If you follow along with my blog, are a recent student of mine, or have attended any of my seminars, you know I have developed a strong intuitive eating philosophy. It’s not only to treat eating disorders or disordered eating in the athletes and active individuals I work with, but also to prevent these problems, improve physical and mental health, and help people recognize there is so much more to life than comparing their body to others (or their former selves).
In January, I gave a talk at the Newtown Athletic Club titled “Breaking up With Dieting”. I was excited by the number of people who attended, but more so by the interaction during the talk and the feedback I received afterwards about how enlightening it was. A lot of what I presented, I started speaking with you about in early January, but having a discussion with others who have spent countless years dieting was exciting. You see, while people go on a variety of diets and often think they’re the only ones struggling with cravings, binges, low energy, stress and poor body image, most chronic dieters have had similar experiences.
- You go on your first diet. It’s new to your body so the pounds “melt off”.
- You feel more confident and are pleased with yourself because you achieved a goal (not necessarily because of the number itself that you hit). Who doesn’t love reaching goals?
- If exercise was a part of your weight loss, you’re probably not realizing that this increases confidence regardless of body weight changes. Maybe that’s where your better mood and strength are coming from, but your brain confuses it with the number on the scale.
- You hit a point where you couldn’t stay on the diet anymore. Vacation, holidays, a stressful time in your life, etc. are the things you “blame”, but in reality, it’s your body’s physiological need for energy and nutrients that you’re depriving it of. Your mood worsens and then maybe you binge. Possibly in one sitting, potentially excess intake and feeling out of control with food for a day, a week, or more.
- You remember how you felt on that first diet, so you do it again. Only this time, your body remembers the deprivation and wants to protect you. Your metabolism slows quickly, and you release hormones that make you crave all the “bad” things that you’ve put off limits. You wonder what’s wrong with you, blame yourself for failing, and your confidence is lower than ever. So you try a different diet and the cycle continues.
Sound familiar? This is how 35% of dieters progress to pathological dieting and how 20-25% of pathological dieters wind up with an eating disorder. It’s crucial to also recognize that you don’t have to be rail thin to have an eating disorder. With bulimia nervosa versus anorexia nervosa, most individuals fall into a “normal” or “overweight” BMI range (please note that the classification of “overweight” by BMI is excessively flawed, too).
Binge Eating Disorder is also a clinically diagnosed disorder – it just isn’t diagnosed enough. 20-40% of those in a weight management program (aka on a diet) are reported to binge with 8% of people being diagnosed with it in their lifetime. And honestly, I bet the numbers are actually higher, ’cause how many people are comfortable admitting that they binge eat? Not to mention, those that report fasting and dieting actually weigh more than those who do not.
So, this brings us to increasing awareness of eating disorders… and talking about the statistics, and your personal experiences. Rather than let the media, college campuses and fitness clubs be filled with diet chatter, let’s be open about the harms of diet chatter and the expectations they bring, when dieting and weight loss are not the key to better health (physical or mental).
First, I think having this awareness week in February is perfect, after all the New Year diets have crashed and burned and people need support (though, I warned you). I also think it’s pretty fitting that this year’s theme is “Let’s Get Real” when my Fit Fueling business partner is literally “The Real Talk RD“. If you need to learn more about intuitive eating (read: you need to learn more about intuitive eating), she launched an amazing series on her podcast this January that begins with interviewing one of the RD intuitive eating “founders”, Evelyn Tribole on this set of principles that are based on the science of diet failures. She then goes on to interview a new dietitian for each principle! I think we’re up to the 7th principle now (honoring your feelings without using food).
While I encourage everyone to check out each podcast episode and learn more about the principles, note that everyone may start the process of intuitive eating with a different principle depending on where you are in your habits and health. While it’s rare in our society, you also may learn that you’re already a really intuitive eater and you didn’t even know it! Which is fabulous, but you should continue to learn more. It will help you if loved ones or people around you start to work towards this lifestyle, so you can understand their point of view, and be more conscious of how you speak about food, exercise, dieting and other’s bodies. Much of the questions I’ve received in recent months from those going through the IE process are related to how they can help their family and friends understand their new lifestyle.
Even if you’ve read it before, if you’re a female reader, I’d love for you to read my post from last year on Women’s Locker Room Talk and if you’re an active individual, recognize that all the risks I list for athletes below are risks for you, too, even if you don’t identify as an “athlete”.
If you’re SO over dieting and reading to jump in to IE for fitness, the next group for our virtual course begins Monday, March 5. The group interaction and our live Q&As are just a bonus to the guided week by week content and resources.
Finally, it’s totally normal to still not realize you’re dieting. So, here’s a reminder of things that are still a diet, plus a link to the NEDA screening tool so you can evaluate your thoughts, feelings and habits.