“I started tracking my calories and macros, and I sensed this wasn’t healthy”

“I started tracking my calories and macros, and I noticed becoming overly focused on food, I started feeling more anxious and I sensed this wasn’t healthy” 

Recently I’ve had several new clients who’ve said something along these lines as their reason for seeking help. They started the tracking with the belief that this was necessary to manage their eating and body weight, especially during the Covid lockdowns where there is so much talk around how this is affecting our eating (eg comfort eating) and resulting in weight gain. 

My motivation for writing this, is how quickly these particular clients were able to drop the diet behaviour, food restriction and diet mentality and instead tune back into their bodies and appetites and eat freely without any guilt through understanding intuitive eating concepts. They expressed immense relief at not having to monitor or restrict their food, and they made the point that this way of thinking about food made so much more sense and why isn’t this the mainstream advice?

A key reason is just how pervasive diet culture has become, to the point it is everywhere – it’s hard to watch a TV series that doesn’t make some comment food and weight. A wonderful novel I just read which focused on some of the racial issues in America, still had a dose of diet culture with the numerous references to fat being undesirable and a problem. There are ads on TV, the radio and a trip to the doctors office where your weight may be brought up even if your complaint is a sore throat.

These days, diet culture is very often disguised as improving health. Public health messages suggest the relationship with health and weight is clear. It’s not. Fat bodies can be healthy and thin bodies can be unhealthy. Gaining weight does not mean you will develop health issues and losing weight does not guarantee health. If you would like to understand more about this, read Harriet Brown’s Body of Truth or at least this article.

But because of this oversimplification of the relationship between weight and health, the medical profession and many other health professionals, usually without meaning to be, are complicit with diet culture thinking and perpetuate dieting behaviours. Recommending weight loss will ultimately send most people down the path of food restriction or and into diet culture thinking and behaviours.

intuitive eating dietitian melbourne

What do I mean by diet culture thinking and behaviours?

  • The good food, bad food dichotomy
  • Food is either healthy or unhealthy
  • Food will either heal you or harm you
  • You need to restrict certain food, especially sugary food, fried food and even some food groups such as carbs, to be eating well and managing your weight
  • Tracking food, calories, macros with apps like my fitness pal
  • Cutting out sugar or carbs
  • Following a pattern of eating that isn’t practical with your lifestyle, that you don’t really enjoy or that leaves you feeling hungry and struggling to concentrate at times


None of this is true or necessary, you can read more about that in these two blogs:

Food is neither good or bad
Donuts do make people fat

It seems the pervasiveness of diet culture has reached a point that people with a previously healthy relationship with food and who’ve never engaged in diet behaviours before, are now starting to engage in them and this is starting to damage their relationship with food.

It’s important to mention that what was a quick turn around for these clients is not usually so straightforward for the majority of my clients. These people hadn’t dieted much (or at all) in the past, so their relationship with food was fairly intact to begin with.  These clients are also in smaller, or not very fat, bodies, and this certainly can make it easier to shift the focus away from worrying about weight and the perceived need to restrict food.

If you feel your relationship with food is suffering and you’d like to escape diet culture, please contact us – we’d be delighted to hear from you!

 

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Why recommending weight loss, even when a person’s BMI is high, is often unhelpful and misguided

I was tagged in a post showing the image of a fat body and how being this size is damaging to their health (particularly organs and joints) and why weight loss through a change in diet and activity level is necessary.

I am going to to attempt to break this down as simply as possible to explain why such attitudes are misguided and damaging to a person’s health. This is a very complex topic going well beyond health science and I hope those with a deeper understanding of social justice matters will forgive me for only mentioning them as a factor without going into depth.

Let’s say this person, I will call her Marie, does have issues with organs and joints, let’s say she has diabetes and knee pain. The mainstream assumption is losing weight will help. If Marie does intentionally lose weight, she will intentionally change something in order for this to happen. If her blood sugar and knee pain reduce, how do we know if these changes are due to the weight loss or whatever it was she changed; perhaps it was due the changes in diet and activity level, perhaps aided with some mindfulness/meditation work which then influenced stress levels and her relationships with others? Unless a person has liposuction, intentional weight loss occurs along side a change in behaviours, the weight loss is a side-effect as opposed to a behaviour change; i.e. weight is not a behaviour. 

