In this episode of Eat the Rules, I’m revisiting a classic episode which is an epic guide to how diets work and fail us.
I also explore what dieting does to our body, how to recognize the diet mentality and heal from it, and so much more.
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ETR 217: How Diets Work (…and Don’t) Transcript
INTRO: This is Eat the Rules, a podcast about body positivity, self-worth, anti-dieting, and Feminism. I am your host, Summer Innanen, a professionally trained coach specializing in body image, self-worth, and confidence, and the best-selling author of Body Image Remix. If you’re ready to break free of societal standards and stop living behind the number on your scale, then you have come to the right place! Welcome to the show.
SUMMER: This is episode 83 and I’m giving you an epic guide to why diets don’t work and how to recover from dieting. You can find all the links and resources mentioned in this podcast at summerinnanen.com/83. That’s 8-3.
Before we begin, I have a couple of really special new announcements. Number one, it’s International Women’s Day. I wanted to release this on a Wednesday instead of a Tuesday in honor of international Women’s Day. And I’m celebrating you today and all of my fellow rule-breakers out there. This also means one other thing: It is my birthday! Happy birthday to me! How fitting is it that I was born on International Women’s Day. I think that that is so cool.
And I am one of those people who likes to celebrate my birthday. I have it on Facebook, I tell everyone, and so that is what is happening right now. So, happy birthday to me! But because it is my birthday, I want to give you a gift for being here. That’s why I am giving you the opportunity to get a free copy of the audio version of my best-selling book, Body Image Remix, my epic self-help guide to helping you accept and eventually embrace your body.
To get a free copy of the audio version of the book, narrated by me, go to summerinnanen.com/freebook. That’s freebook, all one word. Summerinnanen.com/freebook. This offer is only going to be open for a week, and then it’s going to be for sale on my website. So head over there right now to get a free copy. It’s my birthday present to you, because I like to give things to people.
And if you know anyone else who may benefit from this book, send them the link. Share it around. Let’s celebrate all women and get them to celebrate themselves. Also, when you’re there, you’re going to see that my website got a makeover. It has a completely new look and I’ve made it much easier to find some of the awesome resources on my site. So you can troll around there and check it out! Let me know what you think. Come into the Facebook group, Break the Rules: Body-positive and Anti-dieting Community with Summer Innanen, and let me know what you think of the new look, the new colors, and everything that’s happening over there. I’ve got a lot more exciting things coming up. But for now, one thing you’ve got to go is just get your ears on the free book, because it’s only going to be free for a week, and I would love you to have that.
Now, if you want to give me a birthday present– of course you do, right? — you can sign up to get my book for free, and if you haven’t already done so, head to iTunes to leave a review for this podcast. That would be the best birthday gift for me. You can do that by heading to iTunes, searching for Fearless Rebelle Radio, then click ‘ratings and reviews,’ and click to leave a review or give it a rating. I do read and appreciate every single review, such as this one from Lindamcq6: “Summer is an outstanding coach. Her approach to improving body perception and quitting the diet mentality is transformative. Check out her podcasts and take advantage of her programs. Fearless and fabulous.”
Thank you so much, Linda, I really appreciate it. And for anyone else who’s left me a review, I’m going to start reading them at the start of the show, just to give you appreciation for leaving that, because I really do read them. And, yeah! Just to give you guys shout-outs too. So, shout-out to Linda! Thank you guys so much.
Alright, let’s get started with the show.
In today’s episode, we are talking about the dieting cycle: how it starts and sets us up for failure, why it doesn’t work, how it contributes to worsening self-worth or esteem, what it means to have a diet mentality and the symptoms of this, what it means to eat normally, and the side effects and negative ramifications of dieting. So, everything it does to our physical and emotional well-being.
We’re also going to talk about weight regulation, setpoint theory, and how dieting messes this up. The factors that influence our weight, whether or not we have control over this, and some of the myths about health and weight. We’re also going to talk about how to end the restriction and binge cycle, or the dieting cycle, what happened when I did that, and how to start to do that for yourself, or continue to do it, if you’re already doing the work but you’re not fully “there” yet.
And we’re also going to talk about overall diet recovery, and the most important pieces of the puzzle that need to be addressed when learning to eat normally and feel better about ourselves. Let’s talk about the dieting cycle: what it is, and why it sets us up for failure. The dieting cycle starts with the desire to lose weight. This is most often stemming from a desire to feel better about ourselves, which is due to poor self-image. Sometimes, it comes from a desire to be healthy, which is often based on weight bias and misinformation about the relationship between weight and health that someone has received. But all you need to know here is that the cycle starts as soon as we have that desire to control our weight or to lose weight. And it most often comes from a desire to feel better about ourselves. Immediately, that diet mentality is triggered in that food and/or movement is now intertwined with our weight and self-image. And that’s when things start to get tricky.
Once we’ve made that decision to diet, we go into the planning phase. We plan our diet, which often involves some form of restriction, whether that’s physical restriction or mental restriction. Physical meaning, I’m restricting the actual quantity of food I’m eating via calorie counting, or I’m restricting macro-nutrients. And mental restriction, meaning I’m only going to eat these foods. Maybe even there’s not physical restriction, but there’s mental restriction.
