Let’s talk about Hunger

Let’s talk about Hunger

There are two physical sensations that are part of our relationship to food and eating: hunger and fullness. I know that these seem straight forward, but a lot of my work with clients focuses on these sensations. External narratives disrupt our ability to tune in to the sensations, feelings and signals offered by our bodies.

What is hunger?

At it’s most basic hunger is a signal from our body that we need fuel. Our gas tank is empty and to go forward in our day we need to fill it up. That’s it, hunger is like the “E” on a car.

Diet culture tries to convince us that hunger is bad, a villain even, that makes achieving our ideal body impossible. This is a lie, and a dangerous lie, because we do everything in our power to avoid hunger or ignore it when we do experience it. Ignoring hunger means our body may stop telling us when we need to refuel, and instead take action to protect us from what it believes is a famine. Which for many folks is the opposite of what we would like.

What hunger might feel like

Most of us are familiar with the idea of the rumbly grumbly stomach reminding us to eat, but did you know we might experience different sensations that indicate hunger? Let’s look at a few other signs that you might be hunger

  • Tiredness/lethargy: food is fuel, and when we aren’t properly fueled, we get tired or lethargic. This is because our body is going to slow processes down to conserve the fuel available in our body (either what remains from when we last ate, or the fuel we keep stored in various forms).
  • Irritability: I’m sure many of us have heard the term “hangry” by now, that idea that we are hungry + angry. This is a real phenomenon. Many dieters will tell you that they are not nice people on a diet. Our fuse is shortened because we don’t have a lot of energy.
  • Dizziness/light headedness/head rushes/headaches: again when we don’t have fuel our body slows things down, this includes lowering our blood pressure, which means we might experience dizziness or a head rush when changes “elevation” (going from sitting to standing). Also we are depriving our brain of fuel as well, so we might not be focusing on tasks all that well.
  • Feeling shaky or unsteady: very much related to the one above, when we don’t have enough fuel we might find ourselves feeling shaky or unsteady when we move (even in simple ways). If you’re a runner or athlete, you might recognize this from going too long without eating, and hitting a wall. But you do not need to be doing great athletic feats to have this, you simply need to be hungry.
  • Nausea: I know, why would our body be nauseous if it really wants us to eat? Our stomach continues to work even when empty, and the nausea might come from the stomach acid hitting our esophageal sphincter or from our stomach continuing to contract despite being empty.

Why it is important to be aware of other signs of hunger

For some people reading this, they might first experience a rumbly tummy, which they ignore, and then they might get a bit tired and irritable, and if they continue to not eat (at this point the rumbling might have stopped) they begin to feel dizzy, shaky and nauseous. Unfortunately some people continue to not eat even then. For other people, this may lead to overeating in large amounts as survival instincts kick in.

But it can be important because not all of us experience such a straight line of hunger. We might skip the rumbling hunger, and go straight to lethargy or irritability or even to the shakiness. This is normal and might depend on what foods you ate at a meal, and how much. It can also depend on how well you’ve been responding to your body’s signals. Simply put: bodies are not machines, and we do not experience hunger in a straight forward way all the time.

A personal anecdote to help explain

I have great hunger signals, and I listen to them all the time, and sometimes they don’t show up as a rumbling stomach. I have two examples.

The first is when my husband and I have pancakes or waffles for breakfast. Yum! However, when I start my day with waffles or pancakes, I do not experience a rumbling stomach before I start to feel tired. If I tried waiting for a rumbling stomach, I would become dizzy or shaky first. Does this stop me from eating pancakes or waffles? No! It means I plan to eat three or four hours after that meal, no matter how I am feeling.

The other experience I have where there is no rumbling stomach is when I’m running. Sometimes when I’m running and haven’t eaten enough beforehand, I get shaky and light headed first. So I make sure to eat a good sized balanced meal before my runs, rather than a smaller snack. And if I’m going to be running far enough, I bring food with me just in case.

A note on “types of hunger”

Many folks I work with have been told in various diets that there are types of hunger. The most common way I’ve heard this explained (and explained it myself before I became a truly anti-diet dietitian) is as heart, mouth and physical hunger. Physical hunger is often held up as most valid, and the only reason to eat.

