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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We need to stop focusing so much on nutrition when it comes to food.

Food is meant to nourish both our body and our soul.

It is a source of love, joy and pleasure.

It is a key source of human connection – the most valuable ingredient to true wellbeing or “wellness” – and a healthy relationship with food is necessary to provide this.

Thinking too much about food in terms of nutrients, calories or basing choices on how the food may or may not effect your weight, can really interfere with your relationship with food.

Yes nutrition is important, but its importance is being overplayed and for many, it’s sucking the joy and pleasure out of eating and turning eating well into a chore, something you “should” or “have to” do. When you don’t enjoy something, you’re much less likely to keep it up and you’re much more likely to abandon the task and just do the thing – or eat the food – that’s more enjoyable. Usually this food is the food our culture deems as “less healthy” – you know, the food with extra cheese, that’s deep fried, has a creamy sauce or a side of ice-cream. It’s not that these foods are unhealthy, they’re not, but if always choosing such foods limits variety, there is chance nutrition may be compromised.

One might argue we all have to do things we don’t enjoy, such as housecleaning, but we still do it – or at least somebody does. However, the difference here is you can choose to not clean or have someone else do the job . You can’t choose to not eat or have someone else eat for you. Everyday we need to make hundreds of decisions around food and if that decision making feels like a chore or has no joy, at some point you’re going to find yourself thinking “stuff it, I’m just gonna have…”. This can often lead to getting mad at yourself for eating something you thought you shouldn’t, only spiralling you into further shame and misery around managing your eating and/or health.

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So rather than making food choices purely on their nutritional value or “goodness”, what if we considered these questions…?

  • What am I hungry for?
  • What do I feel like eating?
  • How is the food going to taste?
  • Will it leave me feeling satisfied?
  • Will it leave me feeling energised?

These are the type of questions we explore with the intuitive eating process. There will be people reading this who will struggle to answer these questions, and that’s ok, it takes time and practise to learn to trust your body with what you’re hungry for and what food truly satisfies you and leaves you feeling energised. If this is you, or if you are struggling with, or have had, an eating disorder, I encourage you to seek help from a non-diet dietitian. Ensure they are aligned with the HAES paradigm.

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Intuitive eating is not a state of perfection

Intuitive eating is not a state of perfection where everything you do around food is as it “should” be.

If you have a few days where you don’t eat much fresh fruit or veg or fruit, this doesn’t mean you’re failing at eating intuitively, it just means you didn’t eat much fruit or veg.

Likewise, if you happen to eat lots of fresh fruit and veggies the past few days this doesn’t mean you’ve perfected eating intuitively, you just ate more fruit and veg.

If you find yourself over-eating at a meal this doesn’t mean you’re not listening to your appetite cues, quite the contrary as you’re aware of your fullness. This also doesn’t mean you’re failing at intuitive eating, it just means you ate past comfortable fullness.

Recognising you’re full and stopping doesn’t mean you’re being good, it just means you wanted to stop eating.

Suddenly finding yourself starving to realise you missed a meal doesn’t mean you’ve stuffed up with eating intuitively – you simply had other things on your mind, or more pressing issues and you didn’t get a chance to eat.

None of the above examples are right or wrong or good or bad, they are just examples of how our eating can vary depending on your current situation, environment, weather, mood etc.

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You can be an intuitive eater and experience all of these scenarios. In fact intuitive eating is a very fluid state, it can change day to day or it can look very similar, often it sits somewhere in between.

The difference between the intuitive eating mentality and the diet mentality is the intuitive eater doesn’t judge the eating experience as good or bad, or right or wrong. Without the judgement, shame doesn’t arise which makes it easier to stay attuned and trust your body around food.

Judgement creates shame and shame can disconnect you from listening to, and trusting, your body with food. When this happens, eating intuitively can feel impossible. If you’re struggling with self judgement and shame (feeling bad), please look for a non-diet approach dietitian who identifies as a HAES (Health At Every Size) practitioner.

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Want to learn how to nourish your body without having to restrict food? Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

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When the people close to you think this intuitive eating thing, or your dietitian, is just bananas!