And at this stage, you often feel optimistic and excited. And this is because the dopamine in our brain fires up from the magical thinking that accompanies this start of a diet. You know, it’s this wanting of a better life, this fantasy that lights up the dopamine in our brains. So it feels good. The actual planning of a diet feels exciting. And you’re thinking about this fantasy that we’ve been sold by the diet industry, so it gives you a bit of a rush, which is one of the reasons why it’s hard to really give up dieting, because you almost feel like you’re in a bit of a void because that excitement is gone. And I’ve written about this before on my blog when I talked about dieting being a drug.
Once you actually start the diet, depending on how many times you’ve dieted before, the extent of the deprivation and the extent of the deprivation that you’ve experienced, the diet lasts for maybe a few weeks, sometimes a few days, and for a lot of people, just a few hours. So you maintain that ability to restrict and deprive yourself for a duration of time that’s often dependent on how long you’ve been in the dieting cycle. It tends to get shorter and shorter the number of times that you diet. So the more frequently you diet, the harder it is to “stick with the diet.” And that has nothing to do with willpower or self-control. It’s actually just your body fighting for you. And we’re going to talk about why it does that in a bit.
At this stage, you might even still have that initial buzz of dieting. And that often keeps you going. You feel accomplished, and you feel proud, because you’ve stuck to your diet. And maybe you even lose a bit of weight, because it is common to lose some weight in the short term. Often it’s water weight, sometimes it is body fat, but our body can only maintain that for so long whenever we’re restricting. And that makes us happy and optimistic.
But then what happens is our body starts to fight back. This is when we begin to fixate on food. We start to have more intense cravings. And eventually our “willpower” wears thin, as our body tries to restore a proper energy balance. This leads you to “overeat, binge, break your diet, sabotage,” whatever word you use when you’re going through the phase of your body compensating for the restriction.
And notice all of these words have connotations to not doing something right, like overeating, you “did something wrong,” you ate past a magical amount that makes you a good human. Or you “sabotaged” yourself. And so it’s this kind of language that’s associated with dieting and these feelings of failure that cause us to think, why can’t I do this? What is wrong with me? Why can other people do this and I can’t? And we spiral into this state of guilt and judgment and feelings of failure.
And most often, we end up gaining the weight back, and sometimes more, after the diet no longer works. And we blame ourselves for this, even though it’s the result of the unconscious compensatory mechanisms that our body has in place to protect us from famine. And then we end up with worsened feelings of failure, disappointment, and self-image. And the only way that we know how to fix that is to try again and so we repeat the cycle.
And so that’s a more detailed breakdown of how that dieting cycle works. And if this sounds like you, I totally understand what it’s like to be going through that, because that was my life for years, and it took me a really long time to realize that I was not broken, rather, the system is broken.
And we’re going to explore each of the pieces of this cycle in this podcast, but the two most important things I want you to take away from the get-go are: Number one, the trigger in all of this is poor self-image or body image. And thus, we have to address this component in order to stop the cycle. And number two, the system has set you up to fail. You are not a failure. This was not in your control.
And I can’t remember if this is in Intuitive Eating or Health at Every Size, the books, which I’ll link to in the show notes, but they use the metaphor of car repair in that if you went to a mechanic to get your car fixed, but then that mechanic completely ruined your car, would you keep going back to them, and blame yourself for their work? Probably not, right? But this is what we’re doing with dieting. So it’s time that we open our eyes and realize that we are not the problem. The system is the problem.
I also want to clarify that when I use the word ‘diet,’ I’m referring to any form of eating that is governed by weight control. It doesn’t matter if it’s a whole foods diet, a Paleo diet, a vegetarian diet, or even Intuitive Eating. If it’s being governed by weight control, it’s a diet. And someone with a diet mentality intertwines their diet with their self perception, and they use rules and external processes to eat, like macro ratios, calorie counts, or “eat this not that” lists. It’s usually a mindset that stems from a desire to lose weight in order to feel more accepted by society.
And this cycle contributes to worsening self-worth and esteem because of the chronic feelings of failure and disappointment. And it often leads to further weight gain. So I want to repeat this. Dieting leads to further weight gain and depleted self-worth and esteem. That is the complete opposite of what it promises you and that is why the diet industry is such a profitable industry. What you actually lose when you diet is self-worth and your ability to eat like a normal person. You lose your ability to make choices for your health and well-being from the perspective of wanting to honor your body and respect your body.
So we’re going to explore the diet mentality further, because often my clients will say that they’re not dieting, and then we uncover that they still have a diet mentality that prevents them from eating normally. The diet mentality, again, is when weight and self-image and food are all intertwined. And the symptoms are: judgment of food choices, looking at food through the lens of good vs. bad, eating according to lists or rules instead of giving your body what it wants and desires, bouncing between restriction and binging, a perception that you overeat because overeating implies that there is some magical amount you should be eating to, any kinds of “should” or “shouldn’t”s around food, feeling out of control around food– so, being at a party and staring at the buffet the entire time instead of engaging with the people, fixating and obsessing over what you’re going to eat later in the day, meal preparation and planning, feeling guilty when you eat certain foods, feeling self-righteous when you eat certain foods, feeling addicted to certain foods, not knowing what hunger or satiety really feels like anymore, overthinking and analyzing the food on your plate, avoiding social situations because of food concerns, fearing and avoiding certain foods, being obsessed with the nutritional value of food.