This is explained sometimes by things like: how do you know you are truly hungry? Would you eat an apple instead of that sugary snack you want? No? Then you are not hungry.

This is an absolute load of crap. Hunger cannot be parsed out into three distinct categories, very few of us experience a single type of hunger at a time. We’re all a mix, a complicated swirl of many sensations at once.

This is just one more lie that diet culture has given us, another way to confuse us about eating and food.

And also – this might be the lesson that is hardest to let go of, or even to see. Because it sounds so appealing and so simple.

If you struggle with hunger

Just remember: you are not alone. So many of us have been taught only a single sign of hunger: the rumbly tummy. And many more of us have been taught to vilify hunger, to see it as the enemy. We’ve also been taught some strange things about how to “outwit” hunger by doing things like drinking water, or going for a walk instead.

Hunger is not the enemy, it is simply the body’s way of telling us our fuel tank is low to empty. While humans can survive without food when hunger strikes, it doesn’t help us in the long run to ignore this signal. Neither are cravings or emotions bad when they’re a part of the process of choosing to eat.

Reach out today for a discovery call or an initial assessment if you feel like hunger is a confusing thing for you. Let’s figure out together how to help you truly fuel your body.

I’ll write about fullness in the future, because again diet culture has done some crazy things to us around vilifying the experience of satisfaction and fullness when it comes to our eating.

What might surprise you about working with this dietitian

What might surprise you about working with this dietitian

Today I wanted to share a few things that might surprise you about working with a dietitian – and more specifically what it is like to work with me as a dietitian. After all, I cannot speak for all dietitians, as we all have our own unique ways of working with, and being with clients.

  1. What you eat matters less to me than how you talk about what you eat

    While I often ask people to go through a day or two of their food choices, I am not adding up calories, macronutrients or micronutrients. Instead I’m listen for the judgments, triggers, and sticky areas you have with food. Have you ever thought to yourself:
    “Well I did really well until lunch time, then I saw the cookies in the staff room…”
    Or “Why can’t I get a salad? It’s always the French fries, what is wrong with me?!”
    I hear this all the time, and it breaks my heart how judgmental we are when it comes to food. But helping you find a more compassionate way to be with yourself and food is what I live for.
  2. I won’t give you a meal plan

    This one surprises quite a few folks, even though it’s fairly common for dietitians to not provide meal plans. I don’t think I ever had a meal plan work for a client (yes I have tried!). Unfortunately they don’t get to the root of why you’re struggling with food (in whatever way), and so they aren’t a long term solution, because they don’t solve the actual problem. They are merely a band aid, on what is often a deeper issue.
  3. I may tell you to ease up on eating so perfect

    Um…. excuse me? Honestly, sometimes this is hard for me too. I know there’s a sense that we all need “tough love” when it comes to our diet, but to be honest I’ve never seen tough love work in the long run. And neither have I seen “perfect eating” last either. What I will do is help you uncover your food rules, to find out which ones are helpful and which ones aren’t. Let’s simplify your eating, not complicate it.
  4. I may say, you’re doing just fine

    Related to #3, I may tell you that you’re doing just fine. That in fact you are eating really well given the world we live in, the challenges you face, and the life you lead. Does this mean we can’t work together? No! Our current health and wellness climate often promotes extremes, so choosing to remain in a nice middle place is difficult. And I can absolutely help with that.

If any of these ideas sound intriguing to you, please reach out today for a Discovery Call to see if we’re a good fit to help you on your health journey.

It is Normal for weight to fluctuate

Weight: Fluctuations and changes through our lifetime

A few weeks ago I shared my personal experience maintaining my weight through an injury. I relate my stabilized weight to no longer dieting or trying to achieve a weight that is difficult for me to maintain without excessive food rules or restrained eating.

BUT after I wrote that post I realized I implied that weight fluctuations and changes are not normal and only happen when people diet or do not eat appropriately. And this is unfair and untrue. And as a straight sized person, it could be harmful to folks who do not experience my privilege.

Many of us will experience weight and body size fluctuations. And we do not have to be dieters. Giving up dieting, learning to eat intuitively and tune in to ourselves, and our bodies physical needs cannot guarantee anything related to weight. Here are a couple examples.

