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Is dieting one of your New Year’s resolutions this year? How has it been so far halfway through January? If you’re still at it, good for you. But if you’ve decided to stop, that’s even better. That may have sounded unexpected but you’ll know why it’s better to vow to stop dieting than to start one.
I used to be one of the many people who would add “start a diet” or “lose weight” in their New Year’s resolutions every year. And every time, I would find myself “failing” at it. Then I would vow to try again when a new month or even a new week started.
I’ve been doing it for at least the past 15 years (I’m 31 now) until I just grew tired of it at the tail end of 2021. I grew tired of spending money, energy, and emotions on every new diet only to end up feeling worse than before I started.
That’s when I thought of shifting my focus away from losing weight to making peace with food. I finally wanted to stop dieting.
While researching about this topic, I stumbled upon the book called Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach by nutritionists Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Reesch. The book promises to help its readers make peace with food, free themselves from chronic dieting forever, and rediscover the pleasures of eating.
The concept of intuitive eating
It’s as the title suggests. The book is telling us to be more intuitive about how we eat. This includes listening to our hunger signals and honoring it, eating only until we feel comfortably full, and shockingly, letting ourselves eat whatever we want, whenever we want it.
Compared to diets that would strictly restrict you from eating certain foods like sugar and carbs or only allow you a certain number of calories per day, the intuitive eating concept would sound to you like your friend’s cool mom.
I thought it was too good to be true at first. I was used to reading diet tips that tell me to throw away any “unhealthy” snacks around the house, weigh my food, read the nutrition labels, eat only within a small window of time, eat only before a certain time, allow myself only smaller portions of food, follow a meal plan or in other words, try to live less like a human being.
It also doesn’t tell the readers to do intensive exercises for certain minutes our hours every day, but instead, engage in gentle movements that make the body feel good. Looking at exercise as a form of movement to make us feel good instead of to lose weight instantly makes doing it more attractive.
This is because Intuitive Eating’s main message is to break free from all these rules. Freeing ourselves from these rules will free us from the power that food and the deeply-rooted diet culture hold over us, too.
Breaking free from the diet culture
The book writes about how dieters think that it’s their lack of willpower that’s keeping them from succeeding in their diets. But in fact, it’s because diets are counterintuitive to how the body naturally works.
Our bodies are in a default survival mode. Feed it well and it will feel safe and secure. Starve it and it will aggressively ask for more food. The authors, nutritionists, Tribole and Reesch, say that this is the reason why dieters are prone to binge eating a few days into a diet. The feeling of food deprivation activates the body’s panic mode.
On the other hand, if we practice intuitive eating where we eat when we feel hungry – even if that’s outside of our designated meal times – and eat what we want, we will feel satisfied and know when we’ve had enough.
It’s easier said than done, of course. The diet culture has greatly influenced the way we eat. We label foods as good and bad in terms of what would make us fat and what won’t. And this diet culture is not just limited to advertisements or mainstream media. It’s also very much embedded within our families. What’s worse, we get exposed to diet culture in the family as young kids and take it with us as we grow older.
We would hear people close to us say we’ve gotten fat or that we’re eating too much “junk” food. They would comment on photos we post on social media or approach us during family gatherings to talk to us about our weight instead of asking how we’ve been. And if they’re not talking to us, we hear them talk about others or themselves in the same light.
This is one of the main triggers of unhealthy dieting, and most of the time, emotional distress. I, myself have gained weight after getting married and have since avoided sharing photos of myself that show my body. And last year, instead of feeling excited that we could finally see some of our family members for Christmas, I dreaded those gatherings where I did receive comments on my weight.
Surprisingly, complimenting a person because he or she lost weight could also trigger a diet response. They would feel the need to keep dieting to maintain their weight because they feel more valued instead of looked down upon that way.
As long as a person’s weight and body image are the topics of discussion, it will affect people, especially chronic dieters, negatively.
Quitting dieting once and for all
I’ve only been practicing intuitive eating for a few weeks and so far I’ve noticed myself relax around food. I allowed myself to eat the food I liked during Christmas and my birthday even if that’s cake or ice cream. And I’ve been allowing myself to eat what I used to consider as just “celebration” foods even on days without any special occasion.
The book suggests that by assuring myself that I am allowed to eat whatever I want, whenever I want it, I wouldn’t feel the need to hoard or stuff myself full like it’s the last time I’ll be able to eat these foods. And I can see that now.
I used to restrict myself from buying “special” foods except on weekends. Now that I honor my different kinds of hunger – which sometimes includes hunger for a certain taste – I feel good about having just a small serving that I know I would enjoy. I no longer feel the need to finish a pint of my favorite ice cream in one sitting. I’m now aware that it’s only fun after a few spoonfuls and that I can have some again later if I want to.
I’m also beginning to realize the kinds of food that I truly like. It turns out that some banned foods that I used to crave were only attractive just because they’re, well, banned. Apparently, I don’t like a lot of food. Now that I know which ones I like, eating has become more satisfying.
I know that I still have a long way to go. But I’ll be kinder to myself this time – this is also one of the reminders in Intuitive Eating. It wouldn’t be easy to unlearn years worth of habits after reading one book.
It even says that we might find ourselves falling to our old habits of emotional eating and that’s ok too. Unlike in some diets, it doesn’t mean that you’re “failing” at intuitive eating – because it’s not a diet. It only signals that we might need to address other underlying problems.
The moment we remove our focus on food, we’ll find other areas in our life that need healing, too. And that to me is a much better New Year’s resolution. – Rappler.com