Rules vs. trust in eating.

So, for large swaths of us in the Western hemisphere, the holidays are approaching. Which means my favourite thing in the entire world is happening (it’s true!!!) —

Magazines are giving out advice on HOW NOT TO BE A TOTAL DISGUSTING PIG, YOU FUCKING SLOB.


Seriously, I wait for this all year. Like Christmas morning.

First up, from my lovely reader Maggie (thank you, Maggie, and wake up, please, I think Rod Stewart’s got something to say to you, and if you think that’s bad, try living with “Michelle, mah belle” for 30 years), comes Cosmo’s “How to Pig Out on Thanksgiving (But Without the Guilt.)”

And they pretty much give you a basic, average, low-fat kinda smallish meal on which you can totally PIG OUT, girlfriend!

Nary a mention of pie, mashed potatoes, gravy, or anything else that makes life worth living when you’re across the table from that beloved relative with the unfortunate spitting habit.

Because you should totally, totally feel guilty about food. Especially tasty food, and most especially on holidays where you’re supposed to be thanking your lucky fucking stars for even HAVING food in the first place.

Right-o, then.

Next up, we’ve got CBC’s “Go Healthy, Not Hungry for Holiday Eating.”

Which, you know, sounds like it’s going to be about moderation, and eating tasty-but-good-for-you food, and not trying to diet your way through two months’ worth of homemade cookies and seven-course meals…

…except it’s pretty much just a list of ways to avoid eating anything remotely holidayish. Plus some musty old behaviourist weight loss tricks.

Cause God forbid you should break out the real cream once a year! Or eat a meal that’s in any way different from your normal, weeknight meals during the motherfucking holidays.

And Holiday Eating Without the Guilt – or the Pounds brings the whole guilt aspect back into play. Because, really, what’s a holiday without the festive sprinkling of demoralizing shame?

The American Dietetic Association gets in on the act, too, with last year’s Health Tips for Holiday Eating, which is a litany of ways to avoid eating tasty food (including VERY SPECIFIC INSTRUCTIONS on how to dip your crudités in sauce), capped off with this inadvertent punchline: “Be realistic. Don’t try to lose weight during the holidays.”

All these various pieces of seasonal advice — and pretty much all nutrition advice, in general — seems to come down to one thing.

Which is:

han stern finger

Do I have a problem with that? Yes.

The problem I have with it is this little thing I’ve kinda-sorta hinted at in the past: intrinsic motivation.

Okay, story time.

A number of years ago, when I was a young housewife trying to figure out 1) how to lose weight, and 2) what the “right” way to eat was, I went to the library book sale and bought a well-used textbook on behaviour modification.

I read that thing cover to cover. Twice.

It was a revelation. It was the fulfillment of a long hoped-for dream, my original reason for taking psychology in 7th grade — to learn how to manipulate and control people.

(Yes, I was kind of a weird 12-year old. Shut up.)

And, in the same way Darwin believed that watching his baby son grow up was like watching a time-lapsed version of human evolution, I believe my experience there reflects something of the history of psychology. Because when psychology shifted from the primarily Freudian, psychodynamic approach into behaviourism — something with objectively observable phenomena, and ways to measurably change behaviour — I’m sure many a psychologist jumped in the air and clicked his heels at the prospect of actually being able to predictably influence another person’s actions. Of actually being able to, in effect, manipulate and control people.

So that’s what I set out to do, with my fat body.

Likewise, that’s what psychologists, nutritionists and doctors set out to do with their fat patients.

The only problem? By the late 1970s, even premier obesity researcher Albert Stunkard had to admit that it kind of wasn’t really working. I mean, the techniques all worked to some extent — everyone say this with me in unison — they all worked in the short-term.

But as we now know, over the long-term, homeostatic mechanisms, like weight, are pretty damn good at regulating themselves.

So good, in fact, that if you take the long view of things, measely attempts to control a homeostatic mechanism through behaviour modification seem…kind of ridiculous.

It’s like trying to keep a balloon submerged in a swimming pool — it’ll stay under for a little while, giving you the illusion of control. But if you lose focus for even a moment, or tire of the game even a little, that damn thing bobs right back up to where it started. Human efforts can’t override natural laws, not for long.

And the cost of eternal vigilance is, well, never again having a very good time at the pool.

But the seduction of control, no matter how short-lived, proved too much, and behaviour modification techniques didn’t stay limited to a few clinical applications. They sifted through the culture, into primary-school education, into smoking cessation programs, into diet tips and parenting advice and self-help books of every stripe…and, as you can easily see above, into diet tips.


And, granted, some of these strategies might actually be useful for other applications (like, say, teaching someone to eat mindfully, or even dealing with binge eating), or else they can be used, as Ellyn Satter uses them, subversively as a way to teach people how to organize their eating.

But as a means to control people? To get us to eat less forever, ergo, to lose weight in the long term?

Nope. Doesn’t work.

If it did, none of us would be fat today. “Obesity” probably would have been “cured” by New Year’s Eve, 1969, and we’d all be living in some sort of fabulous, utopian, skinny future with perfect lives reflecting our perfect figures, and having no other problems whatsoever.


So, to get back to what I was saying about intrinsic motivation — why don’t attempts at behaviour modification work to get people to permanently lose weight?

Well, not only because it’s like trying to hold a balloon underwater for the rest of your life, but also because people are pretty fucking smart. We know when we’re being manipulated by external pressures. And when our behaviours are not rewarding in and of themselves, life kind of sucks.

And that’s not something anyone, short of a masochist, can sustain for very long.

It’s my belief that personal autonomy, agency, freedom, liberty, sovereignty — whatever you like to call it — is one of the strongest, most fundamental desires that drive us as human beings. Because, from a purely animal standpoint, not being in control of your own decisions and choices is potentially dangerous, even fatal. And it robs life of meaning — what’s the point of having your own life if someone, or something, else is calling the shots?

Alfie Kohn, whom I adore, has written a lot of books criticizing the educational system that relies on grades as a dual system of reward and punishment for students, presumably in the service of getting them to learn. He elucidates research which has shown that students’ learning actually suffers in the presence of external rewards and punishments, and that the quality of learning improves when those sticks and carrots are removed, and replaced instead with the students’ own genuine curiosity and desire to learn about the subject.

