Just eat more celery and less meat pies!

Want to lose weight?

Just eat more celery and less meat pies!

While most people should recognise this as ridiculous advice, is it really any different to the message of just eat more veggies and less “junk”? As in, if losing weight were that simple, surely the millions of people who have tried to lose weight would have been successful by now. In addition, the current common wisdom around what is required to control body weight is mistaken (weight loss is not a simple equation of eat less and move more), which helps explain why no one is able to do it.

If we were machines and could just program our food for the day, then just doing what is suggested by this “common wisdom”, might actually be possible – but we are not machines, we are complex organisms with complex emotional and physiological needs and desires. You can’t simply instruct someone on how to eat to meaningfully* lose weight – oh wait, that’s what most weight loss programs try to do – it’s no wonder they don’t work!

*meaningfully, meaning in a way that benefits the individual mentally and physically over their life-time

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So why isn’t it as simple as just eat more veggies and less “junk”?

Factors that influence food choices:

  • How hungry you are
  • Awareness of how hungry you are
  • How long since you last ate
  • The type of food you late ate
  • The type of food that appeals to your taste buds
  • The type of food available
  • History of dieting
  • Past or current food restriction
  • Emotional state
  • How tired you are
  • How much sleep you’re getting
  • How much stress you’re under
  • Your hormones and metabolic factors
  • Any medications you may be on
  • Where you’re next meal is coming from
  • A sense of when and what you’re going to be eating next
  • How active you’ve been
  • What you’ve got on for the rest of your day
  • What the other people you’re eating with will eat
  • What other people are telling you you should or should not be eating

I’m sure there’s many more, so feel free to add more in the facebook comments.

Eating celery over meat pies, or less extreme, advice to eat more veggies and less highly processed food does not take into account or address any of these factors, in fact, placing the emphasis on the food could exacerbate a number of them. Now, I am not for a second staying eating more veggies is not a worthwhile pursuit, or would not benefit health. Instead, I am wanting to highlight that very often, well meaning dietary advice falls way short of the mark and only serves to perpetuate our culture’s unhelpful and often very damaging diet and weight loss industries.

 

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Stop restricting and you may find you eat less

It is not uncommon for people to misinterpret the concept of unrestricted eating, as a free for all with food; just eat as much sweets as you want without any regard to nutrition or health. In fact, once people have true full permission to eat, as with the non-diet approach, the opposite tends to happen.

Many have the belief that “if I allowed myself to eat that food, I’d want to eat it all the time.” However, what people start to realise, is having full permission to eat a food, can mean they start to want it less. 

In the traditional weight loss (weight cycling) and/or “healthy eating” world, a common aim is to reduce intake of particular foods, especially more highly processed sweet foods. Let’s use the humble sweet biscuit as an example.

When you are focused on weight loss or “health”, choosing to eat less sweet biscuits usually revolves around reducing calories and sugar and being disciplined or “good”. Ironically, this type of approach leaves most people eating more sweet biscuits (and therefore more calories and sugar) and feeling “bad”.

Why does this happen?

Each time you’re faced with the prospect of a sweet biscuit, you think “I shouldn’t eat that” and for a while you may be able to resist the urge – but how long does this last? Have you ever been able to completely cut a food from your diet long-term (and I’m not including food allergies/intolerances here)? I know some people can do this, but the fact is, most people can’t. When finally that urge gets the better of you, what tends to happen? You go nuts for the food and eat more than you would normally, or you might find yourself bingeing. This type of approach is responsible for the following phenomena:

  • The “what the hell” effect – “What the hell, I’ve blown it now, may as well go the whole hog!”
    .
  • The “last supper” effect – eating all the food now as tomorrow you’re never going to eat it again
    .
  • The “I’ll get while I can” effect – eating more now as tomorrow you’ll be “good” (or start again on Monday)
    .
  • The “I’ll just finish this packet/container so it’s not in the house and I’ll never buy them again” effect
    .

