I suck at dieting because I refuse to follow strict rules. There was a point and time dieting plagued my existence. I was consumed with finding the “right” diet to follow. And, had to make sure I was consuming the “right” foods. Because if I didn’t remain vigilant about what I put in my body one of two things would happen. One, I’d become obese and not be desirable anymore superficial but honest. We live in a society that glorifies thin bodies while shaming “fat” bodies. Second I feared developing health issues and complications. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily true. You can’t “diet” your way out of invisible illness.
I’ve been a generally athletic and active female since my teens. However, I was still diagnosed with endometriosis. Having this disease has affected my weight, my hormones, my fertility, and my health as a whole. The shame and pressure I felt to heal myself by finding the right diet that would “cure” my endometriosis and “restore” my fertility. I felt this heavy burden to heal myself because social media and society shamed me into believing I was to blame for having a chronic illness.
My Constant Dieting Failures
I don’t know how many years I chased diets only to fall flat on my face back at square one. Many of the issues that I faced with dieting involved:
- Sustainability issues
- Rigid Food Rules
- Polarizing Theology
- Demonizing Food
- Lack of Flexibility
- No Individuality & Personalization
Dieting Lacks Longevity
I’m a natural-born rebel. While I need and crave structure I’m not a follower. I don’t like the idea of doing something just because. It needs to be relatable, simple, and easy to integrate into my life. This is why dieting and I always quarrel. It didn’t matter if it was Paleo or Keto I always found that I couldn’t stick to it. I thought that it’s because I lacked discipline and willpower. In reality, it’s because I was over-restricting myself and removing foods I enjoyed and this made me want them even more. Hence, why I could usually stick to a diet for a while. But, when there was an event, holiday, or special occasion I would go off the rails and abandon my diet completely. It was all or nothing. There was no balance.
Too Many Rigid Food Rules
Additionally, I found the rules and rituals within each diet to be cumbersome. They didn’t mesh well with real-life for me. I didn’t want to have to count calories and do mental math at every single meal. And, I didn’t want the guilt, and anxiety that always came when I would eat out. I really struggled with this when I was experiencing chronic pain from my endo. I would beat myself up if I ate something that wasn’t “anti-inflammatory” and would become fearful of a flare-up. I’m sure the stress and anxiety I put on myself contributed to my pain and flare-ups more than the actual food that I ate did. This tug of war with good and bad foods created an unhealthy relationship with food. Thus, leading to some disordered eating habits that I’m still working through.
War of the Diets
Another confusing issue came from inconsistencies in the diet world. Grains are good one day. Then the next they’re killing you. A low-carb diet is better than a high-carb. Or eat more fat; it’s good for you. It always seemed that everyone was arguing over what diet was healthy or beneficial. Whether it was for weight loss, pain management, cholesterol, whatever. No one could ever agree or see eye to eye. This conflicting information also led me to jump from diet to diet because well I was trying to keep up with what was “healthy” and trending.
Good Food vs. Bad Food
While I understand that there are foods that are more nutrient-dense and foods that are less nutritious. I don’t understand why we have to make things good and bad. Why can’t they just be what they are? This was forever the struggle for me. Finding the balance to enjoy fun, tasty foods without feeling I needed to justify it. Idealizing and glorifying certain food and food groups over others isn’t necessary. It’s unhealthy and creates a poor relationship with food and our bodies. Additionally, this leads to food shaming and reinforces those rigid diet rules that few people can keep and remain happy. It’s a recipe for disaster.
The majority of traditional diets have specific instructions they want you to follow. They promise that if you adhere to these rules perfectly you’ll lose weight, be free from pain, and cure your disease. Well, I’ve followed many diets over the years and still got endometriosis and needed major surgery. So, there’s that. Furthermore, I found that the more restrictive I was the more I craved the foods I was omitting. Then the moment I finally allowed myself to have that food I lost all self-control. I found I was either locked into this rigid eating plan or lost in a sea of gluttony.
While diets claim to offer all the options in the world. They fail to meet the needs of everyone. There’s no way one specific dietary doctrine can address the unique and individual needs of each and every person that follows their diet. I found this to be a major issue with many of the diets I followed. I was constantly tweaking them to make them “work” for me. Even with the tweaks and changes I still struggled to stick to it.
Tearing Down Limiting Beliefs
Oh, if only present-day Kat could go back to past tense Kat and just pour wisdom and love on her. Living in both of these extremes cost me a lot in regards to my self-esteem, mental health, body image, and relationship to food. Hence, why two years ago I resolved to fix this. I took a nutrition course through Precision Nutrition and learned the foundational principles of what health and wellness were apart from dieting. What a healthy lifestyle actually looked like and consisted of. And, that nutrition and health don’t have anything to do with the shape or size of the body. Additionally, it had nothing to do with following a specific type of diet. Diets, in essence, are just guidelines to provide people with options for healthy ways to manage their nutrition.
