When you come across, have discussions about, or become a member of the Body Positive Movement you can't help but have your eyes opened to the trashy, corrupt world of Diet Culture.
The Movement also promotes this thing called 'Intuitive Eating' and heralds it as the antidote to diets but before we get into what Intuitive Eating actually is, I'll explain just why we need it so badly....
Handwriting by the ace Lisa Gordon Scott
WHY ARE WE SO MESSED UP AROUND FOOD?
It is widely understood that diet culture fuels fatphobia and is the root of why so many people feel shame about their bodies and have a guilty, disordered relationship with food.
Diet's are a product being sold to us. And capitalism is great at recognising people's vulnerabilities and now the diet industry is BOOMING. Diet's are BIG business. In the US the diet industry is valued at $60 billion every single year and is estimated to be worth $200 billion worldwide in 2019.
When you see the figures that 80% of 13 year old American girls have been on a diet you realise how diet culture has insidiously permeated our culture. So don't feel sad if you've been sucked in. All of us have, our friends, our parents, their parents... If you are between 0 and 50 years old then diet messaging has probably been part of your lives from the very, very beginning and today we breath it in like oxygen. It's in our conversations, the media we consume, in our supermarkets, our advertising and now we have internalised all of it and diet culture stares us in the face when we look in the mirror.
WHY ARE WE SO SUCKED IN?
Diets keep you coming back for more by doing a number of things:
1) They fool you into believing that you are 'in control' around food and make you think you'll be an unstoppable ravenous beast if you aren't on a diet.
In actual fact: a diet is the opposite of being in control. Being told when to eat, how much to eat, how to eat, what to eat... can someone explain to me how that is you being in control? Diet messaging about 'good' and 'bad' foods and how we should be consuming them cause us to mistrust and ignore what our body is trying to tell us about how it needs to be nourished.
2) Diets work their magic by demonises 'fat' and promising that with only will-power you can achieve the 'correct body' i.e. a smaller body shape or 'thinness'.
Our ideas around what 'fat' means is one of the main obstacles to being comfortable in our bodies, respectful of them and having a happier relationship to food. Well now it is time to undo some of that messaging you have experienced since you were a toddler and you can start here: have a read of this Huffington Post Highline article: Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong by Michael Hobbes, pick up a copy of Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon and watch this awesome video below by the amazing Virgie Tovar which will help you understand how we have all been affected by fatphobia and how to escape its nasty claws...
3) Diets increase your reliance on them by invading every aspect of your life including your body, the food you eat, exercise, your personal relationships, the media you consume, how you relate to, and are perceived by, others. Diets solidify 'happiness' as a body type and make everything in your life dependant on that goal which means a lot of us push actual 'living' to the back burner. Living, for many, is something to do when we are finally happy and content (thin) and we can fully get the benefit of life. That's truly absurd and terribly sad when you think about it but I know from my own experience, it is true.
A major annoyance of mine is the way diet culture interfered with my relationship to exercise for so long. For years it was about calorie burning and punishing my body to reach a goal, all in the name of weight loss. I was never in the moment and I never recognised what a joy and a gift movement can be to my body and my mind. Now that I've shaken free of diet culture, movement is on my terms and I love working out these limbs more than ever.
4) Diets, like so many other things in our culture (education, social media, relationship expectations, gender expectations) relies on us tying our happiness to the expectations of others and even though I have limited life experience at the grand old age of 35... I do realise that true happiness can never be achieved by gaining the acceptance of someone else. That's up to me.
Image originally sourced via @floralfrosting
DIET'S DON'T WORK
And hey serial dieters, don't get too sad but I hate to tell you: Diet's officially don't work. 95% of diets fail at the 3 year mark i.e. 95% of people who go on a diet will re-gain all the weight they lost and perhaps add more weight on within 3 years. With 1/3 - 1/2 of all dieters regaining ALL the weight they initially lost within the first year.
And the reasons why diets doesn't work? Because restriction, ignoring your body's hunger and fullness signals, disconnecting with the set point of your body and trying to trick it into weight loss is not natural. It's not what our bodies understand. Underneath all this diet culture and body shame, we are animals. We have emotions, we have intuition and we have innate survival instinct and will power very rarely wins out over those things.
Image seen on @rebel__circus
What's really shocking is: if you read this piece by Isabel Foxen Duke she references recent research which states that dieting (or trying to lose weight) is actually the number one predictor of WEIGHT GAIN over time. If that's not enough to cement the futility of diets I'm not sure what is...
We need to stop handing over OUR decision making and OUR bodies to the likes of Weight Watchers, Detox Teas and Protein World and take back the control and find a better balance and some peace with our bodies and the decision making around the food we put in them.