Essentially there is no one singular change that we can pin the medal on in terms of reduced blood sugar and knee pain, the human body is very complex and humans rarely ever change just one behaviour without this influencing other health factors.

HAES dietitian melbourne

EYE OPENER – just because Marie’e blood glucose and knee pain is reduced doesn’t mean she is experiencing better health. Many people would assume this, but chances are Marie has put herself into calorie deficit to achieve the weight loss, which results in a range of physiological and psychological disturbances. These disturbances are key drivers in the weight regain that happens to almost everyone, and why so many people find themselves obsessed with food and thoughts about food to the point of distress and anxiety – you can read more about this here. Not to mention the shame people feel around their body, their health issues and their perceived “failure” to manage things – shame is a powerful emotion experienced by most, if not all, who try to lose weight and a powerful factor that has been shown to directly impact metabolic health

This brings us to vital and often overlooked factors that affect a person’s health and which may explain why Marie is in a bigger body. While these factors may influence current eating and/or exercise habits, they can affect health independent of diet and exercise.

To assume diet and exercise are the key factors to address when helping someone manage their health is misguided and in most cases, plain insufficient. I want to pause for a moment here and acknowledge that this is more or less what I was trained to do and what I did for the first part of my career. I’m not saying that I ignored, or that other practitioners who still work this way ignore a person’s psychology or life circumstances, I certainly didn’t, but I did not address them adequately, particularly with regard to body image, weight stigma, weight bias and shame, and I did not understand the implications of continuing to place focus on body weight.

 

Some of the reasons people end up with a higher body weight

  • Concern about weight from a young age, be that underweight or “overweight” as per growth charts. There is evidence that parents who worry about their kids weight, end up with bigger children. 
  • Natural human size diversity – their genetic blueprint for size is a bigger body 
  • Medication 
  • Hormonal disturbances 
  • Mental health issues with or without medication 
  • Economic and social circumstances 
  • Adverse childhood events, including trauma
    ….
    .
    and the most common reason I see with my clients…

    .
  • Through the pursuit of weight loss – a large number of my clients have dieted themselves to a heavier weight, research shows that up to 2/3 of people end up heavier through dieting in an attempt to lose weight.

Regardless of the reasons, placing the focus on weight and encouraging people to pursue weight loss is more likely to lead to the following, than it is to improve a person’s health long-term…

  • Weight loss followed by regain (weight cycling/yoyo dieting), often to a higher weight. 
  • Engaging in diet behaviours that are generally not sustainable and may lead to a poor relationship with food over-time, disordered eating behaviours such as restricting and bingeing. 
  • Engaging in exercise behaviours that are generally not sustainable and may lead to a poor relationship with exercise over-time, injury or a general dislike of exercise. 
  • An increased sense of shame over body size and perceived “failure” to control their weight, eating behaviours and maintain a certain level of exercise. Shame has been identified as an independent risk factor for health. 
  • Perpetuating our cultures weight bias (that thinner people are more worthy, healthy, attractive etc) and the social stigma that accompanies this.

To state Marie is unhealthy because of a high body weight or to keep this as the focus for her health issues, is at best misguided and very simplistic, and at worst, serves to further damage Marie’s health through the continued pursuit of weight loss, weight cycling and weight stigma. Those of us who work in the Health At Every Size paradigm work to take the focus off body weight and instead focus on addressing health behaviours (and the many factors that influence these), body image, weight stigma and the shame that usually comes in bucketloads. 

Note: HAES and the non-diet approach are not anti-weight loss, just anti-pursuit of weight loss. Some people may lose weight through changing health behaviours, we just can’t predict for whom this will happen and therefore can’t promise or expect it will happen. 

 

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Stuck at home and comfort eating…

What if I told you the issue is less with the eating or food and more with the concept that “comfort eating” is something you should try and avoid.

There are a number of layers to this and I’ll do my best to break things down by looking at how this “comfort eating” may look and feel depending on your relationship with food and body.

But first, I want to make it clear that eating for reasons other than hunger, can be a perfectly normal and healthy part of the human experience. Eating for social interaction, entertainment, tiredness, mood changes, practicality (one may need to eat before hunger strikes with the knowledge they may not be able to eat for a certain period), or for the simple pleasure of food itself can all be part of normal healthy eating experience.

