Reclaiming Your Birthright (Part 1)

An Introduction to Intuitive Eating: Rejecting the Diet Mentality

Posted by: Raquel Griffin

Time to read: 5 minutes

“I just want to eat normally”. In my experience teasing this statement out with folks, I typically learn that what they mean is they don’t want to feel so preoccupied with food, or worried, or scared. They are tired from being at war with food and with their bodies. Many of them want Intuitive Eating, but it feels far off, out-of-reach, out of their capacity.

But, what if I invited you to consider that we’re born Intuitive Eaters? Of course, there are always going to be exceptions to most things, but generally speaking we come out of the womb with much of our intuition (evolutionary and survival responses) when it comes to eating. However, what happens often is that internal wisdom becomes polluted by external factors like diet culture. We learn to disconnect from our bodies and deny our needs and wants. Intuitive Eating is about reclaiming our birthright by shifting focus away from external factors rooted in diet culture and rebuilding trust with our internal wisdom and intuition.

This blogpost is the first entry of a series, an Introduction to Intuitive Eating. To summarize, Intuitive Eating:

  • Its philosophy is rooted in an anti-diet positioning and is aligned with the concepts of Health At Every Size and weight inclusivity.
  • It is comprised of 10 principles that are dynamic in nature (not sequential steps, though the positions of #1 and #10 are intentional)
  • Interoception is the foundational skill of reference; it is the ability to perceive physical sensations that originate from inside the body. 
  • It has a solid footing in research in numerous ways: 
    (a) evidence for the ineffectiveness and damage of diets or intentional weight loss
    (b) is an evidence based approach that demonstrates the benefits of intuitive eaters (220+ studies and counting)
    (c) has a validated assessment tool. 

In this post, I want to focus on explaining the anti-diet positioning of Intuitive Eating, which is related to the first principle of Intuitive Eating, and I’ll pull in some research pieces to corroborate that stance.

The first principle is the most important, Reject the Diet Mentality, where right away things get real specific on why an anti-diet approach can be a helpful cornerstone in your relationship with food repair. Diets do not work, and by this I mean weight loss that can be experienced from dieting is not long lasting. On top of that, the ineffectiveness of dieting is not a neutral quality: diets can cause a lot of harm and damage on our health in a variety of ways.

Dieting and intentional weight loss have been have showing their hand in research for a while now. You can see a non-exhaustive list of some of this research at the end of this post. Way back in 2007 a team of researchers came together to conduct a meta-analysis of all the long term weight loss studies they could find to assess whether long-term weight loss was actually a thing. The results from this meta-analysis, and other research studies since, report a 5-year maximum window where approximately 95% of people will not only regain the weight they did lose from dieting initially, but up to 2/3 of people will actually regain MORE weight than they lost. Let’s recognize for a moment what that means: dieting is more likely to make you fatter in the long-run. Now, this is not meant to demonstrate colluding with diet culture, but instead to point out the ridiculousness of a product that worsens the very “issue” it claims to resolve. Imagine purchasing a water bottle that not only is ineffective in quenching your thirst, but instead actually makes you thirstier. Pretty ineffective product, eh?

So, the diet is the problem itself, yet we are convinced by diet culture that WE are the problem. We are somehow at fault. When the weight inevitably comes back we blame ourselves and try the next diet or “lifestyle change”, and the next, and the next. This often results in weight-cycling: the pattern of weight loss and regain that occurs with chronic dieting. Weight cycling is seldom controlled for in many large studies that associate weight with health issues; this is a major oversight because weight cycling itself is an independent risk factor for many health conditions including: cardiovascular disease, inflammation, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. And what do you know, these health issues often are blamed on one’s weight or fatness, resulting in various prescriptions of the very thing that could be contributing to these health issues = intentional weight loss via dieting and exercise.

In future posts for this series on an introduction to Intuitive Eating, I’ll share more on how the concepts of Health at Every Size and Weight Inclusivity have overlaps with an an-diet approach, some of the benefits of Intuitive Eating that research has shown, Interoception, and more. For now, my hope is maybe reading this has helped you begin to consider a different perspective toward the normalized attempts to shrink our bodies via some rendition of eating less. If you’re feeling exhausted from the never ending pursuit of weight loss, or feeling obsessed with food or eating, know that exploring Intuitive Eating could bring more peace and ease to your food and body relationship. It has the potential to reconnect (or introduce) you to your birthright.

Research references (for dieting being ineffective), a non-exhaustive list:

Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. (2011). Weight science: Evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutrition Journal, (10) 9. DOI: 10.1186/1475-2891-10-9

Dulloo, A. G., Jacquet, J., & Montani, J. (2011). How dieting makes some fatter: from a perspective of human body composition autoregulation. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 71, 379–389. doi:10.1017/S0029665112000225

Field, A. E., Austin, S. B., Taylor, C. B., Malspeis, S., Rosner, B., Rockett, H. R., et. al. (2003). Relation between dieting and weight change among preadolescents and adolescents. Pediatrics, 112, 900– 906.

