Touching on intuitive eating, what, how, and why

Happy New Year and a happy start to a new decade!

I’m really glad that I’ve kept up with this blog, however sporadically, and despite the main audience being me, myself and I, every time I write here it feels like an act of self care, a sort of therapy, even when I’m talking about something that seems completely surface level and insignificant. This post however, is about something not so insignificant, and far more important. I’m doing my dissertation on obesity policy, and so I’ve been doing a tonne of research into obesity, weight discrimination, and I also read the book ‘Just Eat It’ by Laura Thomas PhD, which I would recommend to everybody, ever. This post is really a brain fart of everything that I’ve been thinking about to do with all that, so it’s a bit messy, and a bit emotional, but also really important. I’m not a Dietician, but Laura Thomas is, who I get a lot of this information from, and if anyone doubts the validity of any of this, I have about 70 pages bookmarked under my dissertation folder with links to the books/journals/scientific studies where all my information is coming from. Anyway, here goes!

‘New Year’ for a lot of people, spells ‘New Me’. And for a lot of those people, ‘New Me’ spells, ‘New Body’. Whether that’s through a weight loss goal, a new diet, a new fitness regime, whatever – people always seem set on changing something about their body or appearance. This time of year, and indeed, the last few days, I have seen everything fitness- and wellness-related heavily discounted, from exercise apps to hair health gummies (seriously, don’t bother). For a smaller percentage of people, those appearance goals are to become stronger, be able to manage every day tasks better, to up their stamina. Or some might have smaller goals to try out some new outfit or makeup looks, a new hairstyle, to be more exciting and adventurous with their appearance. But for a big, big, BIG percentage of people, appearance goals = lose weight. And lose weight = diet.

But here’s some wild information that you probably already know somewhere deep inside you – DIETS DON’T WORK. Like, they don’t. This isn’t an opinion – they scientifically, broadly speaking, don’t work. 95% of people will gain their weight back between 1-5 years. That’s some real depressing shit. Do you want me to make it worse (you don’t, but I’m going to anyway)? Normally when you are heavier, your metabolism is much higher than when you are lighter. But when you diet and restrict, lose some weight, and then inevitably gain it all back, your metabolism doesn’t go back to it’s original high-when-heavy state. So… it’s even harder to lose weight, and waaaaay easier to gain even more than you had in the first place. Because your body doesn’t want to lose weight. No f-ing way. Your body wants to hug on to every single delicious morsel of juicy cushioning fat it can possibly cling to. Evolution has designed us to be pretty hardy, and survive under horribly sparse conditions, and so your body looks after itself and all its lovely fat that it can use for energy stores if things go terribly wrong and you can’t find any food for a month.

However, diets do work at a couple things. Did you want to develop a horrible and gnawing eating disorder that wrecks your life, physically and mentally? Or at the very ‘least’, develop a complex and challenging relationship with food that makes food and thinking about food take over your life, give you guilt and anxiety and body issues? Did you want to feel insecure and shameful at your constant ‘failure’ to stick at a diet plan? Well! You’re in luck here! Diets make all of these much more likely scenarios. If these were the outcomes you were hoping for, then dieting is a pretty solid choice, and you can probably stop reading here (but also, I hope you’re okay and that nobody actually wants those things).

For the rest of people, who just want to feel good, and sexy, and confident, dieting is not the answer. In case you were wondering, weight loss by other means isn’t the answer either. Your self-esteem probably isn’t related to your weight, even if you think it is. Literally, screw every ad campaign ever, every before and after photo, and every weight loss advocate that implies that when you lose weight, your life and your happiness will be improved. If you faced fat discrimination when you were heavier, then maybe on a superficial level your life will improve a bit if you lose weight – but firstly, any friends or family (or strangers, prospective partners, etc) who treat you differently based on your weight, don’t deserve to be around you in the first place. Respect yourself and remove them out your life. Secondly, the solution to work-place and public fat discrimination should not be to force people to change, it should be to force the stupid damn system to change to one that doesn’t value people based on their false assumptions about people carrying more weight than others. Anyone claiming to be discriminating with ‘health’ at the back of their minds are just kidding themselves – how many skinny people smoke, do harmful drugs, haven’t eaten a veggie since they were spoon fed, or just have health problems in general? Loads. What are you doing about them?