(Now, replace “Alfie Kohn” with “Linda Bacon” in the preceding paragraph, replace “educational system” with “weight loss industry”, “grades” with “weight”, and “learning” with “health”, and you’ll begin to see what I’m driving at.)

And, to plunge even deeper for a moment, what that comes down to is a basic philosophical choice about human nature: do you trust people to do the best we can for ourselves in our current circumstances, or do you not? Do you have a pessimistic or optimistic assumption about human nature?

This may sound awfully Anne Frankish of me. So be it — the world would be a better place if more of us were like her. And as such, I firmly believe in, and make the daily effort to reinforce to myself, an optimistic assumption about human nature.

I trust that we inherently want to learn, want to improve, want to be better, want to be kind and do good in the world, and want to take care of ourselves. When we fail, because we all do at some point, I believe it’s not due to some character flaw or moral shortcoming, but because there are barriers. Sometimes those barriers are insurmountable and we are never able to get over them, to realize our potential, which can be tragic. But what it’s not is proof that we are bad or inferior.

How does this relate to nutrition, and holiday dieting tips, and eating? Well, I believe that all of us genuinely want to eat well. We want to do good things for our health. We want to take care of our bodies, and, a lot of the time, we even know instinctively how to do these things. But there are a lot of pressures and barriers in this world that get in our way, that confuse us, that distract us and attempt to control us in counterproductive ways.

When it comes to coercion and intrinsic motivation, even the most dedicated person can be swayed from their objective by someone coming along and bombastically demanding that they do the very thing they were about to do anyway.

When I was a little kid, I remember when I’d be psyching myself up to clean my room — and, at that very instant, my mom (hi Mom!) would invariably come along and say, in a very mom-ish tone, “Clean that room!” Thus utterly killing any natural desire I had to clean that room.

I’m sure this experience is damn near universal.

Our need to preserve some scrap of autonomy, even in the form of counterproductive, cutting-off-one’s-nose-to-spite-one’s-face rebellion, is far stronger than the initial impulse to clean our rooms.

So, naturally, after my mom told me to, I didn’t. Not without a lot of whining and struggle, anyway.

When it comes to grades, or eating, or whatever, the bottom line is that telling us what to do doesn’t work — even if we wanted to do it anyway (and most of us do, if you take an optimistic view of human nature.) Telling people what to do doesn’t work because it robs us of our dearest possession — the freedom to make our own choices, and even our own mistakes.

That’s why, when it comes to eating, I’m a bit more like:


And that’s because I believe:







100 responses to “Rules vs. trust in eating.”

  1. Suzanne Avatar

    Can’t type coherently, last picture making me cry. Oh my. Yup.

    This is EXACTLY what I am trying to teach my kids in the face of well-meaning and even loving relatives who just do not get it.

  2. Suzanne Avatar

    Also, I read some of those eat less at the holidays stories and they had a truly yummy sounding recipe for squash “french fries” baked in the oven. I am going to make them anyway, because I happen to love squash! Geez! It’s like they make vegetables out to be some sort of second-class foodstuff. Can we not just enjoy them for their own sakes? Especially sweet, lovely acorn squash?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Hey, at least there’s something useful there! Get on with your bad self. I love squash.

      Oh, and you know what else is good? Rutabaga. I have a sexcellent recipe for it if anyone wants.

      1. Suzanne Avatar

        I have never even looked at a rutabaga in the store, they are so foreign to my experience. However I do have a working knowledge of okra, various greens (turnip, mustard, collard) and some of the more esoteric Mexican foods and spices (epazote , anyone?) So the answer is yes. I require this recipe immediately.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Alrighty, here you go. Recipe is from the awesome Canadian cookbook Pantry Raid.

          Cardamom-scented Rutabaga Puree

          1 rutabaga (about 1 kg or 2.2 lbs)
          2 tbsp butter
          2 tbsp honey
          1/4 tsp ground cardamom
          1/2 cup warm milk
          1/2 tsp each, salt and pepper

          Quarter the rutabaga (HARDEST PART — it’s like trying to crack someone’s skull), peel it, and slice into large chunks. Boil in a large saucepan, using salted water, then reduce heat and simmer 25-30 minutes until fork-tender.

          Drain and process in a food processor (or you could mash it with a potato masher, I imagine, if it’s soft) with the butter, honey and cardamom until smooth. Add the milk while the motor is running (or while stirring vigorously.) Add salt and pepper.

          It’s AMAZINGLY delicious. My new favourite fall vegetable.

          1. Suzanne Avatar

            How come you know how difficult it is to crack someone’s skull?!

          2. Michelle Avatar

            Oh, I was abandoned as a baby and raised by a pack of UFC fighters.

          3. Marie Avatar

            (I iz in ur thread, havin myself an afterparty!!!111!!!)

            Oh, rutabaga! An important source of vitamin C where I come from (Scandinavia). Often referred to – here, that is – as “the orange of the North”.

            Mixed root vegetable mash can be a complement to, or a substitute for, staples like plain potatoes/pasta/rice. Due to its sweetish taste it goes very well with smoked and/or salty meats, for instance different kinds of sausages. Did I mention bacon?

            A standard recipe would be something like this:

            1 part carrots
            1 part rutabaga
            1 part potatoes, if you have almond potatoes then all the better

            All peeled and sliced into large chunks, boiled tender in UN-salted water (important! the mash will tend to go all glue-ish if you add salt before you mash it. It’s a reaction with the starches in the potatoes, as far as I know.)

            Drain off the water, but save about a cup of it for later on. Mash the boiled vegs by hand using a potato masher. When the mash has gotten a chunky texture, add butter and salt to your taste. Then add some of the boiling water if you think that the mash is too thick (will vary with factors like which kind of potato you have available).

            Varieties: Adding smaller parts of celeriac, sweet potato and/or parsnip. Seasoning with fresh parsley or nutmeg. Thinning the mash with milk or cream instead of water.

            The only “mandatory” ingredient in this mash is the potatoes, since they are really good for creating that mashy structure.

