I did a guest blog post for non-diet dietitian Taylor Wolfram over at her site Whole Green Wellness! Check it out:
I spend a lot of time talking about how I quit dieting and why (hello – life of misery). I discuss how we know now that dieting does not actually produce long-term weight loss for most people, and how diets are a part of an oppressive culture that doesn’t encourage us to live fully expressed lives in which we can feel good not just about our bodies, but our total selves.
But today I’m going to talk about what it’s like to take those first few steps away from dieting and diet culture…. Continue here to keep reading
Now taking clients in Los Angeles
Want to work with me in person? I’m now taking clients in my West Los Angeles office as well as virtually anywhere in the world. Learn more here.
I loved this conversation between our fellow dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield and Aaron and I. Rebecca recently published the amazing non-diet self-care manual, Body Kindness (it’s great, please buy ASAP) and she talks about her personal journey of getting to body kindness herself.
Rebecca’s passion for Health at Every Size® is infectious and her no-hold-barred opinions on everything from nutrition education to bringing HAES® to the forefront of the dietetics profession will fire you up.
When I was dieting, I had little time for anything else but thoughts of food and exercise: what I could eat, what I couldn’t, when could I eat again, and what would fit into my days’ “points” allowance; when I would exercise, how I didn’t want to but had to, and how many calories I would burn on the stair-stepping machine (which I hated).
At the height of my dieting mania, when I was “acceptably” slim, I chose to pursue a career that I thought would support my dieting obsession: registered dietitian.
Imagine that – I chose a career that would help me diet. So not only would my personal time be filled with food preoccupation, so would my professional time. Looking back on this, I am astounded. When I was much younger, I had wanted to be other things: writer, fashion designer, even comedian (despite my intense performance anxiety). Where did that person go once on a diet?
It is only now that my dieting obsession is over that I occasionally wonder what I might have chosen for my mid-life career change other than dietitian. I still do love food and nutrition (no longer in an obsessive way) and I’m glad, ultimately, that this was the path I chose because I also love the clinical aspect of what I do, and thankfully the HAES® philosophy has given my practice so much meaning and substance. But imagine if I’d had more mental freedom in making this choice. But making a career choice during what was basically a mental health crisis is not how I wish that had gone down.
In the years that I became so restrictive with food, I had few hobbies. It’s not because I’m not an interesting person – I AM – but because planning all my meals and then fretting about how long I could withstand my hunger was first priority. I had a brief flirtation with pottery, and though I’ll never be any sort of visual artist, I wish I had continued on with it because it was truly the most meditative thing I have ever done while still creating something. Figuring out how to simultaneously eat food I liked while eating the fewest calories took first priority.
Anyway, once I stopped dieting, I had to spend some time figuring out how to eat again. It took me about five years to learn how to eat instinctively. Five years! So even after I stopped dieting, I still had to spend time learning how to not-diet. That part was better, because at least I learned how to make bagels and French baguettes and kimchi.
Once I was done learning to eat, I finally had time again. So I started writing this blog, and then I was asked to write by a magazine, and then I was asked to speak and I started to become an expert in my field of non-dieting. I took hula hoop classes and dance classes and learn to boogie board and travelled without worrying how I was going to stay on my diet. I ate dessert when I felt like it and got big swishy skirts I never would have worn even when I was thin because I worried they’d make me look fat. I started to really live in a way that I was afraid to do even when I was thin and never good enough. In between, I stopped dieting, and started living.
How much time is dieting and worrying about weight taking away from you? What creative or intellectual or fun or generous pursuits have you put aside because you had to think about food, or had to negotiate constant hunger and longing? What great or satisfying things would you do if you were freed from this diet prison?
Only you can answer that.
Ready to Stop Dieting and Start Living?
If you’re ready to stop dieting, or already have, and would like some help with the not-dieting (so you don’t have to spend five years doing it on your own like I did), check out my new online course and group coaching program, Stop Dieting, Start Living, which will help you do just that. Registration is open until February 2 or until the class is full.