WHAT IS 'INTUITIVE EATING' AND HOW DO I DO IT?
I'm not an Intuitive Eating Master. I'm still learning the ropes for myself but from what
I've read and discussed and listened to so far (and there is a lot of info out there...) Intuitive Eating just makes sense.
Here is the jist of Intuitive Eating so you can see for yourself...
Intuitive Eating is about YOU being in control. It's about unlearning diet rules and removing the restrictive approach diet culture encourages. One of perhaps the hardest parts is: it requires a level of acceptance and respect of your current body... Now I know red flags may be going up here and I get what you may think if you aren't yet in the 'body love' gang... No-one said this was going to be easy but listen... if you are anything like the old me then living a life of being obsessed, miserable and concerned with what your body is and what you are feeding it, isn't a very happy existence. Time to break free from that crappy cycle and try something new eh?
It's about respecting what your body is telling you, respecting and understanding the way you respond to different foods, understanding what sort of eater you are, being mindful whilst eating and being compassionate, more interested and kinder towards your body and yourself. It removes the 'failure' mechanism we so often feel with diets which just perpetuates guilt and shame and encourages more disordered eating. It's about trusting in your body and committing to do right by it.
See what I mean when I said it makes sense?
Renouncing a dieting lifestyle can be really daunting, especially if it has been part of your life (perhaps the only thing you have known) since you were a child, like it is for so many. So where do we start?
Well, education... of course!
As a way to get to know what Intuitive Eating really was I decided to host a few get togethers in Edinburgh and Glasgow so some friends and acquaintances could learn together over some great food. I invited Tali Lowe who is an intuitive eater herself and a health coach who helps her clients get into Intuitive Eating to introduce some of the basics.
Edinburgh Intuitive Eating Dinner with The Chachi Power Project, 2018
At the dinners we eat communally in a family style set up from big plates of food which we all tuck into. I encourage everyone to serve themselves so that they get to decide how much food they want to put on their plates from the various options.
Loads of stuff comes up in these sessions including interesting behaviours people have around food like: anxiety around making sure everyone gets a fair share of what is being served, serving other people bigger portions than you serve yourself, being very concerned about being judged for the amount of food you have on your plate, feeling virtuous for restricting and suppressing your true hunger, being paranoid that you weren't going to get 'enough' to eat.
We discussed how so many people, even though they have fully satisfied their hunger, think they need to eat something sweet after a meal, how it's so difficult to leave food on your plate even though you have a full tummy. How your attitude to that waste is amplified when you are dining out due to the money spent, the idea it is a 'treat', or if the food can't be saved for later. The morals we have associated with food types and how 'health' is so deeply connected to those foods and those morals.
We discussed where these food behaviours had come from: our parents, our peers, our upbringing. How diets have caused us to be so far removed from our fullness and hunger cues, how some of us still see all foods in points values due to years of being on diet plans (ahem I'm looking at you Weight Watchers)...
There were so many rules that people have around food and the sheer conflicting advice was very apparent: No drinking with a meal, drinking lots before a meal, skipping breakfast, the importance of breakfast, fasting, no eating after a certain time at night, cutting carbs, calorie limits, clean eating etc etc...
The dinners were so insightful and helpful to a lot of people. You can read some of the feedback given and what people gained during these dinners here. Quite a few nutritionists, health coaches and fitness coaches came along to learn an alternative, non-diet, health focussed, weight neutral path to help their respective clients. Dr. Laura Wyness came to an Edinburgh evening and wrote this blog about what she took from the night.
WHERE TO GET HELP WITH INTUITIVE EATING
We discussed resources which could be useful to get to grips with what Intuitive Eating is and how to approach it.
Officially Intuitive Eating has 10 principles which are outlined in Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch's book first published in the 1990's.
One thing to remember if 'replacing' diet rules with Intuitive Eating Principles is: THESE PRINCIPLES ARE NOT RULES. Intuitive Eating is not a diet. In no shape or form does Intuitive Eating promise weight loss and in no way should you ever make yourself WRONG around food when it comes to Intuitive Eating... If you 'attack' Intuitive Eating like you would attack a diet or with weight loss hopes then that's a sure fire way to fall into another diet trap.
When diet rules are set, you have the potential to break them, to make mistakes and fail. This is where guilt and 'falling off the wagon' and bingeing and sadness start wrecking your attitude towards food and your body. Making you wrong and bad. And food should never have that control over you. It is just food. You aren't ever a bad person for eating it.