But, things really didn’t click until I read Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A, C.E.D.R.D. And, at first, I rejected the idea that intuitive eating was real and legit. Taking all that I knew and believed about dieting and throwing it out the window was hard. How was I supposed to prioritize my health? What about my chronic pain and disease? How was I going to cure it if I didn’t know what diet to follow? I was like most people I wanted the RULES. They made me feel safe like “Ah, I have a set path to follow.” But, at the end of the day, they also made me feel miserable because trying to uphold those strict rules was freaking impossible. Yet, once I realized how I couldn’t continue with the tug of war anymore I surrendered. I resolved to open my mind to intuitive eating. And, it totally changed my world.
Freedom From Dieting
One of the first steps I had to take was to work my way through the intuitive eating principles. Doing so taught me what intuitive eating was versus what it wasn’t. It also taught me how to become a mindful eater. This was a super powerful tool for me. I also learned how to shift my focus from aesthetic-based health goals to wellness-based health goals. Another absolute game-changer. Finally, intuitive eating helped me realize that basic nutrition is and always will be enough.
The Principles of Intuitive Eating
There are ten key principles that make up the foundation of intuitive eating. They are:
- Reject Diet Mentality
- Honor Your Hunger
- Make Peace with Food
- Challenge the Food Police
- Respect Your Fullness
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
- Honor Your Emotion Without Food
- Respect Your Body
- Honor Your Health-Gentle Nutrition
Taking my time to really work through each of these principles and apply them to my life was so needed. I found I was able to break up with dieting for good. And, while I haven’t completely healed my relationship with food I’m better now than where I was. Additionally, I became empowered to develop a conscious and thoughtful approach to what I ate. Instead of relying on a specific set of dietary rules I was free to experiment and analyze. I found out what truly worked for my body and my health. I did so by paying attention to how my body felt after eating certain foods and finding links to flare-ups. This flexibility and freedom allowed me to create my own “diet”.
Another tool in my intuitive eating toolbox is mindful eating. I never realized how rushing through meals and not really paying attention was unhealthy. It didn’t allow the time for my gut and brain to communicate with each other. Since I was so preoccupied with shoveling food in my mouth I never really paid attention to whether I was satisfied or not. This often led me to overeat and feel stuffed. On the other hand, slowing down and not eating while distracted has helped me overcome this. Eating my meals at a table while listening to music and savoring each bite has become my ritual. Furthermore, this has improved my digestion. Plus, it’s fun to have a sit-down dinner with my spouse on our beautiful dishware.
Health & Wellness Based Goals
It never fails that the majority of diets are focused on getting the body to do a specific thing. Whether that thing is to lose weight or heal from a chronic illness. Spending so much time wrapped up in following a diet that didn’t take my personality, needs, lifestyle, and wants into consideration left me unfulfilled. Yet, incorporating a holistic approach to my health and wellness allowed me to release myself from the prison I was in. I don’t feel the need to freak out or have a panic attack if I don’t eat the exact right thing. Because nutrition isn’t narrow. It’s actually quite wide and involves the things you do on a regular consistent basis.
So, having a muffin from Starbucks isn’t going to kill me. On the other hand, having 3 muffins from Starbucks might push it for me and lead to digestive issues. Consequently, gaining a better understanding of my limits when it comes to food and symptom management has improved my food decisions. Therefore, my goals are finally based on what my body wants and need to perform at its best.
The Fundamentals of Nutrition
Finally, intuitive eating set me free of the idea that nutrition and food needed to be complicated. Because it really doesn’t. It’s quite simple and individual. Focusing on a nutrient-dense diet that is comprised of fruits, veggies, lean protein, and healthy fats is what matters. Weighing food, and counting calories don’t have to be done on a daily basis in order to take care of the body. Simple portion control using hands, listening to your hunger and satiety cues, and knowing your limits are enough. The body is incredibly smart and knows how to manage my energy better than I do.
Now, I’m not saying that calories don’t matter and they’re not important. On the contrary, I believe that having a basic understanding of calories, ingredients, macronutrients, and micronutrients is key. Knowing what the food you eat is comprised of can help you make empowered decisions regarding what you do and don’t want to eat. Thus, giving you the freedom to adopt various dietary styles and create something that works perfectly for you.
Do I Still Suck At Dieting?
I guess it depends on who you ask. I’m sure there are those that disagree with me and believe I need to eat a certain way, count the calories, weigh the food. Basically, do all the things to hold myself accountable. And, I’m not here to judge if YOU need that. But, girlfriend I don’t. Life is complicated enough as it is. I don’t need a complex relationship with my food. Furthermore, I don’t need to make nutrition my religion in order to live a healthy and fulfilled life. I can maintain a healthy weight, and manage my disease without making myself a nervous wreck. And, that’s the freedom that comes with becoming an intuitive eater. You have the flexibility to do what’s right for you during each season of your life. There’s no need to put yourself in a box and try to adhere to anyone’s standards but your own. Because life is better when you’re the creator of your own destiny.