Making the decision to stop dieting and stop pursuing weight loss is tough. It’s tough for many reasons including, but not limited too:

  • We are constantly being told this is what we should be doing to look better and feel better
  • It’s (almost) impossible to get through the day without seeing an ad, post, article, blog that mentions some dietary fix or cleanse or some kind of body transformation
  • Many of your friends and work colleagues are talking about it
  • If you have a health issue, the advice is often lose weight, even though there’s no evidence losing weight improves any health condition long term
  • People in fatter bodies are hardly ever represented as happy, healthy, successful or even normal, or even just represented!
  • Our culture’s extreme weight stigma and fat shaming
  • We are all conditioned to believe and feel that being thinner is better

Non-Diet Approach dietitians

I was compelled to write this after one of my clients mentioned yesterday how his partner just doesn’t get the non-diet process and how their comments around food make things that much tougher.

We talked about how it’s completely understandable that his partner doesn’t understand the process. After all, the common wisdom in our culture is change your diet and you’ll lose weight and if you’re paying a dietitian, then that’s what should be happening. Or that if you’re seeing a dietitian, or doing something to improve your health, you’ll eat a certain way. Therefore, the idea that you could choose to eat perceived “unhealthy” food and still be looking after your health, or doing the “right thing”, would seem completely absurd. 

So while my client has actually seen some significant progress in terms of his relationship with food, the ability to practise self compassion, finding new pleasure with cooking and discovering he’s not actually “addicted” to fast food; the partner voiced concern when my client bought some chips at the supermarket. As the chips were being scanned, the partner asked “so how are things going with the dietitian?”

Not for a second am I suggesting the partner was meaning harm by this, but the truth is that such a comment is harmful. My client felt a sense of shame and disappointment that his partner seemed more interested in how things were going with the dietitian, or that they weren’t producing the “results”, than how things going with him.

This reminded me of a something I heard on a podcast recently and that’s how small our conversations become when the focus is on food choices and numbers, be that calories or the scales. How much richer would our conversations be if we talked about how we can change our brains to change our thinking and how we relate to things, the power of self compassion and what it truly means to self-care? Woven into this conversation could be how taking pleasure from food enhances our quality of life.

An important step to navigating comments from others is to pause and and remember they simply don’t understand (yet) what they are saying. They are simply saying, or doing, all the things that our culture has conditioned them to say and do. I used to be that person too. I used to judge others for their food choices and make what I thought were helpful comments around food choices and weight. Being compassionate toward the person who is not understanding, or any judgement, can help you to not get as caught up in the dialogue.

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Want to learn how to nourish your body without having to restrict food? Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

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The 30 day Health Challenge where you get to eat all the food you love!

Health challenges don’t need to involve cutting food from your diet.

In fact, there are many different ways we can take care of our health. This challenge (although it doesn’t need to be a challenge as such), is wholistic in the way it encompasses aspects of physical, mental and emotional health.

 

Here are a bunch of things you can focus on that will boost your physical and mental health over the next 30 days.

Please note: you don’t have to do all of these things in order to care for your health and the ability to do most of these requires a level of privilege where we have a choice, access, freedom and financial capacity.

  • Practice listening to your appetite and aim to eat when you notice physical hunger*
  • Whatever you do choose to eat, practise eating with some mindful awareness of how the food looks, smells, tastes and feels in your body.
  • As often as possible, eat food you enjoy the taste of and that leaves you feeling satisfied.
  • Aim to include some fruit and vegetables in your diet each day
  • Sometimes eat food just because it tastes good without worrying about the nutritional value
  • Cook or prepare more of your own food from scratch
  • Enjoy meals with family or friends a few times per week
  • Eat regular meals or try not to go more than 5 waking hours without eating
  • Aim to get enough sleep most nights
  • Find something you can do daily that involves moving your body in ways you enjoy
  • Do something each day that makes you smile or laugh
  • Offer kindness to a stranger
  • Find at least one thing each day to be grateful for

After all, health is so much more complex than what we eat or our nutrition. Unfortunately, many people sacrifice their mental and emotional health in  the pursuit of physical health. Physical health means little without mental or emotional health.

*If you struggle with this, that’s ok and fairly normal if you’re been dieting, have (or had) and eating disorder, or just aren’t used to listening to your hunger and fullness cues. Learn more about this here.

Excuse the click baity title…

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Want to learn how to nourish your body without having to restrict food? Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today for $9.95

 

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