When food is eaten with awareness of the food and the reason behind choosing to eat, then it does not need to be a problem. For the person with clear appetite awareness, eating outside of physical hunger can reduce the amount of food eaten at (or delay) the next point of hunger, avoiding excess energy intake. A key point here, is the capacity to feel physical hunger as a clear sensation and to differentiate between other non-physical hunger cues. If you struggle with this, learning how to get back in tune with physical hunger and become aware of non-hungry tiggers is a vital part of developing a healthy relationship with food.

comfort eating

Let’s explore three differing relationships with food

 

The person with a complicated or troubled relationship with food

If you’re unsure where your relationship with food stands, do our quick free quiz


The key points here surround –
Not eating enough (deliberate and unintentional calorie restriction)
Food restriction
Being “too healthy”


When comfort eating is experienced as problematic, usually the two key areas driving the eating are heightened emotions (or unmet needs, i.e. boredom) and food restriction. For many people, dealing with the food restriction first, attenuates the eating in response to emotions/unmet needs and alleviates the level of guilt or sense it is an issu
e.

Food restriction can take the form of physical or mental restriction of certain food, or simply not eating enough food to meet energy requirements (for example, when pursuing weight loss or following someone else’s advice on what, when and how much to eat). Physical restriction is not allowing yourself to eat food you want to eat, mental restriction is eating the food but thinking you shouldn’t be eating it, or that you need to compensate in some way. Of course people can chose not to eat a food and be perfectly comfortable with that decision, what I am referring to here, is when people are experiencing an active struggle with restriction that then leads to distress or shame when the food is eaten or over-eaten.

It is human psychology to desire more, what you can’t have; it’s a case of “deprivation drives desire” and “the forbidden fruit effect”. All of us have, at some point in our life, experienced wanting something with much greater intensity when we thought it was off limits or not readily available. 

The human brain is hard wired to seek out food; eating is one of our most basic human needs, like the need to breathe and need to sleep. When energy intake is insufficient – as with most diets or plans designed to achieve weight loss – the brain releases a chemical that triggers our drive to eat, this chemical actively makes us think about food and makes food smell, look and taste more appealing. If you aren’t eating enough, and you’re not clear about your appetite cues, you might mistake your body’s actual need for food as a form of comfort eating or eating more than you should. For example, if you’re running low on food energy but you don’t actually recognise you’re hungry (probably as your appetite awareness has been blunted), the decision to eat one or two biscuits or squares of chocolate can easily turn into several more because your body actually needs the food energy.

Even if you are eating enough, thinking you shouldn’t be eating certain food can heighten your desire for this food as previously mentioned. Whichever the scenario – just needing to eat more, thinking you shouldn’t be eating something or a combination of the two – the outcome usually leads to sense of failure and the very common diet mentality: “I’ve blown it now, may as write off the rest of the day and be good tomorrow” or “I’ll just finish this packet so it’s not in the house and then never buy it again.”

One other common factor is trying to be “too healthy” – what do I mean by this?

The misguided belief that you’re better off choosing the salad over the toasted sandwich. I’ll give you an example from one of my clients, let’s call her Sue. For many years Sue was enjoying a toasted cheese sandwich for lunch, then one day her young adult son decided to go on a “health kick” and suggested his mum join him. Toasted sandwiches were out and salads were in. Sue really enjoyed the salads, they had chicken, cheese, avocado etc and were very tasty. But soon Sue found herself craving sugar in the afternoons and eating cake or a pastry most days, something she’d never done regularly in the past. When we explored this, Sue learned that her body needed some carbohydrate with lunch, something the toasted sandwich gave her but the salad didn’t. When she went back to having the sandwich, the sugar cravings disappeared. Some reading this may be thinking, “but the toasted sandwich lacks vegetables!” – well it doesn’t have to, and as it turned out, Sue often put various veggies in the sandwich, she also had always eaten a large serve with dinner and so her vegetable intake was not lacking.

 

 

The person with a fairly sound relationship with food and appetite awareness, but who has the typical diet mentality of our culture


You have no, or very little, preoccupation with food or eating, you may think of food as good or bad depending on nutritional content, and although you may sense some guilt, you don’t get overly upset with yourself around food. You can enjoy food freely without feeling terrible about yourself or your body.

