"THE UN-DIET" | Making PEACE with our Food. By Lauresa Larson, RDN, LD
Let's Talk About Diet Culture
Diet culture stems from the multi-billion dollar "health, wellness and beauty" industries.
These industries make money on making people, especially women and girls, feel inadequate.
So we feel the need to spend money on diet programs, products, clothing, cosmetics and our precious time obsessing about changing our bodies to fit the thin ideal.
All of that turns into cultural norms, history and tradition.
Like the cultural norm of starting a new diet on January 1st.
Or the cultural norms of party conversations sounding like this:
- “That looks delicious but it’s sooo bad for me”
- “I shouldn’t be eating this”
- “I need to lose 5-15 pounds”
- *Praising thinness at all costs*
- “Oh you were sick in the hospital for a month and lost all that weight? Lucky!”
- *Many people with eating disorders aren’t getting the treatment they need because our culture praises the very behaviors that keep them sick.*
There's a long history of diet culture actively encouraging, especially women and young girls, to be as small as possible. "Don’t make any waves. Don’t think for yourself. Don’t take up space."
By the way, it’s not your mom’s fault.
We’re all sitting in this long held tradition and very much thriving industry.
And guess what, it’s an excellent business plan to sell something that promises weight loss. Why? Because the vast majority of weight loss efforts fail and backfire sometime between 6 months and five years (sooner if it’s not your first diet).
Weight loss always plateaus and for 2/3rds of people, dieting causes weight gain.
The diet industry messaging is so good that we actually believe that we failed the diet plan. If we could’ve just had a little more willpower. So we try it again, and again, and again. What a profitable business plan.
So, the Un-Diet. Huh?
Imagine any meal plan, rigid exercise plan, “lifestyle intervention”, diet, “trying to just eat healthy”, “eating clean”, or any attempt at weight loss as a bandwagon. You hop on, you follow the rules, then life happens.
You fall off the wagon. It hurts.
It might look like nighttime bingeing. Maybe it looks like “taking a break” or “giving up”. Maybe it looks like not moving your body for months. Until the next diet comes along. Super not fun, and for all the “feeling great” while being on the wagon, the feeling super crappy in between rides ain’t fun. It’s a roller coaster.
So what if there was no wagon?
What if you could learn and experiment with the best way to take care of your body and view every “misstep” as a learning experience?
It hurts much less to trip and fall off your feet, than to fall all the way off a wagon. And it’s much easier to stand back up again.
On your own two feet, you are in charge of your unique journey.
Remember, weight is a symptom, not a behavior. So I give you permission to let go of the scale, the body measurements, and that full length mirror where you analyze your naked body.
Your unique body and life situation means that no prescribed plan can be the answer to all of your problems.
This New Year, consider committing to resist the urge to jump on a wagon. If it feels like a wagon, then it’s a diet.
Come Take a Dip in Intuitive Eating.
Intuitive Eating is a framework that can be massively helpful on your un-diet journey. It’s not a diet because weight loss, flat stomachs and thigh gaps aren’t part of the rhetoric. There are no lists of “good” and “bad” foods. The goal of intuitive eating is to remove all the food drama and give you space to take care of your body in whatever way is important to you.
A Helpful Place to Start: What Kind of Eater Are You?
Yes, you can be multiple types. And yes, your type can shift many times depending on what life looks like for you.
Unconscious Eater Types:
1.The Unconscious chaotic eater
a. This person typically has a very busy lifestyle. Often they don’t eat for long periods of time. When hunger strikes, it’s often ignored until the hunger is overwhelming. Picture: eating out of the pantry standing up.
2.The unconscious emotional eater
a. Emotional eating is a NORMAL part of life. But avoiding dealing with emotions entirely is a recipe for disaster. When food is the ONLY coping mechanism and a person doesn’t even taste or experience food, that’s when unconscious emotional eating creates a barrier between that person and an emotionally healthy life.