          4. Thalia Avatar

            I’ve never cared for turnips but seeing this recipe last week I made a mental note to give it a try. And yesterday I saw turnip already peeled and chunked at the store (yay!) and so got some. Except then I couldn’t quite remember where I’d seen the recipe. I googled ‘turnip skull crack’ but didn’t get very far (got a lot of descriptions of mangel-wurzles, though, the predecessor to the jack-o-lantern; before the new world ‘discovery’ of the pumpkin they hollowed out turnips, which sounds like a Hel of a lot of work). Anyway finally a little voice popped up in the back of my head thinking it might be here (though logically it made little sense). So I found it (another yay!) and am going to try it for Xmas.

            That was rambly but it’s all striking me as very funny.

          5. Michelle Avatar

            Awesome. I hope it turns out well!

          6. Thalia Avatar

            OMG they were so good. I’ve always hated turnips; but even my finicky brother (he is so finicky he wouldn’t eat bread when he was a kid–he said ‘it tasted like a pillow’) liked them.

  3. WellRoundedType2 Avatar

    I want to send everyone I know to read this. I might do so. I’m a little afraid they may discover my own blog in the process, but so be it.
    I was having trouble waking up, but this helped.
    Life is hard, but then there’s Michelle’s brilliance to light the darkness.

  4. Tari Avatar

    I can’t decide what I like better: your delightfully insightful takedown of holiay “eating” recommendations, or the fact that you illustrated them with Han Solo. Not only is he adorable, but he doesn’t fucking take orders from anyone. Perfect.

    Well done, as usual.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Han Solo is my port in life’s storm.

      1. Tari Avatar

        True that. Although sometimes I go with Indiana Jones instead. Or too.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I could go either way.

  5. Sarah Avatar

    A delightful comic rendition of your clean-your-room story :-)

    1. Michelle Avatar

      See? I knew it was universal.

  6. Jen Avatar

    Great post… helpful and grounding (funny too). Now I can stop stressing out about Christmas cookie baking day on Friday with my mom, sister and grandmother. I’m gonna eat a lot of cookies – Probably too many – Like any decent normal person would!

    1. deeleigh Avatar

      Cheers. That’s how you handle the “holiday eating without guilt.” You eat the tasty holiday food and skip the guilt. Easy-peezy.

  7. living400lbs Avatar

    Who would win: Indy or Han? ;)

    I love the post, but I have to say, if you’re tired of “Michelle mah belle” try this:

    It’s not quite the whole song, but the lyrics are at

    1. caseyatthebat02 Avatar

      Living – if I were asked to choose from Indy on hand, and Hans on the other – I’d ask to put those hands together. ;)

  8. living400lbs Avatar

    OK, looks like embedding a video doesn’t work, so here’s the link:

    1. Lys Avatar

      *laughs* That was written about my friend Michelle (known as Vixy), who is often known to sing it herself at concerts.

  9. attrice Avatar

    So here’s the thing, I just finished up my finals yesterday. My brain is full to bursting with theorems, redox reactions, etc… THEN you have to go and write this awesome post which actually forces my brain to go into overdrive thinking about dozens of related issues and ideas. I’m puttering through my first free day in a while, trying to enjoy some mindlessness and I cannot get these things out of my head.

    So yeah, maybe you should think about my poor brain before you go posting awesome stuff like this.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I think I need you to tutor me in chemistry.

      Seriously, could you? Would you? Like, next term or in the summer?

      1. attrice Avatar

        Bleargh, I needed two tutors to make it through chemistry this semester. And I had already dropped it once to avoid getting a C so while I’m always happy to help, I probably wouldn’t do you any good.

        I don’t know what it is about chemistry. It’s like my academic kryptonite.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Guh. Yeah, it’s my kryptonite too. I would have celebrated if I thought I were going to get a C :)

        2. deeleigh Avatar

          God, you’d rather drop a class than get a C? I’d rather get the C and leave it behind me.

          1. attrice Avatar

            I have to think about grad schools. I wouldn’t repeatedly drop a class to avoid a C, but I’m ok with doing it once.

          2. Michelle Avatar

            The idea of grad school terrifies me.

          3. deeleigh Avatar

            If I can make it through, then so can you. But, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, if you don’t like school much in the first place. I think it’s got to be something you do because you’re motivated to dive more deeply into the material – in a structured, academic setting.

  10. Christina Avatar

    I’m a dietitian who recently discovered your blog after it was mentioned in another one I read. It’s so refreshing to read something candid and fun in the PC world of dietetics! This post was great. Where did Cosmo get the ridiculous stat that people gain 9 to 11 pounds in two months?! The average person gains 1/2 – 1 lb per YEAR.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Woohoo, a dietitian! Maybe you can help me in my quest to prove that RDs are not all evil, food-restricting health fascists.

      1. Christina Avatar

        It can be tough when “diet” is in your name! We much prefer to focus on all the healthy and tasty foods to enjoy and fill up on vs restrictions and limitations.

  11. Christine Avatar

    It’s like trying to keep a balloon submerged in a swimming pool — it’ll stay under for a little while, giving you the illusion of control. But if you lose focus for even a moment, or tire of the game even a little, that damn thing bobs right back up to where it started. Human efforts can’t override natural laws, not for long.

    And the cost of eternal vigilance is, well, never again having a very good time at the pool.

    ZOMG, THIS. I’m totally stealing THIS (with appropriate credit, of course), and using it for the rest of my natural-born fat life.

    1. Jex Avatar

      I’d like to add to the analogy that you can make the balloon stay lower than the current waterline if something radical changes. Like you let water out of the pool, maybe equivalent to a sickness. And it would get even harder to hold it down at that lower level if the pool filled more, like going on certain medications. Ooo! Assuming no evaporation, most pools would fill slowly over time (aging). I can make this metaphor so complex!

  12. Laurie Avatar

    Yes! Every time someone tells me I need to diet, I want to just run to the nearest ice cream parlor just to thumb my nose at them! Unfortunately, the rebellion is, in itself, a way of being influenced by those kinds of people. That’s my main stumbling block now: to be so secure in my sense of autonomy that I can just let my body determine when I’m hungry and what I’m hungry for. Thanks for verbalizing it so well, Michelle!

