PSA: getting “back on track” for the New Year doesn’t have to mean eliminating all carbs from your life.
I shared this on my stories last week and for the most part I got a lot of “HELL YEAH”s and “PREACH” and *clapping hands emoji* replies, but I did get one response that somewhat questioned my intention with this message. I wanted to address it in case anyone else felt the same way. If someone did, they probably unfollowed me and won’t even see this, but HEY, here we are.
I wanted to share pieces of the conversation I had with that person, in hopes that it helps clear up some common misconceptions about the perspective of people like myself who promote intuitive eating, food freedom, or a balanced diet where vegetables and ice cream peacefully coexist.
For starters, intuitive eating is NOT anti-health. It doesn’t mean you just eat “junk food” all the time because you have permission to do so. I think that’s what a lot of people from the outside looking in believe, but I assure you, IE is the exact opposite of anti-health. It teaches you how to trust and respect your body, rather than constantly fight it and resist its needs and desires.
Contrary to what our society tends to believe, working out at a high-intensity for 2+ hours every single day, eliminating entire food groups, including those that offer important nutrients, and micromanaging every bite of food that goes in your mouth is not health-promoting.
In case you didn’t know, I’m a Registered Dietitian. Health is my profession as well as my biggest passion in life. I VERY MUCH want people to be healthy. But “health” does not simply equal weight loss. I want to point out something really important: weight loss is NOT a behavior. Our weight is something that we actually don’t have total control over, whether we like it or not. Everyone has that one friend who eats large quantities of mostly unhealthy foods the majority of the time and they are thin as a rail and never, ever gain a pound. Exhibit A.
We cannot assume that someone who is “overweight” is lazy and unhealthy, just like we cannot assume that someone who is skinny is super healthy and totally has their sh*t together. I want people to engage in healthy behaviors that truly enhance their life. Health encompasses so many different things and it’s so much more than just what we eat and how often we workout. Physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual health — they all matter.
Eliminating almost all carbs from your diet doesn’t magically make you healthy. It also doesn’t make you better than me or anyone else that eats and thoroughly enjoys carbs. I recently listened to the @nutrition.redefined podcast episode about Sugar Addiction and I LOVED their conversation about this. Why do we feel the need to announce the way we eat to the world these days? Just slap a label on ourselves, like, “Hi, I’m Shanna and I’m sugar-free [or gluten-free, or dairy-free, or whatever else]”. Um, congratulations? *Obviously some people have medical reasons to be GF/DF and that is not what I’m referring to here. Anyway, do yourself a favor and listen to her podcast for more on that.
I’ve just really been struggling looking at social media lately during the New Year’s frenzy and everyone jumping on a diet bandwagon. Again, I am ALL FOR people setting health-related goals, but restrictive diets do NOT promote health. I’m tired of seeing messages about weight loss and diets as if that is the only way people can go about improving themselves in 2019. Again, weight loss is NOT a behavior. People can improve their health and well-being by implementing sustainable behavior changes that they actually enjoy, in the *gasp* ABSENCE of weight loss!!!
I’m not saying that weight loss is bad, or that the desire to lose weight makes you bad or wrong. It’s okay to want to change your body, but maybe first, ask yourself if there are some behaviors that you could work on improving. Are you only getting four hours of sleep a night? Are you eating fast food on a daily basis? Are you mostly sedentary? Focus on those things and set small, realistic goals around them – not the scale. The scale is irrelevant. Focus on how you feel once you start getting more sleep, or eating more fresh, healthy foods at home, or prioritizing movement.
Also, side note: if you hate your body and other things about yourself now, don’t assume that a certain body weight will automatically change that. Stop putting off happiness for another destination. A lot of people think they’ll be happy when they… lose weight, or make more money, or get in a relationship; the list goes on.
Try to make peace with your body and who you are now, because underneath, you will still be the same person, even if the number on the scale is smaller. Dig deeper. Do some soul searching. Go to therapy if you need to.
Some might argue that these popular fad diets have science to back them up. I am arguing that many of the “lifestyle changes” that people make while on said diets do not in fact improve their health. Dieting greatly increases the risk of developing an eating disorder and/or disordered eating behaviors, increased anxiety and/or preoccupation with food, and most people regain more weight than they lost. There is a strong body of evidence that shows restrictive diets are NOT effective in the long-term.
I am not trying to be a Negative Nancy by any means, and I understand why someone might think it sounds like I’m bashing anyone who wants to improve their “health” in the New Year by going on a diet, but I’m here to assure you that I want people to be healthy more than you could ever know. It’s just that our definition of health is probably different, because mine doesn’t have anything to do with weight or obsessing over your food.
As an RD, I have seen countless individuals who have done the yo-yo/chronic dieting thing for years and years, and I know for a fact that it causes so, so, SO much harm, physically, mentally and emotionally, and I refuse to sit here quietly and allow people to continue to follow that pattern when I know that there is a better alternative.
I’m not here to tell you that you’re wrong or stupid if you count calories or diet or do any of those things. Everyone’s journey is unique, and you have to do what feels right for you. I promise you, I get that. I counted calories and weighed myself every single day for years. At the time, it felt helpful and necessary. In hindsight, I can see that it was neither of those things.
My intention is to help you all love yourselves a little (or a lot) more. I’m here to try to show you the light. In case you feel like what you’re doing now is “good for you”, but when you take a closer look with a different lens, maybe it’s not really so good for you and maybe it’s actually making your relationship with food or your body worse. Maybe it’s causing you to miss out on fun things with people you love because there won’t be food there that you’re allowed to eat. Maybe it’s the reason you’re having anxiety, not your kids or deadlines at work. Maybe it’s the reason you don’t have enough energy to workout, but you’re forcing yourself to anyway because the plan you’re following requires it.
Once you see diet culture for what is truly is, you cannot UNsee it. You finally start to realize just how sneaky and manipulative and just straight up effed up it is, and how people literally spend hundreds and thousands of dollars + 99% of their brain space trying to change their bodies in unhelpful ways, when they could actually be loving and respecting them all along, for free.
So before you run to the next popular diet, please, ask yourself what dieting has really done for you in the past. Dig deeper. Do your research. Decide that you deserve more, because I promise you, you do.
Lastly, I want to address the fact that it is valid and perfectly acceptable to be curious and interested in nutrition, and to want to eat for better health. You just have to be careful about the crossing the line between health-conscious, and health-obsessed. I promise it is possible to achieve that balance, because I am finally there. But it’s not always perfect. Sometimes it’s still messy, and you’ll still have diet-y thoughts because that’s the culture we live in, but you’ll be much better off than you used to be if you choose to go down a non-diet path that you can maintain and enjoy for years to come.
On my Instagram account as well as here on my blog, I do my best to show what a healthy diet can look like without food rules. I get to enjoy such a wide variety of delicious foods, most of which still happen to be good for me. Identifying foods that you actually enjoy, figuring out how to prepare them and being just a little bit more intentional and planning ahead can help you achieve better health in a much less stressful way. Please let me know if there is anything else I can answer or help with in that arena.
I’m excited to share that this past weekend, I was published on the Perfect Bar blog, The Hive, with my article “Your Guide to Intuitive Eating“. Click the link to learn more about the concept of IE & the impact it has had on my life.
Head to my post My Journey to Food Freedom and scroll to the bottom for a list of Intuitive Eating Resources if you are interested in learning more about a non-diet approach to health and happiness.
As always, thank you so much for reading.