The answer to this one is tricky. It’s yes…but with a caveat.
Here’s how it’s yes: there is literally no food off limits in intuitive eating and your non-diet way of life. Pizza? Yes. Chocolate cake? Hell yes. Kale? Yes! (If you want it)
You get to eat ALL the different types of foods you want, when you want them and yes, as much as you want of them.
And here’s the caveat: It’s not just eating anything and everything willy nilly without a thought to how it goes down or how you feel after.
Intuitive eating is…nuanced. It’s not just an end-point — it’s also the process that takes you from that stressed-out, restrictive, over-eating dieting-type eater you were to a completely no guilt, drama-free, normal eater (before the new normal meant “diet”) that knows when to eat and when to stop. The process, however, can sometime feel anything but intuitive.
If kicking diet mindset and behavior was easy, we wouldn’t need a process called Intuitive Eating. But it isn’t, and we do.
While you’ll be liberating all the foods from Food Jail and eating to satisfy your appetite, you’re going to learn to stay present and non-judgmental instead of fearful and guilty. You’re going to learn to tune into your body to hear the subtle messages it sends you about when to eat, and how much. If you’ve been a dieter or binge-eater for a while, this hyper-awareness is going to feel really strange and uncomfortable for you at first.
Let me reassure you, this will not always be the case. The point of intuitive eating is not to remain on strict mealtime vigil, putting all your concentration into every bite. The point is to eventually know intuitively when to stop eating.
Ever try to get a baby to eat more food than she’s hungry for? She’ll slam her mouth shut, shake her head, and get downright cranky at you for trying to fly that damn airplane into her mouth again. She knows, without thinking about it at all, when she’s done eating, because we are ALL born with the intuition to know how much food we want and need to eat. That baby is in charge of her appetite. And then somewhere along the way, diet culture robs us of that intuition and convinces us we need to be told how to eat.
So yes, you’re going to eat whatever it is you want. And also, for now, you’re going to pay attention to what you’re eating. A lot of attention at first, and much less later on, until it’s all instinct. And it will become instinct.
And even later, when you’re ready, you can even give some thought toward nutrition. If you want. But that’s a story for another day.
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One day last week, I found myself mentally running through what I ate that day – not for any reason other than as a memory exercise. I started tallying the different fruits and vegetables I ate just out of curiosity: peach, banana, green pepper, red pepper, onion, tomato, tomatillo, green beans, mushrooms and scallions. Wow, that seemed like a lot of fruits and vegetables – even for me! Yet I barely noticed it till I took the time and effort to remember.
I’m not trying to brag; rather, I just want to illustrate a point about what “normal” eating – aka, eating not-on-a-diet – might look like. I probably didn’t eat a whole serving of each of these vegetables – that’s a little too much volume for me. I may have made it to the recommended 5 servings, but I rarely count so I don’t know for sure. And not every day looks like this; some days I eat less produce (or food in general), others more. I’m convinced, however, that providing oneself reasonably balanced, varied and, most importantly, tasty meals on a regular basis will provide all the nutrients you need over time, and listening to our internal signals of hunger and fullness to guide our eating will ensure we get the right amounts. Good nutrition really isn’t that hard.
And yet, I didn’t eat like this when I dieted because I would have had to prepare the vegetables in such a way that they didn’t taste very good. In fact, when I dieted early on I ate very few vegetables and almost no fruit because I wanted to save every calorie for food I liked since I got to eat so little of it.
Since embracing a Health at Every Size® philosophy toward health, my diet quality has improved immensely from those days of restriction. How, then, I do I include fruit and vegetables so easily now? First and foremost, I make everything taste good. The peppers and onions came in a cheese quesadilla in a flour tortilla cooked in some oil I had made the night before, then topped with roasted tomato and tomatillo salsa (with some cilantro in there too). The banana may have had peanut butter or Nutella on it (or not). The other vegetables were cooked in a stir fry with pork in a sauce of soy sauce, brown sugar, sherry and sesame oil and served over white rice (because I don’t like brown) by my partner. And yes, it was cooked in oil and NO not some small diet amount, but enough to lubricate the dish and make it taste good.