  13. sannanina Avatar

    Your post made me think of this article and the ambiguous feelings I had reading it… While it doesn’t say it explicitly I couldn’t shake the impression that the author viewed mindful eating as just another technique to keep yourself from overeating and – gasp – gaining weight. For me, however, mindful eating is so much more than that… I wrote this comment as a reply to other comments who spelled out the “avoid weight gain” theme more clearly than the author:

    I am all for mindful eating – however, many comments here seem to conflate mindful eating with consciously controlling your food intake, i.e., dieting. At least when you think of mindful eating in the tradition of general mindfulness the two don’t go together at all. Dieting and most “portion control” techniques are all about eating due to external cues – the size of your plate, or if you have eaten the number of calories deemed appropriate. Mindful eating to me is all about paying attention to internal body cues without judgement, and while this certainly means stopping to eat when you are full, it also means having some more food because you “feel like it” even if that means you eat more than seems “appropriate”. Mindful eating to me is intuitive eating. It is also guilt-free eating, eating with faith in your own body signals. It is also eating without worrying about something so unimportant as your weight. People who eat intuitively do end usually end up with a stable weight, but that weight can be higher than what is considered “normal” or “healthy” by society. Yet, intuitive eating has been shown to improve physical and mental health above weight loss dieting in the long term. And as an individual who struggled with cycles of dieting and binge-eating for years, intuitive or mindful eating for me is the only approach I have yet found that helped me make to come a little closer to making peace with my body and with food.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I couldn’t shake the impression that the author viewed mindful eating as just another technique to keep yourself from overeating and – gasp – gaining weight.

      I see this a lot. Because, if you can’t get away from the underlying fat=bad, eating=suspect mindset, it doesn’t matter what techniques you promote. They’ll all end up being diety, somehow, often because they are still trying to exert external controls on eating, when it is truly an internal process.

      It’s stuff like this (quoted from the article you linked) that does it: “So, in a conscious effort to cut back on the pecan pie, I’m reminding myself of the principles of mindful eating.”

      The thing is, if you find yourself eating on autopilot, or eating more than you actually want, it’s usually because you’re struggling against a lack of permission somewhere — whether it’s coming from some unconscious part of your brain, or from diet culture, or whatever — “mindless” eating is usually a coping mechanism your body uses to ensure that it’s going to get enough to eat in the presence of the threat of restriction. Even if that threat is something you’re totally unaware of. So using “mindful eating” as a way to PURPOSELY try to cut down on your food consumption is just totally counterproductive.

      Good comment.

      1. Lisablue Avatar

        The thing is, if you find yourself eating on autopilot, or eating more than you actually want, it’s usually because you’re struggling against a lack of permission somewhere — whether it’s coming from some unconscious part of your brain, or from diet culture, or whatever — “mindless” eating is usually a coping mechanism your body uses to ensure that it’s going to get enough to eat in the presence of the threat of restriction.

        ahhhhhh I needed to read that. Thanks Michelle.

        1. Ephraim Avatar

          that makes a lot of sense.

          the question i then have is, if the threat of restriction isn’t real (if it, for instance, is a learned threat from years of imposed dieting and restriction as a kid, which is what i believe is at work for me) what do you do to shake it? like, my subconscious is really, really convinced that starvation threat is right around the corner at any time, and it doesn’t seem like there’s anything i can do to rewire my brain when it comes to that.

          1. Michelle Avatar

            Well, the thing is, even if you aren’t overtly restricting yourself (or experiencing food insecurity), there are lots of ways to unconsciously freak yourself out, and convince your body that it’s not going to get enough food.

            The most common way this happens? When you don’t have regular meals and snacks at regular, set times.

            As I said in another comment somewhere on this page, learning to eat well, and learning to trust yourself, requires proving to your body that you are trustworthy.

            You do this by feeding it. Regularly. Not “when I’m hungry,” and not “When I have time.” But at regular periods of time, even (at first) in the absence of hunger.

            I have a post about this coming up soon, because this seems to be a big question on everyone’s mind, and it’s important to go through it in detail. But for now, the short version is: eat meals and snacks in a structured, orderly, and routine fashion.

      2. Virginia S. Wood, Psy.D. Avatar

        Dang. This post and the comments made me SO hungry I just HAD to go down the hall to the office kitchen and get two slices of that beautiful dark bread with all the nuts and fruit in it that somebody brought and left out to share. It’s not lunchtime yet, but I’m hungry. It’s not “lunch”, but it’s what I want. And I got two MORE pieces of pineapple because they were so good when I had some an hour ago. And you know what else? I put cream cheese spread on the bread and I USED A BIG PLATE! Because it’s what I was hungry for, and I needed the room. So there.

        I am mindfully going to eat this delicious lunch and read the rest of these comments. And if I get hungry again in the middle of the afternoon because I ate “too early” and didn’t get “enough” protein? Too bad, so sad. I’ll toddle back down to the kitchen and DO IT ALL AGAIN.

        Isn’t freedom wonderful? This is going to be a sensual experience!

  14. Jasie VanGesen Avatar

    There was lots of nails being hit on their heads in this post, for sure.

    I also squeeeeeeed a bit when you compared intrinsic motivation in eating to intrinsic motivation in education and then quoted Alfie Kohn. Dude! I really never thought I’d see my love of Alfie Kohn’s parenting/educational approach referenced on an FA blog. My worlds are all colliding and it’s making me very happy, indeed.

    Well done!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Hahha, well I’m glad I could make your worlds collide. I love Alfie Kohn, even though I don’t have kids. Because I am basically a giant toddler, and I have major beefs with the education system as it stands.

      The day I read “Punished by Rewards” I was like OH DUDE THIS TOTALLY APPLIES TO FAT ACCEPTANCE.

      Also, if you like him, you’ll also enjoy Edward Deci. He wrote a book called “Why We Do What We Do,” all about intrinsic motivation. One of my very favourite books.

  15. Lisablue Avatar

    I love Alfie Kohn! Probably the biggest reason we either will homeschool or will send Tomas to Windsor House (a self-directed school).