At the risk of repeating everything I’ve just said about the person with the more complicated relationship with food, the exact same advice applies. The difference for these people, is they may not feel the high level of guilt/shame or anxiety around eating, be that for comfort or just because they feel like it.

The issue here, is more that the typical diet mentality of our diet culture may lead to not quite eating enough (the decision to eat less is nearly always validated in our society as “being good”), or trying to be “too healthy”, or the forbidden fruit effect, all of which can all influence the way we eat as outlined above. Learning how to recognise and reject diet mentality – a central principle of intuitive eating – may be all that is required, along with ensuring you are eating enough and to a level of satisfaction (another core principal of intuitive eating).

Without the diet mentality, you might still choose to eat when you’re not hungry – remember this is normal – but without emotion attached to the food or eating, you just enjoy the food and get on with your day. As mentioned previously, eating with awareness of the food and the reason behind choosing to eat, can delay or reduce the amount of food eaten at the next point of hunger and prevent excess energy intake.

The person with a healthy relationship with food and not (overly) influenced by diet culture


Let me use a client example again to explain, this time we’ll call them Alex. Alex has noticed she is snacking more since working from home, on one particular day during the first week at home she snacks on a variety of foods over the day, she is very aware she is not hungry much of the time, but gives herself permission to enjoy the food without any sense of doing the “wrong thing”. When dinner time comes, Alex realises she has no appetite at all and so decides not to eat, a little later that evening Alex starts to feel hungry and makes herself some toast which satisfies her.

After several days like this during her first couple of weeks working from home, Alex finds herself craving a “decent/square” meal. Several days of snack type foods and not many veggies or protein rich foods, and Alex has become tired of the crackers and dip, biscuits, muesli bars, chocolate etc and returns to her usual pattern of eating. From time to time, she still finds herself standing at the cupboard looking at the biscuits or chocolate, but she acknowledges whether or not she’s actually hungry and if hungry, prepares food she knows will be more satisfying. When she’s not hungry, but just feels like something sweet, she breaks off a few squares of chocolate or grabs a couple of sweet biscuits and sits down with a cup of tea to enjoy them.

I know there will be people reading this who find this idea of being around food almost fanciful, but this is how learning to eat intuitively can change your relationship with food. For some people, the process of intuitive eating may be straightforward and for others it will be complex and can take a long time, but with the right help, you can get there. You can be Alex!

Which ever person you feel you might be, this can be a useful first step to managing your non-hungry-comfort eating

When you find yourself at the fridge and you know you’re not hungry, you could try asking yourself these two questions – “What am I feeling now? and “What do I need now?”. Sometimes just acknowledging how you’re feeling, or that you’re just bored can be enough to close the fridge door. Other times, you might find it helpful to consider what you actually need to manage how you’re feeling, what else could you do in this moment? While this may sound fairly straightforward in theory, it can be much more challenging in practise and that’s usually because what influences our decisions to eat, or any behaviour for that matter, can be complex.

If this is something you really struggle with, and you have the means, you could seek help from a professional, such as a non-diet or anti-diet dietitian who is experienced with understanding the complexities of non-hungry/emotional eating.

 

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Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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non-diet dietitians Melbourne

 

Do you struggle with sugar cravings?

When people come to see me for help with their eating, they often feel they can’t control their intake of sweet food, or “junk” food or how much they eat when they get home from work (or on weekends). I hear people say “I’m good during the day/week, it’s afterwork… or when I have something sweet… or once my partner’s gone to bed… or when I eat out that’s the issue.”

These people usually have something in common – not eating enough during the day. Sometimes not enough carbohydrate, but mostly not enough food (ie calories) and typically they’re not even aware. In fact, it’s normal to think eating less is the “right” thing to do. Almost everywhere you look – TV, social media, your social circle, family, local gyms and even well meaning health professionals (including your GP) – eating less or restricting certain foods is validated as a “good” thing, what you “should” be striving to achieve. This is the diet culture we live in.