But just as important as making food taste good, my relationship to food is such that I have the pick of all the foods available to me that I like. I’m also not going around in a state of chronic hunger because I feed myself according to my hunger and fullness. That means I’m not jonesing for something I can’t have simply because I feel like I can’t have it (a scientific phenomenon), and I don’t go around looking for the most calorically dense food I can find to fill a bottomless pit of a stomach. And in getting to choose any food I want, I choose foods that both taste good and make me feel good, which includes a variety of “whole” foods (a term I’ve come to dislike thanks to diet culture and healthism, but it is useful here nonetheless).
To be quite frank and not very dietitian-like, I am not a fan of using serving sizes to guide our eating. Like registered dietitian Ellyn Satter states in this article, I feel strongly that government-issued dietary guidelines take away permission to eat and leave people with disordered eating and probably a dislike of a lot of foods that are good for us. This especially rang true to me:
“The 2005 Dietary Guidelines…raised the recommendation for fruits and vegetables from five to nine a day. That is 4 1⁄2 cups of virtually naked fruits and vegetables—with only the smallest amounts of salt, fat or sugar. The intent, of course, wasn’t to satisfy nutritional requirements—four or five well-chosen vegetables and fruits a day and a similar number of breads and cereals is enough. The intent is to get us to fill up on relatively low-calorie food so we don’t eat so much. Such tactics defeat consumers’ best intentions. Well and interestingly prepared fruits and vegetables are tasty and rewarding. However, as any experienced dieter knows, trying to fill up on them— particularly when they are unadorned—is quite another matter. I have worked with far too many recovering dieters who have tried to do just that, and after a while they say that they simply can’t look at another pile of vegetables.”
Nailed it. When I was at Weight Watchers, vegetables were not recommended as a tasty, satisfying part of your diet – rather, they were something to be eaten to take up space in your stomach, to prevent you from eating other potentially high calorie foods that might actually satisfy you. I could not stand unadorned vegetables and mostly I just skipped them unless a particularly good recipe called for them. Fruits – why bother? You had to count those as points. My weight loss was not about health – it was about weight and societal approval. I did what I could bear, and while I could bear to be hungry, I could not bear to eat foods I didn’t like (although later on I would do this, too).
Fast forward six years after declaring my freedom from diets. I found out that a “well and interestingly prepared” vegetable is a thing of beauty, especially when I feel I don’t have to eat it. My diet rebel has a loud voice when it comes to “shoulds”, especially around food. I could experiment with foods to see what I truly liked.
Eating a balanced and varied diet that we like, aka eating competencedoes make us healthier – at least in terms of having better diets, physical self-acceptance, activity levels, sleep, medical and lab tests. ( And can you also imagine the wonderful by-products of people getting totally normal with food? No more boring conversations about what people can’t or won’t eat, about being “good” or “bad” with food, about having to punish themselves later for something they’re eating now. I mean, seriously, YAWN. We could talk about so many smart or interesting or fun things instead!)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: what you eat isn’t nearly as important to your health and well-being as your relationship to food is. When you heal your relationship to food and eating, you’re free to experience the variety that is available to you without stress and drama. Let’s call a definite moratorium on food rules, get curious with our appetites and start exploring with gusto!
I’m committed to a non-diet life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have bad body days that turn into bad body weeks.
I’d been enjoying my time in Vivienne McMaster’s Be Your Own Beloved class. I was enjoying the challenge of taking a lot of selfies, even if they weren’t what I would have considered “flattering” or “attractive.” I felt I was really getting the hang of this compassion-for-myself business!
Then one day I took several photos for the prompt that day – we are encouraged to take many, many photos – and for some reason…it just set me off. The outfit I was wearing – something I thought looked super cute in the morning – was all wrong. My inner critic came leaping out of hibernation with all sorts of insults for my body, my face, my hair, my very soul, and for reasons I’ll get to, I was ripe for the picking.
I felt down for the rest of the day. I woke up the next morning with residual bad body feelings. I was also going through a period of fatigue (a theme of my life that I’ve learned to respect with rest). I felt like there was no one I could talk to about these feelings, because even if someone else knows the pain of bad body days, it’s hard to understand how other people have them. “You look great!” someone might console. I don’t know why, but that’s just not helpful at all; I know my bad body day is not rational and that others are not seeing what I see. A compliment at that moment just feels dismissive of all the dark feelings. I shared my thoughts with my partner and he was supportive and loving as always, but it’s still hard not to feel alone in these times.