Fothergill, E., Guo, J., Howard, L., Kerns, J. C.,  Knuth, N. D., Brychta, R., et. al. (2016). Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition. Obesity biology and integrated physiology. doi:10.1002/oby.21538

Mann, T., Tomiyama, A. J., Westling, E., Lew, A., Samuels, B., & Chatman, J. (2007). Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: Diets are not the answer. American Psychologist, The American Psychological Association, 62(3), 220-233. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.62.3.220

Montani, J., Schutz, Y., & Dulloo, A. G. (2015). Dieting and weight cycling as risk factors for cardiometabolic diseases: Who is really at risk? World Obesity, (1), 7–18. doi: 10.1111/obr.12251

Neumark-Sztainer,D., Wall, M., Larson, N. I., Eisenberg, M. E., Loth, K. (2011). Dieting and disordered eating behaviors from adolescence to young adulthood: Findings from a

10-year longitudinal study. Journal of the American Dietetic Association.  doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2011.04.012

O’Hara, L., & Taylor, J. (2018). What’s wrong with the ‘war on obesity?’: A narrative review of the weight-centered health paradigm and development of the 3C framework to build critical competency for a paradigm shift. SAGE open, 1–28. DOI://1d0o.i.1o1rg7/71/02.1157872/241450812484707128878728888

Richmond, T.K., Thurston, I.B., Sonneville, K. R. (2020). Weight-focused public health interventions: No benefit, some harm. JAMA Paediatrics. 

Ross, R., Blair, S., de Lannoy, L., Després, J., Lavie, C. J. (2015). Changing the endpoints for determining effective obesity management. Progress in Cardiovascular diseases, 57, 330–336. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2014.10.002

Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach, 4th ed. St Martin’s Publishing Group: New York.

Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2017). The intuitive eating workbook: ten principles for nourishing a healthy relationship with food. New Harbinger Publications: Oakland.

Pietiläinen, K. H., Saarni, S. E., Kapiro, J., & Rissanen, A. (2011). Does dieting make you fat? A twin study. International Journal of Obesity. doi:10.1038/ijo.2011.160- online publication, 9 August 2011

Wing, R. R., Bolin, P., Brancati, F. L., Bray, G. A., Clark, J. M., Coday, M., et al. (2013). Cardiovascular effects of intensive lifestyle intervention in Type 2 diabetes. The New England Journal of Medicine, 369, 145-54. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1212914

New Year New View: A Dietitian’s Take on Challenging Diet Culture

Posted by: Courtenay Vickers RD
Time to read: 8 minutes

What is diet culture anyway?

Diet culture can be defined in many ways. I’ve been an RD (short for Registered Dietitian) for the past 10 years, and adopted a weight-inclusive lens with my practice about 6 years ago. I’ll preface this blog (as I did in my recent webinar) that I am constantly learning more about what diet culture is, how it shows up, and what to do instead.

When asked this question (re: what is diet culture anyway) I often reply by saying something to the effect of: diet culture is the harmful belief that certain body shapes and sizes are better than others, and there’s a “right” way of eating. To which I typically get the follow up question of “but you’re a dietitian, isn’t there a right way of eating?”. My response from here can get quite nuanced, depending on the audience – in short, there is no one-size-fits-all way of eating, because bodies are meant to be incredibly diverse and different! Not to mention everyone’s unique relationship with food, cultural connections and traditions with food, access to food, etc.

One definition of diet culture that I keep coming back to is by Christy Harrison:

“Diet culture is a system of beliefs that:

  • – Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”
  • – Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.
  • – Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.
  • – Oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health.”
https://christyharrison.com/blog/what-is-diet-culture

Diet culture in the new year

So, now that we have a bit more of an idea of what diet culture is, here’s a short list of various ways I’m seeing diet culture show up so far in 2024:

  • Overemphasis on getting “strong”
  • Influx of “clean eating”
  • Overambitious fitness goals
  • Bigger emphasis on dietary supplements
  • More orthorexic tendencies
  • Orthorexia = an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating
  • Sudden removal of entire food groups
  • Increased use of calorie-tracking apps + smart watches
  • Health washing + green washing on food labels
  • X # of day challenges related to food and/or fitness
  • “Watching” what you eat
  • More labelling of foods as good/bad, healthy/unhealthy
  • Lifestyle changes and wellness journeys

Here’s an interesting fact to highlight diet culture’s prevalence: according to Forbes, the top New Year’s resolutions in 2024 include improved fitness, losing weight, and improved diet.

