Hey guys! Trying out a new thing this week and I hope you all enjoy it. My good friend and amazing registered dietitian Aaron Flores and I have collaborated on a project we’re super-excited to share with you: The Dietitians Unplugged Podcast!
Aaron is a private practice dietitian in Calabasas, CA, specializing in Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size®. I met Aaron during my internship when I had the great luck to have him as a preceptor (instructor). Aaron is brilliant at helping clients break the cycle of dieting and guiding them on their journey towards honoring their internal cues of hunger, fullness and satisfaction.
When I heard Aaron talk with Lana on the awesome #sizeHUMAN podcast, I said to him, how fun would it be to sit around and talk about this stuff with each other on a regular basis…and invite others to listen in? Answer: TOTALLY FUN! And with that, Dietitians Unplugged was born. We hope you find this fun and helpful too. So without further ado…
Episode 1 – We talk about our experiences with dieting and finding HAES® and Intuitive Eating.
Can I tell you about the time I went to Italy and it was the beginning of the end of my terrible diet?
About a year after I had vowed to get my “best” body ever, I was ready to take a three week vacation to Italy. I had dreamed of going to Italy ever since I was in high school and now it was finally happening.
The itinerary included Venice and as many towns in Tuscany we could fit in, with Sienna and Florence as the main events.
There was only one problem: how the hell was I going to stay on my diet once I was surrounded by so much wonderful, non-diet-approved Italian food?? The “Points” value of all that cheese alone was incalculable. In my regular life, I was walking around in a mild to moderate state of hungry most of the time. I was also a strict pescetarian at the time, for reasons which are still unfathomable to me because they had nothing to do with my health or my love of animals.
If you are thinking right now, “What’s the big deal? Everyone eats what they want on vacation!” then you, my friend, have not been to a Weight Watchers meeting. When someone declared gravely, “I am going on vacation,” we would all nod in sympathy and rally around the person with suggestions of how they would be able to stay “on plan” and not gain weight. Then the leader would say, “But of course, enjoy yourself. It shouldn’t be all about the food anyway,” and what she really meant was, keep dieting.
And when someone came back from vacation, having gained a few pounds because it is so miserable to diet on holiday, the confessional would take on the proportions of a mental health crisis. Between the pre-vacation panic and the post-vacation guilt, you’d wonder why anyone on a diet would bother to go. Ironically, sometimes the vacation is the reason we wanted to lose weight in the first place!
But I digress. Off to Italy I went.
In Venice, I woke up to a breakfast of brioche and chocolate spread. Did you know chocolate spread was a thing in Italy?! I didn’t! I spread the chocolate over all of the little breads and pastries salaciously. Was I allowed to eat this? Do they even have Weight Watchers in Italy*?? I was convinced that none of the Italians I had seen on the street the day before would hesitate. So I ate it and then wished for more. For three days in Venice, it came.
Quickly I learned that in Italy, pizza is not considered a junk food. It’s just food! Vegetables were abundant on menus everywhere – but not just sad, fat free affairs. No! Roasted eggplant, peppers, mushrooms and zucchini swam in rich green olive oil. Ohhh, my diet! I ate them anyway. I would starve back in America, but in Italy, it seemed wrong to even consider it.
In Tuscany, I dined in a castle where I ate delectable, tender tuna marinated in – you guessed it – olive oil. I ate pasta of every kind, in marinara, oil, pine nuts, cheese – too many “Points” to count, so I gave up. I even tasted my companion’s wild boar sauce – and to this day I regret that I wouldn’t let myself order a helping of my own.
I had an entire meal of chocolate – a Nutella crepe, hot cocoa of gooey chocolate lava. I remembered thinking, this is it, I’ve given up on diet food, I’m just going to eat chocolate for every meal now (as a now well-fed person, this does not actually sound appetizing). The death knell of my diet began to toll. Real food is beckoning…
Oh yes, and I ate gelato. Everyday.
I couldn’t believe Italians were eating food like this every day…but they were! All the time! And they weren’t worried about it!
I still worried and obsessed over every bite. I still worried about what the scale would say when I got back. This did not add to the enjoyment of my vacation.
I came back from my Italian holiday having gained only 2 pounds (and the sad fact doesn’t escape me that I can tell you exactly what my weight was before and after vacation 12 years ago). But in the following months, having tasted heaven, it became more and more of a private hell to maintain such a low body weight. At the same time, I wanted to eat more of the healthy (yes, healthy, this is the Mediterranean Diet you know!), scrumptious foods I had eaten in Italy without turning it into a diet-friendly abomination. These two endeavors could not be reconciled with each other, and over the next three years I inched up 10 pounds (and of course, I would gain more after I really gave up dieting for good. WORTH IT.). Italy had won. As it rightfully should have.
I will go back to Italy someday, not on a diet. I don’t imagine gorging on everything I see because, being adequately fed, I no longer have that need. Nor will I worry about every bite I put in my mouth. I simply know I’ll enjoy whatever foods I want and eat as much as I need to feel satisfied. I know I will sometimes eat gelato just for the hell of it (but probably not every day as that no longer sounds appetizing). My focus will be on a lot of other things, too, that I probably missed the first time when I was there on a diet, hungrily worrying and obsessing about food every second.
Coming soon: Podcast!
I’m super excited to announce an upcoming collaboration between the awesome Aaron Flores, RDN and myself: The Dietitians Unplugged Podcast! Topics will focus on Health at Every Size®, Intuitive Eating and body positivity. The podcast will be available on both our sites as well as iTunes. Watch for the announcement soon!
