If you ever want to call a truce on the war with your body, you have to first start by making peace with food. Diets will always keep you wanting what you think you can’t have. Assuming you’re a woman who is a serial dieter like I was, you’ve been quietly or not so quietly resenting your body, blaming your misery and unhappiness on the size of your thighs or any other body part. Isn’t it time to get off the diet roller coaster?
UCLA Study Revealed: Up to 98% of All Diets Don’t Work
Many weight loss experts are saying – “stop dieting.” Emotional eating, or eating to soothe your feelings is very common. In fact it accounts for the near 98% failure rate of dieting. In April 2008, Traci Mann, Associate Professor of Psychology at UCLA shared the results of a composite study of 31 different long term studies, analyzing people who lost weight on diets and opted to have their progress tracked by the study for between 2-5 years. As lead author of the study, she says, “We found that the majority of people regained the weight, plus more. Sustained weight loss was found only in a small minority of participants while complete weight regain was found in the majority. Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.” When asked what alternative is best to consider in lieu of dieting, Mann said, “Eating in moderation is a good idea for everybody, and so is regular exercise.
No More Dieting For Me!
Back in 2006 my life took a radical turn when I decided to stop dieting. Besides wanting to do it for my own reasons, it had become apparent that I had to make the change for the health and well-being of my daughter.
At the time Cara was ten years old. She was steadily gaining weight and showing signs of being an emotional eater. Oblivious and not really knowing what to do to help her, I was beginning to repeat the same desperately ignorant parenting mistakes my father had made. I, too, had become a hypocritical role model, espousing healthy eating one moment and binging whenever anyone’s back was turned. As a woman with my own disordered relationship with food, I realized I was the worst role model for Cara.
Desperate to get her eating under control, I watched her like a hawk, made backhanded comments about her weight, criticized her food choices, obsessed over everything she ate, and in general began to lose sight of my precious girl. It was killing our relationship and she was starting to hate me.
After seeing how the legacy of my tortured, twisted thinking and dysfunctional eating was affecting her, I knew that if I didn’t stop this runaway train, Cara would end up like me; fat, perpetually unhappy with herself, and hating her body. I couldn’t live with the idea of doing that to my daughter.
That was when I realized that diets were a big part of the problem. Sarcasm, criticism, and meanness were the only ways I knew how to talk to myself. I used these same desperate attempts at communication with my daughter which was toxic to our relationship. Our closeness was being destroyed. In order to help her regain her sense of balance and comfort around food, I had to first help myself.
Deep down in my heart I knew that as much as I wanted to help Cara find her way to peace in her relationship with food, I couldn’t, because I was cluelessly lost myself. I vowed to find the answers for both of us and prayed for help so we could begin our healing. Soon afterward, the universe sent me a gift—Dr. Harold Frost.
I met and befriended Doc Frost in an online networking group. Doc was in the process of retiring from a successful twenty-five year career as a therapist and co-founder of an eating disorder clinic in the Midwest. He wanted to share his experiences by writing a book and I offered to help by giving him feedback on his writing. He eagerly accepted and explained to me his work with women who had eating disorders.
Hearing him speak of his patients and their struggles with such tenderness and care, I instinctively knew I could trust Doc. I confided in him and shared my story, asking for his help and guidance. He explained to me that in order to change the way my daughter related to food and to her body, I had to challenge many of the limiting beliefs and assumptions I had about food and my body.
Doc said that as a dieter, I had learned to fear food and think of my hunger and my body as “the enemies.” This had set up an unnatural relationship with food and kept me hating my body. As long as I lived with the dieters’ all or nothing mentality, I would always end up craving foods that I thought I shouldn’t eat.
He explained what was making me binge. When I reached the point where I couldn’t stand denying myself a moment longer, I would give in and binge. My associations with guilt, fear, and shame around food, combined with bad feelings about my body, kept me in an endless cycle of binging and dieting. Doc offered to teach me an alternative to dieting: a non-diet weight control method called intuitive eating.
Making the decision to stop dieting terrified me. I saw it as the ultimate form of giving up. As much as I hated dieting, it was the only way I knew to control my voracious appetite. I figured if I ever began eating without being restricted by a diet, I’d never stop. Doc assured me this wasn’t true.