    This was, as ever, brilliantly written.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Awesome. If I ever have a kid, that’s totally the route I will go as well. Because, as I was just saying to Jeffrey last night before we fell asleep, that 17 years in school has really managed to utterly kill my love of school. And I really used to love it. I’m just lucky it hasn’t yet killed my love of learning on my own. Windsor House sounds really, really cool. I would have loved a place like that when I was a kid.

  16. boots Avatar


    OMG, this made me laugh really hard. Whenever I hear that advice I think, “Yeah, but that means I have to scrub out the bathtub first, so it’s basically a punishment.”

    1. shapelywench Avatar

      Boots, you must be my northern hemisphere twin! LOL (How do you get many layers of superhold hairspray off a bath surface, anyone? It’s like effing concrete.)

      Seriously, the next mag article/blog that trots out the tired, old “have a nice hot bath instead of eating” shit – BIG slaps all around. Or maybe full-on karate roundhouse kick to the head. Depends on how friggin’ hormonal I’m feeling at the time. No further warnings.

      BTW, Michelle, ah luvs you. Big time.

  17. megaforte84 Avatar

    I ended up writing a blog post about that Cosmo article.

    As I was reading it, I came to the dawning realization that just about every ‘this is why you shouldn’t eat this’ statement they had either concerned ingredients that just aren’t a part of my family’s recipes and never have been or involved things we just don’t load up on.

    Their statement about going for the white meat off the turkey instead of the dark? Dark turkey meat is known as Leftovers in my family.

    Meat in the stuffing? Would be practically sacrilege as a modification of Grandma’s Annual Recipe.

    A whole cup of cranberry sauce? Yeah, that was as much as we had. For eight people. You’d think you were about to die if you ate that much of it at our gathering, but it wouldn’t be from the calorie count – it would be from the glares of everyone who didn’t get any!

    And I haven’t read anybody saying it yet this season, but someone’s always got to offer the No Seconds Rule advice, as if that actually cuts down on food consumption instead of just making the first plate get piled as high as is personally justifiable.

    I personally think I do better planning to go get seconds at holiday meals. It means the first plate doesn’t get filled to the brim, and when I go back again I have a better idea just how hungry I still am and I know which things are really worth getting an extra helping of this year.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      That’s how I handle seconds, too. Because I don’t like the idea of being uncomfortably stuffed-to-the-gills, but I also hate wasting food. So starting with a moderate plate, knowing that I can go back for more whenever I want, seems to work. Cause then I don’t freak myself out, like “OMG WILL I GET ENOUGH TO EAT???”

      1. megaforte84 Avatar

        It also helps when recipes don’t go quite as they usually do.

        That stuffing may have been great last year, but something may have made it a bit less divine this year. Best to check before getting a large serving and then feeling like you have to finish it because you got so much – a taster serving left on the plate barely touched is a lot more acceptable than leaving a normal serving, and doesn’t feel as strange.

  18. creativevoyage Avatar

    those magazine articles are just the reason why I suggest to anyone trying to come off dieting to stop reading womens magazines and watching tv for between 6 months to a year. Stop the horrible inputs and sanity can be restored..

  19. Quinlan Avatar

    Very insightful points about differing outlooks towards human nature, when people know that concious control of weight almost always fails and then they still blame those people (all two thirds of the population) for it, they must have a very cynical/pessimistic view of basic human nature.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yes, that’s exactly it. And that’s where I believe all those stereotypes — whether they’re about fat people, or people of a different colour or cultural background or gender or sexual orientation or whatever — come from. If you listen to those various stereotypes or assumptions, they are all judgments about a person’s nature, about seemingly fixed qualities: stupid, lazy, immoral, ugly, etc. This reveals a deeply misanthropic view of humanity, and, I believe, is sort of an underlying sickness in our culture.

      Because stereotyping people in this way renders them as “other,” often even as “inhuman,” thus making it easier to hate, deny them civil rights, or even commit violence against them.

      It’s a much bigger problem than just not trusting people to know how to eat, or thinking fat people are gross, or whatever. These are all symptoms of a much bigger problem.

      1. badhedgehog Avatar

        I think it’s also a combination of the myth of a just world, and a fear that privilege might be fragile. People who make moral judgements about other classes of people are bolstering their own identity against potential threat. “They” are stupid, lazy, etc; “I” am not like them, therefore “I” am alright. People wouldn’t feel they needed someone to look down on, someone to trample on, someone to put on the “other”, “bad” side of the good/bad divide in order to define themselves with relief as “good”; if there wasn’t a feeling of insecurity, of there only being so much “okay” to go around.

        I think that some anxiety might be part of the human condition, but I also think we have a duty to ourselves to confront some of our irrational anxieties and realise that being okay isn’t a scarce resource to be viciously fought over.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Yes, I definitely see the just world hypothesis a lot when I examine this stuff. People want to believe that others somehow *deserve* their fate, even if it’s a tragic one. There’s also a lot of attribution bias going on.

          And you’re totally right that there’s not a finite amount of okay-ness in the world. It’s not a scarce commodity — maybe everyone can have some.

  20. Val Avatar

    Quoting : “It’s my belief that personal autonomy, agency, freedom, liberty, sovereignty — whatever you like to call it — is one of the strongest, most fundamental desires that drive us as human beings. Because, from a purely animal standpoint, not being in control of your own decisions and choices is potentially dangerous, even fatal. And it robs life of meaning — what’s the point of having your own life if someone, or something, else is calling the shots?”
    >> That is HUGE. You exactly highlights what I was trying to determine about my (disordered) eating habits. My “Inner Resistance Monster”. My Self-sabotaging techniques…my illogical behabiors. Yes, Yes, Yes, you wrote it down perfectly.
    I have been suffering from various EDs since my late teens ans still do not have a peaceful relationship with food. I was (still ?) feeling like being in a dead end. The latest behavior therapist I saw said he could not help me (“I was lacking some inner motivation”…sounds familiar ? lol)
    The question is now how to start trusting my eating instincts…and loving “just a bit” of my body ! Long, long way to go, when you are all by yourself.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I think the key to learning to trust your instincts with food is to first become trustworthy. I think when someone has experienced disordered eating, they have essentially formed a rift between their “self” and their body. The two are at odds, constantly having power struggles.