Free Group Coaching Call January 28
I’m hosting a free group coaching call on January 28 at 10 am PST. The topic is “Why can’t I stop eating even when I’m not hungry?!” I’m only sending the call details to people on my newsletter list so sign up here if you want in on the fun.
Join our Facebook group community!
We have a very cool little community going on over at Facebook called The Dare To Not Diet Society. Members give each other support, cheer each other on in their non-diet journey. I’m there too! It’s a body positive, non-diet, non-weight-loss focused community, and we’d love to have you.
I’m taking a little blog breather this week to enjoy life, so I’m re-posting one of my favorite post in the past year. I’ll be back soon with new content, but for now…enjoy some vintage Dare To Not Diet.
As a dietitian who believes in non-diet, non-weight focused nutrition, I often find myself explaining my position on intentional weight loss to casual acquaintances who always want to talk to me about weight loss. It usually starts out with someone else bringing up the topic after they have discovered I am a dietitian (there is a reason I don’t volunteer this information easily). They say something like, “Well of course diets don’t work. Permanent lifestyle changes are what lead to lasting weight loss,” or, “Eating less doesn’t work, you have to do interval training in order to lose weight and keep it off,” or, “The only way to maintain long lasting weight loss is to do resistance training.” As though fat people have never tried any of these things ever, and if they just would, they’d have their fatness cured, stat. *Eye roll*
To which I have to answer: “Actually, no one has figured out a way to create long-term weight loss for more than a tiny fraction of people…and neither have you.” (In reality, I try to be nice about this. But for the purposes of this blog, I get to have a Snark-o-rama, ʼkay?) And then I clarify that I’m talking about basically all the weight loss science that exists out there and how it pretty much shows that long-term weight loss is pretty much a unicorn (as in, it doesn’t exist) for all but a few people. And then, of course, perhaps because I’m a dietitian and why trust someone with an actual degree in nutrition*, or perhaps because I’m a chubby woman who’s clearly just given up on herself*, they don’t believe me.
My favorite person (okay, not really) to argue with on this subject insists that the key to weight loss (even long-term!) is interval training weight weights (despite complete lack of evidence) . When I say that I lift weights and I’m still fat, the answer is invariably, “Well, you’re just not doing it enough.” When I ask how much and how often I should lift weights, the answer is, “More than you’re doing now.” Which is asinine, because he doesn’t know jack about what I’m doing now. When I say that I lifted weights very regularly when I was much thinner and dieting and that I couldn’t build any muscle to save my life AND my weight eventually returned even as I adhered to my regimen, he says it was because I was dieting. When I say I stopped dieting, still lifted weights and gained a lot of weight, it is because I’m not lifting enough. Basically, I’m a fatty who can’t win. Oh, and it’s all my fault.
This seems to be the prevailing attitude among people who all profess to have THE answer to the weight loss “problem.” What it really boils down to is, “Do this thing you might not even like to do, do it a lot, focus your entire life on this, forsake all the other things you might be interested in doing because they won’t produce weight loss, and you’ll be CURED of your fat forever!” Except that, oh yeah, there is zero proof that any of this will work LONG TERM for more than a tiny – like 5% tiny – fraction of people, even if you manage to keep at it.
And by the way, guess who’s tried these “foolproof,” “long-term” weight loss “methods”? (imagine me air quoting vigorously here). Only every fat person that’s ever tried to diet ever. Yeah, that’s right. We’ve tried it. It didn’t work and also, it sucked. If it was something most people could sustain long-term AND they enjoyed it, they’d do it. But we’re not talking about enjoying life here, are we? No, the idea seems to be that we do stuff we don’t like just to chase a body that isn’t really ours. Essentially, we are being punished for our fat. You only get one life on earth, so why don’t you do stuff you don’t enjoy to make sure everyone else is okay with the way you look?*
Let’s take weight lifting, for instance (something I actually happen to enjoy). Even if it did work to induce long-term weight loss for most people, what if someone hates lifting weights? Resistance training isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But in order to lose weight and maintain the loss, someone is supposed to sacrifice their interests and pretty much all their spare time just to make sure they have time for adequate amounts of weight-loss inducing resistance training (assuming one doesn’t make a living lifting weights, which most of us don’t)? Pfffft, thanks but no thanks.
