How to Identify Diet Culture & Become More Intuitive

As a dietitian, the question I hear the most is, “Are you going to make me stop eating this?” My answer is always NO, of course not!!

Why? I simply don’t believe in diets, or cutting out any type of food. And I think it’s stupid that the word “diet” is in my job title.

I believe in intuitive eating.

how to start Intuitive Eating

Eating intuitively is not something they teach you in grad school. We learned specific calorie counts. Most of us liked this simplicity, being Type A nutrition students, and I personally enjoyed thinking about that perfect number.

However, what I have learned from talking with clients and though my own experiences, this perfect number simply doesn’t exist. It might be X amount of food you need one day, and X amount you need another day. This amount depends on so many factors, such as stress, exercise, sleep, sex, age, and activity level at your job, all of which contribute substantially to how much energy you need each day. It would drive you nuts to try and figure this number out every single day.

Have you ever noticed how one day you wake up starving while another day you seem just fine? Or sometimes you can be just fine eating a sandwich for lunch while other days you feel like you need 16 sandwiches?

That is because our body naturally fluctuates. The calorie clock does not start over when the clock strikes midnight, no matter what calorie counters tell us. This is normal.

When you were a baby, you were super in tune to how much food you wanted or didn’t want. However, as you get older, this can get put on the back burner.

So how can you begin to eat in a way that is intuitive?

  1. Recognize where dieting appears in your life. 

Notice what your friends say in terms of their body or what diet they may or may not be on, listen to people at work, notice foods in the grocery store that promise “no guilt”, mannequins in department stores, signs on billboards or magazines at check stands.

There is also what is called “psedeo dieting”. This is when you may not say specifically you are “on a diet”, but are still exhibiting dieting behaviors. This can look like counting macros, eating only at certain times of the day, or eating only “safe” or “clean” foods.

This pseudo dieting also includes: paying for eating so-called “bad” foods by over-exercising, limiting other foods throughout the day, skipping meals, or telling yourself you will be “good” tomorrow.

It includes cutting back on food even if you are hungry, delaying your hunger by drinking coffee, tea or soda. It is displayed when you decline dessert after dinner, even if you want that dessert but can’t face eating it in public.

Dieting behavior includes competing with others who are also dieting. (Don’t even get me started on “Biggest Loser” competitions in the workplace.) It is when you second-guess yourself when you deserve to eat. For example, if you are hungry at 10am but think to yourself, “I can’t possibly be hungry I just ate and lunch is two hours away”. Diet thoughts my dear.

Finally, dieting can be disguised by going gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan or whatever-free. This allows a person to have a label for the way they eat, so they can safely hide behind that label. I think there are absolutely benefits to eating plant-based, or in a way that makes you feel your best. However, the intention behind that lifestyle needs to come from a good place, NOT to mask dietary decisions.

Again, I challenge you to start looking around. Who do you hang out with constantly talks about food or his/her body? What food products promise “no guilt” or promote skinniness? What is the message at your gym telling you? What social media accounts do you follow that promote weight loss, eating a certain way, or portray an unrealistic ideal?

Where does dieting pop up in your life?

  1. Ask, how do I feel?

Now, check in with yourself. Do you go on and off diets? Feel guilty when you aren’t eating “perfectly”? Feel socially withdrawn at events with food? What does your brain tell you when you eat ___ food? Do you find yourself holding onto an item of clothing because it fit you in high school and you’re saving it for when you are a certain size? Do you tell yourself you are “going to be good” during this next diet, or this next week?

Maybe you notice yourself wondering about a specific diet after a friend has gushed about how she lost __ amount of weight in two weeks. Maybe you find yourself buying the “skinny popcorn” because it is labeled as skinny. Maybe you are googling the latest trendy diet to see if it’ll help you lose weight too. Are you sick of starting a diet and then starting over when you “fail” two months later?

To recap steps 1 & 2:

I would encourage you to consciously take notice of WHERE and WHAT types of dieting situations arise and also HOW YOU FEEL about them.

For example:

  1. What happened: My best friend is on this new diet and she lost __ lbs.
  2. How I feel: I might want to go on that diet. I feel happy for my friend because she seems happy. Unhappy with myself because I can’t lose __ weight. Guilty because I ate __ for lunch and I should have had a salad. Maybe I should go exercise so I can look great in pictures with her.

How do these thoughts serve you? If the answer is, I don’t like these feelings or I don’t want to diet anymore, intuitive eating may be for you.

  1. Be critical of nutrition information being spread.

Start being a little more critical of the dietary advice you hear floating around. I know there is a ton of misinformation out there. If you hear from a friend about a new nutrition topic, or see a beautiful person on Instagram who is doing something, remember you are not them! Everyone is so individual and what works for that person probably won’t work for you. Be aware that people are usually looking for a quick fix or are trying to fix a perceived issue. Work with a dietitian! 

What to do:

  • Identify these diet behaviors and trends
  • Check in with how you feel
  • Learn to be critical of information you hear

As a population, we are super immersed in this diet culture, where we think skinny = happy and healthy. This simply isn’t true. How you look is probably the least interesting thing about you. And let’s be honest. The person who knows exactly what your body needs isn’t the pretty girl on Instagram, it is YOU. Listen to your body’s intuitive wisdom and, be kind.

Think about how you would address your best friend. Would you describe them as having fat arms or jiggly thighs? Of course not! You would probably say they are smart, hilarious, goofy, kind, adventurous and warm-hearted. Imagine, if only you spoke the same way to yourself.

Anything else you would like to share? Comment below!

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