The moment you decide to stop dieting, it may feel like the biggest relief ever. Perhaps you are tired of trying to trick your body into thinking it doesn’t need food, ignoring gnawing hunger pangs (and eventually bingeing), and obsessing over food. And perhaps all of that isn’t controlling your weight anymore anyway. So you decide quit dieting for good and learn to eat “normally.”
But then you find the process of learning to eat normally is not always so straightforward.
Eating without restriction at first can feel scary. Restriction can provide a sense of security and control. Trying to eat normally may feel like you are now “out of control.”
You might struggle with “getting it right” or listening to your body (and maybe your body isn’t talking to you right now). Years of dieting can totally fuck with your head and your stomach, and can make this whole process a lot harder.
There are two things that can make this process even harder: Perfectionism and Judgment.
As former dieters, our “success” depended so much on being perfect, getting the diet right, and never falling off the proverbial wagon. Isn’t that why everyone blames people for diet failure? They didn’t stick to the diet, they weren’t perfect enough, and therefore they didn’t achieve the results. Even though we know this isn’t a personal failure – that the state of dieting is a completely unnatural one, that nearly everyone fails at weight loss over the long term, and that it has nothing to do with willpower – we often persist in this idea that if we had just done it perfectly enough, it would have worked out differently.
Residual diet perfectionism may linger. Normal eating becomes just a new thing to perfect. But really, it isn’t. Ellyn Satter’s definition of what normal eating looks like:
Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it – not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life. In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.
There is room for a lot of mistake-making with normal eating. So make those mistakes and learn from all of them!
Fear of judgment is understandable. No one wants to be judged unworthy! And that is often the reason we diet in the first place – to be judged worthy, or to avoid harsh judgment of our bodies.
But if you’ve been suppressing your weight with restriction, weight regain may be inevitable. It can be dismaying that when we start to listen to our bodies, they start to gain weight (for some, at least). Surely, you think, if I just learned to eat “normally,” I would have a “normal” sized body? (ideas about “normal” sized bodies can vary widely, too, making it a useless measurement)
So we look at our bodies that seem out of control and decide that it probably has something to do with our new way of eating, which also feels completely out of control. We start to apply the brakes to our eating here and there. We try to eat a bit less, or eat more “healthful” foods than we feel like – and voila, sneaky restriction has surfaced, starting the restrict-binge cycle all over again.
All of this behavior stems from the judgment we’re putting on our bodies and what we think they should or shouldn’t be doing. Next thing you know, eating normally doesn’t feel good at all, and it’s now not any easier than dieting was. Thanks judgment, you judgey asshole!
Before you decide you’ve done something wrong, try instead to roll with the wisdom of your body. Remind yourself why you quit diets in the first place. Imagine what your life would be like if you decided to live authentically, in alignment with your internal eating cues. And what your life would be life if you decided to respect your body, no matter what size it was.
On a practical level, eat real meals, starting with breakfast, that you would serve to a friend with a good appetite. Avoid serving yourself the smallest possible portions. Eat regularly throughout the day, and listen for hunger. Experiment with what it’s like to be different levels of full.
Make a lot of eating mistakes. Give yourself grace for having to learn to eat again.
Thank perfectionism and judgment for whatever they’ve helped you through in the past, and then kiss them goodbye. Neither of them have a place in your eating anymore.
Welcome to food freedom! Dare to Not Diet LLC is owned by Glenys Oyston, Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Therapist and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. It's time to feel good about eating, your body, and your health.