But here’s what I knew, after so many years of experience: bad body days aren’t forever. And for me, they aren’t really about my body. At the same time, I also developed acid reflux and stomach distension that are classic symptoms of stress for me. So I started to think…what am I really bothered about? And I didn’t have to dig far to know that I’ve been a little stressed out with starting my business and dealing with the less fun administrative tasks. I’ve long known that I feel stress somatically, that even as my mind remains calm, my body sends me a multitude of distress signals. My body becomes, then, an easy target when the mental distress finally mounts.
What do I do when I finally realize I’m in the middle of a bad-body jag? It becomes all about self care. For me, that means getting lots of sleep and doing things like reading something fun and relaxing, eating familiar foods, and mindless TV watching or game-playing on my phone. And last week, it also included binge-listening to Julie Duffy Dillon’s fabulous podcast, Love, Food (specifically episodes 25, 26 and 28). Hearing that I wasn’t actually alone in these uncharitable thoughts about my body, that there were others dealing with these thoughts every single day, all over the place, was comforting.
In a culture that actively promotes body hate for profit – especially for women – and as someone who was a victim of this culture for 40 years before realizing it was total bullshit, it is unrealistic to think I’m going to feel great about my body every day. Frankly, I don’t even think it’s necessary to feel fantastic about the way our bodies look every day – that’s something that takes up a lot of mental space I no longer have room for. Feeling good IN my body is much more important to me, and that’s what I strive for now.
Soon enough, my bad body week ended. This week I’m back to being just fine with my body. I didn’t need to go on a diet to cure my bad feelings; I just had to sit with them for a while and be good to myself.
By the way, the photo that undid me is the one that accompanies this post. I look at it now and think there’s nothing wrong with this person in this photo. Some people in our photo group even liked it. In the end, it was all about what I really needed (self-care, compassion), and had nothing to do with how I looked.
Big News: Dare To Not Diet is in Business!
I’m excited to announce that I’m taking clients for drama-free-eating coaching! It’s been by dream to help others find peace with eating, food and their bodies, and after so many of you have reached out to say that you want this kind of support, I’m finally able to do it. To find out more, click here.
A while back I wrote about my frustration when someone did that thing I now call the Dance of the Dessert, that “should I?/I shouldn’t!” thing and then they do and then they loudly proclaim their guilt to anyone in the nearby vicinity. Seriously: yawn.
Well, something completely the opposite of that happened to me the other day: I forgot to eat the cake. And until now, I didn’t even bother to talk about it.
You see, this is the kind of thing that might happen when you give up dieting and dieting mentality and embrace internally regulated, totally normal eating. You might do things like accidentally forget to eat some cake, even if you intended to. And you don’t feel that bad about it.
In my dieting days, I was definitely the person to worry about eating the cake (though I would still eat it because IT WAS CAKE). I was also the person to sneak back into the break room later on and cut off another “thin” slice and eat it furtively…and then cut off just another “tiny” slice because I I just couldn’t stop…and then I’d scoop up the icing dregs off the edges of the plate and lick the knife clean (apologies to all those who got to the cake after me…it was probably decimated). Ironically, I was the thinnest I’d ever been…but I still felt so wretched for eating that cake. More restriction would follow until the next cake or doughnut or brownie or tart or…
Last week reminded me how far I’d come since then. Two co-workers had birthdays, and therefore there were two cakes being served up during our weekly team meeting. I had just eaten breakfast and so wasn’t really in the mood for cake. I also have a sensitive tummy and I know putting too much in there first thing in the morning will be misery all day. So I declined the cake and planned to come back for some in the afternoon when I like to have a snack and would have a nice appetite for it – there was plenty and I was confident there would be some left by then.
The day wore on. I was out of the office during lunch so I didn’t get to the break room to see if there was cake left to have as dessert. I got back to the office and at mid afternoon had my current favorite snack of banana with Nutella (because Nutella is awesome). I went home.
Then it hit me…I forgot to go back and get a slice of cake. Damn.
It was completely my intention earlier that day to partake in cake, but in reality, I clearly wasn’t feeling it. And that is the wonderful thing about not being underfed or food-restricted all the time – you don’t eat cake just because it’s there and you’re starving. I also know there will be cake again, and that I will probably have some, which is why missing it this time wasn’t such a big deal.
I don’t tell you this story to brag about my internally regulated eating skills. I feel neither good nor bad about forgetting to get the cake. It was a neutral incident, so I don’t feel smug about it as I might have in my food-restricted days. My behaviors do not make me thin. They simply make me relaxed around food.