Being a different weight when time is spent differently

A podcast I listen to (The Real Question), had an episode on giving up a dress that no longer fit. The host shared her experience with fluctuating body sizes, mostly related to being in more or less active times of life. No dieting, no purposeful changes to her eating patterns, just body shifting between sizes as her time was spent differently.

Seasonal Weights

A fashion blogger I followed many years ago shared that she had a summer and winter weight, which resulted in being two different sizes in clothing. So she would buy herself things she loved (like a favourite pair of jeans) in two sizes.

Reflect on how we study weight

In science we rarely study weight from a neutral place. We see weight as an issue, and in particular harbour a deep fear of weight gain when we think of health, so we never just look at it with neutral curiosity (no matter what some scientists and researchers will claim about their objectivity). For this reason I am not aware of a lot of evidence about weight shifts through life (if you have any to share with me, please do).

This is a complicated subject. We also see weight fluctuate with dieting behaviours. We see many folks who yo-yo diet also yo-yo between different weights, often with the long term result of weight increasing more over time. And I want to say this can be the most “lifestyle change” of diets as well. Also to add: this is not because dieters “give up” or “get lazy”, but because our body has protective factors in place that result in mental and physiological changes.

I don’t feel I can provide a nice clean ending to this post. One suggestion I’d give is to reflect on your weight history, alongside your history of dieting, food restriction and liberalization. BUT from a place of curiosity, NOT judgement. It’s hard to leave judgement behind when it comes to our bodies, but it is the biggest key to changing our relationship with our body and our food.

All bodies are good bodies. Weight can stay the same. It can fluctuate. It can change slowly over time.

Together let’s shift the narrative around body size and weight from one of fear and judgement, to one of curiosity and acceptance.

Until Next Time,

Health and Life

Health and Life: it’s a balance

I had a client session recently wherein I asked the client why she decided to work with me.

See this client had previously been part of a diet program, and been successful. She also had felt supported and not judged. It didn’t sound like a terrible experience. Yet when she began feeling out of control with food recently, she reached out to me rather than return to the diet program.

She thought for a moment and then said, “there’s something about how you talk about it… there’s a life balance that you emphasize. And that’s what I’m looking for.”

She hit the nail on the head.

“Health” is a little word that packs a big punch. And usually that punch becomes “healthy eating and exercising”, as though health can be boiled down to two parts of our life.

It can’t.

I also see a large shift towards healthy eating that is less and less accessible, from a cost perspective, and a life perspective. What I mean by this is: you can love food and healthy eating, BUT food and healthy eating should NOT be your entire life. IF your “health regime” demands your WHOLE life, is it actually healthy? (Think of Christy Harrison’s motto – diets are a life thief.)

This conversation demands an examination of health that deserve it’s own complete post. I see health as a part of our life, a way to support us to live our best lives, whatever that may be. This also means health is flexible, changing with time and our circumstances.

While I could keep going, today I simply want to leave you with this question:

How much time and energy does your “healthy lifestyle” take up? Does it leave room for life?

Let’s talk about weight without dieting

Let’s talk about weight without dieting

A tale of two Bronwyns

Image of Bronwyn, a smiling white woman with red hair walking up the street, on a sidewalk, in the sunshine.
This image inspired today’s post.
Bronwyn Then

I first became a “dieter” around the age of 15 or 16. I lost some weight, then spent another 7-8 years trying to maintain that body weight or (always hopefully) lose more.

It was a rough time. My life revolved around my weight, and I’ll be honest my habits bordered on disordered when it came to food and exercise.

I believed that because I’d been chubby I would easily become chubby, then fat, then huge, if I wasn’t constantly vigilant about what I ate and how much I exercised.

And you know what? At that time it seemed true, I would gain 5 or 10 lbs during holidays or on vacations. So it seemed legit that I was the type of person who had to constantly “watch my weight” or “fight my genetics” or whatever is the current term du jour.

And it was also absolute bullsh!t.

The reason I’d gain so much weight during those vacations and holidays was two fold.