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With non-diet approach, the choice* to not eat the sweet biscuit is simply because you’re not hungry for it, or don’t feel like eating one in that moment. A key difference with this approach, is that when you do actually feel like having the sweet biscuit, you have the opportunity to enjoy it without any sense of doing “the wrong thing”. You may feel like having more than one, but you don’t go nuts and over-eat because you know you can enjoy another one tomorrow or the next day or the next day…

So while the non-diet approach doesn’t restrict any food, it allows you to avoid all the above mentioned effects. When you don’t fall into these diet traps, your eating and nutrition can take on a new look, one that actually promotes healthy behaviours and benefits your health.

*Please note: reaching this point can take time, if you’ve been dieting or restricting food or struggle with how you feel about your body, you will likely need to go through a process of unlearning what you’ve been lead to believe is the best way to manage your diet, health and weight. Non-diet dietitians can help you do this.

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What’s the point of pursuing health if you can’t enjoy life?

Here are some examples of how the pursuit of health can take away from enjoying your life:

 

  • If being “good” with your diet means you can’t eat out without worrying about eating “too much” or the “wrong” thing.
  • If changes to your diet have you constantly thinking about food and/or worrying about whether you should or shouldn’t have something.
  • If tracking food, calories or macros is stressful, annoying or creating anxiety or guilt.
  • If having to avoid or limit certain foods means you avoid certain social events or feel immense guilt should you partake in the food.
  • If you can’t enjoy birthday cake on someone’s birthday without feeling you’ve been “bad” or blown your goals.
  • If all this obsessing over food is taking away mental space and energy to pursue more meaningful things.
  • If the amount of exercise you do is taking time away from spending time with friends, family or doing things you’d actually prefer to be doing.
  • If the type of exercise you “need” to do means exercise is not truly enjoyable.
    .

How many of the above points resonate with you? Maybe it’s time to reassess what it is you think you need to do to take care of your health. The common wisdom in our culture is that to manage our health or weight, we need to restrict or be careful with our food, but in actual fact this only ends up working against us. Restricting, or “being good” with food may seem like it works initially, but at some point, inevitably, this fails us and we find ourselves swinging back towards over-eating and feeling out of control around food. Allowing yourself to eat freely is not the problem, it is the solution. You can learn how this works with the intuitive eating (or non-diet) approach.

If you would like help in becoming an intuitive eater and to get out of the diet cycle and start living a more meaningful and enjoyable life, give us a call or send us an email today!

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“If I was thin, would it be ok to eat that?”

When one of my clients told me she thought eating 4 slices of toast was wrong, we explored why she felt this way. I asked her if she thought it would be wrong for a thinner person to eat 4 slices and she said no. So I probed a little further to understand why she thought it would be wrong for her. You may be guessing correctly that her response was based on her body size. It was also unfortunately influenced by a previous dietitian that told her she should only ever eat 1 slice if she wanted to lose weight.

Just as the amount of food you need to eat at a particular meal should not be based on your height or shoe size, it should not be based on your weight. How much you need to eat depends on how hungry you are. If you’re physically hungry for 4 slices of toast, then that’s what you need, regardless of your body size. The ability to know this does require connection to appetite and being able to differentiate between physical and other types of hunger. This is an example of some of the appetite work, myself and other non-diet dietitians, do with people.

In order for appetite work to be effective, you need to start loosening your grip on diet thinking. Diet thinking encompasses thoughts such as “4 slices of toast is too much”, “ I shouldn’t eat that because of my weight” or “carbs are bad”.

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If you struggle with diet thoughts, try this question next time you’re struggling with one;

“If I was thin, would it be ok to eat that?”

If the answer is yes, then yes, of course it’s ok and it’s diet culture that’s making you think you shouldn’t eat it. Just as eating a chocolate bar is not bad for a thin person, it’s not bad for a larger person. If a thinner person has a right to eat a food, so do you.