In general, food becomes the enemy and something you feel like you’re fighting against, instead of a source of physical and emotional nourishment and pleasure. That’s really what food should be. And the only way to heal the diet mentality is to step out of the dieting cycle completely and work on eating normally or eating more intuitively. What does it mean to eat normally? To me, I had no idea what this meant. I was like, what is normal eating? Because I don’t remember a time when I ate normal. I was always in a pattern of restriction and bingeing, and certain foods were always off-limits. So I never really knew how to listen to my body’s signals or trust that my body would be able to tell me and guide me to foods that were going to make me feel good.
So to eat normally, it really means that food is no longer connected to your weight. Eating is effortless and easy, and you don’t really think about food that much anymore. It’s really not that interesting. There’s no judgment or guilt, there are no “shoulds” or “shouldn’ts,” you eat what you feel like eating. You trust and honor your body’s signals, mostly eating to hunger and fullness, while honoring desires and preferences. And it also means that sometimes you eat to physical discomfort, and soothe emotions with food, and know that that’s okay and that everybody does that sometimes.
The good news is that we’re all born as normal eaters but we lose that intuitive ability to eat when we become exposed to rules and moral associations with food. But it is possible to get it back by fully committing to leaving dieting behind, and when you do, your body is going to find the weight it’s meant to be at. And this might be up, it might be down, it might be the same.
And for me it was really helpful to know what dieting does to our bodies in order to really reject it. So let’s talk about that. This section is my scared-straight for dieters. I don’t actually mean to scare you, rather, I want you to really listen to this to help you commit to breaking free of dieting and the diet mentality. A lot of this information can be found in books such as Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, Body Respect, also by Linda Bacon, and Body of Truth by Harriet Brown. So I’m going to link to those books in the show notes if you want to read more about this.
A good place to start with this is by looking at the Minnesota Starvation Experiment that took place in 1944. I’m not going to go into all the specific details of this study. My friend and colleague Chris Sandal (??) did an excellent podcast on this, which I will also link to in the show notes. In short, the study was designed by Ancel Keys and followed 36 men over the course of 13 months under research scientist Ancel Keys. And these men were put into semi-starvation for six months, and then their behavior was observed.
And what comes out of this study gives us really good insight into the physical and mental ramifications of dieting. Other than a loss of energy, motivation, and enthusiasm for life, some of the other behaviors that were noted as a result of the semi-starvation were: obsessing over food by doing things such as collecting recipes, engaging in tactics to feel full such as drinking excessive amounts of water and smoking. Overall, the participants become more and more apathetic, and when the semi-starvation period was over, they were eventually given permission to eat anything and this caused some of them to eat continuously and reported not being able to get back to normal, with some of the participants bingeing to the point of severe physical ramifications and discomfort.
And again, this is a really high level Coles Notes version of what that study is about. There’s a lot more details to it, including why they even did this study, the amount of calories that these participants are given. And in my mind, it’s actually more calories than you would think, but that’s a whole other issue, and with calories, we don’t know how many calories are in certain calories, especially back then. So this is a rather extreme example, but what we can learn from it as it relates to dieting, is that it disrupts our ability to eat normal. And after the dieting period, it really causes us to take a long time to recover. And the restriction period itself really zaps our zest for living and causes us to fixate on food.
And I know for me, I can relate to many of these feelings when I was chronically dieting. It’s also a really good example of how our body fires up compensatory mechanisms to counteract the impact of restriction. And this can last long after dieting is over. This is why I tell clients that it can take awhile for your body to readjust. The time that it takes is always individual and it depends on the person’s situation, and also how much effort they’re putting into detaching their weight from their self-worth and beliefs about them being good enough as a person.
Some of the other facts about the impact of dieting on our bodies are that dieting is more harmful than being in a larger body. So from Body Respect, the book, it says, “Studies consistently found that weight loss is associated with increased mortality.” Even when the weight loss is intentional, and the studies are well controlled with regard to known confounding factors, including hazardous behavior and underlying diseases, we know that restriction, both physical– meaning depriving yourself of what you want to eat or forcibly eating less food than your body needs– triggers a reduction in our hormone leptin, which ultimately increases our appetite and decreases metabolism. Over time, this makes us hungrier and more sluggish, as our body tries to compensate for the lack of fuel. And some of the symptoms of this are an insatiable appetite– so, not feeling like you’re full or getting enough food, eating and not really feeling satisfied, food tasting so damn good.
And so I can give you an example of this. I remember when I was restricting a lot of my food and not eating any sugar, and I had a bite of peanut butter, and my eyes rolled back in my head with pleasure because it was such an intensely delicious flavor, because my body hadn’t had sugar in so long, and certain foods were just like a drug. It was just the most incredible thing.
And now when I eat food, it’s really just kind of not that interesting and that’s because I’m actually feeding myself like a grown-ass woman. Food isn’t really supposed to be that “your eyes roll back in your head” experience. Maybe once in awhile when you eat something really special, but for the most part, it’s just kind of there and it tastes good and some meals are going to be better than others, but it’s not like an “oh my god, this is amazing.” You know, that kind of orgasmic experience that often we get when we’re dieting. And I’m sure many of you can relate to that sensation.
