the dark side of diets

There’s often a feeling of excitement about starting a new diet, right? It almost feels like a whole new world of possibilities is within your grasp. It’s going to solve all your problems — boost your confidence, land you that dream job, find your prince charming. Except it doesn’t.

We try out this diet for a day, a week, a month, whatever. We may or may not lose weight. But our life doesn’t magically turn into a fairytale. Because our weight does not determine our fate. You can be confident, powerful, + worthy of love at any size.

As you seek out the diet, you may be coming from a place of frustration with your current size or habits, then, once you fail, you end up feeling worthless + incompetent.

But you did not fail. The diet failed. Because they don’t work.

You know what else doesn’t work? “Lifestyle changes” pretending not to be diets. If a new lifestyle causes you to eliminate certain foods, let exercise rule your life, allow food thoughts to consume you — it’s probably still a diet, don’t be fooled.

Yet we try and try again. Quickly falling into the yo-yo diet cycle. You know what’s not good for us? Yo-yo dieting. Losing + regaining weight repeatedly. There’s a variety of studies showing how this may negatively affect our metabolism, fat distribution, and overall long-term health.

Not only does this have negative physical impacts, but what about our mental health? One of the biggest predictors of developing disordered eating is going on a diet. Too often they cause us to become obsessed with food, exercise, + our body.

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One of the most popular pieces of research cited regarding this topic is the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. While not an ethical method for obtaining data that we can repeat today, its outcomes show us a lot. In 1944, Ancel Keys took 36 men (described as “conscientious objectors of World War II”) and put them on a calorie restricted diet aka semi-starvation.

Here’s some of what happened to the men during this period of starvation:
  • Depression + anxiety
  • Weakness + fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Decreased heart rate + body temperature
  • Food obsession

The men started partaking in what we often consider to be disordered eating behaviors such as cutting food into very small pieces, eating very slowly or very quickly, sneaking food, etc. They started spending significant amounts of time studying cookbooks — almost the equivalent of us drooling over Pinterest at foods we would never “allow ourselves.”

So, what happened to the men after they started eating more? Many of them ate significantly more daily than prior to the study. Some even reporting episodes of very high intakes, which may be binge eating. This makes sense as their bodies are trying to recover from a period of deprivation.

Similar problems can happen when we go on a diet. We start restricting + it signals our brain + body that we are starving. Then, we “fall off the wagon.” We might binge or overeat past feeling full + satisfied. We get mad at ourselves for not having the willpower to stick to the diet.

But wait. It’s not about willpower here. Eating a large amount of food after restriction is a normal, physiological reaction. Our bodies are sensing starvation so of course they are going to drive us towards food ASAP — merely for self-preservation. But then, we feel bad for overeating and we restrict again — and then binge. Thus, the restrict-binge cycle binge restrict cycleSo, you’re probably thinking — if diets aren’t the answer, then what the heck are we supposed to do? That’s where intuitive eating comes into play.

Intuitive eating is an approach described in this book [affiliate link] by Evelyn Tribole + Elyse Resch, two dietitians. In one interview [source] with Evelyn Tribole, she described intuitive eating as follows:

“It’s an approach that helps you have a healthy relationship—­mentally and physically—with food. Intuitive eating is the opposite of dieting: you reject rules for what to eat and not eat. Instead you listen to and trust your body’s natural cues of hunger and fullness. In other words, you eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. If you’re following dieting rules and feeling unsatisfied, chances are you’re constantly thinking about food. When you eat intuitively, you pay attention to whether a meal was enjoyable and whether it sustained you for the next few hours.”

And this definition is just scratching the surface of all there is to discuss regarding intuitive eating. I’ve touched on the 10 principles of intuitive eating here + I’ll be gradually diving deeper into each of them over time, so keep your eyes out!


Let’s chat.

Are you fed up with diets?

What do you think of intuitive eating?

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