  1. I wasn’t eating enough in my every day life, so when vacation food (fun food, junk food, yummy food) showed up, I went crazy. I wouldn’t be able to stop eating. I would just eat, eat, eat.
  2. My weight was too low. At the time I was convinced I was still big even though my BMI was “normal” (cue eye roll). But everything in my life revolved around maintaining that weight, and the minute I stopped, I would gain weight. That combined with other signs and symptoms, tells 33 year old anti-diet dietitian me, that my weight was too low.
Bronwyn Now

Once I really gave up dieting for good, my weight went up, and then it came down. My weight never hit the low weight I was in the story above. I’m at a weight I don’t have to think twice about maintaining. I eat in quantities that feel good (most of the time, some dinners are worth the rolling around feeling for) and foods I like (I like lots of different foods). I also move and exercise in ways that I enjoy. But that’s not what I want to talk about.

What I want to share is a story from this past year. In February 2020 I slipped on some snow covered ice while out for a run and broke my ankle. My younger self was terrified of breaking her ankle (or any limb). An injury meant weight gain, for sure.

Want to know something?

I didn’t gain a pound while my ankle was broken and I couldn’t do anything. As I healed and increased my exercise, I still didn’t gain any weight.

A year and a bit later and I weigh the same, even though I run roughly 3 times a week for a total of 30-33km a week.

My dieting self would never have believed it.

Remember the reasons I would gain weight in my dieting days? Those two situations are now reversed, and are the reason I maintained my weight despite a lifestyle shifting injury. As a reminder they are:

  1. I eat sufficient amounts of food every day. I also don’t have rules about pure fun foods, so they’re in my life more consistently. These two things mean I don’t have problems stopping when fun foods are present.
  2. My weight is just right. My current weight seems to be a happy place for my body. I’ve been this weight for 3-4 years now – through various levels of exercise.

Maybe this sounds intriguing to you. Or you can’t imagine living life without being afraid of gaining that 5-10 lbs, but you want to know more. If anything about being able to just maintain your weight without worry and live without constant vigilance of your eating and exercise, then reach out and book an appointment with me to find out how you too can live a life free from constant worries about your weight.

A little comment: I want to acknowledge the privilege that I experience living in a straight sized body.

What Gardening and pursuing a non-diet lifestyle have in common

What Gardening and pursuing a non-diet lifestyle have in common

Image Description: green seedlings in round pots, shot from above.
photo credit: unsplash Markus Spiske

Over on Instagram, and in my Runclub video last week I shared that I was preparing for the growing season by starting some seeds indoors. This week we got some sprouts! And I couldn’t help but think of some of the similarities between gardening and a non-diet lifestyle.

  1. Both are practices in Vulnerability.
    When you plan a seed, you put it in some soil, water it, and give it some sunlight. BUT you cannot know for sure it will sprout. Not every seed germinates. It actually felt pretty vulnerable to share that I was planting some seeds; what if they didn’t sprout?! Or didn’t grow well? What if I had nothing to show for it?

    Not dieting can also feel this way. You are making a choice to NOT focus on your weight when it comes to your food choices. This goes against the current cultural health priorities, and some people will struggle to accept or support your choice. You also cannot guarantee an outcome; will you lose weight, gain weight, stay the same?? (Also PS – dieting doesn’t guarantee you’ll lose weight either, in fact, you’re more likely to gain weight over time by dieting, but it doesn’t feel as scary because you’re following an outside set of rules which brings us to -)
  2. They both involve Trust
    You have to trust that those little seeds will do the work to become little sprouts and then grow into little plants, then big plants with something you can eat. You can do stuff to help them (water, sunlight, fertilizer/food, keeping pests away), but they’re gonna do what their gonna do. Also some things are out of your control – the weather, sunlight vs. rain. And to be honest, it can shift year to year too.

    Trust in non-diet ways of eating is two fold. Trust is essential to non-dieting. And trust is a skill that is built through follow through in the non-diet process. The more you work to trust yourself, the stronger your ability to make the right-for-you choices will be.
  3. They require Patience
    Oh boy, patience is not an easy one for me. I want it now! You know? Planting takes time, you put a seed in the ground and it is weeks or months before you harvest anything. And truly gardening is one of those skills that takes years to learn as well, nothing teaches as well as experience.

    Not-dieting takes a lot of patience too. So many of us want a quick fix for our eating and diet troubles, but it just isn’t possible. Not-dieting is also the only way to eat for life. I don’t know anyone who has restricted total energy (the commonality of all diets) forever successfully. But it takes time to learn to trust your body and it takes time to develop the strength and fortitude to not fall back on dieting by habit when you want to change something.

