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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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 -)
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
It emphasizes a specific food group such as fat or protein as something misunderstood historically.
Vegetables are always the Holiest of Foods.
Gluten, dairy and sugar are cut out just because they are Pure Evil.
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.
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 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!
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.
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 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.
I wanted to write a post that discusses the idea of weight neutrality, because my assumption is that it might be a new term for many readers. And you may have seen the term “weight neutral dietitian” tossed around a bit around here, so it is important to talk a little bit about it.
As a dietitian working in Canada, many people assume I am in the job of helping people “manage their weight”. This is an easy assumption to make; we have heard millions of messages over the past 50 years talking about the (supposed) problems of increasing average body weights and increasing ill health facing many people in our countries.
When many of us think about health, and in particular preventative health (in other words, the idea of trying to prevent ourselves from getting sick, or developing a chronic disease), we often connect our body weight to that prevention. This means we tend to think that lowering our weight, or being thin means we are healthy, or healthier than if we exist in a larger body.
But what if the link isn’t so black and white?
This might be surprising news to many readers. It might be hard for some of us to wrap our heads around because we have heard the message repeatedly from the news, the media, and many health professionals. Moreover, many of us have spent many years working to decrease our body size or supposedly maintain a smaller body size – likely with varying degrees of success.
We now refer to this more traditional point of view as “weight centric”, because it centers weight as the crux of health. However, the science doesn’t add up for this perspective. Along with that, we also don’t have a “solution” for higher weight bodies to shrink that is successful for most people long term.
Weight neutrality is an alternative point of view, where we see weight as neutral in the pursuit of health; instead of seeing it as the thing that needs to change to achieve health. It is at most a byproduct. An unpredictable byproduct at that. It is no longer a middleman, holding your health hostage on the other side of a smaller body.
Yes but I really do need to lose weight
A desire to lose weight is completely normal. There is pressure from every corner of society for everyone to lose weight. If you live in a body that is considered large or “above a healthy weight”, there is extra pressure. I will be talking about this more in the future, but for now I’d like to leave you with a couple questions for reflecting on:
If you want to dive into these questions with someone, book a 15 minute discovery call with me, because it isn’t easy to rethink our we think about health and weight, but sometimes it is exactly what we need to do to really regain a sense of agency around our health and our life.
As always, sign up for my newsletter if you want regular insights into achieving health without needing to lose weight first.
What exactly does it mean to have a healthy relationship to food?
For today’s blog post I wanted to talk a little bit about what I mean by helping people improve their relationship to food, because it’s a term that is getting used a lot more, but doesn’t necessarily have an easy to find (or completely agreed upon) definition.
I know some people who come to this blog are imagining that a healthy relationship to food is one where someone sees food only as fuel, they have complete control. I don’t see or hear this much now, but I know when I started my “healthy eating journey” some 17 years ago, this was a common way to think of a healthy relationship to food. No emotions involved, no over eating (though probably lots of under eating), no indulging, just complete and utter control of appetite and cravings.
But is that really healthy?
Is that a great way to think about food and the way we eat? I’d argue no. I also can’t help but wonder if it isn’t a myth as well, because anyone I knew who espoused to eat that way was most definitely emotionally attached to that, as in they were filled with pride and clearly felt superior: they had outsmarted our basic biology.
Ok, so what is a healthy relationship to food?
It is going to look – well, a bit messy actually.
One of my favourite definitions comes from Ellyn Satter and is her definition for normal eating.
A healthy relationship to food is flexible. It allows for “healthy” food, and prioritizes our enjoyment. We eat till we are full (comfortably, and sometimes too full, and sometimes not enough). Hunger is experienced as an important body signal telling us to eat, not the enemy of a “healthy” eating plan.
We do not pathologize cravings. Cravings are accepted as a normal part of being a human who enjoys food. When we have a health relationship with food cravings often lose their power, because we stop putting some foods off limits. On top of this the euphoria or high we associate with eating those off limits food fades too. (Though this can take a long time)
This goes ditto for enjoyment in our food, and adding flavour through methods that we usually think of unhealthy. Have dressing on your salad (without measuring it) – even gasp a creamy dressing!
Everyone’s healthy relationship to food is going to look a little different. We won’t all get to a magical place where we can eat whatever we want, when we want. Some of us will probably have some food rules hanging out in our lives on and off.
Okay, so how do I get there?
There are some amazing methods people have developed to help us get there.
Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch developed Intuitive Eating, a way to find peace with food. I highly recommend their book and following Evelyn Tribole on Instagram.
Ellyn Satter’s eating competence model, is an evidence based tool to help you understand how competent you are at feeding yourself.
In my work I use pieces of both these methods, along with other tips and tools I’ve found helpful for clients over the years. So book the next available Discovery Call today.
I’m not sure what you’re describing is healthy, I have health concerns I want to manage.
I understand that this way of talking about food might be counterintuitive. But as a registered dietitian with nearly a decade of experience, what I want to ask you is this:
We can find a healthy relationship with food, and honour our health needs. I do not believe these are opposing ideas. I’m just talking about our relationship to food in a way that sounds scary, because it goes against a decades old narrative we have about how health is achieved.