It is true that some people do eat more than what they need, however no person or meal plan can know how much anyone else needs to eat and this results in a blanket like calorie reduction which is not enough food for most people. Even if you plug your height, weight and activity level into an app, this can’t account for differences in metabolism between different people, or the natural fluctuations in your energy expenditure across the days and weeks. Wouldn’t it be much more powerful if you could work out yourself, through listening your body, what is the right amount of food for you? This may lead to eating less, but not so much less that you’re left feeling over-hungry or craving carbohydrates/sweets. If this sounds appealing to you, check out intuitive eating.

anti diet dietitian

In addition to the omni-present influence of diet culture, three more specific reasons I frequently see for not eating enough during the day are…

Skipping breakfast – many people discover that when they eat breakfast, they feel hungry again sooner, often around mid-morning. When you’re trying hard to eat less/cut calories, this can feel highly problematic and so people delay eating as long as possible. However, feeling hungry roughly every 3 hours is completely normal and it’s a reason morning tea exists. Not eating enough earlier in the day is a common reason for over-eating later in the day.

Trying to be too healthy with food choices – carrots sticks and hummus may be perfectly tasty and nourishing, but if this doesn’t float your boat or doesn’t provide enough calories, you’re probably not going to be fully satisfied and you may find yourself craving sweets (usually as your brain actually needs glucose and is running low). If a snack of toast with jam or peanut butter, or perhaps cheese and biscuits not only appeals more to you, but provides the necessary food energy, you are going feel more satisfied eating this and you may well find yourself not craving sweets as your brain has the calories it needs. When you brain doesn’t have adequate food energy, it releases a chemical called Neuropeptide Y to make you think about food, specifically food it can get good amounts of glucose from as glucose is the brain’s preferred energy source. Therefore, so called “sugar cravings” can occur simply because you need to eat.

Cutting carbs – diet culture, including some well meaning doctors and other health professionals, tell us to cut out the carbohydrates. No bread, no rice, no pasta, no potatoes and sometimes even, no carrots, no pumpkin and no fruit! Aside from this being completely unnecessary, including for people with diabetes, such dietary restriction can lead to…

  • Strong sugar or carb cravings
  • Over-eating to the point of binge eating behaviour (often later in the day)
  • Mental and emotional distress over food, eating and body image
  • A preoccupation with food to the point of what can feel like an obsession or sense of being out of control around food (you are not obsessed or out of control, you just need to eat more – if the room you were in suddenly started running out of oxygen, your brain wouldn’t just sit there calmly, it would demand you find more oxygen and right now!)
  • Feeling tired and weak, having difficulty concentrating (your brain runs best on a ready supply of glucose)
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Constipation

If any of this resonates with you, perhaps it’s time to stop restricting food and stop following someone else’s specific advice on what, when and how much to eat and time to start tuning into, and trusting, your own body with food. You can learn to do this through a non-diet/intuitive eating approach that is fully aligned with Health At Every Size®️. You can book with us, or a find a practitioner near you.

 

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
.

Want to learn how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

non-diet dietitians Melbourne

 

Want to avoid feeling stuffed full this Christmas? It’s time to stop trying to “be good”.

Do you tend to overeat on Christmas Day? What if I told you the problem is not you or the food, the problem is diet mentality.

If you happen to eat more than usual on Christmas day (or any other gathering for that matter), you are behaving as humans have done for thousands of years where having an abundance of food on celebration days is part of how we celebrate and connect with others. Bottom line is that there is nothing wrong with doing this and the pleasure and satisfaction we receive from sharing and enjoying food with others is fundamental to our health.

For some people though, Christmas day can feel like a minefield, creating anxiety and distress around food and/or leave you feeling so stuffed full, the pleasure is diminished. While for some there will be other factors involved, I am going to put a huge chunk of the blame on diet culture and its obsession with “health” and weight.

We live in a diet culture where thinking about food in terms of macros (carbs, protein, fat), moral value (being good or bad) and our body size has become some normalised, few people stop to recognise the madness and futility behind it all. Even for those not dieting (or following “healthy lifestyle plan”), this creates a diet mentality where food is seen as good or bad, right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy and the belief that how we eat is the key driver for our body weight (tip – your body weight is much more complex than the food you eat). There’s a constant sense we must make the “better” choice, not eat too much, and if we do, we must pay a penance with more exercise, or being “good” the next day. Paradoxically, it is this very diet mentality that results in people overeating on days such as Christmas or any celebratory party.

intuitive eating dietitian

So why does our diet culture and diet mentality lead to overeating?

