Haven’t you always wanted to learn how to eat for optimal wellness? To be the thinnest, happiest, bestest version of yourself? To have cake offered to you at a party and without batting an eyelash, smile contentedly – and – with perfect fucking poise politely say, “no thanks, I’ll pass!”, all while you and those around you bask in the warmth of your luminous self-restraint!? It’s true that we all want to be healthy and well and live a happy, fulfilled life. It’s also true that the word “diet” is made up of the word “die.” Coincidence? I think NOT.
Did you ever wonder why there is a new diet book out every few months? I’ve read a vast majority of them. They all claim to be the “last one you’ll ever need.” I’m not saying I don’t get a few good tips and tricks from these books, but so far as I can tell, they continue to publish diet books at an astonishing rate and not a one has solved any of our problems. That’s because – say it with me now – Diets Don’t Work. No diet (with the exception of something that prevents you from being hospitalized if you don’t eat x, y, or z) is ever going to work long-term or achieve some fairy-tale dream of a perfectly healthy lifestyle. A diet may work in the short term to accomplish a weight-loss goal or to make you feel better, but not a single person on this earth can stick to a restrictive diet for years without some kind of deleterious effect or effects. For me, that looked like decades disordered eating. Sure, my weight stayed relatively the same for long periods of time, but I paid for it mentally and eventually physically.
I don’t necessarily hate diets the way some anti-diet culture wellness folks do – in fact, sometimes I think they are productive. Before the HAES people send me death threats, what I really mean is that I promote people experimenting with different ways to eat. Why not cut out dairy, gluten, meat, or nightshades for a bit to see how it makes you feel? I don’t hate that. It’s not forever (unless you decide you love it) and it may open your eyes to a new dish or sauce or product that you never tried before and REALLY like. Some of my favorite recipes have come from my many experimentations with trying out new ways to eat. I also learned a lot about the way my body functions on certain foods.
I find it disconcerting that as a wellness professional we have to choose a side – for or against dieting. it feels VERY polarizing. Like politics, it never felt right to be all one or the other. If you support HAES (health at every size), you can’t even think about the word diet or someone will break into your house and spray paint fat-shamer on your walls. On the other hand, if you are a supporter of a particular diet (some with “cult-ish” followings), you praise yourself all day long on social media for how much “control” you have (cue 20,4597375 photos of your keto meals – so impressive!) and disparage others for their lack of control – implying that it’s SO EASY to eat things that taste like fucking dirt all day.
My favorite place to be is right in the middle. I feel strongly that those who also like to be in the middle and have balance are under-represented in this space. I like to learn from mistakes and I am not afraid to change my opinion of things. Like most health trends, whatever is popular now will be de-bunked and something new will emerge in the next 5 to 10 years. You can throw all of the studies in my face about how great your restrictive keto diet is (newsflash – most of them are done on relatively healthy males 18-24), but I’m old enough to remember the Atkins diet and how well that worked out for everyone.
What I do know – and my RD and physician friends will attest to this – is that those folks who have the best “diet” are the ones who have this thing called balance in their eating. They don’t eat salads everyday for all three meals. They don’t eat one meal a day consisting only of kale and turmeric. They don’t weigh and measure their food like a psychopath. They also don’t eat potato chips all day long and a bag of Tostitos pizza rolls for dinner every single night. They enjoy take-out pizza night with their families once a week and don’t wake up the next day still stressed out about how many pieces they ate. They have a slice of cake at a birthday party. They aren’t afraid to indulge and enjoy when it’s appropriate. They also enjoy eating vegetables and maybe a salad every once in a while. They know how to move their bodies in a way that feels good. Am I painting the picture here? To put it succinctly – these people don’t eat like assholes (For those interested parties, my book “Don’t Eat Like a Dick” is forthcoming . . . ).
For those lucky people who have never had food issues or tried a diet, this is easier said than done. Most of us have lost this natural way of feeding our bodies because we have been poisoned, in a sense, by diet culture (see, HAES folks, I’m back!). We have been trained to stress about every single thing we put in our bodies because every health and wellness person on instagram is telling you the only way to be healthy is to be raw vegan or some other such shit. And listen, raw veganism is great. I just don’t believe that it works for everyone.
Here’s the thing – we are ALL different. I know, profound shit. But, no one way of eating is going to work for every single person on this planet. We came into this world with certain genetic predispositions that affect the way we process food. Some of us have issues processing raw vegetables – so that way of eating doesn’t feel great for us (me). Some of us have trouble processing gluten. Some of us don’t do well when we eat a huge breakfast first thing in the morning. Some of us actually do better (including for sleep!) when we eat a larger meal with carbohydrates an hour or two before bed. I’m here to let you know – this is a process. I wish it were as easy as reading and following a diet book, but alas, you’ve got to put in the work.
Part of that work is re-learning how to eat intuitively and how to enjoy food again. I’m not talking about a strict following of the book “Intuitive Eating,” though I do find that process helpful. How many times have you gone out to dinner and had one of two scenarios happen: (1) You order a salad with dressing on the side and “feel great about your choice,” because your body was craving a steak and you overpowered your craving; or (2) You order a steak and eat way more than you want to because you “feel guilty about your choice” and figure you might as well indulge now because you won’t be eating like that ever again (so you think). It’s a total lose-lose in both scenarios. Number 1 will probably go home and eat alone in a closet and cry because they didn’t listen to their body and number 2 will have severe bloating and stomach pains and likely starve themselves most of the next day to “make up for the indulgence.”
What do both scenarios have in common? STRESS. Extreme stress over food choices. And guess what. That stress increases cortisol in your body and triggers a response which prompts your body to hold onto more calories regardless of what you eat. Meanwhile. Were you out celebrating something at this dinner? Why the hell are you stressing about your food? Enjoy yourself! Be with your friends or family or whoever and laugh and feed yourself and forget it. I realize for many of us it is easier said than done, but it is doable and it is what I strive for with every one of my clients. Why can’t you order the steak, enjoy it, and eat until you’re satisfied? It’s not allowing yourself to only eat 1/2 the steak and taking the rest home. It’s whatever feels good for your body. Maybe you’re on your period and needing those extra calories, who the hell knows. Actually no – you do. You’re the only one who knows! And until you get back in touch with your hunger and fullness, it’s going to be a struggle. I don’t want you to struggle. Chances are you have enough of that elsewhere in your life.
For most of my clients, when they first come to me, their goal is to lose weight. As my current clients have learned (maybe begrudgingly) – this is not an acceptable goal in my book. If you are looking to weigh a certain amount by a certain date, I am not the Health Coach for you. There are plenty of other folks who will take your money and put you on a “plan” that may or may not work and that you’ll probably hate and will definitely only work for a limited amount of time. For my clients with weight-related initial goals, we always shift the goal. Maybe it’s learning to recognize hunger and fullness cues, how to deal with cravings, or determining which foods work best with their bodies. The goal is always different, but bottom line is that it is never about a certain number and the focus is always long-term.
Even if you’re not sure if you’re ready to put in the work in this area, there are plenty of great intuitive eating and anti-diet resources out there at the moment. These can get you started trying to re-frame the way you think about food. Follow some anti-diet folks on social media and/or check out “Intuitive Eating,” or the “F*ck It Diet.” And, when you’re ready – you know where to find me!