So that’s actually a side effect of restriction. Restriction also causes us to have an increase in appetite to take in more calories. And restriction can also result in some changes to our metabolism which will then give us symptoms such as being cold, constantly thinking about food, bingeing or having extreme cravings, having difficulty sleeping, having hormonal imbalances resulting in things like low sex drive or irregular or absent periods, and just general feelings of apathy, fatigue, irritability, and, you know, when I kind of describe my own personal experience, I say, I just sort of lost my spark. And I didn’t even really realize it at the time, until I got it back, and then I was like, oh, wow, I feel much more human. I didn’t realize that I had been living in this foggy state of mind.
So as I said, these are all things that I experienced when I was chronic dieting as well, and I was at a heavier weight due to my repeated diet cycling when some of this stuff was at its worst. So it was really hard for me to personally reconcile these two things, because I wasn’t getting a lot of these symptoms when I was at my thinnest because that was more when dieting was newer for me. So it hadn’t quite taken this physical toll on my body. And because I was on the verge of being classified as “overweight” based on the bullshit BMI scale, doctors repeatedly told me that I was too heavy to have hormonal disruption due to undereating.
So, eating disorders and disordered eating can happen at any size, and weight bias in the community, and especially within the eating disorder recovery world, is a really big problem. So this is where you have to advocate for yourself. If you’re experiencing these things, these are not normal things. And you may not look like someone with a typical “eating disorder,” which is obviously just that the media kind of portrays these conditions. But if you’re experiencing these things, you may be going through problems as a result of chronic dieting. And so it’s important to address that.
So I wanted to just talk about those symptoms because I think it’s really important to know that dieting has a lot of negative consequences on our health and well-being. And ultimately, our body starts to retain more fat when we start to eat again, because our body preferentially rebuilds these cells first. So when our body is changing when we stop dieting, it feels like we’re putting on a lot more fat, and that’s just kind of what’s happening initially, because our body is preferentially rebuilding those cells before it starts to add more muscle and things like that.
And now, some people do need that additional fat, and so I also just want to point out that that can be very healing in a lot of circumstances as your body is finding the weight that it’s meant to be at, which I’m going to talk about more in a second.
But from a psychological perspective, some of the ramifications of dieting include everything I talked about as it relates to the diet mentality. And in addition to that, we feel worse about ourselves. We often experience praise when we lose weight, and we had that kind of exciting feeling when we were doing the whole dieting thing. And we lose that sense of praise and validation when we stop dieting or when we’re unable to diet because we think we don’t have control, when really it’s just our body trying to do what’s healthiest for us.
And that can fuel feelings of shame. And that can fuel feelings of disappointment and failure. So there’s a lot of emotional ramifications that come along with dieting as well. We lose self-trust. We no longer have a connection to our intuitive ability to eat like a normal person. And that can progress into a full-blown eating disorder. So again, you’re not a failure for not making dieting work, you’re a success for realizing it before you waste any more time going down the rabbit hole and putting your life on hold.
There’s a really good TED Talk by Sandra Aamodt. It’s called “Why Dieting Usually Doesn’t Work.” I’ll link to it in the show notes. There is a slight trigger warning, she does mention weight loss up front, but she also gives a really good rundown on some of the research behind dieting and why diets don’t work. And it’s a really good, succinct summary that I recommend to people.
So again, I wanted to just go over some of those symptoms.
The good news is, health improvements can occur for everyone when we stop dieting. You can improve your health regardless of your weight.
Alright, let’s move on to talk about weight and weight regulation. When we talk about the diet cycle, and stepping out of the cycle, we are naturally curious about weight regulation. When we’ve been taught that weight is entirely within our control, it’s really hard to let go of this belief. The bottom line is, there’s a lot of aspects of our weight that we don’t have control over. Our weight is primarily determined by genetics. So about 70%. And there’s no valid form of long-term weight loss that has been shown to be effective for the majority of individuals. And the most consistent side effect of weight loss is actually weight gain. And there’s a report I can link to which shows that every existing longitudinal weight loss study finds that 88% of individuals regain the weight.
So there’s a lot of different statistics about there about how long-term weight loss is only possible for 5% of the individuals, but I think the bottom line is just that, there’s a lot of weight that we don’t have in our control, and you have to look at how your desire to lose weight is impacting your relationship with food and yourself. And I think that if the answer to the question is, it’s really not helping me to be a more positive individual, it’s not helping me to have a good relationship with food, it’s not helping me to feel better about myself, then that’s enough evidence right there for you to take weight loss out of the equation and focus on your health and well-being from a Health at Every Size perspective.
So let’s just talk about the setpoint theory, because this comes up a lot and I think it’s really important for people to understand it. The setpoint theory indicates that your body has a weight range in which it functions optimally. And this can be dictated by so many factors, including many that are not in your control, including metabolism or hormonal imbalances, the environment, genetics. It can be impacted by things like trauma, unexpected stress that is outside of your control, and oppression. So a lot of those factors we don’t have control over, and they have a big influence on the size of our body and our weight.