Necessary disclaimer: In saying this, I am not saying it’s ok to live on chocolate bars, or to eat chocolate bars at the expense of a varied nutritious diet. I am not in the pocket of BIG sugar, the chocolate bar could be a home-made brownie with coconut sugar and organic cacao for all it matters. The point is, your body size should not be a factor in whether or not it’s ok to eat something.

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Suggesting sugar is not evil does not mean you’re saying it’s ok to eat an entire box of donuts!

Why is it that when you speak out against extreme views, the perpetuators of those views suggest you must be encouraging the opposite – so with food, suggesting sugar is not evil means you’re saying it’s ok to eat an entire box of donuts!* 

This type of black and white thinking is what causes so much confusion around what it means to eat well. Some more examples…

Choosing not to quit sugar does not mean you are going to automatically eat excess sugar.

Choosing not to cut carbs doesn’t mean you’ll eat an entire loaf of bread everyday.

Enjoying a beer and chips does not mean you or your diet is unhealthy. In fact enjoying any food or drink seen as “unhealthy” does not mean you or your diet are unhealthy.

Equally… quitting sugar, or any food, or choosing to go vegan, paleo or gluten free does not mean you and your diet are automatically healthy. You can do these things and improve health, but they are not necessary, and in many cases extreme measures only have a short-term effect, with the longer-term effect being an on-going struggle with food and weight which leaves many emotionally and physically worse off.

The wonderful news is there is a place which flows somewhere in between the extremes of abstinence and excess and that place is called MODERATION. I say “flows” as moderation is not a static or fixed place. Moderation means sometimes saying no and sometimes saying yes, sometimes having a little and sometimes having more. All of this depends on the circumstances at the time of eating.

If you’re disagreeing with this and thinking that you are likely to polish off a loaf of bread or box of donuts, it may very well be because you’re trying restrict these foods. It’s human nature to “want what you can’t have” and making things forbidden, brings on “the forbidden fruit” effect and the food becomes even more enticing. A bit like that piece of clothing you see in a shop that you like (last one in your size) but you calmly pass it by before someone else picks it up to try it on, and suddenly you decide you really like it and pray they don’t buy it! Scarcity stirs up anxiety and abundance creates calm.

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With regard to food, especially carbohydrate rich food, these natural and very human tendencies are even stronger than with non-food items because our brains are wired to want carbohydrate rich food. Carbohydrate is the bodies most efficient fuel sources and your brain rewards you for eating them as this encourages basic survival. After a period of restricting sugar or carbs, your brains reward system will go even more nuts when you eat carbs and you can feel driven to just keep eating. This is often when people feel out of control and blame the sugar when your body’s just doing what it’s designed to do. 

If you choose not to cut out (or restrict) sugar (or carbs) from your diet, for most people, you’ll still want to eat these food, but your brain will not go as crazy for the food and you’ll find it easier to know when you’ve eaten enough. If you would like to understand more about this, check out what intuitive eating is all about.

Another layer of complexity with human behaviour around food is the food supply and food environment. Then there’s your socio-economic status which influences access to certain types of food in terms of availability and cost. If the food environment continues to be flooded with cheap highly processed foods, then I am afraid we may be fighting a losing battle when it comes to helping more people eat an adequate amount of fresh whole food (such as fruit, veg, legumes, nuts, grains, eggs, meat, fish, dairy) and not eating too much of the highly processed foods.

Note: for many people the drive to keep eating is more complex then what is described here, with factors such as the emotional strains of everyday life, stress, relationship issues, body image issues and past or present trauma being key drivers. If you feel this is you, I urge you to seek help from a non-diet dietitian or HAES® (Health At Every Size) practitioner. 