At that time, in July of 2006, American Idol contestant Katherine MacPhee shared her eating addiction story with People® magazine. She talked about her amazing recovery using a process called Intuitive Eating. In reading the article I discovered she had lost thirty pounds eating all the foods she loved. That got my attention.
Doc then sent me an audio tape of his entitled, Loving the Child Within™. He said I should learn about intuitive eating by listening to the stories of his former patients.
One such story was of a woman named Megan. On the tape Megan spoke of the abusive and chaotic atmosphere in which she was raised as a child. When I listened to her I knew I had found someone to whom I could relate. Like me, she had spent most of her life trying to disconnect from her painful past by using food to numb her emotions.
Megan described how her work with Doc had changed the way she dealt with food. He had helped her heal much of her rage and she had developed a new appreciation for her body. I realized that if she could heal her broken relationship with food and with her body, then I could too.
From that moment on, I decided to have faith. Faith, that just like Megan and Katherine MacPhee, my body’s inner wisdom would effortlessly and naturally guide me back to my natural size.
Within the first week that I began the process, I was easily able to recognize that certain foods no longer tasted as wonderful as I ‘remembered’ them. My first milestone experience was eating a potato chip and deciding that it tasted too stale. I actually stopped chewing it and pulled it out of my mouth. I was shocked and amazed because that would never have stopped me from eating chips before.
Shortly after my family and I took a trip to Chocolate World, Hershey, Pennsylvania. And with chocolate everywhere and easily accessible, none of it appealed to me and all I wanted was a piece of broiled chicken.
A couple days later after several days of eating french fries, I was craving a baked potato. Each of these instances was proof to me that this process really worked, so I was committed to continuing to learn it, but as impossibly picky as I was becoming, I was unable to feel satisfied. I always wanted to eat more. Now I know why.
Intuitive Eating As a Way of Being Gentle with Yourself, but What If You’re An Abuse Survivor and not Used to that?
As a woman with a ton of eating issues and a history of being verbally and sexually abused, somewhere along the way I learned to become my own worst critic. I’m often harder on myself than anyone ever could be.
From my understanding of intuitive eating, I realize that it is a process that is based on learning how to treat yourself kindly and lovingly. It also requires developing a sensitivity and connection to your body. As a sexual abuse survivor, I’ve spent years trying to preserve my sanity by detaching from my body and disconnecting from the pain of my past.
At the time when I attempted to learn the process, I found intuitive eating to be very challenging. It did not come as second nature to me, as it does for many people. I ended up constantly eating more than my body could comfortably handle.
I learned the hard way that intuitive eating is more challenging for people with experiences of abuse or neglect in their past. If like me, you grew up in a chaotic and high stress environment, you probably can relate to always feeling anxious and on edge.
Being in this high stress state, you’ve probably abused food as a way of calming yourself down and numbing your emotions. And like me, you are also probably not fully aware and feeling safely connected to your body.
If you’ve also spent years trying to distance yourself from your feelings and detach from the pain and anguish of being violated, you won’t be very comfortable focusing on how your body feels.
As abuse survivors we often turn our uncomfortable feelings of self-hatred and shame inward and end up abusing food as a way of punishing ourselves.
For many of us, we feel an unconscious need to hold onto our excess weight. Although we feel conflicted about this, our excess weight is tied to our internal sense of safety and our way of creating a barrier of fat separating us from the world in hopes of being protected from unwanted attention.
If you’re holding onto your excess weight because it’s the only way you know to create feelings of safety for yourself, it will be a challenge to eat in response to your hunger because the idea of allowing yourself to feel hungry and empty is frightening. It will trigger your survival instincts to kick into overdrive and whenever your body gets too close to being hungry, you will feel the need to eat again to create that sense of fullness and safety in your body.
Like every other body function, your habits around eating are controlled by your subconscious mind. If you have a headful of stress and upset, and your need to eat to comfort yourself is much stronger than your desire to get thinner, you will face a conflict. Here’s why:
In the same way that your subconscious mind controls your body processes, it also holds the internal image of how you see yourself; your self image. Consider your subconscious mind to be like the internal operating system of a computer software program. It’s the warehouse that stores all of your life experiences, beliefs and interpretations about who you are and the world in which you live. Since I’ve had horrible experiences with dieting in the past, I had a strong belief that I couldn’t trust myself around food and that I would probably always be fat and ugly. This meant that I was carrying around what I like to call a fat and ugly self image, so the more that I felt sorry for myself and felt out of control, the more I wanted to eat to feel better. Because the stress in my life at that time was so out of control and I wasn’t using the stress relief techniques I knew to help myself, I just kept on eating.