It is pure human psychology to desire more what is off limits or forbidden. Deprivation heightens our desire and we are more likely to think about and crave those foods that we restrict. How often do you find yourself carving lettuce over chocolate? On that point though, just as it is natural to want something more when it’s less available, most people have had the experience of craving salad after several days of eating out with richer food or more highly processed food – so it works both ways.

Do you routinely restrict food you enjoy? When that food becomes available, are you more likely to go to nuts and “splurge”? If you’re nodding your head, you are a normal healthy human. This type of behaviour is known as the “I’ll get while I can effect”, “the what the hell effect” or “the last supper effect” where you think “I’m just gonna write off today and I’ll be good tomorrow/starting Monday”. These effect are described in studies in a number of books including Health At Every Size by Linda Bacon.

You may also fall victim to the “I deserve it” mentality – “I’ve been good lately so now I can afford to have as much as I want!”

The paradox with all of this, is that you usually end up eating more than you actually want, not truly enjoying the experience and perhaps even regretting it, swearing off the food again… until the next time.

What it you took a more relaxed and less restrictive approach to how you eat? Imagine feeling you could eat whatever you feel like whenever you felt like it? Maybe sweets would become less enticing – if you like sweets, this doesn’t mean you’d stop wanting or enjoying them, it would just mean you could them in a way that felt good mentally and physically. While all this may sound like pie in the sky stuff (my clients often say this when we first meet), you can find this place of moderation with a non-diet/intuitive eating approach. The key is to start understanding how diet culture has influenced our thinking around food in a way that has us feeling we can’t control ourselves around food and therefore we must restrict the food when in fact it is this very restriction and way of thinking that is so often at the root of your struggle with food.

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
.

Want to learn how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

non-diet dietitians Melbourne

 

Two common reasons you feel you’re addicted to sugar and what you can do about it

In my 15 years practising as a dietitian, one of the most common things I hear people say is; “I can’t stop at just one.” While some people have a very complex relationship with certain food that goes beyond the scope of this piece, the majority of people I see discover they can stop at just one and that they are not addicted to sugar when they address the following issues.

Issue 1. Being hungry and simply needing to eat.

When your body needs food energy (aka calories), your brain releases a chemical that tells you to look for food – usually something with carbohydrate – as this is your brain’s preferred food choice. This is a basic biological need, as powerful as the need to breath and sleep.

If you haven’t eaten enough at lunch or breakfast (or you skipped one of them), you’re going to need even more fuel (calories) by the afternoon. While some people will notice they are hungry, others won’t and I’ll talk about later. When it’s time for your afternoon break, if you plan on a sweet biscuit or two, but always find yourself eating much more, this is because your body actually needs more food energy than can be obtained from a couple of sweet biscuits. This real need for food energy (calories) drives you to eat much more of the food than you intended. When this happens, you might mistakenly think it’s because sugar is somehow “addictive”, when in reality you just needed more to eat.

In my clinic, one of the most common presentations I see is people not eating enough during the day, very often they are not even aware they are not eating enough. In most cases, once people start eating more, their sugar cravings reduce significantly or disappear completely. In time, these people are able to enjoy sweet foods in smaller amounts, a block of chocolate can last all week in the fridge and the unopened packet of Tim Tams doesn’t disappear within a day.

Given this seems like such a simple “cure” for “sugar addiction”, why aren’t we just advising people to make sure they eat enough?

intuitive eating dietitian


Answer: Almost everything we are taught about managing our health – be that through various health/medical professions, media and diet culture – revolves around eating less, or restricting food, often with a goal to lose weight. When people are restricting food and actively eating less, our culture validates this with messages that we are being good, are disciplined and even comments like “I wish I could be more like you”. If weight loss also occurs, the food restriction is further validated with comments around how great a person looks. This validation happens regardless of the very real fact that behind the scenes, at some point in time, many of these people may be feeling out of control around food in certain situations, experiencing heightened comfort eating, binge eating and/or being preoccupied with thoughts about food and weight to the point of what can feel like obsession. This validation also occurs despite the food restriction or weight loss usually only being short term, often less than a year (for the record, short-term is anything less than 5 years).