So what do you think? I hope I haven’t scared you off of trying a non-diet lifestyle. Vulnerability, Trust and Patience are handy skills for all of us to have, in different areas of our life.

Do you feel like something in this article spoke to you? Reach out for a 15 minute call today to discuss how we can work together, to support you in pursuing a non-diet lifestyle.

The Diet Cycle

What is the Diet Cycle?

Diet cycle, also known as the restrict-binge cycle is a term used to refer to an experience seen frequently with those who embark on dieting. We might also think of it as part of what leads to yo-yo dieting.

Often people start a diet, or lifestyle change, with the best of intentions. We don’t feel well, we notice something we don’t like (how we look, or a health concern) and we decide to take action. If our action involves food, it is often a diet in some shape or form.

Diets as I discussed in my last post have the main goal of weight loss. They involve restriction – restriction of a food group, restriction of total food, restriction of _______ (Fill in the blank).

As biological beings, we are hard wired to survive, and our bodies do not understand that our restriction is purposeful. There are a lot of biological mechanisms in place to help us survive a famine, which is how our body interprets dieting.

The cycle in action

Let’s elaborate on the stages of the diet cycle a bit more:

  1. Restricting food: this is both straightforward and difficult to see. It looks like a diet program (WW) or a “way of eating” such as Paleo or Keto. It might just be counting calories or macros. Either way something is being limited and constrained by external rules.
  2. Deprivation: this is the feeling that something is being denied. That you aren’t able to eat something you enjoy. The way we talk about food, when we give up foods we enjoy and “stand strong” against cravings, we see this as empowering. Unfortunately in real life it tends to not play out that way. Also caveat: not everyone will experience this step, sometimes what actually happens is the perfect storm of life. Shit happens and many diets rely on lots of time and eating practices that are not realistic, so they fall apart when people can’t keep up. I want to talk about this in a future post.
  3. Overeating or eating in a way that goes against the diet rules: I want to emphasize that we tend to pathologize ALL forms of overeating even though it’s normal. In the diet cycle we are driven by mechanisms in our body to eat to refill the under fueled tank. It isn’t a weakness of character or a moral failing. It is biology. This step can also just be triggered by eating an off limit food, in a reasonable amount, it is not necessarily binging or overeating.
  4. Shame and disappointment: basically we feel like a failure. We haven’t stuck to our diet plan, and there must be something terribly wrong with us. We recommit. Sometimes this period of shame can last a long time. We hang out in steps 3 and 4, trying to recommit to step 1 for months or years, compounding that shame.
How does it look over time?

One thing I have noticed through my years of work is that the timeline will shift, often the first time a person diets, it can take a few years before the deprivation and loss of control stages happen. The more often a person enters the diet cycle, the shorter the time frame can become. To the point where some people only need to think about restriction and they begin to eat in a way that is upsetting for them.

If you feel stuck in this cycle

If when reading this you have a sense of familiarity of experiences in your own life, you are not alone. What I hope you take away is that it is not your fault the diet did not work. The diet cycle or restrict-binge cycle exists because we see it all the time.

If you’re struggling to get out of it, if you want something different, please reach out. Book a 15 minute discovery call with me (your Kamloops anti-diet dietitian) today so we can start working towards food freedom.

Or sign up for my newsletter to keep up to date on offerings and my musings.

Join the newsletter

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.

    By hitting subscribe you are agreeing to be added to our mailing list.

    We won’t spam you and you can unsubscribe at any time.

    Let’s Talk about Dieting

    I want to do a small series on dieting for this blog. Why? I believe that we talk about dieting a lot in the anti-diet world, but often it is poorly defined. There is a lot of misinformation out there on dieting.

    For many folks with eating disorders, a diet was their “gateway”. Even those of us who manage to diet and not develop disordered eating behaviours, are harmed by dieting. This harm often takes the form of yo-yo dieting, which is when we vacillate between restricting our food and overeating. Often our body weight might yo-yo as well, not because there is anything wrong with your body, but because it is struggling to keep up with

    Today’s post will simply be a definition of dieting. And because so many of us no longer diet, but rather participate in “lifestyle changes”, I also include six signs that your lifestyle change is a diet.