The setpoint theory says that our weight range falls within about 10-20 pounds. It falls within this range, and that when we’re in that range, that’s kind of the healthiest range for us, when we’re focusing on doing things for ourself like eating nourishing foods and moving our bodies in ways that feel good and not obsessive or restrictive or punitive. And different bodies come in different sizes. So you can be someone who is naturally very thin or you can be someone who is naturally in a larger body, and that is your setpoint. That is your range.
The problem is that we’re all trying to fit ourselves into the small, thin range that we’re not meant to be at. Or even just a few sizes smaller than where we are, that you’re not meant to be at. And what this does when we’re trying to manipulate our body size, when we’re trying to control our body size, is that it starts to mess around with our setpoint. So if you think about our setpoint almost like a thermostat, and when you keep jiggling that thermostat via dieting, the mechanism breaks down, and often what happens is that when we take that control away from our body’s natural weight control mechanisms, it makes our body fight harder to regain control, and that can result in weight gain and often a higher setpoint to protect against future diets.
So our body likes homeostasis. It tries to keep us in our setpoint range, which is a good thing, because it’s trying to protect us from things like starvation. But it’s also why, when we try to force ourselves below it, we end up rebounding and slowing our metabolism and doing damage to our body. That is often repairable, but in the short term, it takes a bit of effort to really heal that, and it can take a long time sometimes.
We’re born with a natural ability to have that energy balance in our body. And what happens is that if we under-eat or restrict food, our body slows down to conserve that energy, and that makes us seek out food via hunger signals and vice versa. And this happens unconsciously. We’re not in control of it. Similar to our temperature. When we get hot, we sweat. When we get cold, we shiver. Our body likes homeostasis, and so this is what it’s trying to do. If your body is going below that setpoint, it’s going to make you hungrier to try to raise it back up.
So I encourage you to not only look at the scientific side of this, or the information and data on this, or the biological effects of this, but to look at your own experience. You know, I had to get really real about the fact that I had tried everything under the sun, and there was likely not something that I was missing. It wasn’t that there was one magic food that was going to fix things for me like I was hoping that there would be. And even if there was, I really had to look at how much of my life was being consumed by my search for this fix.
So look at your own experience, too. I think that in any of these situations, it’s one thing to rely on the research, but it’s another thing to really just get real about your own experience with this and what you want for yourself. Because you need to be the advocate for your health and your body. So in my experience, it can take about 1-2 years for a body to level out and settle within its setpoint range, for people who have been chronic dieters. And again, taking a Health at Every Size approach, meaning focusing on your physical and emotional health, without weight being a factor, is going to be your best bet for improving well-being.
Your weight may go up, it may go down, it may stay the same. The best thing to do is to trust that your body is healing. And I know that takes a lot of faith, to trust that you can trust your body, especially when it’s something that is really unknown and contrary to everything you believed before. And it takes a lot of determination to continually challenge the diet mentality and beliefs that we have about weight regulation and health.
So I give major props to everyone listening who is doing that, because this is not easy stuff. I also just want to acknowledge that I’m coming at this from a privileged perspective, meaning, I don’t experience discrimination based on my size. And I know that this is particularly difficult, especially for individuals seeking help in the medical community. There’s a lot of weight bias out there, and so I encourage those of you who are experiencing discrimination or weight bias, to seek out role models in the Fat Activism community to support you on this journey and inspire you as well.
A question that always comes up at this point would be: can you lower your setpoint? The answer is: maybe, but it’s much harder. Our body has a propensity to want to gain weight and increase our setpoint, rather than reduce it. Your weight may change as a side effect of making health improvements, but surrendering to the fact that this may not happen is really important to breaking free from the diet mentality.
Now I want to touch on the relationship between weight loss and health, because this always comes up as a concern. There are two misconceptions that I see pop up quite regularly, especially when I start working with clients. The first issue that I see pop up is that clients reject healthy behaviors as a result of rejecting dieting. So they swing the pendulum to the other side of the spectrum because they’ve wrapped up dieting and health together so tightly that to reject dieting is to reject all healthy behaviors.
Now, depending on the individual, there may be a need to reject these behaviors for awhile, because they may have been damaging to their health. This is especially true for people with a history of over-exercising or having disordered eating. But for the most part, what we want to do is get to a place where you’re able to make choices because they feel good and you want to, versus doing them because you don’t like yourself and are trying to “fix your weight.”
Rejecting dieting doesn’t mean rejecting health. In fact, it’s about reclaiming health. And so when I’m working with clients, it’s really about reframing what health is, and not looking at it through the lens of black or white, because dieting has brainwashed them into simply seeing anything health-related as “diety” and so therefore when they say they’re rejecting dieting, they reject any kinds of things that are associated with health, like vegetables and fruits and drinking water and things like that.
And I know it’s possible to completely reject dieting without completely rejecting things that are going to make you feel better from a health perspective. You can give yourself full permission to eat food without swinging the pendulum so far to the other way that you’re not eating anything that makes you feel physically good. And so it’s about finding that reframing way of looking at it that’s going to work for you.