When you are trying to lose weight and are on a diet (or just, you know, a “lifestyle change”), there are usually many rules. Rules about how much to eat, what foods to eat, when to eat them, what you cannot eat. This is usually fine in the beginning, because starting a new diet is often accompanied with a sense of euphoria; the excitement of a new “project” that will result in a bright new shiny body at the end. Getting all the rules right requires total immersion and so at first, what is going on in the world outside the diet grows quiet.
Eventually, however, we face social interactions involving eating with friends, family, co-workers. And we all know some naturally thin people, people who have never dieted, the person dieters might sometimes refer to as “someone who can eat anything.” The people to whom we’ve said longingly, “Oh, you’re so lucky, you can eat anything you want and not get fat.” How did saying that make you feel? How did it make the thin person feel?
For me (the not-naturally-thin person), I felt envy. It was so much less about getting to eat what I wanted, or what they were eating, and more about how they didn’t seem to worry about eating at all. How food they really liked was just something they ate when they were hungry, instead of something they had to try to avoid as long as possible, or to turn into some tasteless diet-friendly version of their favorite food.
So, envy, and then…something else. There were rules for me and no rules for them. They were “allowed” and I was not, and this was all based – arbitrarily, it seemed – on the shape and size of my body. Because my natural size and shape was less than. Which made me feel like a second class citizen.
Even though I had achieved the goal of “smallness,” what I had to do to stay there constantly reminded me of my second class status. And, constantly reminded, I did not feel deserving of the things “normal-sized-by-nature” people seemed to have: good food and peace of mind, permission to like and accept my body, the companionship of someone who truly suited me and would have accepted me no matter what. Even a satisfying career seemed out of reach because what I really had to work on was my body all the time, at all costs. It is virtually impossible to have good self-esteem and achieve the things you want under these conditions.
And what do these declarations of “You can eat anything” do to the people you’ve levied them on? They send a message: I, and others like me, are not worthy. And from good people you will elicit pity, and not-so-good people, scorn. Do you want either of these?
I have several naturally thin friends. I’ve hung out with them enough over many good meals to know that we don’t eat all that differently at all (in fact, these ladies have wonderful, robust appetites; no bird-like eaters are they), and yet we have very different bodies. Should this be so shocking? And should it mean that I have to go to food prison while they eat manna from Heaven? I say no. I get to enjoy my food just like they do.
The impact of weight-loss dieting goes far beyond feeling hungry and underfed. It kills our self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
Consider the other options: Health at Every Size® to liberate you from the obligation of bodily perfection, Intuitive Eating to free you from food envy and obsession. These have helped me and so many others to gain a sense of body respect, not just for our own bodies, but for the bodies of others, thin and fat, muscular and flabby, able-bodied and differently-abled.
Occasionally, when it comes up in conversation, I’ve heard some dietitian colleagues agree that a non-diet or intuitive eating approach is the best way to help clients achieve better eating habits…unless they’re really “obese.” Then they should probably lose weight “for their health.” These dietitians are not yet wholly committed to HAES®.
So I want to be very clear: I do support rejecting a weight loss mentality for all people…even if they’re fat.
(Note: I’m going to use “fat” rather than “obese” or “overweight” because it is the word preferred by the size acceptance movement.)
I’ll say it over and over – the evidence on weight loss is pretty conclusive: while most people can lose weight in the short term, almost everyone (between 90-95%) gains the weight back and often even more somewhere within 3 to 5 years (and definitely by 10 years) after the initial loss. No one is sure of the exact figure of diet failure because most weight loss studies do not study participants longer than two years. Even Weight Watchers, who could easily have access to all their clients’ data and could track weight loss and gains for many years (I was a member for 16 years, and I know I’m not the only one), has not studied people beyond two years (after which participants lost an average of 5 pounds).
The other thing we know is that health isn’t dependent on body weight. We know now (and have actually known it for years) that fitness and other healthy behaviors contribute more toward health than body weight. Sadly, most studies that examine body weight don’t account for eating habits, fitness, and social stigma when they claim that fat is bad for you. So there are lots of confounding factors that could be contributing to poor health in fat people – but instead of looking at those more closely…nah, we’ll just blame the weight.
Telling a fat person to go on a diet is most likely to have one outcome in the long term: more weight gain. And I’m guessing that is the exact opposite of what anyone on any diet hopes for.
Therefore, I don’t advocate one set of rules (intuitive eating, not dieting) for thin or normal weight people and another (weight loss diets, dietary restriction, extreme, unpleasant exercise) for fat people. That’s called a double standard and it’s bullshit and it doesn’t even work.
I support an intuitive eating approach for all people…even if they’re fat.
I support eating salads sometimes and pizza other times for whoever wants to…even if they’re fat.
I support eating dessert for anyone who chooses to…even if they’re fat.
I support any kind of pleasurable movement for people even if it doesn’t make them break a sweat…even if they’re fat.
I support people doing nothing at all for health, because health is no one’s obligation, if that’s what they want…even if they’re fat.
And I support respecting your body and treating it the best you can…even if you’re fat.
Health at Every Size® is not trying to say that every person is healthy at every size. It does mean that whatever size you’re at right now, you can begin your journey to health using a weight neutral approach. If one set of behaviors are healthy for one set of people, why wouldn’t they be healthy for all people?
Check out this excellent video by ASDAH that perfectly explains the madness around the weight loss paradigm – using poodles!