but I’m done with dieting. It’s a terrible way to live. I DO monitor what I eat (see above, I have no choice) but if I’m hungry and the only gluten free choice I have is potato chips, I’ll eat them.

    • Posted October 22, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      Fat people don’t have celiac…yeah, tell that to some of my clients!

    • Posted October 25, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      THIS! If I’m honestly hungry, I’m gonna eat, and if the only gluten free food available to me is a bag of crisps or a bag of peanuts, I’m going to eat it!

  33. Posted October 22, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    My last bout of dieting really screwed me up. And now that I’ve pretty much gained all of the weight back–surprise!–I have to think again about dieting because I feel so damn out of control. Funnily enough, I never felt “in control” while dieting either. It was such a harsh, strict diet (a doctor’s weightloss program), that anytime I think about going back on a diet again I get really stressed out and upset! And what do I do? Eat! Ugh! It’s so frustrating. I get all full of anxiety (and definitely not determination) when I consider dieting again, or “taking control” of my weight/life.

    So I feel stuck and I’m not sure what to do about it.

    • Posted October 23, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      In my opinion, the answer is to not diet, but to learn to eat well. I know you feel out of control right when you’ve come off a diet and regained the weight, but you recognize yourself that going back to dieting will only re-immerse you in that same cycle. The answer is to stop the cycle altogether by focusing on feeding yourself well, and let your weight settle itself. It is not easy, but it is a better answer than dieting.

  34. Kirsten
    Posted October 23, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    I’ve recently started structured eating times, and I’m already amazed at how well it is working for me right now. In the past I have had blocks of time where I tried to “listen to your body” and “eat when you’re hungry”, but I would gain weight like crazy because I was eating like it was a full-time job. Now I see that constantly trying to figure out if I was hungry was exacerbating my food preoccupation.

    For the last week I’ve eaten breakfast at 9am, lunch at noon, snack at 3pm, supper at 6pm, snack at 9pm. It’s easy to remember. (Multiple of 3 on the clock? Eat!) The rest of the time I don’t even think about food. If I notice I’m hungry I file the info away (I love making mental notes that say “eat more next time!), but the next meal or snack is less than 3 hours away, so I can defer it to then.

    On the topic of planning, I had to laugh at my 14-year-old. We already have an iron-clad tradition of Friday night home-made pizza with salad and family movie night. I asked how he would felt if we extended that idea and had burgers every Tuesday. He thought a moment, and then said “What if we alternated Monday and Tuesday?”. Crafty kid – he goes to his dad’s for dinner on Mondays, so he would only eat them every other week! So, now we alternate lasagne and burgers Mon/Tue, and since neither of those were allowed on any eating program I’ve followed before, I’m loving it!

    My doctor once told me that he figures recommending patients lose weight is pointless, because I could go out and pick up a cocaine habit and lose 20 pounds pretty quickly. I’m not sure he has heard of HAES, but I’m glad that he intuitively gets at least some of the concepts.

  35. Erin B
    Posted October 23, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    I wish there was two different words for diet. My daughter is diabetic. She has a diet she has to follow to balance her insulin doses with the amount of carbs she is planning on eating at a meal. We have celiac disease in our family and my cousin is on a gluten free diet to deal with the symptoms. It seems so contradictory that by default diet = weight loss, when for so many people diet is figuring out how to eat to stay healthy and in some cases gain weight.

    • Posted October 23, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

      Yep, those are, in dietetic parlance, therapeutic diets. The kind of “diet” usually referred to by the average person or popular media is a weight loss diet, specifically (which is technically a type of therapeutic diet, but has obviously taken on a life of its own.)

  36. Posted October 24, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    I seem to have found something that works. First, I took up going to the gym. (No, no, bear with me.) So, for 3 months: perfect stability. No gain, no loss. Then 2 months ago, I changed one of my meds, and my weight has been dropping very slowly but steadily ever since. Ha ha, willpower and exercise, yeah, right.

  37. AmandaK
    Posted October 25, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    So here’s what I’ve learned:

    1.Much of my struggles with dieting, restricting, and weight gain have roots in my childhood when we didn’t have enough to eat. I still hoard food and feel threatened at the idea of running out of certain foods, even though I have been able to provide adequate amounts of food for myself for a decade or so.

    2. I was thinner a few times in my life, so I thought it was just a matter of tweaking my diet or exercising enough to get back my late teens/early twenties body. I never thought that maybe I was supposed to be fat, even though my thinner years were either while severely restricting with WW or when I was abusing illicit drugs.

    3. I love your theory about the fuzzy self, and I know I never gave a damn about mine. However, my best most normal periods of eating were when I was pregnant and had an actual tiny creature inside me needing proper nourishment. So recently I have been thinking of my fuzzy self as a baby who needs nurturing.

    And a whole lot of other stuff, but that’s all I wanted to share for now. Thanks for everything.