The other misconception is that health is primarily the result of the food that you eat. The food we eat only contributes to a fraction of our health. Health is so much bigger than this, and looking at it through this narrow view only leads to food obsession. I’ll add that there are many aspects of our health that are not in our control, and health is really an individual’s choice. And it’s not something that defines your worth as a person. So when I talk about health, I’m really saying this from the perspective of, if this is something you want to focus on. And I do think that when we are tending to our physical and our emotional well-being, we just feel better, generally.
But I encourage you to look at health through a broader lens, and through a much bigger perspective. Things like sleep, stress, and in particular, fretting about your weight. Having purpose in your life. Having connections. Having relationships. Being outside. Taking in nature. Moving your body in a way that feels good. Resting. Taking time for yourself. Tending to your mental health. These are all really important parts of our health and well-being that we tend to minimize because we put all of our eggs in the food basket, and the exercise basket.
And so I really encourage you to look at health from a much bigger perspective, because even if you are giving yourself that permission around food and moving away from dieting and you end up eating more foods that are processed for awhile while you give yourself that permission, and while your body readjusts, you still can tend to your health in all these other arenas and that’s going to be beneficial for you overall. And I would argue that fixating on your weight is really detrimental to your health. And that’s why working on your self-worth is a huge part of this and can facilitate many of these things. Because when you feel good enough on the inside, making changes as it relates to food and movement and sleep and stress become so much easier, because you do it from a self-care perspective.
As Linda Bacon talks about in her books, social differences account for most of society’s health differences. People who live in poverty, people who are discriminated against certainly are more prone to health ailments, and that makes up a larger percentage of the impact on overall health. Adn that has a big influence when we look at the health equation as well. And so the things that I mentioned prior to that are coming from a very privileged perspective. Because individuals who live in poverty, who are discriminated against, they’ve got bigger factors to take into consideration, and we as a society, especially being privileged, it’s our responsibility to look at some of these social justice issues in order to aide the betterment of others by working towards equality
I want to reference another really good TED Talk that I love. It’s by Guy Winch and it’s called “Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid.” So I’ll link to it in the show notes, but it really just argues for the need to focus on mental health and that we tend to neglect mental health and prioritize physical health. And he just goes into why mental health is so important and emotional first aid in particular. So I love it, I think he has a great book of the same name, it’s called Emotional First Aid, that I can also link to in the show notes, so check that one out as well.
I just want to talk about something from my personal story, and that is, I thought my metabolism was a problem. So, when I was going through chronic dieting, I kept gaining more weight. So obviously, my setpoint was going up a bit, or I would just have that rebound after having lost a bit of weight, and I kept thinking that my metabolism was a problem. And I actually went to see several doctors because I was like, I put on weight so easily, anytime I eat something I gain weight. And I thought that my body needed to be “fixed.”
And so for the longest time, I thought that something was wrong with me. I thought there was something wrong with my thyroid. And really, it turns out my metabolism was doing exactly what a healthy metabolism is supposed to do, and that is, slowing down when it’s energy-deprived.
So I think that this is just kind of a story about how we can sometimes have aggression and anger and disappointment towards our bodies, or we can think to ourselves, “Ugh, I wish that my body just worked differently.” But really, our body is fighting to do the best that it can for us, and if we can find some appreciation in that and some gratitude, that can help through the healing process as well.
So now I’m able to really look at that time in my life, and instead of thinking, oh, I wish I’d known better, I really think to myself, wow, my body was fighting for my life. My body was doing everything it was supposed to do, and I just wasn’t appreciating it. I wasn’t listening to its signals. If I had actually looked at some of this information on dieting and really understood that dieting causes us to have this weight regain, I might have actually been able to think, “Oh, my metabolism’s doing what it’s supposed to do, it’s not that I have a thyroid issue and it’s broken.”
So I’m telling you that just because I think it’s an important part of the story, and especially when I was super immersed in the Paleo environment and culture, that question came up all the time, like, why can’t I lose weight? Why am I not losing weight? What’s wrong with me? And a lot of the time, the answer is just, you’re not meant to. And I think that that’s really important and also the reframing around appreciating the things that our body is doing and understanding that it’s really doing its best, and that can help with body acceptance, when you can find that appreciation as well.
So now, the rest of this podcast, let’s talk about ending the restrict-binge cycle. Let’s talk about diet recovery. So, ending the restrict-binge cycle, we obviously have to look at all the different components of the diet cycle. So the first one is body image. I cannot stress enough how important doing the body image work is, because if you don’t have a desire to lose weight, if you are comfortable with wherever your body is, if you’ve accepted your body, even though that may be difficult, that is going to completely change the relationship that you have with food, because you’re no longer going to have that diet mentality. So that’s number one in terms of ending that cycle.
But in addition to that, we have to remove all the physical restriction. So when we’ve been depriving ourselves of calories or macronutrients, our body tends to overcompensate. So we become overly hungry, we feel like we need to eat, we’re either bingeing or we’re overeating. Anytime we are bingeing or “overeating,” it’s generally in response to restriction. But really that’s just your body responding to that famine signal. It’s trying to protect you. So in order to heal, we have to give ourselves permission to eat. You have to eat like a grown-ass woman, or man. Or however you identify. But once your body knows that it’s going to have food consistently, when you build up that trust, then you’re not going to have that insatiable hunger. And like I said, food’s just going to kind of be less interesting. So dieting conditions us to think that famines are going to happen, and so it takes awhile for it to understand and to know and to trust that the famine is over.