Given this, it’s understandable why so many people end up under-eating. When your energy intake is low and blood sugar drops, it makes sense your brain wants you to eat high-energy food (often food high in sugar and fat) as this will replenish your fuel more quickly. In understanding that under-eating is a key driver of over-eating, it starts to make sense as to why so many people feel they are addicted to food and especially sugary food. After all, if you were deprived of air to breath, you would suddenly have a strong desire to get more air and when you found that air, you would be gulping it down.

I mentioned earlier that not everybody will recognise their physical hunger, this disconnect with appetite can occur as a result of dieting (or any form of restricting food to lose weight), disordered or chaotic eating patterns or just not paying attention to the body and is very common in our busy chaotic lives. If you feel addicted to sugar, or struggle with food cravings and over-eating, a useful first step is to practise getting back in tune with your appetite cues. You can do this through a process called intuitive eating, an approach that takes the focus of restricting food or calories and importantly, takes the focus off weight loss. While some will find this fairly straight forward, many will find it challenging and may need help from a practitioner experienced in this field.


A side note:
Diet culture and the associated “wellness industry” drives sugar addiction and then sells us the “solution” in the form of various diets or “healthy lifestyle programs” that for many people only serve to compound the feeling of addiction… Such programs include “I quit sugar”, “keto”, “whole 30”, “Paleo” to name just a few. I want to be clear that I am not saying these patterns of eating are wrong for everybody, if you are someone, or know someone, who eats this way and has truly benefitted long-term, then I have no issue. What I take issue with is how these programs or patterns of eating target everybody and for many people they are not the solution and long-term these people find themselves feeling even more “addicted” to sugar or experiencing more intense bingeing behaviour and feelings of guilt and shame.

 

Issue 2: Restricting sweets and then finding yourself in the “last super effect” every time you eat something sweet.

The last supper effect is what many people experience when they make a decision to take action on their eating habits, be that starting a new diet or eating program, seeing a dietitian or to stop eating a particular food. In the hours leading up to the intended diet change, you find yourself eating lots of the food you plan to never eat again. The last supper effect can be so strong that many of clients experience it before seeing me even though they know I’m not going to put them on a diet or tell them to restrict. To quote something I read “scarcity makes us anxious and abundance allows us to feel calm.” The very idea that you might not be able to eat a certain food again, can make you feel anxious to the point of wanting to eat as much as possible before it’s too late.

Along with the last supper effect, the idea that you shouldn’t be eating a certain food, or not too much of it, can lead to a range of diet mentality thoughts including:

“I’ll just have this one and then I’ll be good tomorrow”

“I just finish this packet so it’s not in the house and then I’ll never buy it again!”

“I’ve stuffed it now, I may as well write off the rest off the rest of the day and I’ll be good tomorrow/start again on Monday.”

“It’s so delicious, I’m just gonna eat it all and then I’ll be careful tomorrow.”

The problem with this diet mentality is you end up eating more than you intended, often to point that any satisfaction you could have received from the eating experience is ruined by feeling uncomfortably full and/or beating yourself up over it. In addition, as I know you all know, there’s always another tomorrow.

The ability to eat food to the point of satisfaction where you don’t feel you’ve eaten too much, or to leave delicious food on your plate, often only become possible once you truly start to believe that you can eat that delicious food whenever you are hungry for it. While this can seem like an impossibility at first, learning how to rewire your brain to change the way you think about food will allow it to happen. Just as it’s normal human psychology to want more of we can’t have with things that bring us pleasure, if you were made to eat an entire block of chocolate everyday, you might start to resent having to eat chocolate. This is not to say chocolate can’t be enjoyed daily (I enjoy chocolate most days), but if eating a whole block makes you feel a little sickly afterward, would you want to do it as often? There may be someone reading this who feels they can eat a whole block of chocolate and not feel sickly or experience any mental anguish, and that’s fine, this blog is directed toward those who do feel a level of physical and/or mental discomfort.

In summary, if you feel are you addicted to sugar (or any other food) and you haven’t explored whether or not you’re eating enough (as mentioned many people don’t even realise) or explored the process of not restricting food and rewiring your brain to change diet mentality thoughts, then I urge you consider these processes. The intuitive eating approach I mentioned earlier can help you do this. On the other hand, if you feel are you addicted to sugar and simply avoiding it works for you without any downsides emotionally, mentally or socially, then I have no issue with your choice – but please don’t expect that this is right for everybody.

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