Dieting has become so culturally ingrained in our society that it is now the new ‘normal’. It’s vary rare to know someone who hasn’t dabbled with a restrictive eating regime in an attempt to control their weight, unaware of the psychological damage and distress it can cause. Along with this new ‘normal’ comes the gripping hysteria I like to call “FOMO”, or Fear Of Missing Out. This is the mentality that marketing thrives on and the dieting industry relies on to make millions of dollars from repetitive dieters experimenting with unsustainable eating practices. We’re fed the successful testimonials, the before and after pictures and the top tips from the dieters that shout: you’re not enough as you are, you could be better. All the while leading us further and further into disconnect with our bodies in the pursuit of perfection. The basis of dieting relies on external permission to eat such as time of day, set portion sizes, calorie counting and allowed or acceptable foods. It also fosters a negative relationship with self, encouraging deprivation, guilt, fear, hunger and punishment. However, we know that we are born with internal signals for hunger and fullness, which allows each individual to be the expert on what, how much and when to eat when we are in tune with our body’s signals. Unfortunately as we grow older, we tend to lose touch with what our body is telling us and as a result we are lead to believe that an external plan is needed to “get back on track”.
Well quite simply, it’s not. But it is possible to re-learn some of these skills in a positive and self-caring way.
What can help us alleviate stress around food is becoming aware of our thinking towards ourselves and what we eat. Consider how you label foods: do you categorise them as ‘good’ v ‘bad’ or ‘healthy’ v ‘unhealthy’? Does eating a so-called ‘bad’ food (whatever it may be) cause feelings of guilt or negative thoughts? If so, is it possible to change those food labels to ‘everyday’ v ‘sometimes’ so that consuming either doesn’t lead to feelings of despair? Try becoming more self-aware of those thought patterns and see if it changes the way you view food. By challenging those thought patterns, you may just find that you are able to enjoy food and eating a bit more, nourish rather than restrict and be calm and flexible when it comes to food choices.
In order to improve our eating habits, the general approach in society is to restrict ‘problem’ foods when actually restriction leads to deprivation, which leads on to rebellion. The restriction actually feeds the backlash, as it is human nature to desire what we (seemingly) cannot have. The beauty of giving yourself unconditional permission to eat is that there is no need to deprive yourself. You will never feel the need to overeat at any given time point, because there will always be another opportunity to fuel your body with what you really feel like eating. This is different to saying “I’m going to eat whatever I want, whenever I want”, rather, in the words of Dr Rick Kausman, “I can have it if I want it, but do I really feel like it?”.
Moderation is a much more flexible and sensible approach to eating and dietitian Fiona Sutherland provides a great summary of what it entails:
“So it’s not everything at the same volume, it’s aiming to eat a wide variety of foods that nourish your body, mind and soul. It’s choosing wisely, but not over-analysing. It’s prioritising fresh foods, without eliminating your sweet or savoury favourites. It’s accepting that every day, every week will be different, and our bodies are pretty resilient if we’re showing some kindness and care.”
Sounds like something we can all stick to for the sake of improving our emotional and physical health.
Why not give it a try?