There’s a really good analogy in the book Body Respect. Linda Bacon says it this way. She says, think about a dog that’s been abused or starved. It always takes awhile for that animal to know that it’s going to be taken care of when it’s removed out of the abusive environment. It’s the same thing with dieting. We are essentially abusing our bodies and harming ourselves. It takes awhile for your subconscious mind to trust that the abuse is over.
So think about building up trust in that way, because then you can realize that it’s a long process that just requires you to keep putting one foot in front of the other. But when the famine is truly over, when you’ve been giving yourself that permission to eat, when you’re eating enough to sustain your energy levels, that’s when your natural hunger and fullness signals are going to kick in, and you’ll organically find it’s easier to start listening to them. But that physical restriction has to stop first.
And you can’t force this process. Pretty much every woman I work with is a Type A, achievement-focused person. So they want to rush this. And you really have to surrender and have patience, and come back to that analogy of the abused animal as much, as I hate to talk about abused animals. But if you can think about it in that way, if it’s helpful for you, that helps to reinforce that trust takes time.
And I’ve never had a client not get to a point where their binge food of choice becomes neutral and not that interesting. So it is possible. Everyone that’s ever worked with me has seen that as well.
The second piece of this is removing mental restriction, which is more difficult in my opinion, because a lot of times, we have these rules that we don’t realize are restrictive rules. So I talk to a lot of women who say that they are not restricting but when we start to dig into it, they are. They say they’re eating what they want, but it’s still only within the confines of what they think is safe or familiar. So their eating is still governed by a fear of gaining weight or becoming unhealthy. And they think that because they’re not following a specific plan, they’re not dieting, but really they’re still following some kind of rules or limitations in their mind. And so again, any time our food is tied to that desire to lose weight, we are essentially having some kind of mental restriction, for the most part. Subconsciously, there’s some kind of mental restriction in there.
So some things that you can think about: look for symptoms of the diet mentality. Is there guilt? Is there judgment? Are you second-guessing food choices? Are you thinking about food more often than just meal-time or preparing it? Are you seeing food through the lens of good vs. bad?
So I had a lot of fears when I gave up mentally restricting food and physically restricting food, and a lot of these fears were based on my personal experience, because of my experiences with feeling “out of control” in the past. So I thought that if I stopped dieting, I wouldn’t stop eating. I thought that if I didn’t have rules, I would lose all control, I would just live off of cupcakes and banana cake and icing and more icing. And I thought that if I gave myself permission to eat the foods that had previously been my “I can’t stop eating” foods, I would never stop eating them.
And I was the kind of person that would stare at the food at parties, obsessively thinking about it, and then eating it, until complete physical discomfort. I pretty much lived like this. I would restrict Monday through Thursday, and then Friday and Saturday and Sunday, I would eat everything in sight. And I’m not going to give you exact numbers here, but when I was counting calories, I would eat three times more calories on Friday, Saturday, Sunday than Monday through Thursday. So there were these huge swings and I thought that it was my fault that I couldn’t get a grip on it. Meanwhile, my body was just trying to save me and keep me fed, and so it was recalibrating every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And then I would try to fight against it for four days. And I never thought that I could eat normal. I would look at other people and think, wow, you have some kind of genetic gift that I don’t have.
And now I’m one of those people. And what helped me the most was really reinforcing: food is just food. I can have it anytime. It’s not going anywhere. And giving myself that permission, and eating a lot more than I was eating. Consistently. Especially carbohydrates. That was a big one for me. I had to really eat a lot more carbohydrates, and a lot more food in general. I really look back and I don’t know how I was able to sustain myself on the amount of food that I was eating, compared to what I eat now.
So how to kind of lean into this… If you’re concerned, if you have an eating disorder, first of all, you need to work with a specialist or a team. So I do not recommend doing this work on your own, if you have an eating disorder. If you are a chronic dieter like me and most of the clients I work with, sometimes you can do this work on your own. There’s books that you can pick up, there’s podcasts like this one that you can listen to, but working with a coach is obviously going to help accelerate that process.
But really it’s about giving yourself permission to eat the things you want, when you want them. Or eat what you feel like, if eating what you want has this kind of connotation to eating everything that was “off limits” before. Just eat what you feel like. Because maybe you feel like an apple, and maybe you feel like a burger. Eat what you feel like. Know that your body goes through an adjustment period and depending on how much you were restricting, how long you were in the diet cycle, this looks different for everybody. Some of my clients go through an adjustment period that is really quick. Sometimes it’s a month. And some of them, it’s much longer, it’s six months.
So it looks different on everyone, and if this feels scary, then start with one food at a time, or simply just try eating a little bit more of everything. About half the time when clients first come to see me, they are still physically restricting, even though they don’t think they are. And this has a lot to do with these horrid recommendations that are out there around calories.
Anyone who’s ever participated in some kind of diet program or My Fitness Pal, where they’re giving you a calorie recommendation… that is enough to sustain– oh, this is from my book!– a plump seagull by the waterfront. Honestly. It’s not enough to sustain a human. By the way, you can get my book for free, the audio version, at summerinnanen.com/freebook. I did not mean to do that plug there, but I just thought that that was kind of fitting.