      In order to become trustworthy, YOU have to show your body that you are reliable. This begins by providing yourself with the opportunity to eat on a regular, routine, fixed basis, a.k.a. meals — even in the absence of feelings of hunger (which may be buried or which you might be desensitized to.)

      It sounds like such a simple thing, but it can have an amazing effect to just start sitting down with whatever food you have available at regular intervals, before you become famished. And then letting yourself pick and choose and eat what and however much you want from what is there.

      Eventually, your body and your “self” might be able to trust one another. Maybe even make friends.

      1. Tigs Avatar

        In order to become trustworthy, YOU have to show your body that you are reliable. This begins by providing yourself with the opportunity to eat on a regular, routine, fixed basis, a.k.a. meals — even in the absence of feelings of hunger (which may be buried or which you might be desensitized to.)

        It sounds like such a simple thing, but it can have an amazing effect to just start sitting down with whatever food you have available at regular intervals, before you become famished. And then letting yourself pick and choose and eat what and however much you want from what is there.
        This is it! This is the start of the ‘how’ for me. It’s a dialectical relationship— not only do I need to be able to trust my body, but my body needs to be able to trust me, and I need to give it reasons to do so— in order that a synthesis might in the future occur.
        You just blew my mind.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Awesome. I’m glad it makes sense to you.

          I’ve been meaning to write a post on this for a really long time now, ever since I wrote about the difference between WHAT and HOW, but I’ve been very nervous about writing it. Obviously it really, really needs to get written though!

          This is really how it begins — by proving yourself to be reliable and trustworthy with feeding — and what you said about the synthesis then being able to happen in the future is exactly how I envision it, too.

      2. Virginia S. Wood, Psy.D. Avatar

        Sorry to put in twice on the same thread, but I can’t resist.

        Part of this “opportunity” to eat on a regular basis I think needs to be also the opportunity not to eat if you are not hungry. People in my generation (Boomers) often do not know when to stop, I suspect because our parents and grandparents, possibly as a result of the traumas of the Great Depression, constantly pushed us to clean our plates, taught us that “wasted” food was somehow a slap in the face to little children all over the world who didn’t have enough. (Food is just as wasted, IMHO, if you eat what you don’t want to. But that’s another subject for another day.)

        So yes. If you live alone, by all means go to the refrigerator at meal times and offer your body something. If it doesn’t want at 6:00 p.m., you can always bring it back later! If you eat with family or friends, by all means, sit down at the table. And pick at your food if it doesn’t appeal to you. You can always come back later.

        The reliability thing is there, but no rules (like, “I have to eat because it’s dinner time.”)

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Yes — Ellyn Satter uses the term “Division of Responsibility” to describe what you’re talking about.

          As it applies to children, it means that parents choose when and where (and mostly what) to serve for meals, and then children sit down and choose how much and whether to eat.

          I look at it the same way when it comes to the mind/body split-state that people are living in when recovering from dieting: you choose the structured times and what to offer yourself, foodwise, but then your body (taking the role of the child) gets to choose how much/whether to eat at those times.

          The whole thing is based on a mix of discipline (to get the food on the table in a structured, reliable manner) and permission (to eat or not to eat, and to eat what you like.)

      3. Joanne Avatar

        One of the things that really killed IE for me is that every frickin’ IE msg. board I visited for support seemed to reinforce the idea that if you’re doing IE correctly then you “should be eating less/losing weight/etc.”
        Or if you’re eating nothing but “gentle nutrition” then you’re not doing IE. Though, I think the people “doing IE” are doing so in the hopes that they will purge their taste for chocolate or learn how to eat, less, etc.
        Am I making sense?
        Sorry. Not coherent this morning!

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I agree — you’ve described a lot of the problems I have with IE as it’s commonly practiced.

  21. JeninCanada Avatar

    “I trust that we inherently want to learn, want to improve, want to be better, want to be kind and do good in the world, and want to take care of ourselves. When we fail, because we all do at some point, I believe it’s not due to some character flaw or moral shortcoming, but because there are barriers. ”

    OMFG THIS! This for the win! This x 1000! A fantastic amazing post that I’ll be linking all over the place. Thank you for it and thank you for all your writing.

  22. brokensaint Avatar

    O”h, I am SO GLAD to see a professional take on this. It drives me crazy. And I’m skinny! But the idea that any type of food is “guilty pleasure,” that you can have “no-guilt” desserts… I’ve had enough guilt in my lifetime. Don’t need anyone adding it to my FOOD.

  23. Carolyn Avatar

    I <3 this post so hard. Seriously.

    It reminds me of something my therapist used to tell me in her lovely Texas accent:

    "If you could do better you WOULD do better."

    Which is my mantra. I know, I am a good person who tries hard to live a happy, healthy life. I don't always live up to mine or societies expectations. Before, I would just stomp all over myself for not being able to achieve these standards or expectations. Until my therapist gave me that little nugget of wisdom. If I could do better, I truly would. I am not a slug of a human being who gets off on misery, I was trying my best. It's like running an engine at full RPM. It can only go so fast before it blows up.

  24. shyvixen Avatar

    That was a wonderful post, I really needed to read that as I’ve been struggling with food and weight issues lately.

    I”ve been stocking up on books to read for the next couple of months as I’ve decided to stop watching television. I want to avoid all of the dieting and “healthy” eating shows and tv ads that are going to be everywhere for the next few weeks as people make their New Year’s resolutions to lose weight.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Oooh, have fun with that. I love taking TV breaks from time to time, because commercials seriously, seriously bug me. And I tend not to read as much as I like when there’s TV on to distract me.

      If you find any excellent must-read books, let me know :)

      1. Tracy Avatar

        Yes to all of this.

        Michelle, I would love to see you do a takedown of all the “New Year/New You” crap.

  25. Jordi Avatar

    I love this post so much. I just skip anything that has to do with “Guilt-free” eating, since I know that it’s not about “guilt-free” eating at all.

    Thank you so much for this post.


