I hit a wall in my nutrition education where I felt like the more I learned, the less I actually knew. Bombarded with dietary theories, contradicting professional opinions and scientific studies, it took me awhile to become discerning. I remember reaching a point about midway through my program where I literally felt like I couldn’t eat food. Or drink water. Or breath air. Everything was poison! I was paralyzed and anxious every time I felt hunger. And I love food so I was not having it. I started tapping into my natural instincts and challenging the influx of information from my own scientific reasoning capacity.
Since then, I’ve developed compassion for anyone struggling with orthorexia (symptoms of obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet) and I need to help bring awareness to this issue. While my issue was specifically preoccupation with food purity and disease prevention, the majority of us experience food anxiety related to weight control and body image, which can lead to eating disorders. So let’s dive into this gem of a catastrophic sh*t storm that is tearing apart our society.
I want you to understand what happens to your body on a biological level when you live in a dieting cycle. We’re gonna talk science. Bear with me here. This is important.
Your Body is SUPER smart!
Your body is composed of a network of signals that maintain optimal conditions for every single cell living inside of you. And it does this mostly independent of your conscious influence. In charge, of course, is your brain. Your brain is the connection between what is happening autonomically and your conscious awareness. Your brain talks to you through signals to help you choose external behaviors that will keep things balanced on the inside. Signals that you should be able to recognize clearly and respond to. But. As we get older, we lose the ability to tap in, mostly due to worldly messages affecting our perception of self.
Consider a baby. They cry when they’re hungry and eat until they’re full. In a perfect world, as long as caretakers remain responsive to hunger cries, the infant body learns to trust that when it needs energy, it’s gonna get it right away. Without interference from parents, peers, and media, intuition would drive food-related decisions through adulthood and we’d be good.
Limiting calories = STRESS on your body
When you limit calories or entire food categories in an effort to lose weight or support other nutrition beliefs, it puts a ton of stress on your body. When you diet, you are declaring war on your body. For example, limiting carbs depletes cells of their primary source of glucose, which produces ATP (energy your cells use). Without sufficient glucose, you’ll notice your energy lag and you’ll be hungrier and less easily satisfied when you eat. Not to mention, um, hangry as ****. You know exactly what I’m talking about.
Your body will start breaking down proteins for energy. That means you’ll lose muscle tissue and water weight in the process. Not fat. This is bad because your body is forced to utilize protein for energy so it’s not able to use it for other things like enzymes, hormones, hair, nails, bone, cartilage, tissue repair, etc. This causes your entire system to go wacky and your metabolism slows down in response to less food availability. Your body is smart. It is wired to survive and it’s going to do whatever it takes to succeed.
Why do you gain weight after dieting?
Caroline Dooner, author of The F*ck It Diet, describes dieting as putting your body through famine. Which is exactly what is happening and it is also why you’ll notice you put on weight again (a lot of times more weight) when you stop dieting. When you stop restricting, you’re going to be ravenous and its not your fault. Your body is loading up in preparation for another famine. It has no idea that there is actually plenty of food available. Your cells are like, “Guys! We’re in the middle of a desert and it might be weeks before we find food!” You’ve also slowed your metabolic rate so your body is temporarily reprogrammed to store more energy than its using. And energy is stored in the form of…you guessed it…fat.
So you’re back on the scale feeling ashamed and guilty. And as soon as you get tired of your own bullshit again, you’ll be back to another diet. It’s an endless cycle that destroys your physical and emotional health. Please stop.
Toddlers get it right.
A toddler knows when they are hungry and – usually – exactly what they want to eat. They eat slowly and they stop eating when they are full. There’s no overthinking the process. There’s no judgment. There’s no body shaming going on in their little pure minds. They know what they like. All their little signals are working gloriously. When parents start restricting foods, making kids clear their plate, or projecting their own dieting mentality onto their kids, problems start to arise.
I’ve done this. Most of us have and it comes from a good place. For example, I’m terrified of my four year old eating too much sugar because I know the havoc it can wreak on a developing brain. But as I’ve backed off a bit and given him a little more autonomy over what he eats, I’m noticing that by the end of the day, he has managed to eat a very healthy balance of foods and the sugar really isn’t an issue. His body knows what it needs.
When I stopped making him feel like cookies are off limits, he stopped wanting cookies so badly. Now if he wants a cookie, I let him have it. Does he eat the whole box? Nope. He eats one or two and moves on. He is more likely to ask me for a bowl of carrots, fruit, or yogurt than crackers, chips, or candy. It’s quite incredible.
So act like a damn toddler and enjoy your food! Set healthy boundaries and guidelines for yourself. But you have to stop restricting certain foods unless you have actual allergies, health concerns, or sensitivities to foods. You can’t allow your body signals to speak to you if you have emotional hang ups and “rules” governing how you eat. Let go. Take the power back from food. We can all agree that when we tell ourselves we can’t have something, we want it all the more.
Heal your relationship with food.
Ditch the diets and heal your relationship with food. Then work on distinguishing among foods that don’t agree with you and foods that make you feel great. If you are overweight or underweight, be gentle with yourself. Your weight will change and you’ll return to your natural set point as you learn to tap into your intuition. But it cannot be your main focus and it will take time. Your body will tell you what it needs and how much. You’ll learn to recognize when you’re full or when you need a certain type of food. You’ve just gotta re-establish that trust factor.
Free yourself from the chains of food anxiety and learn to love eating again so you can get back to living your life.
If you would like to learn more about intuitive eating or you are looking for some guidance, I’m here for you. Feel free to reach out.
Take care of yourself.