Originally seen on @thefashionfitnessfoodie
Intuitive Eating is about leaving that all behind. This is a really important point. Isabel Foxen Duke discusses this a lot and I recommend signing up to her newsletter and listening to some of her podcasts here and here which explain how to get away from the 'weight loss' trap which we are all so attached to because of diet culture.
SELF COMPASSION AT THE CORE OF INTUITIVE EATING
The Intuitive Eating Principles are a guide and when 'something' comes up in your journey with understanding your bodies needs, it should be looked at with interest and compassion and not with guilt or a feeling that you have done something 'wrong'. Observing what happens when you don't listen to your body: if you over eat, under eat, recognising if your body is uncomfortable, what happens when you choose the wrong food which doesn't satisfy you, learning from it, questioning it: why did I choose that food? How do I feel? What is my body telling me? What can I learn from this experience for the future? What is hunger and what is emotion?
Those are all acts of self compassion that are essential to making peace with food and your body.
At the bottom of this page you'll find some of the best advocates, books and podcasts I have come across which will help you learn more, delve deeper and understand all the issues which may arise when you follow an Intuitive Eating approach.
If you have any other resource suggestions for me then please send me an email here. And look out for future Intuitive Eating Dinners I may have planned here. If you would like to explore the basics of Intuitive Eating with your own group of friends, your workplace, or an organisation and you live in Scotland then I'd be happy to have a chat about how we could put this together. Just drop me a line.
GIVE YOUR MIND AND BODY THE GIFT OF TRUE NOURISHMENT
You'll probably know, better than anyone else, what Intuitive Eating could do for you and that's the most important thing. For me it's about rebuilding my connection, and trust, between my mind and my body and my emotions and properly showing respect to my body because I love it and I am grateful for it.
Hopefully Intuitive Eating can be something good for you also.
With love, Danni xx
Isabel Foxen Duke: I recommend you watch Isabel Foxen Duke's free video series and sign up to her excellent newsletter here. Isabel doesn't have her own podcast but appears on quite a few so search for her in your chosen podcast app and have a listen.
Linda Bacon: Follow Linda on Facebook here and read her amazing books: Health At Every Size and Body Respect (co-authored by Lucy Aphramor)
Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole wrote the original bible about Intuitive Eating. You can buy it here and they have also released an interactive Intuitive Eating Workbook which might be useful for those who find it helpful to journal alongside learning.
Ruby Tandoh released Eat Up! in 2018 to encourage a more connected and relaxed attitude towards eating and reconnecting eating with pleasure and nourishment and mental wellbeing.
Just Eat It is one of the most recent books on the block by Laura Thomas. I mention her below too because her podcast is an excellent resource to learn all about the intricacies of intuitive eating.
Mindful Eating by Jan Chozen Bays has been recommended to my by my friend Gillian McCollum, a Health Coach in Edinburgh who suggests it to get to grips with Mindful Eating which is just one of the principles of Intuitive Eating.
Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield is a colourful, fun, interactive and powerful book to help you improve the relationship to your body.
Intuitive Living by Pandora Paloma takes you on a 6 week journey to reconnect your body and mind.
The Fuck It Diet by Caroline Dooner and I'd also recommend signing up to Caroline's newsletter here!
Don't Salt my Game by Laura Thomas PHD and follow her on Instragram here
The BodyLove Project with Jessi Haggerty and follow her on Instagram here
Fearless Rebelle Radio with Summer Innanen and follow her on Instagram here
The Reclaiming You Podcast with Sarah Vance
Food Psych Podcast with Christy Harrison and follow her on Instagram here
Social Media Personalities
@bodyposipanda – Megan Jayne Crabbe: Body Positivity
@notplantbased – Laura Dennison and Eve Simmons: duo who are passionate about helping you love food again
@kristamurias – Krista Murias: Certified Health Coach, anti-diet, pro-health at every size
@whollyhealed – Jessica Rothley: HAES Advocate and Certified Eating Coach
@bodyimage_therapist – Ashlee Bennett: Self-acceptance, coaching and body image
@wee_foodies – Sarah Dempster: child nutrition and protecting wee ones from diet culture
@jennifer_rollin – Jennifer Rollin: Therapist, Intuitive Eating Advocate and founder of The Eating Disorder Center
@isarobinson_ – Isa Robinson: Pro-recovery nutritional therapist-in-training
@paigesmathersrd – Paige Smathers: Positive nutrition
@louisegreen_bigfitgirl – Louise Green: Body Positivity and Fitness
@tallyrye – Tally Rye: Health at every size PT
@sofiehagendk – Sofie Hagen: Fat Positive Comedian
@ditchthediet – Neva Swartzendruber: Intuitive eater & body acceptance
To find out more about The Chachi Power Project then visit my website or follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter or read more of my blogs here.