March is nutrition month, and this year the theme in Canada is Take the Fight out of Food! I want to share my spin on this, from an intuitive eating perspective.
Women (and men) fight with food everyday. We fight with our bodies. We fight to change our weight, and it's a struggle that is never ending. We fight to achieve standards of perfection that keep shifting. We fight to lose weight because society tells us we're not attractive or healthy enough. We fight because health professionals tell us our weight needs to fall on the left side of 24.9 on the BMI chart or else we are putting our lives at risk. We fight because the US government has declared a war on obesity. We fight a tug-of-war between nourishment and pleasure, as if it has to be one or the other. We fight our cravings for "unclean" foods because we are, after all, one French fry away from developing heart disease.
All of this fighting makes us tired. Unhappy. Feeling bad about ourselves. Guilty. We are expending a massive amount of precious energy trying to fix our bodies and weight.
And... there is a constant and permanent barrage of health professionals, authors of diet books, coaches and gurus, selling us an endless rotation of products and services. They guarantee that if we just do what they say, our struggles will be over.
We are tired. And so, it's no wonder that we buy into this argument over and over again. We want some peace.
The only problem is, the solutions that are being offered don't work. They make things worse. They worsen our health instead of improve it. Even clinicians who are experts in the obesity field agree that the existing alternatives for weight loss are largely ineffective. Calorie restriction and elimination of major groups of food set us up for a fight as well. The more foods we restrict and the narrower our intake becomes, the less foods we tolerate. We become more preoccupied with our diet and our weight. Joy and pleasure are sucked out of our lives as we become more hung up on dieting.
This is how eating disorders are born - anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, orthorexia - from the quest to lose weight through dieting, and the promise of a better life once we meet our goals. However, the reality is that we never do reach that happy ending point where we can relax and breathe. With eating disorders, the end goal keeps shifting. We can be happy for five minutes and then the eating disorder tells us we'd be even happier if we lost another five. When we reach this point, we are essentially engaged in a battle with the eating disorder, and with our body, that can last for a lifetime.
Weight loss through dieting also sets us up for a fight against biology. And unfortunately for us (or maybe fortunately?) our bodies outsmart those methods every time.
So, my opinion is that Take the Fight Out of Food! is a great topic to focus on this month. If any of what you have read sounds familiar and you are struggling with these very things, as so many of us are, there are steps that you can take to drop the rope and end the tug-of-war on your own terms. Here are some ideas to get you started:
1) Let go of the endless pursuit of weight loss - this is a BIG step and maybe you're not ready to smash your scale and let this go forever, but can you press the pause button? Think about all of the time and energy you have devoted to losing weight throughout your lifetime, and where has it gotten you? Have you been able to sustain your goals? Has your love and respect for your body improved over time? Have other areas of your life improved because of weight loss? If so, that's great, carry on! But none of this ever came true for me, and I'm guessing that it hasn't for you either. When I was thinner, I might have argued that I felt better about my body, but in reality it was the persona that I was projecting to the world that made me feel better - I was a little closer to achieving the body that society approves of. I wasn't actually any closer to liking my body and being content with it - in fact, I only became more critical and obsessed with my "problem areas" with weight loss. So - if you are starting to see how the pursuit of weight loss is not getting you anywhere and is actually causing you harm, maybe you're ready to pause it and consider learning about other alternatives.
2) Instead of doubling down and enforcing all of those food rules you've learned, can you try an experiment to lift them for a week and see what happens? Allow yourself a little space to play with allowing all foods and having full permission to eat - when you're hungry, when you're emotional and needing a little comfort, when you're craving something on your forbidden list? When you take the fight out of food in this manner, what you'll find happening over time is that your appetite will normalize, your cravings for forbidden foods will ease off, and the variety of different foods you eat will expand (more variety = more nutrients). Even better, you'll start to feel so much more relaxed around food, and all of that anxiety and fear will be replaced with a feeling of freedom and empowerment.
3) Take a look at your regular exercise regime. Is it based on a punishing and rigid schedule? Is it centered around working out for a certain amount of time, at a certain intensity, burning a certain number of calories? Can you start to take even one step to incorporate a more relaxed and flexible regime that is more about enjoyment than feeling the burn? All types of activity are beneficial, and it's no secret that the ones you enjoy are the ones that you'll keep coming back to time and time again. If you truly dislike running on the treadmill but feel like it's the best way to keep your weight in check - first, revisit #1 above, and secondly, know that it probably will only become more daunting over time. If a yoga class or a walk outside appeals to you and would leave you feeling "filled up" and refreshed, this will be much more beneficial to your overall physical AND mental health. It doesn't matter if the calorie count isn't as high - your body will adjust for this and will be much more satisfied.
4) One of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself, if you're struggling, is the gift of working with a dietitian or therapist that is aligned with intuitive eating, body positivity and Health at Every Size models. Diet culture is rampant, toxic, and so pervasive, and giving yourself support from someone you trust to guide you in a new direction can be such an incredible experience. It can be so much easier and less overwhelming than trying to navigate it all on your own.
I would love to hear about your experiences with taking the fight out of food and weight! Email me anytime to chat!