  38. Emily
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    I have never in my life known anyone who dieted in an attempt to lose weight who did not gain a significant amount of weight a year or two after. Then dieted, then gained more weight after. Over and over and over again. No matter the diet, no matter the exercise, no matter the other things that are going on in their life that are good and/or bad. Vegan to Atkins to “life plan” — never seen it. Whenever I see someone saying they’re going to go on a diet, I bite my tongue (usually), but I want to be like a dog grabbing its mistress’s pant leg before she careens blindly over a cliff.

    For me, if I don’t graze from afternoon to night most days, I start feeling sick. My appetite starts to go up and down precipitously — I’ll be ravenous, then unable to think of anything that sounds good enough to eat, and if I put something on my plate, I’ll be able to take two bites before my body simply refuses to see it as food. I end up horribly nauseous and, after a week or two, end up throwing up. (Not on purpose, I hate throwing up more than I hate almost anything else.) While eating a little when I get up almost always helps, any other kind of typical schedule around food doesn’t work for me. I’ve always been this way, and it’s very much a physical thing, and it’s always caused me problems in structured environments like school and work. It’s gotten more extreme since I became disabled — whether because of pain or pain meds or both, I don’t know.

    Sunflower seeds are a great help, though.

  39. kathy
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    All I can say is… IF weight loss were tied directly to “just eating less”, then how come during the times I have actually had weight loss, I was NOT eating less– I was eating MORE?

    Huh? Come on, explain that to me. Oh that’s right, you can’t.

    I don’t eat much really, but that doesn’t matter. People assume I do, even in the face of clear evidence when I only finish half of my plate.

    And the ones who say “there’s NO WAY YOU could POSSIBLY be hungry”, as if body size has anything to do with that.

    I was told once by a family member, “you know if you REALLY want to kill yourself, I have a gun you can use, save yourself the trouble.”

    He had no idea what he was telling me, because at the time I was shopping for guns, to do exactly that.

    I’m totally new to the idea of “health at every size” because I’ve been abused for years, and I pretty much have to relearn what it means to be healthy.

    I mean, if fat really killed people, I’d already be dead, right?

  40. kathy
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    There’s something else I’ve wanted to say for years, on the whole issue… to those of you who have adult children, take this from me because it’s absolutely true:

    1. Your adult child does not want to be lectured to about dieting and weight loss during thanksgiving dinner.
    2. Your adult child does not want to be lectured to about dieting and weight loss right when she’s meeting with you to go out to lunch.
    3. Your adult child does not want to be lectured to about dieting and weight loss while she’s trying to eat breakfast and get ready to go to work. Especially not the SAME lecture, every morning, all week.
    4. Your adult child does not want to be lectured to about dieting and weight loss at 9:00 at night when she has had a horrible day at work. It’s just a piece of cheese to settle me so I can sleep. GET OVER IT.
    5. Your adult child is well aware of what you learned at your dieting and weight loss workshop. She heard you the first 500 times you repeated it. Really.
    6. Your adult child does not want every single conversation to be reverted to the subject of dieting and weight loss.

    “Only eat when you’re really hungry?” I wish I had the LUXURY of actually being ALLOWED to eat when I am really hungry.

    It seems as though a dam has been broken in me and there’s no stopping it. I’m pissed, and I don’t want to take it anymore!

    So forgive my ranting on various sites over the past few days. I’m sure with time it will subside, but maybe not. I’ve been silent for way too long.

  41. Posted November 27, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    I seem to remember that on one of your early posts on this blog, you talked about how incredibly aribtrary and gendered a lot of diet advice is (and the assumption that women eat substantially less than men). I came across this Lifehacker article today about the new Livestrong meal portioning plan. According to them, women need HALF as much food (as a proportion of their body size) as men.

    I’m sure that Comments are long since closed on the post that was actually talking about this directly, but this seemed the most relevant of the posts that have open comments, and I thought you might find it interesting. Jeez Louise, I wasn’t aware that a lack of testicles cut my caloric needs by 50 freakin’ %.

    • Posted November 27, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

      Wow, that seems kind of…just…not exactly fair.

      • Posted November 27, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, I was not impressed.

        • Posted November 29, 2012 at 5:58 am | Permalink

          Call me crazy, but I reckon one and a half palms would do me for each meal (and that wouldn’t be “control”). But I suppose I don’t get to make those decisions for myself, I’d better just do what the chart tells me. After all – yeah – I do have these enormous gonads that require about 1,219 calories per day… </sarcasm font…

    • Posted December 1, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      I was happy to see that most of the comments it showed on that Lifehacker article seemed to agree that women needing half as much food relative to their body size as men was ridiculous.

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  • By Friday links, 10/19/12 « Tutus And Tiny Hats on October 19, 2012 at 10:44 am

    […] your own body and staying away from dieting. -On a related note, from the Fat Nutritionist: Why dieting works (for some people some of the time). Make sure to read the comments on both pieces–there’s a lot of interesting discussion […]

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