There is a reason the weight loss industry is hauling in $60 billion a year – it keeps selling the same shoddy product over and over again to the same people (like, all of us) without ever actually working. If there was a way to produce sustainable weight loss that worked for most people, we’d have all figured it out, done it, and eventually the weight loss industry would cease to exist because we’d have all lost weight and kept it off. But we didn’t. And it keeps existing. And this weight-loss mentality is actually doing more harm than good by contributing to body shame, disordered eating and exercising, weight cycling, and even more weight gain for a lot of people.
So then I hear, “Permanent weight loss is hard work and people are just lazy.” First of all, short-term weight loss is no piece of cake either, but most of us who have tried it have lost at least some weight initially. And you know who works hard? Just about everyone. Yep, turns out the world is not full of lazy people. In a world of ever-increasing working hours and people with multiple jobs, we live in a society that is well-acquainted with hard work. Sometimes it’s hard work we don’t even like, but we do it anyway. But somehow we’re just lazy about losing weight permanently even though we’re willing to pay $60 billion a year for it? This is some serious non-logic.
So, no big surprise here, but nope, no one has “cured” fatness yet. Sorrrreeeeee!
The good news is, that doesn’t mean we need to give up on our health. Although they won’t necessarily cause most people to lose weight (yes, they may cause some people to lose weight, just not a statistically significant proportion of people), actual, doable lifestyle changes that support health are much easier to make and sustain compared to what you have to do to induce and sustain weight loss. So why not do the things that are achievable and sustainable, like listening to internal hunger and satiety cues to prevent overeating, adding more fruits or vegetables to our diet to boost our nutrient intake, or finding more ways to move enjoyably?
These things are easy to do in the absence of hunger and deprivation, or misery of doing stuff that you hate that often accompanies weight loss efforts. And while they might not “cure” our fatness (just as nothing has been shown to do), they will make us healthier. And maybe even happier.
Someone accused me on Facebook recently of telling people that they were healthy at any size (she also told me that I was clearly unhealthy and unfit because of my obesity, despite never once having looked at my medical records. Perhaps she’s a psychic doctor?! No, just a run-of-the-mill internet troll). Aside from attributing to me words I have never uttered, it’s also a big misconstruing of the HAES® philosophy. But it’s something I hear enough that I think it warrants some clarification from time to time. If someone has not taken the time to look into the finer details of Health at Every Size® (which are encompassed in 5, easy-to-digest points, but hey, that could read like the ACA to some people), they might easily misunderstand what this philosophy is about. They might well think that what this movement says is that a person can be healthy at literally any weight, from 2 pounds to 1000 pounds.
Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
Respectful Care: Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
Eating for Well-being: Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
Life-Enhancing Movement: Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.
You’ll probably notice right off that it doesn’t say, “And BTW, you’re totally healthy at ANY size.” Nope. Nowhere is that said. The essential philosophy of Health at EVERY Size® is that no matter what your weight is right now, you can begin (or continue) your journey to health. Maybe you aren’t healthy right now – you don’t need to let your weight stop you from trying to become healthier (and just a reminder that health is not entirely within our control, nor is it an obligation). Maybe as a result of changes, your weight will change, but that’s not the important part of this whole shebang.
So the question remains – do I think anyone is healthy at any weight? Given that I don’t have access to most people’s medical records, I can’t ever tell that. It’s entirely possible that a person may not be healthy at literally any weight. What we know so far about metabolism and internal weight regulation is that the body seems to know what weight it wants to be within a certain range (set point theory), and despite our best dieting efforts, doesn’t want to be too far away from that range for very long (thus the very predictable results of the recent research on The Biggest Loser contestants). There may be a range of weights that your body could be healthy at, but I truly wouldn’t know. Only your body knows that.