  26. JennyRose Avatar

    Cause God forbid you should break out the real cream once a year!

    Michelle – you have obviously not heard that this is a slippery slope. A gateway if you will to eating cream once a month, then everyday and finally at every meal. You cannot let this happen. I could not take those helpful tips seriously even in my worst dieting days. I always thought wtf, I’m gonna eat what’s good. I am trying to use this season to try new dishes and flavors.

    As far as rutabaga, I really like it mashed. It was a tradition in my family. Only my mom, sister and I like it. It was my fathers tradition to hold it up before cutting off the skin and say “What person saw this growing in the ground and thought it would be a good idea to eat it?”

    1. Michelle Avatar

      That is an awesome tradition, from both sides of the spectrum!

  27. Meowser Avatar

    If they did, none of us would be fat today. “Obesity” probably would have been “cured” by New Year’s Eve, 1969, and we’d all be living in some sort of fabulous, utopian, skinny future with perfect lives reflecting our perfect figures, and having no other problems whatsoever.

    Hee. I often do wonder what would happen if, by some unforeseen act of sprites and faeries, we somehow all got to be “normal” weight. Would they actually quit picking at our bodies like scabs? I doubt it. We’d still be getting hounded to become “low normal” instead of “high normal,” and if we all managed that they’d be kvetching about all the osteoporosis. And neglect of family and community duties. And bad breath. And wiping ourselves in the wrong direction. (I think I know the right direction: towards the magazine rack behind you.)

  28. julie Avatar

    It’s bloody damn hard to get over feeling guilty about food. I’ve been working on it for a long time, and still have to actively fight with myself at times. I’m almost feeling okay about my eating most of the time, but it’s a bit of a tightrope act, I have to constantly make sure I’m not slipping, which I’ll do if I don’t catch it and stop it.

    I’m glad I’m not seeing these ads and articles at all, though I wouldn’t pay attention. I know I’m doing it all wrong, according to almost everyone, and I’m comfortable with that. Just no more shame-I think shame describes most of my history with food, more than guilt.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yeah, I think you’re right on the shame thing. And what is behind that, anyway? I still can’t quite put my finger on it, except to say that it seems most of us think that our appetites are somehow wrong or excessive. Maybe we’d rather feel we weren’t so weak as to depend on food? Or as much food? I dunno.

      1. Virginia S. Wood, Psy.D. Avatar

        OMG. I’m back. Just think of all the posts I’ve read and haven’t commented on, and maybe it will make you feel better. My average ratio of comments : posts per blog is actually quite low.

        It’s the Puritans v. gluttony thing, especially with women. A woman with an appetite for food, or alcohol, or making her own money might have an appetite for sex. A woman who wants to be in control of her own body, choices, decisions — well. That’s a woman not easily controlled by men. And Maude knows, we can’t have that!

  29. sannanina Avatar

    I had a thought this morning that was slightly on the esoteric side. In one of my favorite children’s books, “The Neverending Story” by Michael Ende, the main character Bastian Balthasar Bux is given an amulet with the words “Do what you want” on it. Reading those words he asks if this means he can do everything that comes to his mind. He is given the answer that this is not the case at all – instead he is supposed to do his true will, and that nothing is more difficult to do.

    When we talk about intuitive eating people outside of FA and/or HAES often think we just want to justify our bad eating habits – i.e., to eat everything that is in sight. (Hey, after all we are fatties, we MUST eat like this, right? Particularly since some people mix up the experience of post-restriction cravings with what is the human body’s normal response to food.) For me, however, intuitive eating is much closer to doing my body’s “true will”, to find out what it really needs. And this can be incredibly hard to do if you haven’t practiced it for years – even though almost all of us were all born with the ability to to eat intuitively.

    Okay, I know it is a weird analogy, however, I have thought a lot recently how we tend to mix up actions that require “self-control” with a) actions that are “right” and b) with self-regulation. Intuitive eating is not guided by self-control, however, that doesn’t mean it is completely unregulated – in fact, it is strongly regulated by body signals. And why people think we cannot trust body signals when it comes to something as food, especially considering that we needed to regulate what we eat in order to survive for thousands of years, is beyond me. (Yeah, I know, there is always someone that argues that people never had enough food to “overeat”, but I doubt very much that this has been true on a regular basis for the several thousand years that people have grown crops, and it might not even have been true for all the hunters and gatherers. Sure, there were famines, but I would expect them to have been the execption rather than the rule, and until someone provides strong evidence that our ancestors were basically chronically starving I won’t believe that my body is programmed to eat everything in sight and that I therefore need to think about every morsel of food I put in my mouth.)

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I totally meant to just say YEAH to everything you typed here.

  30. HeatherJ Avatar

    “I trust that we inherently want to learn, want to improve, want to be better, want to be kind and do good in the world, and want to take care of ourselves. When we fail, because we all do at some point, I believe it’s not due to some character flaw or moral shortcoming, but because there are barriers. ”

    This paragraph could have been written for me – not just about my weight and eating, but also about my struggles with depression, and the shame I feel about not living up to my potential because of it. I must remember that my situation is “not due to some character flaw or moral shortcoming” but due to the barriers of mental health problems.


  31. WendyRG Avatar

    I really loved your story about cleaning your room. I really should show it to my son, who will then no doubt throw it back in my face.

    This post really spoke to me. It’s so true it hurts. I find myself constantly preaching against dieting yet find those horrible ideas invading my brain pretty much all the time. Although my blog has evolved more and more into anti-dieting, I still read a number of dieting blogs, which makes me really depressed. If I see “I burned x calories today” or “I exceeded my x calorie count” or “I came in lower than x calories today” one more time, I think my brain will explode. And of course, holiday time brings out the most rabid dieting behaviour in people.

    Thank you for those sane (and sometimes salty lol) words. You speak truth to power.

  32. Joanne Avatar

    Silly people…don’t you all know that there were no fat people in 1969, 1869, 1769 etc…it’s only this past decade. *total sarcasm*

    Oh, and the holidays? I love when people proclaim that the holidays are why “there is an obesity problem in America” Or another favorite: “How dare evil so-in-so take the time to give me handmade treats! I know, I’ll just throw them out!”