I’m telling you this because if you are still feeling crazy around food and it’s getting a bit much for you, I want you to know there is hope. If you are struggling with getting to normal eating, I want you to know that it does happen, and it’s a wonderful relief. Internally regulated eating is that happy place where you get to have your cake and eat it too…or not, if you simply don’t feel like it.
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Dietitians Unplugged – Our This American Life Breakdown
Episode 12 is available now! Aaron and I had fun talking about the Tell me I’m Fat episode of This American Life.
It is one of the greatest ironies of my life that once I finally stopped dieting, I looked up and saw that everyone else around me had started, or at least were living like they should be on a diet, which is, frankly, almost as bad.
One of the places I see it the most is on social media. Although I have tailored my feed pretty well via my professional Facebook page to only see body positive/HAES/non-diet goodness, my personal page occasionally feeds me an intermittent drip of body hate/food fear messages by way of unfunny memes, sadly by people I actually know (and who are clearly not reading my blog!).
The most recent cringeworthy fat/food memes I encountered were these:
“Attention: Due to recent setbacks, my summer beach body will be postponed another year. As usual your patience is appreciated…”
“I don’t need a personal trainer as much as I need someone to follow me around and slap unhealthy foods out of my hands.”
Hilarious right?? On further critical thought…not so much.
The first one assumes that there is a particular type of beach body that one needs for the beach in the summer, and that if someone doesn’t have this body – well, sorry, no beach for them. I’m going to assume that the body that this meme would deem acceptable is the body type owned by probably less than 5% of the people in the world. So I guess the unlucky rest of us just need to stay home, miss all the summer fun, and wait it out till the Cultural Ideal Body Fairy comes along and bestows its blessings on us. Aaron and I talked about the “summer beach body” BS in this podcast.
The second one is wrong on so many levels it makes my head want to implode. First of all, the idea of “unhealthy” foods is just sooooo 2015. Have we not figured out yet that there aren’t really any unhealthy foods – that it’s really our relationship to food that makes the true difference to our health? Is a donut really going to decimate the health of someone who has a varied and balanced diet and a good relationship to food? No, right?! Then how can any one food truly be labeled “unhealthy?” On a personal note, I find talking about “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods really poor conversational fodder. When did we all collectively decide to stop enjoying what we eat??
I also hate the assumption that somehow avoiding “unhealthy” foods is the health equivalent to exercising. That’s simply not true on the scientific face of it. Studies have shown that exercise is far better than diet for helping to reduce visceral fat (the fat that collects around organs and tends to be more harmful than subcutaneous fat, the stuff that is much more visible) even when no weight is lost. As a dietitian, I’d love to just tell you to have a healthy eating pattern and be done with it, but I’ve never been able to deny the health benefits of exercise. To say that eschewing movement and simply avoiding those foods you’ve designated as “bad” is somehow going to fix your health…dude, it’s misleading and it’s not even funny. Kill this meme now.
Perhaps in my dieting days I would have enjoyed this sort of bonding. “Haha, let’s all laugh about how bad we feel about our bodies and the way we eat!” Which is weird, because the reason I dieted and lost weight was to feel better about my body (something I achieved only fleeting with this strategy).
In reality, when we share these types of memes, we send a message: I am not in the right body. Other people are not in the right bodies. I do not deserve the food I enjoy. No one in the wrong body should get to enjoy food. We should feel ashamed.
These messages, while seemingly innocent, simply reinforce the culture of body hate and dieting that is weightist and healthist on the face of it and extends its long, gnarly fingers into sexism, racism, ableism, healthism, all the fucking -isms. Creating a hierarchy of good and bad bodies means that you can do that in any other facet of life: sex, ability, skin color, health levels. So let’s just stop, because a culture of compassion and radical acceptance is just so much better.
There are ways to motivate people to eat better and move more and like their bodies that aren’t shame-based. Shaming never made anyone healthier, certainly not in the long run. Meanwhile, if you feel bad about your body, consider why. Could it be the ever-present specter of a culture that practices hate and calls it humor? Reject it and define health on your own terms. And don’t make the world a worse place with shitty memes.