But this is putting far too much emphasis on the “weight” part – because weight is not what makes someone healthy or unhealthy. We cannot simply look at a person and determine if they are healthy based on their weight. Genetics, environment, and behaviors all play a part in health. You can definitely work on the behavior part. Depending on your situation, maybe you can change your environment (this assumes a certain amount of economic privilege, certainly). Genetics – good luck, that’s always a roll of the dice. so yes, we can definitely influence our health to some degree. What more and more is shown in the science, though, is that while you may be able to influence your weight short-term, in the long-term, your body almost always wins out on that decision. What’s that serenity prayer? “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Yeah, that works pretty well here. Serenity now.
No, I can’t tell you if you will be healthy at any size. I defer to your body’s wisdom on determining those things for you. I only know that weight does not equal health. My suggestion is to stop worrying about weight and just work on the things you can and want to change. Maybe you want to eat more intuitively, or find exercise you actually like, or learn to cope with stress better, or get some much needed social or psychological support. The wonderful thing about HAES® is that it is all-inclusive – people of every size can work on those things to the best of their ability and according to their own desire.
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Shameless Plugs for Other People
This is something new I’m doing. From time to time I’m going to promote someone who’s work I love and think is important to the HAES® movement, because we just need more of that. This week I want to give a shout-out to Green Mountain at Fox Run for their wonderful new website! They have a great blog – check it out and share as you see fit!
A year ago I started this blog with the idea that I had something to say about a better way to live our lives, at least when it came to food and our weight. I wanted to be one of the voices that spoke out against the diet industry that profits from the insecurity they help manufacture and sells us lies and sham products and then blames us for their lack of success.
Meanwhile, I had some insecurities of my own. I wasn’t sure if I could produce weekly content that people would want to read. I wasn’t sure how much of myself to expose to the internet, which can be a scary place. I didn’t know if I could make one iota of difference in supporting people to get off the diet treadmill. I actually thought if 100 people read this blog by the end of the next year, I’d be thrilled.
Well, I am beyond thrilled. This year, I had 18,351 visitors. For the last 6 months, I averaged 2,379 visitors a month. That’s probably not a lot compared to many blogs, but considering I started out with 300 visitors last January…well, I’m incredibly grateful for every single one of you. I ended up with 172 subscribers and I thank every single one of them for signing up to hear me rant against the diet industry and for Health at Every Size® weekly.
I got to hear from people who are recovering from eating disorders and people who are learning to love their bodies and heal their relationship to food and who told me they found this blog a source of support — they are some pretty cool people. I made some great online allies. Because people were reading and seemed to want more, I felt encouraged enough to start a podcast with my friend Aaron Flores, RDN, which has been so much fun for me. I got to be on Christy Harrison’s Food Psych podcast to talk about my history with food and dieting which was so very super cool. I guest blogged on NEDIC. I was asked to participate in some more projects for the coming year which I’ll reveal as they come to fruition!
Beyond my blog, I saw the body positive movement go mainstream this year. Sometimes, living in my little HAES® bubble, tailoring my social media feeds to non-diet bliss, I’m not sure what’s going on outside in the real world. But I asked around and looked around and sure enough, there it was – body positivity everywhere. Let’s not let the diet industry co-opt this movement for nefarious profit. Let’s continue to make this movement of nourishing ourselves and loving ourselves just the way we are something that lasts and doesn’t disappear from our collective memory as fast as the Ice Bucket Challenge did.
And let’s keep the ball rolling. Let’s keep talking about how diets don’t work, how we can be healthy without going hungry, and how we can respect our wonderful bodies right now. Let’s someday make the diet industry a thing of the past.
So, Happy 1st Blogiversary to my blog and thank you to everyone who visited and subscribed and shared…the message of this blog is nothing without all of you. I wish I could share this cake with you. Keep fighting the good fight and here’s to a New Year of daring to not diet!