    What is dieting?

    According to the Oxford Language/Google dieting is:

    (a verb) to restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.

    Oxford definition of dieting

    What has become tricky is that dieting now goes by many other names. Often it will be called a lifestyle change, a way of eating for life, trying to be healthier or a specific copyrighted diet like Whole30, WW (Weight watchers) and others.

    How do you know you’re on a diet?

    Since there are so many different names dieting can go under, it can be tricky to know if you’re on one. Here are some ways to know your latest lifestyle change is actually a diet:

    1. It cuts out whole food groups such as carbohydrates. Usually this food group, or type of food is demonized as the Sole Evil causing All Fatness in the World.
    2. It emphasizes a specific food group such as fat or protein as something misunderstood historically.
    3. Vegetables are always the Holiest of Foods.
    4. Gluten, dairy and sugar are cut out just because they are Pure Evil.
    5. These changes are done in the name of weight loss. If the diet claims it is actually about health, health is achieved through deprivation/restriction and should have some weight loss.
    6. Portions are provided and it’s implied that it is more important to eat these portions than it is to listen to your own internal body signals. In fact if you are hungry or experience difficulty following the prescribed plan, there is something wrong with you, not the lifestyle.

    Now that you have some idea of what a diet looks like when it’s in disguise, I’ll leave you with a question.

    If weight loss wasn’t promised, would you follow the food rules the lifestyle change is providing you?

    If not, it is safe to say that it is probably a diet.

    In my next blog post I’d like to talk about the diet cycle, sometimes called the diet-binge cycle, and why it isn’t your fault if you find yourself over eating after periods of restriction.

    As always sign up for our newsletter to learn more and join our growing community!

    Join the newsletter

    Subscribe to get our latest content by email.

      By hitting subscribe you are agreeing to be added to our mailing list.

      We won’t spam you and you can unsubscribe at any time.

      Wanting to lose weight is okay

      Wanting to lose weight is okay

      If you’ve been reading my blog you’ll notice I am not very pro-weight loss. In fact, I believe we need to stop equating thin bodies and the pursuit of weight loss with health. (This will be a theme – what is health? Who do you picture when you think about health? Chances are the person you envision is white, young, fit (thin and muscular), able bodied…. just reflect on that.)

      And also, wanting to lose weight does not make you bad or wrong.

      This is where I add, I live in a straight sized body, even what many would call a small body. While I’ve been bigger and smaller than I am now, my size has not been the thing people see about me first. I say this because it feels disingenuous for me to tell someone living in a larger body they shouldn’t want to lose weight, or shouldn’t be trying to lose weight. Nope, that is not my place.

      I want to offer an alternative for people who are done with dieting or trying to lose weight. Or who have tried to do that so many times they have no idea what their body is telling them when it comes to food. Or for whom dieting has led to eating disorders and disordered eating (no matter your body size).

      I also want to call out the health care system, and the health professionals who think when they see a person they can judge by their size whether or not that person is healthy. This is about changing a system, not those who have suffered at the hands of the system. Of course, you also can choose something different – and maybe you’d like to chat with me about how that can look.

      As a person with a body in this world, you get to choose what to do with it. Whether that is pursuing weight loss, or choosing something different.

      Our cultural obsession with thinness and small bodies has caused more harm than good. That is all. It is my hope that we will see a changing tide as we move forward.

      Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2021

      Eating Disorder Awareness week

      Did you know thEatiat in Canada it is eating disorder awareness week?

      It is!

      Eating disorders are a devastating and deadly mental health issue. They affect many people, of all genders, all ethnicities, all ages, and all body sizes. They also don’t discriminate by dis/ability, mental abilities, or wealth. I mean it when I say anyone and everyone can be affected.

      As a dietitian with nearly a decade of experience I have worked with people who have eating disorders for several years. If you think you may have an eating disorder, or you are worried about a love one, please get in touch today, I can help. While eating disorders don’t discriminate, we absolutely can do something about it. People overcome eating disorders, but it does take some work, and we all benefit from help and support. And I would love to provide that to you, if you need it.

      Join the newsletter

      Subscribe to get our latest content by email.

        By hitting subscribe you are agreeing to be added to our mailing list.

        We won’t spam you and you can unsubscribe at any time.