– Nourish Yourself with Love
– Let go of Yo-yo diets
– Let go of Perfection
– How to stop eating your Emotions
Once you sign up, from July 26 to August 8, you’ll get a free video delivered directly to your inbox daily. Many of the professionals interviewed for the series are giving away some cool freebies too…you’ll have to watch to see what mine is! Enjoy!
Dietitians Unplugged – Our This American Life Breakdown
Episode 12 is available now! Aaron and I had fun talking about the Tell me I’m Fat episode of This American Life.
I was at a party once and when a nice woman asked me what I did, I said I was a dietitian. She beamed and clasped her hands together and said, “Oh, that’s wonderful. Food is such medicine, isn’t it?”
I didn’t know how to respond at that moment. I was still recovering from years of restrictive eating, which had at one point taken the guise of “clean” eating, local eating, organic eating all for my “health” – when really I was just finding new ways to restrict for my weight. As I sautéed up a few stalks of chard in as little oil as possible, I would say things to myself like, “I’m gonna live forever!”
Obviously I cringe at that now. Why worry about living forever when the present is so miserable? That was my existence then – taking my medicine in the present in the hope of a longer future. I wasn’t happy then, so I was living as much in the future as possible.
But I couldn’t keep it up. Eating medicine is not as fun as eating food, and turning food into medicine is downright depressing. Food is food; it nourishes us, gives us energy, keeps us alive, and is necessary to our existence. Enjoyment of food is essential and here’s a great example of that: in a study from the 1970s, Thai and Swedish women were both given a traditional Thai meal1; the Thai women absorbed almost 50% more iron from the meal than the Swedish women, who were somewhat okay with the meal but felt it was too spicy. Then the traditional meals for both groups were pureed into mush and eaten. Guess what? Iron absorption for both groups decreased by 70% — even when eating their own traditional food. Why? Probably because for the most part, a pureed meal isn’t nearly as enjoyable as a non-pureed meal, especially if you’re not used to eating it that way. So, yes, enjoyment of your food is integral to good nutrition.
If you’re treating your food like medicine, holding your nose and shoving it in, or in a less extreme version, dutifully eating your “healthy” food but wishing you were having something else instead, you’re doing your body and your mind a disservice. The truth is, for most people, what you eat on a meal-by-meal basis is not as important as how you eat. Having a relaxed relationship to food, providing regular, reliable meals for yourself, allowing internal signals of hunger and fullness regulate your intake, and eating food you enjoy – otherwise known as eating competence – actually helps you to be your healthiest self in respect to nutrition (I’ll explain more about eating competence in a future blog post). This is because people who approach eating this way tend to get the most variety in their diet, which ensures optimal nutrition.
Now, as a clinical dietitian, I do practice what is called medical nutrition therapy (MNT). There are certain disease conditions for which changing what you eat can help to manage that condition. But there is a big difference between disease management for people with disease vs. disease prevention for people with no disease. Eating low sodium your whole life will not necessarily stave off high blood pressure. Eating no carbs will not ensure you will never get diabetes. Many diseases have a genetic component, and eating a certain way does not guarantee that you will not get a disease. However, if someone is a competent eater, getting a variety of food reliably and enjoying their diet, this is the best disease prevention there is, since, as I linked to above, competent eaters have shown to be generally nutritionally (and socially and psychologically) healthier than non-competent eaters.
While diet can help manage conditions, it rarely cures them. Celiacs can strictly avoid gluten (which they must do) and live a very healthy life, but their condition is never cured by any particular food. People with hypertension can reduce dietary sodium to help manage their blood pressure, but there’s a whole host of other things they need to do too – exercise, manage stress, sometimes take actual medication. And you cannot cure cancer with food (I’m sorry, you just can’t). Food is important and will help keep someone with cancer alive because the body needs additional energy with a catabolic illness and while it receives actual medicine which really can cure. There is a reason we call this medical nutrition therapy and not medical nutrition medicine.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen food-as-medicine go wrong on too many occasions. One of my patients (a meat-eater) with MS was told by his doctor to go vegan to help manage his disease (for which there is some limited evidence). He did so, then gained 50 pounds and developed elevated off-the-charts triglycerides. He went back to his doctor who again said, “Go vegan!” to which he replied, “I already did!” After that, he switched to a different diet style he liked better that still managed to include lots of fresh vegetables, returned to his previous usual body weight, ended up with normalized lipids and generally felt pretty good. I’m not maligning vegan diets; it’s the diet-as-prescription mentality that can be the problem. A diet you don’t love is not good medicine. Too often, because of this food-prescription mentality, many of my patients think they can get good nutrition from a powdered supplement, and then develop all sorts of disordered eating habits to compensate for the actual food they are missing out on.
