My friend sent me an article about intuitive eating. It was titled "What Happens to Your Brain when you go on a Diet" by nbcnews. Articles like this intrigue and disgust me. We all know that diets aren't as trendy anymore. So it says all the right things against dieting such as dieting makes you gain weight, and everyone has a set point weight that the body wants to get back to after dieting. They also make note that the “calories in and calories out” is “old”, and they even mention that you can maintain a healthy diet and gain weight which is true. They warn of bingeing in reaction to deprivation and how the stress hormones from dieting can impact your health. They mention how dieting makes you stop listening to your body’s own cues. They even say that being slim doesn’t mean you're healthy – they say it in parentheses (as if they don’t really want to say that). It all sounds like they are against dieting – right?
Then the car goes off the road. They start saying things like you can lower your set point so you body is “happy carrying around less fat”. I'd like to see the evidence that supports this claim. They say “Eating a diet of unrefined lower calorie density and simple foods is key” – and that differs from a calorie restrictive diet in what way?
Eat grilled zucchini and not fried and eat plain nuts, not candied, they recommend. Healthier? Perhaps – but is it enjoyable and sustainable to be monitoring and judging your food? Is it satisfying? Isn’t this the exact thing that leads to deprivation and activates stress hormones? Didn’t you just say that you're going to gain weight back anyway – despite the “healthier” habits if your body wants to get back to its set point? Oh wait – they say you can lower your set point. Little bit of a problem there, since you can't.
This article says that your cues are going to naturally lead you to diet and exercise to lose weight. Wow – I don’t think I have ever read such an insidious co-opting of intuitive eating to support dieting before. This article should come with warning labels. It is bullshit to say that your cues will lead to weight loss and so damaging to people in bigger bodies who read this and continue to think now they must not be listening to their personal cues correctly either if they aren't losing weight. It’s even worse when articles like this say don’t diet and then essentially prescribe all the behaviors in a diet. Not to mention the perpetuation that we should all want to lose weight anyway.
It’s amazing – in one sentence they say to use intuitive eating and then they link to an article about “healthy habits” which is essentially a guy on a diet. And he is on it right now. Which means everything is rosy. He is losing weight and is in the honeymoon phase. What is this article going to say in a year or two when the weight is creeping back on, the healthy habits are harder to maintain and life has made him too busy to keep up with 150 minutes of activity a week? They conclude with “want to eat better?” and link to 4 articles all promoting orthorexic type eating. And oh my god – showing pictures of people who are so thin you can see their insides on the outside. And then suggesting you brush your teeth, yell the kitchen is closed and drink tea every night so you don’t throw away a day of willpower in three hours of “weakness”. This is diet mentality!! When you feed yourself throughout the day, there is no willpower needed and you are not drawn to the kitchen like a magnet at night.
I find this article insanely damaging for its perpetuation of diet culture. And don’t get me started on why everyone wants to lose weight – because it ain’t for their health. It’s because the world is fat phobic and obsessed with the idea that we should all look exactly the same.
So as a chronic dieter, when I read an article like this – my first instinct, from years of conditioning, is to think – oh wow – some good ideas here – I really need to buckle down and change my behaviors. Then I realize what is happening, I am being sucked into diet culture hype again. And then I get really pissy when I remember why people are so focused on dieting in the first place – the stigma, the oppression, the phobia, the discrimination – it makes me ill.
But in case an article like this triggers you too into thinking there is something you can be doing that you aren’t doing – here are the old trigger points (and my counter points) that the article and all its links brought up for me:
Trigger 1 - That you can change your set point. Actually – they even claim that you can lower your set point. Yes – you can change it – you can make it go higher with dieting and exercising, but no one has ever found a way to lower it safely and naturally and permanently. I’m not even sure how they can make that statement in the article. I would like to see the research supporting that claim.
Trigger 2 - The idea that I can retrain my taste buds to like beet chips more than potato chips for example. This freaks me out thinking it’s all on me again and I need to force feed myself veggies I don’t like up to 10 times so I can start to like them. Sends me right down the rabbit hole of despair. I don’t want to eat that! My satisfaction and enjoyment of food, not to mention my sanity, is going to make me healthier than force feeding myself vegetables I don’t like.