My faith in the process of the intuitive eating, never wavered, because I knew it worked and because I was present on so many non diet discussion boards, I was constantly reading about other people’s successes. For me, the intuitive eating gave me the ability to get very picky about what foods I would eat, but it seemed that the guidelines for the process were so vague that it lacked the structure that I had come to expect from years of dieting.
To be fair, you will notice when you read the guidelines below, #7 is deal with your stress. For some reason, I never even noticed reading that and I just focused entirely on the food aspect of intuitive eating.
Left to my own devices, I had no clue how to listen to my body’s hunger. Because I didn’t deal with my stress, I was always hungry. As a result, I gained 35 extra pounds.
Mortified and embarrassed out of my mind, I knew that something was missing. In a lightbulb Aha moment, putting my coach hat on, I realized that something was missing. That’s when I knew that I had to integrate what I had learned about stress relief and actually use it on myself. In a flash, as soon as I started doing that, my aching, screeching hunger, was silenced. That’s when I knew that stress relief was a key element to succeeding with non diet weight control.
On my journey, I’ve learned that along with using the non-diet process of intuitive eating, you have to love and accept yourself in order to finally make peace with food. If you can’t find compassion for the vulnerable parts of you, you’ll continue to unconsciously abuse yourself by overeating.
Intuitive Eating: A Natural Non Diet Alternative To Weight Control
Okay I hope I haven’t completely soured you on intuitive eating because it works for so many people. And now that I realize where I went wrong and what caused my excessive weight gain that I continue to hold onto, I’m actually considering trying intuitive eating again.
The great news is that there is this amazing alternative to dieting. It’s the process that I’ve been mentioning called “intuitive eating,” a term first coined by nutritionists, Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D. FADA, in their book, “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works.”
According to Tribole and Resch, “Intuitive eating is a permission based approach to food and eating that teaches you how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body–where you ultimately become the expert of your own body. You learn how to distinguish between physical and emotional feelings, and gain a sense of body wisdom. It’s also a process of making peace with food—so that you no longer have constant “food worry” thoughts. It’s knowing that your health and your worth as a person does not change because you ate a so-called “bad” or “fattening” food.
Here are Tribole and Resch’s 10 principles to become an intuitive eater:
1. Reject the diet mentality. Toss out your diet books, and anything else to do with fat and calorie counting. No more dieting.
2. Honor your hunger Eat when your body says, “I’m hungry.” This rebuilds the trust between you and your relationship to food.
3. Make Peace with Food Call a truce on the food wars. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. No more deprivation.
4. Challenge the Food Police Monitor your diet mentality-driven, self critical, body bashing, fat phobic thoughts that push you to fear food and think of eating cake as bad.
5. Respect Your Fullness Become aware and pay attention to the subtle body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Pause in the middle of a meal and notice the difference of how the food tastes when you’re hungry vs. getting full.
6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor Engage all your senses in pursuit of enjoying your food. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and pleasurable, you will eat less. There’s an old Japanese saying-Hara hachi bunme-which roughly translated means, “stop eating when you are 80 percent full.”
7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food Find ways to deal with your stress without resorting to eating. Cultivate new ways of learning how to comfort , nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food.
8. Respect Your Body Make friends with your body. If you can’t appreciate your body for the way it looks, love it for it’s function. Doing this will help you feel better about who you are.
9. Exercise– Find a way of moving that’s fun and enjoyable. Move at your own pace and find what works for you. Avoid having a goal to lose weight. It will activate all your internal resistance.
10 Honor Your Health– Choose food that not only tastes good, but also makes you feel good. As you gain trust with yourself, knowing that you can eat whatever you want, your preferences will change.
According to Tracy Tylka, an assistant professor of psychology at the Ohio State University, she says, intuitive eaters weigh and eat less than women who diet. When they feel hungry, they eat what they want. When the hunger is gone they stop eating. What do you think? Are you ready to learn how to become an intuitive eater?