Sure, so, being obese, is correlated with a higher risk of some health problems – heart problems, diabetes, cancer, etc. You know what’s an even stronger correlation than that? The level of internalised fat shaming and phobia, and health problems. What do I mean? I mean, if a fat person has been made to feel shame, has internalised fat guilt and fat phobia, has been discriminated against, has been made to feel basically like a piece of shit because of their weight so much that they have internalised this disgust and hatred of their physical state, their risk of depression, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, eating disorders, and suicide is higher. So, now can you lay off a little? Incidentally, people who are discriminated against, also statistically gain more weight. So really, by discriminating, what were you trying to achieve again? Anyway, I could talk about fat discrimination for decades, but that’s another story, let’s get back on track.

Firstly, you gotta do some work on your self esteem, my friend. Sorry, I know that’s not an easy one. What I mean by that, is you gotta get it out of your head that thin = best. There is no best aesthetic body type. Social ‘best’ body types are completely cultural, with huge variations across different countries. The best body for you, is the body you’re in right now. You have to learn to love it. It’s seriously, great. You’ve got some muscles that let you do a tonne of stuff, even the lil ones in your eyes that help you read this post. You’ve got limbs and bones and skin and everything in between that enable you to do incredible things – some people choose to laze around on their sofa, some people choose to climb mountains, whatever, your body lets you do it! And it’s beautiful too! It has so many colours and textures and in some places you can see past it to your veins and in some places it’s super thick, some places feel good when touched, and others are so tickly you instantly slap whatever ticked it, really really hard, and then apologise profusely if it was an unfortunate other person. Some bits you can grab hold of and feel how squishy it is, and other parts you can feel the bone and it just feels super weird and gross (or maybe that’s just me who hates that). As women, our bodies create new life (seriously, woah), and if we choose to have or are able to have children, our bodies let us look after them in every way we are physically capable. There are some people who can’t use their legs, who use their arms to help them travel instead, and there are people who can’t use 98% of their bodies, and still manage to communicate through eye movements. So many people have parts of their bodies, internally or externally, that don’t work as well as we’d like them too, and yet we still push through, we invent new ways of living our lives that can continue despite this, and we do our best. Our bodies, collectively, and individually, are absolutely astonishing. So have some respect for what you put it through!! If you are worried about your weight with regard to health, then first have a look at the Health at Every Size movement, with an open mind. Maybe you’ll still come out of it thinking you need to lose weight, but for now, out of respect for your mental health too, put that on a back bench and see if you can do something else for your body right now. Remember – diets don’t work.

So what is this mystical way of living and respecting your body that I’m about to talk about? Intuitive Eating. Now, I’m not going to go into it super detailed, please read the book ‘Just Eat It’ that I mentioned at the top, it’s super informative and inspiring and everything you need to know is in there, or do your own research online (but seriously, fact check that shit). But I’ll tell you the basic premise. Essentially, intuitive eating is about totally trusting your amazing body to give you the right amount of food and the right amount of nutrients. It’s about ignoring other peoples opinions, their judgements, ignoring set portion ideals, set eating times, cultural expectations on food etc, and respecting your own body and its needs instead. There are no ‘rules’, and it isn’t a diet. The point is, after years of messing up our body from restricting and binging and following fad diets, over exercising, basically ignoring what our bodies are screaming at us, we’ve sorta lost touch with the signals our body gives us. Because seriously, it knows what it needs. Our bodies know how much to eat, what to eat, and when to eat. We just don’t seem to want to trust it anymore.

