I happened upon a blog on Refinery29.com called the Anti-Diet Project. The author looks to be twenty-something, quite attractive, really photogenic, very smart, and yes, dealing with a bit of extra weight. She’s writing about learning to put the focus on health by exercising every day and changing her eating habits. She hopes to lose weight along the way. Great perspective, great plan. But I got a little concerned when I read this:
When you really become an intuitive eater, your body finds its normal weight range naturally. You eat the foods your body really wants when you’re actually hungry, you consume the amount you need, and stop when you’re full. So, things even out.
Oh dear I wish I could give this girl a hug. I have a bad feeling it’s not going to work out the way she hopes. I think we all have a fantasy of what happens when you lose weight. It’s so desired and valued in our culture that losing lots of weight is on a par with winning the lottery. Your life is perfect and wonderful when you’ve been a big fattie and then you’re not! You become TRANFORMED! You’re svelte and gorgeous and super healthy and all the best clothes fit you.
Ehhhhh. Not really.
First, let’s consider what Kelsey (Anti-Diet gal) thinks is going to happen.
“Your body finds its normal weight range naturally.” That does kind of happen. But it may not be what you expect. At least, that’s been my observation. A good group to look at are the weight loss surgery folks. They will lose weight week after week for months and months and then it starts to slow down. Then it stops. Even though they’re still eating like they had been for the previous weeks and months. Many people find that their weight seems to stabilize in some range. It also happens to people who get into an aggressive routine of eating for weight loss and exercise; it just takes them more time. It happened to me. My body has made it REAL CLEAR that it likes the 170s and even a summer of working with a bodybuilding consultant couldn’t get me any lower. OK fine, I’ll take it. I’m ridiculously healthy and I can fit in all the chairs so we’ll be staying right here thanks.
“You eat the foods your body really wants when you’re actually hungry, you consume the amount you need, and stop when you’re full.” Oh that’s a lovely dream! But very few people truly live that way. People like my Mom and not really anybody else. We’re just not made that way. It’s the fantasy of “Think like a thin person” but even thin people don’t think that way. If it’s natural for you, you’ll do it naturally. If it’s not natural for you? Well you can never truly change what’s natural for you. You might be able to re-work it a bit by making changes that you want to maintain. You can put new daily routines into action and get used to them when your priorities are very strong. But can you ever get your brain to stop wanting to polish off that whole super delicious casserole? Or take that last slice of warm crispy goodness? No. How about if you want to finish the whole steamer-full of broccoli and pea pods? That won’t be a problem. Your brain and body are going to continue to want what they want and the best you can do is learn how to adapt to what you accept about yourself. I do not have the mind of a “thin person” and I never will. That’s fine. I’ll work with it.
Which brings me to this: When you really become an intuitive eater Oh Kelsey sweetie honey, you’ll probably never “become” an intuitive eater. You’ll know in theory what it is but will you “really become” that? I seriously doubt it. This whole “intuitive eating” thing is just a euphemism for “think like a thin person.” Our culture has deemed this an ideal that we’re all supposed to aspire to but for a great many of us, it’s just not how our minds work. Even thin people don’t think like thin people. They’re not paragons of good judgment. They do what’s natural for them. They don’t eat “intuitively” because they work at it. It’s the natural intuition for some people.
We’ve been told repeatedly that wanting to eat fabulously delicious food is indulgent and we should correct our wanton, gluttonous desires. Wanting to eat fabulously delicious food makes you a bad person, an undisciplined person prone to emotional weakness. But in reality, it’s the way we are. It’s the way I am and I’m not going to be ashamed of it. And I don’t really fight it either. I accept it and work with it. I know if I ate the way I really wanted to, I’d be 300 lbs again inside of a year so I’ve figured out what I have to do to avoid that. Now that my weight is down, my priority to stay at this lower weight is stronger than my desire to eat whatever I want. I can rationalize it out. Doesn’t mean it’s EASY because I still fight my nature. But oh sweet jeebus do I NEVER want to see a three (or even a two) as the first number on the scale again. Oh nononononono.
So what do I have to work with? I’ve brought many experiences into my life. Mind tricks and trying to convince yourself of something WILL NOT WORK in the long-term. You need and deserve to have experiences to draw on as a continuous guide. Two big points. I’ve learned to greatly appreciate how perfectly wonderful I feel when I exercise regularly. Do I LOVE to exercise? No. Do I still try to talk myself out of it? Yes. Do I love how I feel when the endorphins are buzzin’ and I’m alert and energetic and I wake up every morning from a full night of deep sleep feeling refreshed? Oh yeah. So I exercise.
And this eating only until you’re full idea? That’s a tough one. The amount we eat at any given meal is deeply influenced through a vast array of cues and habits and conditioning. It’s a tall order to find what will work for you because pushing food away when you still want more is really tough, regardless of your satiety level.
For many years of my life, I ate until I was stuffed at least once every single day. It has taken a serious shift of routine to move away from that. Today, I move around a bit after eating. I go for a little walk after lunch (a habit I picked up when I worked downtown and wanted to get out of the office) or I do a very light workout after dinner even if it’s just a few kettlebell swings. Activity feels better if I’m not full and I actually feel MUCH better moving around a bit with a moderately filled stomach. I like to think it’s a healthy habit that encourages good digestion. Doing this for many years has helped me actually become more comfortable to be simply not hungry rather than really “full.” I’ve come to dislike that “stuffed” feeling and I eat to that point only on very rare occasions anymore. If I deviate from my routine, I am usually reminded by an uncomfortable feeling that I will choose to avoid next time.
Weight loss has become something our culture views as a life-changing accomplishment. We associate thinness with discipline and strength and fat with self-indulgence and weakness. Losing weight therefore becomes a symbol of success and a perceived expression of a positive personal value system. We have also heavily invested it with a sense of fantasy. Being thin means we make all the “right” choices and we expect to reap the rewards. But the reality is something quite different. Achieving significant weight loss means you must take up the work of maintaining it and that will move you through different phases for the rest of your life.
In my next blog post, I will discuss some of the darker aspects of significant weight loss. Until then, try not to think about cupcakes.