It’s true that many foods have medicinal properties. Cinnamon may help lower blood sugar in diabetics. Turmeric may have anti-inflammatory properties. Here’s the problem: will you start to sprinkle cinnamon on everything you eat even if it doesn’t taste good? I love turmeric – in a few dishes. A little goes a long way. But studies often show that in order to actually get enough of the medicinal properties of these foods, you usually have to have large quantities of it – more than you’d probably want to eat of anything in a day. Also, what we know about the synergistic properties of foods can so far fit in a thimble. Isolating compounds for their magic properties is reductive thinking at best. Food compounds interact with one another and we’re only just starting to understand this better now. Again, getting a varied diet will help you to get some of everything you need.
I know Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” and back then that made sense when they didn’t have a lot of actual medicines. But now we’ve got another problem which is a world full of disordered eating, so maybe it’s time to back off this food-as-medicine idea for a while.
So food does not need to be medicine, especiallly in the absence of illness. Food just needs to be food – delicious, enjoyable, varied, reliable fuel for your body – because that’s how it serves us in the healthiest way possible.
1Hallberg L., Bjorn-Rasmussen E, Rossander L, Suwanik R. Iron absorption from Southest Asian diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 1977; 30:539-548.
Dietitians Unplugged Podcast!
Listen on Libsynor iTunes. Give us a review on iTunes if you like us — this helps to spread the non-diet love to more people. Check out our Facebook page for our latest episode and news and more weight neutral, HAES® friendly podcasts! New episode coming soon!
Check out episode 6 of the Dietitians Unplugged podcast in which Aaron and I discuss the “clean eating” trend. Is this just another way to eat, a diet, or a new religion? And what are the implications for the kids raised in this dichotomous way of thinking about food?
Here is the article that inspired this blog post. Warning: it includes fat-phobic comments and diet talk.
The 2016 Dietary Guidelines for Americans came out earlier this year and Aaron and I let you know what we think. Are they words to live by…or just another prescriptive diet? Do we even need the Guidelines? What drives the rational for how Guidelines are formed? Listen to us discuss these questions and more from a Health at Every Size® and Intuitive Eating perspective.
Listen on Libsyn or iTunes. Give us a review on iTunes if you like us — this helps to spread the non-diet love to more people. And feel free to like our new Facebook page!
Reader Nicole Geurin MPH, RD suggested today’s blog topic. She asked what I thought about how Lean Cuisine, long-time makers of low calorie, low fat frozen foods, has been retooling their brand to be less about weight and dieting. This video is one example.
I think the video is wonderful, so I checked out Lean Cuisine’s website to see what else they’re doing and they are clearly trying to rebrand themselves away from weight loss. They are even offering a filter for your browser that eliminates the word “diet” from your online searches (though if you don’t just search on the word “diet” that also works quite well). They have eliminated any reference to weight loss on their website, which is a pretty bold change. So for now let’s give Lean Cuisine the benefit of the doubt – they are no longer about dieting or perhaps even weight loss.
They also have a page on which they claim they are devoted to women’s wellness, although how that manifests itself in their products, I’m not really sure, and they aren’t specific. When it comes to food, women’s wellness isn’t all that different from general human wellness. I mean, there’s not some kind of menses milk that I’m aware of, or ovulation menu that we need to follow (Yes, some vitamin and mineral DRIs are slightly different between the sexes. That doesn’t usually translate to radically different diets for men and women). Unless they mean…wait, could it be? Might “women’s wellness” translate to our perceived need to eat less in order to weigh less? Which in some circles, is known as a diet. They’re definitely not saying it, so I don’t want to make any assumptions here. Maybe we just need to take a look at some of their products a little closer to see if they put their money where their (and our) mouths are…
Brief interlude: This is by no means an endorsement, but I actually like the taste of many Lean Cuisine meals. More on that in a minute.