You can find us here:

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*As in most cases eating a whole box of donuts would leave one feeling uncomfortably full and somewhat sickly, I would not encourage this as you will get more satisfaction out of your eating experiences when you eat in a way that leaves your body feeling good – this is a key aspect of intuitive eating.  Now, if you eat a whole box of donuts mindfully paying attention to taste and satisfaction and how your body is feeling, if once you’ve finished you feel really comfortable mentally and physically (so not too full, sickly or with thoughts you shouldn’t have eaten them all), then eating a whole box of donuts may not be an issue. Provided the donuts are not displacing other nutrients on a regular basis or causing any other health issues, then no one has the right to tell you eating them is problematic. 

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How to avoid going overboard with food this holidays… Hint – don’t restrict!

As a dietitian, at this time of year, a common question from clients is how to go about managing the extra food around the Christmas/New Year period.

With Christmas, New Year and summer holidays fast approaching, many of us find ourselves at more social gatherings with an abundance of food and alcohol. You might also find yourself doing more cooking or baking. While this shouldn’t be a problem in terms of nutrition, health or eating intuitively, diet culture makes it seem like a problem.

What do I mean by diet culture? Diet culture is the idea that certain foods are bad for you or fattening, that to keep your weight in check (or to lose weight) you must eat less, or at least not too much. The thought that if you do “indulge”, you need to restrict or be careful the next day or do more exercise, is also part of diet culture.

The problem with this type of thinking is that it pretty much always leads to over-eating the very food you think you shouldn’t be having too much off. You restrict until you’re faced with the food, at a party, at a friends house, at the office and you find yourself thinking “stuff it, one won’t hurt…”. Because you’ve been restricting the food, the food not only looks more appealing, but the pleasure centre in your brain goes nuts over the taste and you find yourself wanting to keep eating. This is part of the “I’ll get it while I can” or “last supper” effect, where you think you may as well eat as much as you can now and then you’ll “be good” tomorrow. Sound familiar?

For many people, this drive to keep eating reaffirms the belief you can’t be trusted around certain food, or that you are “addicted” to sugar*. However, it may actually be the restriction that it the issue, from a physiological and psychological standpoint.

If you’re someone who tends to restrict how much you eat after you’ve eaten too much, there’s a very good chance you’re messing with your appetite regulation. Not eating enough during the day and then getting to the point of being too hungry is a sure way to increase your risk of over-eating at some point, usually in the afternoon or evening. If the food available happens to be food you’re trying hard to limit, you’ll most likely find it next to impossible to not overeat that food. When you do overeat, you then feel terrible about yourself, that you’ve “failed” or been “bad” – this is part of the psychological trauma of diet culture.

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What if there were no restrictions on any food? No diet culture telling you sugar is evil or that you shouldn’t eat that if you want to lose weight? What if at the time of eating you could calmly assess your appetite and desire for the food and then enjoy eating the food to the point of satisfaction? This is what intuitive eating is all about.

Eating to satisfaction involves the pleasure of the food itself and feeling comfortable in your body afterwards. Your decision about how much to eat is influenced by having acknowledged satisfaction and not wanting to feel uncomfortably full or sickly. When you know you can enjoy the food in question whenever you feel like it, having less in the moment is an easier thing to do. 

This may sound like an impossibility to some of you, but what is required is letting go of, or loosening your grip on, food restriction and on diet culture. If you’re not dieting or restricting food, you’re less likely end up over-hungry and vulnerable to over-eating and while the pleasure centre in your brain will still be activated by food (as it’s designed to), it won’t go as nuts. This, combined with attunement to satisfaction and the knowledge you can have more of the yummy food later, is what will allow you to feel calm around food during periods such as Christmas.

Another aspect that must be acknowledged in all of this, is how you feel about your body. Diet culture thrives on you feeling bad about your body and ultimately how you feel about your body underpins the need you feel to diet or restrict food. You can’t effectively address your problems with food until you start addressing how you feel about your body. For most people, the body stuff is toughest work and you may need help from a skilled non-diet dietitian or therapist who works within the Health At Every Size paradigm. Let us know if you need help finding one.

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