Trigger 3 - They suggest if I work harder at the old adage "eat less and move more", I will lose weight. "Eat less and move more" is the same as "calories in and calories out" and they are both simplistic and outdated and neither leads to lasting weight loss. At the beginning of the article, they poo poo "calories in and calories out" but then they support "eat less and move more", when they are, in essence, the same thing.
Trigger 4 - The linked article by the health editor talks of big portions and “diet sabotage” with sweets. Sweets are not diet sabotage if you are not dieting!! But these are my hidden fears too. He has captured my old dieter’s heart here. Of course it must be sweets and my portions. (But wait- let’s not mention the fact that he has been fat his whole adult life and likely that is part genetics and part trying to lose weight and being on a diet in the first place and restricting both sweets and portions. His weight is escalating because he keeps trying to fight it.) I know this dude is still stuck in the perpetual diet cycle and can’t see his way out of the paper bag but he is pushing my buttons. It’s his thinking that this is a struggle in the first place that is the problem. Not the weight. I can see that now but the typical dieter would agree with him and want to join him in his disordered behavior – and I worry about that person.
Trigger 5 - Oh man – then he throws in the word obese – which is offensive and people should be taught not to use it to describe themselves, (it means eating until fat – that is so fucked up but I don’t think people actually know that).
Trigger 6 - And then he throws in the fear of chronic disease to make everyone panic even more. It is not true that every fat person is going to die from a chronic disease. Do thin people get these diseases too? (Umm – yeah.)
Trigger 7 - Oh jeez – did he just say lifestyle change? He has already tried to lose weight and with “consistent effort, nagging frustration, and constant thought” – he lost 5 pounds in 2 years, but this time is different! Now he has changed his lifestyle! Wow – so glad to know that’s all we have to do! And now he has proceeded to do exactly the same things that he did before – eat less and move more. Gahhhhh!
Trigger 8 - He is living by “rules” for his experiment. Not even implicit rules – literally – rules set up by exercise and nutrition experts. He is not learning to trust his own body. He is moving because they told him to, doing what they told him to and how much they told him to. He is likely building another layer of resentment towards moving at all. (I can’t wait to see how this plays out.)
Trigger 9 - He is counting calories and macronutrients and cutting fat. For fuck’s sake people, that is a diet!
Trigger 10 - “I learned that perfection is unattainable, but balance over time is certainly possible.” Thank you for the reminder to notice and judge what I am eating, not only in one meal but all the time. Hello fear, stress, guilt and shame!
Trigger 11 - He talks about the metabolic health improvements with losing 5% of body weight – but does he mention that that is often a temporary phenomenon and they go back to where they were after 6-18 months?
Trigger 12 - And what is most damning is what this guy is not saying. He tells us what he weighed as of March 1, 2017 when he lost 5% of his body weight. This article came out on Aug 24. Why is he not saying what his weight is now? That would really help his case to show he is 6 months in and still losing wouldn’t it? Hmmm – I wonder why he didn’t include that? And why didn’t he talk about how much he exercises now and how awesome it is and how easy everything is going? And how much happier he is and how life is now stress free? And why didn’t he mention that he now feels whole and fulfilled as a person because everything is perfect now right?
Because he is likely starting to struggle and is freaking out and still has to print this article by a deadline without lying. If anyone is on twitter go ask this dude what he weighs now. And then ask him to check in every 6 months for the next 3-5 years and tell us how it’s going. All of it – the weight, the movement, the calorie counting, the macronutrient tracking, the balance of meals over time, his stress levels, his mood, his mental state, his ability to enjoy life, his social life and relationships, and his ability to eat a Valentine’s meal without freaking out. And then tell him to write the article about his lifestyle project. That is the article I want to read.
If you struggle with wanting to lose weight – and you think these articles have anything useful to add to the conversation – please know that they don’t and they are perpetuating your fear and confusion. If you really want to know what intuitive eating looks like or how to be healthy – start with the books Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon and then talk to people who actually know what they are talking about (like me).