3.The refuse- not unconscious eater
a. This person can’t turn down the food at work or sitting on the kitchen counter, even when they are totally full and don’t want the food at all.
4.The waste - not unconscious eater
a. This person is an honorary member of the clean plate club. So many of us grew up with rules centered around not wasting food! We have a long history, stemming from the great depression, and there’s a real fear that continues the tradition of “clean your plate!”. While wasting food isn’t the goal, there’s also no point in wasted eaten food that you didn’t want or weren’t hungry for.
The Professional Dieter
The professional dieter has tried virtually every diet. A regular bandwagon rider, they’ve experienced dieting backlash and weight cycling. This person knows every “rule” ever created and the calories of foods they eat. They probably experience a shorter and shorter ability to stay on a diet and they are fairly disconnected with their body’s inner signals.
The Careful Eater
This person is very careful when they eat in front of other people to only eat a certain amount or stick to only “clean” foods. Eating alone often turns into breaking all the “rules” and feeling out of control. Maybe they eat very carefully in public and at home Monday through Friday, then “let go” on the weekends.
The Intuitive Eater
We were all born intuitive eaters, without guilt, shame or food rules. We lived in and loved our bodies because we weren’t taught that they were wrong. Intuitive eaters honor their hunger and fullness, find satisfaction in eating and enjoy the pleasure and social connection of eating.
What type of eater do you identify with the most right now?
Depending on what you’re currently struggling with, there are different strategies to help you become a more confident, consistent eater.
For example, I might recommend that someone struggling with chaotic unconscious eating try setting a reminder in a calendar or with a person to sit down to a meal on a plate once a day. Practice equals progress. I'd also encourage that person to find who they can ask for help to ease some of the chaos!
If you're a waste-not eater, it's time to think about leaving the clean plate club! I know it's much easier said than done. While saving leftovers is great, sometimes your brain needs a clear shift to remember that there's plenty of food to go around (if you're privileged enough for that to be true). You might practice throwing away your kid's sandwich bits or just one bite of food off your own plate. Your brain will realize that you're perfectly fine and the world didn't end.
Remember that the point is to give your body permission to feel fullness and be done eating based on your body's cues. This strategy is NOT a method to eat less. We learn to honor our hunger and find satisfaction in intuitive eating as well.
It can be really hard to stop eating when we feel restricted in any way. That's why making peace with food and truly having unconditional permission to eat ALL foods is a fundamental principle! If you know with all your heart that chocolate chip cookies will be available in two hours when you're hungry again, then you will no longer have a "chocolate chip cookie problem"!
Let's talk about lack of food.
Every single influence of diet culture I mentioned in this article is compounded by not having enough food to eat, enough access to variety, fresh foods, time and space in which to cook. Diet culture on top of poverty is a huge problem.
So if you find yourself in this spot, know that you have permission to be kind to yourself and do your best.
For everyone who does have great access to food, it's our responsibility to make life easier for those who don't. Its a complicated issue, but we can definitely help by quitting the diet talk and supporting each others unique bodies.
A great place to start that I recommend to anyone is to pick up a copy of Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch! Skip right to chapter 7, Principle Three: Make Peace with Food to start, then go from there.
Consider joining me for the Un-Diet Workshop on January 24th in Centerton, AR. We’ll be using every minute to help you make progress toward becoming an intuitive eater through mindfulness exercises, story sharing, writing exercises, and a nourishing dinner. You will leave with new friends, understanding, and courage to be kind to your body again.
Lauresa Larson has a weight-neutral private practice in Centerton, AR and regularly writes and shares with her community. Work with her or join the community here.
ABOUT | Lauresa
Lauresa is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who works with individuals and families who want to calm down around food make sustainable progress toward their unique definition of health. She does this by using a compassionate approach to nutrition therapy rooted in Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size. Lauresa lives in Centerton, AR with three preschoolers, two dogs, one husband, and lots of plants and projects. She likes to remind everyone, "You get to choose"!