During the 80s and 90s, diets ruled.
Losing weight, no matter how, was considered a good thing. I did my first real diet when I was 18, the summer after high school. I lost 25 lbs, easily, and I finally looked like the dancer I wanted to be. I received all kinds of praise for the changes in my body, especially from the people who loved me. But, the dieting was a full-time job and took center stage in my mental and emotional energy. I didn’t understand why other people weren’t dieting. Afterall, it was easy. If all you did, and all you thought about, was food and exercise, you, too, could be really thin! I knew it was probably weird that I would walk to the grocery store and look at and touch all the food I wasn’t going to eat, but, hey, I looked great, so it must be ok, right?
What I now know is that every subsequent attempt to shrink and control my body shape and size was harder and harder. It was also sending messages to my metabolism. These messages said that there often isn’t enough food. So my body, all on it’s own and without my permission, raised my weight set point and lowered my metabolism, and sent me increasing messages of hunger and decreased messages of satiety.
Turns out, my obsession with food wasn’t some weird thing. It’s what happens when we fight our body’s natural signals for food. It drives us to pursue it all the time. Then we become at war with our selves and our biology. It is a war we will ultimately lose in one way or another.
Intuitive Eating is a well-established and well-researched way of returning to our natural relationship with food. The book, first published in 1994 (the year of my first diet), offers ten principles for intuitive eating. Each principle is designed to bring us back into alignment with a truly healthy relationship with food.
I had to learn that healthy does not equal thin. We can be Healthy At Every Size and we can be unhealthy at every size. Weight is not a primary determinant of health. For many people, a return to intuitive eating means a change in body size and composition. It can mean a decrease in weight. It can mean an increase. Understandably, given the intractability of diet culture all around us, these changes can be difficult.
Five Tips for Coping with Weight Gain When We Stop Restricting:
- Know your Why. The most powerful way we can support ourselves through our intuitive eating healing journey is to know our “Why.” Why are we doing this? For many people, the answers lie in improvements to our mental health, our relationships, our daily living experience, and how we feel holistically. Revisiting this daily will help balance the feelings we may have about changes in our bodies.
- Focus on how you feel. Identify all the ways in which you feel better physically and emotionally when you are well-nourished. Are you enjoying going out to eat with friends without worrying about sticking to your diet? Does it feel good to explore foods that used to be off-limits, especially traditional foods for holidays and celebrations? Is it exciting to have mental and emotional energy freed up from obsessing about food and weight? Focus on these benefits.
- Buy clothes that fit. It is hard to feel good in our bodies when our clothes do not fit. Today, there are wonderful, stylish clothes available in a wide range of sizes. Enjoy styling yourself in ways that compliment your features that you like best!
- Follow creators and influencers that send messages of body positivity and body neutrality. We need to counteract the influence of the bombardment of diet culture messages we receive from media, medical providers, and friends and family. Curating our social media and podcasts to include a healthy dose of body positive and body neutral messaging is a great way to change how we think and feel about our bodies.
- Focus on what your body can do. Begin exploring movement that feels good to your body. Think of your body as a vehicle for relationship. What might that mean to you? What if your body belonged to you for your purposes and not for the purpose of being acceptable or consumed by others? How would you see your body differently?
Finally, be kind and gentle with yourself. We didn’t get here overnight and we won’t heal overnight. Find community where people understand what you are doing and why, but also how you feel when it’s hard. You deserve to feel healthy and whole. You deserve to be nourished and take up space. You deserve to belong to yourself.