Intuitive eating involves getting out of the diet mentality – so you can’t go into it wanting to lose weight. You have to shove that our your brain really, really hard. And that’s tough – a tonne of people think ‘I’ll just lose 10 lbs and then I’ll try intuitive eating’, or ‘one last diet’ – but for the third time, diets don’t work! So seriously – just forget it. Give yourself the chance to work on your body image and self esteem through other ways. Make peace with your body. Unfollow every social media account that implies in any way at all, however subtle, that thinner is better, and stop buying magazines that imply that too. Also, reject the idea that there are good and bad foods. This is super hard given our society, we call desserts ‘naughty’, and when we have a salad, we are ‘being good’ – but there is no morality behind food! Whatever we eat, our body will suck out any nutrients in it. And our mind will reap the benefits too. There might be less nutrients in cookie than in a piece of broccoli, but sometimes I’ll feel really good after a cookie, and the broccoli just won’t cut it. Maybe the cookie I had on hand was reeaaaally tasty, and the broccoli was overcooked. You think I’m going to not enjoy my food just because one is considered by society to have a higher moral value than the other? Jeez. If we weren’t meant to love and enjoy food, it wouldn’t taste so damn good. Don’t feel like you need to compensate, either – a broccoli doesn’t cancel out a cookie, and a cookie doesn’t cancel out a broccoli – if you ate both, you just had a broccoli and a cookie. Good for you (weird meal choice, but hey, don’t let me judge your valid choices). Then, you listen to your body, and you respect your fullness, and your hunger. Learn your body signals for hunger, and fullness, and everything in between. You learn to enjoy food and feel satisfied with it. At the beginning, you might eat a TONNE of food and feel super uncomfortably full. Or maybe you’ll just eat chocolate and nothing else for 2 days straight. Because you’ve just spent your whole life restricting – whether that is restricting calorie intake, or in the form of avoiding certain foods – aka gluten, white flour, sugar, or more specific foods that make you feel anxious because of their perceived negative effects. So yeah, you might go a bit wild!! But it will pass. If you keep trusting your body. Trust me, you’re gonna start to feel sick after the second day of eating just chocolate. And you’re not going to keep eating past the point of uncomfortable fullness if you listen to and respect your body and don’t restrict – because, it’s uncomfortable, lol. Meanwhile, know that this feeling will pass. And next time, remember that if there’s too much food for you, you can always save it for later. You can put it between two slices of bread later and make it even better, in fact. Plus, you’ll enjoy it more since you’re now hungry. I live a privileged life in that I know that food will always be there (even if it’s baked beans on toast)- and as a result, I can stop eating when I am full, without having to worry about where my next meal is coming from. It also involves intuitive movement – forget about calorie burning and definitely forget the idea that exercise has anything to do with food. Just do what makes you feel good. If you don’t like yoga and it makes you feel stressed and tense, don’t do it just because Chrissy from the salon said it made her feel 10 years younger. Don’t do HIIT if it makes you feel dizzy and exhausted. Do whatever makes you feel energised, and happy. If that movement is going for long walks through parks, do that. If it’s dancing in your room to ABBA, do that. If it’s a gym class, then sign up.

Something really important about intuitive eating, is that you can’t fail it. You can’t mess it up. There are no rules. We have more important things in our lives than to adhere to some stringent agenda – sometimes you’re going to eat lots, and you’ll feel really full (I’m writing this now having eaten so much apple crumble and custard that I have had to lie down for several hours). Sometimes you’ll have to eat when you aren’t hungry, to save you being too hungry later. Sometimes you’ll forget your lunch and not eat for a while. That’s fine. Live your life, trust your body, and respect it. And keep rejecting the diet mentality.

Since I’ve started intuitive eating, I’ve had so much more space in my life for other stuff. Going through my day, and being free to eat anything, without feeling the need to eat everything, not having guilty feelings over eating lots, and not having to make long decisions over the ‘right’ choice for dinner, and just eating what and how much I feel like eating, has been like a huge weight has been taken off my shoulders. Sometimes it’s been hard to reject diet culture – this time of year, it really is everywhere. Sometimes I still feel guilty, or don’t listen to my body, but then it passes, and it just isn’t as important anymore – because I’m not failing at anything. Because all these things are normal, and I now know they are normal. I’m a woman of science, and science has told me that diet’s don’t work. So I’m taking a stand, and refusing to ever go on another again, even if it is cleverly marketed under a ‘lifestyle change’ . Remember, if it has rules, if you can mess it up, then it’s a diet. Stop letting diets tell you you’re a failure, and that you need to improve yourself. Stop trusting money making schemes and companies that claim to know your body better than you do. And trust your gorgeous, squishy bod instead.

*If you do decide to eat intuitively (do it), read the book I recommended!!!! Seriously. Life changer. And also, I didn’t put all the amazing facts and information into this blog post since if I only put the most important stuff here, it would probably still be an hour long read. But the more information you arm yourself with, the better equipped you are to handle the world, so go research.

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