…So I looked at the product list. I’m familiar with the Lean Cuisine products because they take up serious real estate in the supermarket freezer section, where I’m always looking for satisfying, filling, tasty and reasonably priced frozen meals without a ton of sodium in them (fun fact: these don’t exist). Looking at the images of the meals in their boxes on the website, they don’t seem to have changed significantly recently, though they do have a pretty wide selection of different “collections.” On the front of the box, they show a photo of a tasty and seemingly much larger meal than what is in the box, as well as little boxes showing the calories, fat, fiber, protein, sodium and carbohydrates. This information is required by law to be somewhere on the box in the nutrition panel so I’m not sure why it has to be displayed so prominently on the front, too — especially the calories. While it can be useful to know the amounts of certain nutrients in foods, especially for certain diseases, I always think the calorie count is useless and hasn’t done anyone a lick of good. Anyway…
Brief interlude part II: A few years ago when I was experiencing a lot of digestion problems from stress, I found it necessary to eat small, light meals more frequently. I thought Lean Cuisine would be perfect for this, and as I said, I actually found I enjoyed the taste. Lunch would come around and I’d eat one and…it wouldn’t even touch my hunger. So I decided to eat two at the same time in the hope of creating the satisfaction of a full meal. Well, it turns out 2 x 0 = 0, and even two left me craving more within an hour. After three days of that, I was ravenous and ready to eat the world. I had accidentally put myself on a diet eating those suckers!
…But here is the real problem as I see it. I looked at the nutrition facts, and the meals are roughly 250-350 calories, with most meals falling under 300 calories and one as low as 170 calories. Now, you know me, I’m not a dietitian to prescribe specific calorie targets for anyone (although clinical practice is quite different; in this setting we do actually calculate calories, protein and fluid requirements to make sure our patients are meeting their nutrition needs. But back in the not-sick, intuitive eating world…not so much), so if the meals satisfy you, by all means, enjoy them. They don’t satisfy me. Across any population, there is going to be a wide range of appetites. Some women eat less and will find the size and make-up of these meals satisfying; others, like me, need more. So here’s a lesson about women’s health and wellness: we are all a little different, with needs and appetites varying widely from person to person. Why isn’t Lean Cuisine addressing that aspect of our “wellness” by making different sizes of meals?
Brief interlude part III: I just told my significant other that I was writing about Lean Cuisine and their shift away from diet lingo and he said, “So are they finally naming them ‘Not Enough For Me Cuisine?'” Spot on, my dear, spot on. He once liked the grilled sandwiches (and I gotta admit, that microwave-grilling technology is impressive; if only they could use it for good instead of diet) but found that even two were not really enough for him. I know very few men who could tolerate eating so little at one meal, so it seems like they are targeting women after all…
What’s the bottom line, then? Yes, I think it’s wonderful that Lean Cuisine has moved away from diet lingo and has eliminated any reference to weight loss on their site. That’s a win. But for me, they’re still a no-go because they don’t meet my needs, even though I’m a woman and they profess to care about women’s wellness. It’s up to you to decide for yourself if, just because they say they aren’t diet foods, they aren’t diet foods.
For those of us that don’t want to give our hard-earned cash to diet companies this could be complicated. Because if a diet food company changes its branding but not much else, has anything changed at all? Does this represent a genuine move away from the pervasive culture of dieting and weight loss or just another example of co-opting of body positive, non-diet language to sell diet products?
Check out the latest Dietitians Unplugged podcast in which we discuss the misconception that intuitive eating is for weight loss.
Hey everybody! ‘Tis the season for people to start thinking about their upcoming January diets, so I thought I’d re-post this diet story for your reading pleasure (or horror, you pick). Here’s to a new year of not dieting!
It starts out with a simple declaration: “I really need to eat better. And I could shed a few pounds. It’s for my health.” So you join a weight loss group. You don’t really think of it as a diet because diets don’t work, everybody knows this. You’re just going to eat healthier and lose weight.
You measure and weigh out portions with the fancy food scale you bought and the measuring spoons that tell you exactly what one portion of everything is. At first this is easy and kind of fun, like a game. You’re a little bit hungry, but it tells you that your new diet eating plan is working, or at least that’s what someone in your weight loss group told you. You do frequently think about cookies and cupcakes, a lot more than you used to, but you’re not going to have any because this is for your health. Also, they don’t fit into your eating plan.
You love walking, so that becomes your main source of exercise. You walk almost every day and you love it.
You lose a few pounds pretty quickly and you think that all the weighing and measuring and avoiding of butter was worth it. People constantly tell you how great you look now that you’ve lost weight. That feels pretty good! Luckily, you barely hear the insult in the compliment.