I think it’s important to note that while there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with these resolutions, I find they are often fueled by diet culture and can perpetuate, worsen, or ignite eating disorder behaviours.

Why I’m concerned as a weight-inclusive dietitian in the eating disorder space

I’m concerned because diet culture can often be a precursor to eating disorders, and can perpetuate disordered eating behaviours. I think it’s important to mention that many factors can spur a full-blown eating disorder, such as genetics, food insecurity, trauma, and more (this is probably a topic for another blog post). And, diet culture is, unfortunately, a common piece that shows up along the way either in the development or recovery from an eating disorder. 

Challenging diet culture

Depending on where you are at with your journey to healing, you may have already started to challenge diet culture! I’ve compiled below a short list of ways I commonly find helpful to challenge diet culture (whether you’re starting this for the first time, or perhaps you are further along):

  • Learning more about the harms of diet culture
  • Setting boundaries (with yourself and/or others)
  • Stop labelling foods in binaries such as good/bad, or healthy/unhealthy
  • Take time to check in with yourself
  • Practice self-compassion
  • Get curious about a non-diet approach (or similar)

Here’s a short list of some keywords you may find helpful to guide your own reading and research as you start to learn more and challenge diet culture:

  • Anti-diet
  • Intuitive Eating
  • Body Liberation
  • Non-diet
  • Weight-inclusive
  • Health At Every Size®
  • Fat Positive

What to do next

A big (non-exhaustive) list of specific things you may or may not want to try instead of participating in diet culture this new year:

  • Eat regularly throughout the day. For some, this might look like multiple meals and snacks throughout the day. This might mean seeking help from a trusted support person, or a professional such as a dietitian. 
  • Integrate challenge foods, if you find there are foods in your life that are holding some sort of power over you. This might be foods that you are fearful of, foods you avoid completely, or foods that you often feel ‘out of control’ around. Integrating challenge foods is something that I typically only recommend once we are getting enough food in regularly first, and then slowly integrating the challenge foods one at a time in a structured way. 
  • Play with movement in a way that feels good for you and your body (only if this is medically appropriate and accessible for you).
  • Work on staying appropriately hydrated. What this might mean is ensuring you are drinking adequate fluids (or high fluid food sources) throughout the day. Watch out for overdoing it with caffeine as this can cause dehydration. 
  • Prioritize rest! And not just sleeping enough at night, but allowing space to rest during your waking hours. For some this might mean taking a nap, allowing yourself to ‘do nothing’ for an afternoon, or perhaps it’s pausing what you are doing for a few minutes periodically throughout the day to slow down and check-in with yourself.
  • Take time to explore your relationship with food and body. This might mean journaling, talking about this in therapy or with a dietitian, or reflecting on your own. 
  • Cultivate self-compassion ❤️ I truly believe we can’t talk about nutrition without talking about self-compassion. Nourishing ourselves and challenging diet culture is not always an easy thing to do. And at times, it can feel like a struggle. Can we work towards being kind and gentle with ourselves as we navigate all the sticky murky bits?
  • Challenge your food rules – especially if you find there are specific rules/patterns/or behaviours related to your eating getting in the way of recovery.
  • Re-evaluate your use of the scale and set limits around this. Many find it helpful to hide the scale, reduce the frequency of how often you use it, or get rid of it entirely. If it’s absolutely medically necessary to be weighed, consider these limits or have it done blindly at a clinic.
  • Put away diet apps and/or fitness trackers/watches. As a dietitian, I rarely find these pieces of tech actually helpful, and, if anything, they often cause an unnecessary focus and obsession with food/movement.
  • Curate your social media to better support your pro-recovery and anti-diet goals
  • Pick up a workbook or book related to ED recovery and/or an anti-diet approach
  • Improve your sleep hygiene. For some this might mean developing a bedtime routine, sticking to a sleeping schedule, or reducing caffeine intake.
  • Try a support group geared towards eating disorder recovery, body image, or intuitive eating (depending on where you are at and what fits best). 
  • Get professional help from an eating disorder registered dietitian, therapist, social worker, nurse practitioner, family doctor, or psychiatrist. 

I hope that by the time you are done reading this, something has stood out to you. Whether it’s a small takeaway, a new learning to ponder, or a new perspective on a familiar theme, I hope this has resonated with those reading. 

For anyone wanting to dig a little bit deeper, I’ll end with a few reflective prompts below.

Reflective prompts to help you challenge diet culture:

Whether or not journaling in a pen-and-paper way is your thing, these reflective prompts may be helpful as you work on challenging diet culture and healing your relationship with food and body:

  • How has diet culture shown up for you in your life?
  • What would it be like to step away from diet culture?
  • What’s the scariest part of challenging diet culture for you?
  • Who or what might be helpful to you during this process?
  • What’s one small thing you can do this month to challenge diet culture in your life?

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