Back in 2003, I was working at Starbucks in Seattle. I loved, loved being a barista. The upbeat conversations with customers and the camaraderie we felt between our teammates as we rushed to meet the demands of a busy weekday morning was the perfect combination of fun and challenge. The only issue was that the baked treats and delicious pastries were always right under my nose, quite literally. Having barely left my teens, I was still in a constant struggle with body image and these treats plagued my self control non-stop.
Around this time, however, I also started a 1,000 calorie diet, which was one of many semi-successful, highly dangerous diets on which I would embark in my 20s. One day, I was sitting in the back office on my lunch break and I wanted a shortbread cookie. You know, those little ones that come in packs of two? They are buttery, sweet, and really delicious. However, I wouldn’t let myself eat them. After all, I had already reached my self-imposed calorie limit for the day and wouldn’t let myself budge one calorie over. As hard as I tried, I could not stop thinking about the cookie. I just couldn’t. I sat there yelling at myself to be strong, to have some willpower, and to think ‘skinny.’ I told myself that if I lost some weight I would like myself more or that the cute guy I met at my friend’s wedding would finally ask me out.
I never ate the cookie. I felt really proud of my ‘willpower.’ I lost some weight.
But, guess what? My life stayed the same. I didn’t like myself any better and that guy never asked me out. 15 years later, I still think about that moment and I feel really sad for that girl. Not because her life didn’t improve (it did, but that improvement didn’t come because she lost weight) or because that handsome guy never asked her out. Rather, I feel sad for all the time she wasted thinking about that stupid, damn cookie.
3 years ago, I bought a book called Passionate Nutrition: A Guide to Using Food as Medicine from a Nutritionist Who Healed Herself from the Inside Out by Seattle based nutritionist, Jennifer Adler. It is a wonderful book that introduced me to the concept of true nutrition and the power of Intuitive Eating. In the book, Jennifer mentions coming home from a holiday and craving butter. Trusting her body, based on her knowledge of Intuitive Eating, she sat down with a whole stick of butter and ate it. I couldn’t believe a nutritionist was writing about eating a stick of butter because her ‘body told her to.’ I was totally intrigued. I wondered when I last listened to my body. Had I ever listened to my body?
That book made me think back to the 20-year-old girl who really wanted that shortbread cookie and wouldn’t let herself eat it. Then I took a step back and realized that, at 31, I was still berating myself for things like eating too much sugar or gaining too much weight after the birth of my first baby. I was still doing drastic (though mildly less dangerous) diets like the Whole30, Paleo, and dabbling with Weight Watchers. I was really, really good at all of them. I always lost weight. I loved the control over my food, I loved the stability of knowing the ‘rules’ and genuinely thought I was having fun and getting healthy. But was I really ‘healthy’? Was I ever really solving the root cause of my weight gain? Nope.
Jennifer Adler’s book resonated so strongly with me that I continued down the rabbit hole. I read Intuitive Eating and then Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, and began to take a good, hard look at my eating habits. Based on the ideas presented in these books, I stopped examining what I was eating, and shifted my focus to examine my experience of eating. They argue that starting any ‘diet’ restricts your food choices, puts you in a mindset of feast or famine where you will be more inclined to binge on tasty treats, and that once engaged in dieting behaviour, we start thinking of food choices as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, demonizing whatever food we deem as ‘unhealthy’, and berating ourselves when our willpower runs out. The way out of this nasty cycle: stop dieting for good, throw out your scale, and start listening to your body.
In beginning to practice shifting out of the diet mindset, I suddenly realized that focusing on making myself thin was a total waste of time, energy, and willpower. Not to mention an absolute drain on the already meagre amount of self-indulgent fun and pleasure that having two young children affords a person. This process helped me realized that I have so much more to offer the world than my thinness. I don’t want to be doing the binge/restrict diet cycle for the rest of my life. I don’t want to struggle with how much I eat (and what I eat) for my whole life. I want to get off the ride now, please. It is exhausting and it’s making me feel sick.
Stay tuned for the second part of this post next Saturday, where I will talk more about what Intuitive Eating looks like and how you can break the diet cycle forever.
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