After a few weeks, you have your first trip out to a restaurant with friends. You’ve been avoiding this for a while but you miss your friends and eating out. You scan the menu for something you can eat without breaking your diet new way of eating, but there is nothing. You heard about how restaurants will prepare food to your specifications if you ask. “Can I have a plain, skinless grilled chicken breast and steamed vegetables without any butter or oil?” The meal arrives and you are elated at how easy it was to ask and get what you wanted requested. Then you eye your friends’ meals and your mouth starts to water a little bit. However, you are also proud of how good you are being, and you revel in a mild sense of moral superiority at your eating austerity. You don’t even have a bite of the dessert your friends split. It looks delicious.
Soon you have lost several pounds. Somewhere along the way you decide on a number. What you have lost is great but you have not yet reached the number. You have reliably lost a little bit each week with your diet sensible eating that you think getting to the number will be easy. But then a funny thing happens. The number on the scale stops going down. For weeks. “You’re just on a plateau,” says the kindly weight loss counselor. “It happens to everyone. Just keep at it.”
Clearly things must change. You cut your portions down a bit more. Walking for exercise, you decide, is just not cutting it, so you join a gym and start moving very fast on cardio machines. You don’t like being inside instead of outside and you dread the sweaty, exhaustive pace, but hey, this is for your health.
A few weeks after you’ve made these restrictions changes, the scale breaks free and drops a pound. “Congratulations!” the lady says as she takes your weekly payment.
Even more diet changes: you switch to a very high fiber cereal that tastes like gravel and gives you painful gas cramps every afternoon. You eat massive quantities of low fat microwave popcorn (the kind you heard gives people who produce it “popcorn lung”) throughout the day to keep the now-constant gnawing hunger at bay. You make large quantities of steamed vegetables and low-fat, low-carb vegetable soup that you don’t want to eat after it’s made – but you do. Even with all those vegetables to fill you up, you are still hungry before you go to bed. You suck on a sugar free candy to fool the pangs away.
You lose a few more pounds but the scale stalls again. You have stopped eating out altogether – you can’t stand looking at others’ meals, can’t deal with the wonderful aromas of the foods you are afraid to eat. You’ve bought new clothes for your slimmer body but have nowhere to wear them because social outings usually involve food or drink, and right now you can’t have too much of either of those. It’s just not worth messing up all that work you’ve done on your weight health.
One day, you get tired of eating the same 10 safe foods and go out with friends. “What the hell!” you think, and order steak and mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables. You think you deserve this because you’ve been good, but the fact is that you cannot stop yourself from eating the entire plate, well past your point of fullness. Even though your stomach hurts, you order dessert and eat it all yourself. You are not sure what came over you to make you eat that much.
You feel ashamed of your binge and determine to get back on the wagon. You do at first, but that meal opened the flood gates. You think of food 24 hours a day. You simultaneously lust for and fear your next meal. You double down on your exercise and diet (yes, yes, it’s a diet, you know it and can no longer deny this to yourself), but the number on the scale starts to move up a little anyway.
You hate everything you are doing to maintain this weight loss. You hate the gym and feeling like you have to go. You are so bored of your monotonous diet and also the lack of taste, and you are so so hungry. You dream of cheesecake one night and wake up in despair. You are not sure this is for your health anymore.
You keep gaining weight, even though you never really stopped dieting and exercising. So you start eating everything and anything you want. You know this is worse than how you ate before you dieted but you need to fill yourself, fill up the hollow feeling. You quit exercising, including walking, you haven’t done that in forever anyway and all the joy has gone out of it for you. Nobody compliments you on your weight gain.
When all is said and done, you have gained back all your weight plus a few more pounds. You don’t know that this is your body’s way of saving your life from another famine like the one it thinks you just went through. You also don’t know, yet, that you will go through this many more times, trying a different diet (Zone, Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, Volumetrics, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem) each time, all with the same results. And in the end you’ll have gained an extra 40 (or 50, or 60, or 100) pounds and you will think it is all your fault.
Someday you will find out that there is another way. It’s a way to learn how to be healthy but without worrying about your weight. A way to live without fighting your body. You will find that revolutionary. It will be called Health at Every Size®.Will you choose it?
*This is a composite of many different diet experiences…including mine.