Are you currently dieting? Have you been on a diet recently? Have you been dieting for a long time? For years? For decades? For as long as you can remember? On this Wellness Wednesday, I want to introduce you to a health concept that I have just recently discovered. Maybe some of you have experience with Intuitive Eating and can offer some insight as well!
Kate Williams Stone - a friend, colleague, health & weight coach, introduced me to the book Intuitive Eating by RN/RDs Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. I swear I wish I had this book:
- when I was a teenager, struggling with body image and weight stigma,
- when I was a college cheerleader starving myself to stay competitive,
- when I was trying to get fit for our wedding,
- when I was pregnant and fearful that I would gain too much weight that I would not be able to lose, because let's be honest, no matter what diet I tried or how committed I was, it never worked.
- when I was post-partum and desperate to "get my body back."
And I wish I had it every Monday that I started over because I cheated or failed, yet again. I have convinced myself over the past 25 years that I have no willpower or strength to make any of these diets stick. I've tried them all, as many of you have.
Part of my problem with food is that I was raised in an Italian-American household, where food is not only a social experience but the ultimate expression of love and care and concern. We eat rich foods with the best ingredients. We eat often and a lot. No meal is just one course and there is often tempting treats around for snacking, just in case someone is hungry. Food is a gift for all occasions. It's what you get when you're sick or celebrating. It's around all the time. And before you even have the chance to get hungry, out comes the next meal. My grandmother wouldn't even say hello when we would knock on her door. Before she gave us hugs and kisses she would ask, "Did you eat?"
Food is such an integral part of our culture. But I would love to be able to continue to enjoy the experience of sharing meals without the guilt and shame and fear. It's sort of embarrassing but when I started reading this book, I quickly realized that I don't think I know what hunger is... I don't know that I have ever gone long enough without eating to know what the physically feels like. Sounds crazy right?
The concept of Intuitive Eating is so foreign and contrary to what we have learned about food, hunger, nutrition and dieting. And it is taking me a long time to even wrap my brain around its tenets... listen to your body's signals and eat what you like, reject diet culture and the concept of foods as good or bad, stop eliminating foods and starving yourself. Toddlers are the perfect example of Intuitive Eaters - they will eat what they want and stop when they have had enough. But some time in early childhood, we are flooded with "skinny" images, slogans and symbols of diet culture. And so begins our war with food and our desperate, often life-long quest for physical perfection.
Intuitive Eating's Chapter Two - Hitting Diet Bottom, contains two of the most shocking things I have read. It says "one of the strongest predictors of weight gain is dieting. There is a body of research that shows that food restrictions for the purpose of weight loss is not effective. In the long run it is not sustainable and moreover causes harm even if it is prescribed by a physician or dietician. In spite of this research, weight loss continued to be prescribed." It is also mentioned that the research showing LACK of support for dieting by food restriction or elimination does so much harm, both physiologically and psychologically, that if diets were to be regulated the same way medications are, they would never be approved for public use. As a physician who diets and prescribes diets as a means of improving health, this shook me.
The more I read and re-read this book, the more sense it makes. It is so refreshing to read that food does not have to be the enemy for the rest of my life, that it is possible to live without the constant internal battle over which foods I should / shouldn't have, what time I should / shouldn't eat, that I can celebrate with cake and socialize with wine and that there does not have to be guilt or pain or shame associated with it. Admittedly, it will take a while to repair my relationship with food and the retrain my brain to follow my body's signals instead of succumb to cultural pressure and expectations. But I already feel more motivated to nourish my body with good quality food and move my body in a meaningful way. In a strange way, this knowledge brings me hope because for the first time in my life, the goal is to improve my health for the sake of my health and not to be skinny for the sake of society. That's a beautiful skin to shed and a figurative weight off my shoulders.
Many of us have had a common goal - lose weight, look better in a bathing suit, drop pounds for the wedding or after baby. But we don't often talk about how harmful dieting can be or simply wanting to be healthy. So, I'm interested to know....have any of you had similar experiences with food, hunger, diet culture, weight stigma? Anyone have cultural traditions that seem to derail any attempts at weight loss? Have any of you been successful at Intuitive Eating and healing your relationship with food? As I learn more, I will continue to share, but I would love to hear about your experiences.
Also, I'm linking the Intuitive Eating book in the comments as well as my friend Kate's website.....
Looking forward to continuing the conversation!
xoxo, Dr. Lex