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Throwing out homemade treats is like a crime against humanity.

      Especially because my family makes homemade Irish cream. If anyone threw that shit out, I’d have their head on a block.

      1. NicNac Avatar

        Some thoughts:
        1. Just found your blog- you are articulating what I have been thinking/examining for years! THANK YOU!! I always feel like those magazine articles are like the candy they despise- pretty but lacking in essentials.
        2.I love to bake and often like to give home baked gifts at the holidays. The last few years though, I have noticed that people seem more hesitant to take them, and almost look at you like you are trying to corrupt them in some way. I think I’d get a more positive reaction if I gave out Crystal Meth. After all, it IS slimming.
        3. What kind of dumbass goes to a holiday party and has nothing but steamed veggies? Are you really that anal? Or do you have so little control over yourself that one taste of gravy will send you over the edge into some kind of binge-eating mania? When I go to our Christmas celebration, I’m having some of my mom’s fudge. And onion dip. And sugar cookies. And we’re making our own pizzas this year (we always do something funky for christmas) The thing is, when I eat normal day-to-day, I really don’t eat that much. I exercise. I eat veggies. I like skinless chicken breast. SO WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?! I refuse to apologise or feel negated for enjoying holiday food.

    2. Marie Avatar

      In Norway there is a saying: “It’s not what you eat between Christmas and New Year’s Eve that’s will make you fat. It’s what you eat between New Year’s Eve and Christmas! ”

      I’ve always thought that that was kind of funny and true, seeing as the papers and magazines teem with dieting advice just before the major holidays. I’m not sure if this saying is compatible with FA, though. Or maybe it is? Plainly, it’s just stating that nutrition-wise it’s the long run that counts, not the exceptions. I doesn’t actually pass judgment on being fat. (I don’t. Not on being thin, either. Or in between. Or tall, or short. Or whatever.)

  33. Atchka! Avatar

    This Christmas, I’ve decided to allow myself on thimbleful of eggnog and I will eat all of my meals from the cap of a milk jug. No seconds.

    Surely this will cure me of this nasty “eating” habit of mine.


  34. Anna Avatar

    My husband and I were talking about this the other day. Holidays, and ESPECIALLY harvest holidays are meant to celebrate the very act of being alive and having food to consume. Because we always have too much food, we just don’t get it. “Celebrating” Thanksgiving by whining about using *gasp* real cream is a great way to ruin the holiday.

    Holidays used to be a time when you could eat as much as you wanted, or more than you wanted, because there WAS enough. For one day, no worrying about splitting up an insufficient portion between the entire family or going to sleep hungry. And people who don’t get that don’t understand the point of these celebrations. We’ve made them about being thankful for other things in our lives, and that’s ok too. Culture changes and we don’t value food the way it was once valued.

    We are lucky enough to be able to live our harvest holidays every. single. day. And for that we do not give enough thanks.

  35. lahorton Avatar

    This was an awesome post….I laughed my ass off and it made perfect sense.

    When I was a kid, I was the only fat one in the family. That really sucked!! Anyway, I truly believe that if I hadn’t been made to feel like I was ugly and gross and not as good as everybody else, my body would have regulated itself and I could have been a normal person. When you are in 5th grade and your parents are smelling your breath to see if you’ve eaten a cookie or potato chip, or chasing you down the street because you took a couple of oreos, you end with with some serious issues. Still fighting them 40 years later.

    I think that people who want their children to be “healthy,” need to take into account their psychological health as well as their outward appearance. Shaking off that old “everyone else is better than me because they’re skinny” feeling can be damn near impossible.

    You are teaching me a lot – and I’m older than you. I think you’ve got a good handle on this issue and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and feelings with all of us. You are making a difference!

    By the way, the John Tesh helpful holiday party tip for the day???!!!… an apple before you go to the party so that you’re full and don’t eat all the hors d’oeuvres and drink too much. If I had his number, I would call him up and tell him to kiss my ass! He’s driving me crazy! Can we not enjoy the holidays like very other person in the world? I bet he doesn’t eat an apple before he goes to a party! Okay, I’m done with my Tesh rant for this week.

    Merry Christmas to you!!!!

  36. […] of The Fat Nutritionist (a fabulous blog) included the above infuriating links in her post on following eating rules and regulations versus putting your trust […]

  37. Lori Avatar

    I’m going to assume that, like a lot of hysteria around obesity, the “guilt-free” holiday eating stuff has less to do with food and more to do with misplaced anxiety about financial overconsumption. I mean, it’s ironic that in a season where people are encouraged everywhere they turn to consume, consume, consume, they are also being told that they better be careful about every single bite they put into their mouth.

    One of the nicest things about spending the holidays at home with just me, my husband, and our son is that we can eat whatever and however we want. My family doesn’t do the guilt about overeating, but they can be big pressurers to eat more than you want or stuff you don’t want. I have very little appetite lately (baby must be encroaching on some of my stomach space), and I feel better when the food I can eat has less sugar and more protein. So, we’re forgoing making Christmas cookies this year, or a pie, because we can, and DH and DS would rather have ice cream, anyway. I know I’d have to deal with all sorts of “Oh, come on, just have a little!” and “Are you on a diet?” comments that would drive me insane if we were visiting family. It’s really nice to just be able to skip all of that, and just have cheese and crackers and grapes all day on Christmas if we want, and have a cookie or not have a cookie as we feel like.

  38. Kristin Avatar

    This is a great post; I’m well on board with size acceptance and mindful eating and doing HAES and all of that, but I never even thought to connect to educational theories. So interesting!! Thank you.

  39. Sara K. Avatar
    Sara K.

    I am a little late to the party. I do want to thank you for writing such a wonderful piece. I also want to thank the other comment-writers for making additional insightful commentary. Cheers!

  40. […] One thing is for certain, though, whatever the response: trust is lost. […]

  41. […] won’t go off on my whole long tangent about intrinsic motivation again, except to say: there is a body of research showing that humans acting under the threat of […]

  42. […] hett efterlängtad och njutbar. Man skulle kunna kalla det ”mindful smoking” (jämför mindful eating). Bild CC by-nc-nd av […]