So anyways, you need to eat like a grown-ass woman, is what I always say. And really just own that, because it might look more than your friends, and there’s no shame in that. And often in the beginning, you have to eat more to just get your body to know that that famine is over, because again, it’s going through this stage where it’s making up for the lack of nourishment that it’s had before, and that’s really what you need to do to address both the physical and the mental restriction.
But again, the most important piece of this puzzle is working on your body image. You can’t ignore this piece. And accepting that your weight is going to land at the healthiest place for you. And once you’ve recovered from dieting, that’s when you can start to look at making changes to your health in terms of food choices and movement, that’s going to feel good for you. Your weight might go up, it might go down, it might stay the same. But when you can just kind of surrender control, and trust this really unknown scary process, it makes it so much easier.
The majority of women I work with hope that it will go down. I think that there’s nothing wrong with hoping that. It’s natural to hope that, given the beliefs that we’ve learned from society. So don’t judge yourself for having that hope. But I encourage you to let go of that hope, and that can take some time, because it takes a long time to rewire a lot of those beliefs that we have about our body size and what that means to us.
But you want to work on getting to a place where food is neutral, you trust your body, and you accept our body as it is. There’s a lot of ups and downs, so I encourage you to expect ambivalence, instead of just everything getting better and each day being better and better. It’s a lot of up and down, so try not to force progress. Rather, be patient, take it one meal at a time, try not to get into future thinking, like, oh my god, what’s going to happen a year from now, or two years from now? One day at a time, one meal at a time.
Be inspired, so whether it’s you listen to podcasts or you read other people’s stories to give you hope and keep you focused, but at the same time, keep your eyes on your own journey. It’s really easy to see other people who appear to be killing it, and you feel bad about yourself, so respect your pace, and if you need to take time off of social media, or take time away from podcasts because it’s doing you a disservice, then do that. And my other recommendation is to get outside of the food and body bubble.
Immersing yourself in body positivity is great, immersing yourself in anti-dieting can be great, and is absolutely necessary, but you can reach a point of diminishing returns, where it’s actually not helping you anymore. And this is where I encourage you to find some other interests outside of this stuff. What else do you want to do? What else do you like to do? What else makes you feel content?
When you’ve been fixating on weight and food for your whole life, your interests change, when you’re not investing in that anymore. And so rediscovering what actually makes you content, what you’re interested in, what fulfills you, there’s a lot of things that you can do to have a full life and I encourage you to get outside of the food and body bubble in order to do that.
And lastly, as I said, focus on Health at Every Size. So take a Health at Every Size approach, meaning, focus on your entire well-being, both mental and physical, and let your weight be what it’s going to be. Now if you’re curious about having some additional incredible life-changing support around your body image, then I just want to let you know that You, On Fire, my 12-week group coaching program, is going to be starting back up again soon.
This is a program for women who are done with dieting, who are ready to stop hating their bodies, and who want to start living beyond the numbers on the scale, and really want to unleash their inner badass, whatever that is for you. So, what you learn about in the program is how to quit hating your body, how to make more mental space for passion and purpose and play in your life, how to feel comfortable in your skin, how to know that you’re worthy, no matter what size you are, how to believe that you are worthy and good enough just as you are, how to stop comparing yourself to other women, how to overcome fear of weight gain, how to figure out who you are and what makes you incredible now that you’re no longer fixated on dieting and your weight, how to stop caring so much about what other people think, how to let go of the black and white perfectionist thinking, and how to reclaim self-care so you’re not thinking about food or movement from the perspective of weight loss anymore.
What makes this program so amazing– and it’s my baby, I love it so much– is I get to know you personally. So while it is online and it’s audio tutorials that you listen to and journal sheets that you download and complete every week, there is a ton of personalized attention and interaction and anyone who’s gone through the program can tell you that. I get to know everybody by name, inside and out, and it’s really this beautiful community that we create, which helps to accelerate this process, because you’re doing it with other women who get it, you’re learning from each other, and you’re supporting each other.
I’m telling you this now because the doors are going to open in a couple weeks for enrollment, but if you want to receive a killer discount and bonus, go to summerinnanen.com/youonfire. You’ll be the first to receive a special discount and additional bonus when the doors open in a couple of weeks. So keep your eyes peeled for that. There’s going to be another Spotlight Series podcast where some of the women who have been through the program come on and share their stories in a couple weeks as well.
Okay, that concludes this epic episode. I welcome any feedback or suggestions on this. I certainly don’t have all the answers. I mean, you could go down the rabbit hole looking at all the pieces of research. I think as I said, the most important thing is really asking yourself, what has my experience been with this, and what do I want for myself? What’s going to support me in the best way? And let me know. Join the community and my Facebook group. We can talk about this further. You can let me know what other questions you have and we can explore it.
And again, all of the links and resources mentioned here are going to be in the show notes at summerinnanen.com/83. And don’t forget to get my audiobook for free. Go to summerinnanen.com/freebook. Alright, thank you so much for listening today. I will talk to you soon. Rock on.
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