Are you unknowingly harbouring a criminal?
Are you unknowingly harbouring a criminal?
Do you diet?
If the answer is yes, then I’m afraid to tell you that you are.
Diet culture is a thief, who has been robbing people all over the world of their natural ability to trust and control themselves around food, myself included. Diet culture robbed me of so many years of my life, robbing me of my self-acceptance and hugely contributing towards negative body image at every turn. I was consumed mentally by its teachings, the calorie counting, the measuring, the weighing, the elimination, the restriction, and for what purpose? To reach a lower number on a scale, so I could weigh less in body, but in the process become heavier in mind as I carried the extra weight of guilt and failure? Why is it that so many smart people fall victim to the belief that we’ll be happier if we weigh less?
When did things go wrong?
If you watch a baby or a young child eat, they eat when they’re hungry, turning their heads away or refusing food once they’ve had enough. You could place the biggest, chocolaty piece of cake in front of a young child that has had enough to eat, and they’ll refuse it. How many of us would push past our fullness, ignoring its calls to stop, in order to overindulge on the cake? After all, you only live once, right? The difference between us and young children, is that they are still connected to their innate hunger cues.
As children get older, we help them unlearn these cues by encouraging them to finish what’s on their plates, by feeding them to a clock, by telling them they can’t be hungry after they’ve just eaten, by offering rewards of dessert for finishing everything on their plate, by telling them they can’t possibly be full after only a few mouthfuls.
Put your hand up if you can relate to regularly eating past the point of being satisfied and eating the dessert or the extra helping despite the top button of your pants feeling close to bursting? Put your hand up if you’ve eaten the cake just because it was there, not because you were truly hungry for it?
I see many hands up. You’re not alone.
What can we do about it?
After a lifetime of believing the messages of the diet industry, switching its voice off is not without its challenges. For me, it involved a complete mental overhaul. I made a decision that I needed to start fresh, which required me to give up all the ideas I once believed. I started questioning and challenging previously held beliefs. I began reading and learning.
One of the most significant things I came to understand was that we actually need to eat more. When we continue to restrict and eat calorie-controlled meals, we stay connected to and entrenched in the world of dieting. When you start honouring your hunger instead of fearing it, the game changes. I went from being someone who always chose the healthiest item on the menu, someone who enviously eyed everyone else’s meals, to someone that made food choices based on what I felt like eating. Don’t get me wrong, initially I feared that allowing myself to eat in this way would leave me on the floor at McDonald’s covered in fries, however what happened was a vastly different experience.
When I allowed myself to reconnect with what I desired to eat, I chose foods I enjoyed, foods that tasted good, foods that left me feeling satisfied, and more often than not, fries weren’t my top choice. I became someone who no longer suffered from food envy because I was choosing what I wanted, and I ate the fries if I wanted them, and left them if I didn’t. My binge eating stopped.
Funnily enough, when you’re adequately satisfied, the need to go searching through the cupboard late at night for chocolate or treats, diminishes significantly. You may find that when you honour your hunger, you realise that you’re not in fact hungry late at night, but bored, and this awareness, helps you learn to differentiate between your true hunger signals and your boredom.
Slowing down while eating was another way that helped me reconnect with the process of eating, because it helped me stay mindful, which allowed me to focus on what my body was experiencing; was I getting full or was I still hungry?
With this new understanding, I’ve made significant changes within my home. I no longer encourage my children to finish their meals once they’re full, instead I congratulate them on listening to their bodies, but remind them their meal will be there if they get hungry later. I want them to stay connected to their bodies cues for as long as possible. When they go to a party and feel sick after because they’ve eaten too much sugar, I encourage them to learn a lesson that they can draw on for next time; eating too many sweets makes you feel sick.
Mindful eating is about the process of eating, not about what you eat. Mindful eating is also not a diet, but what it is, is a path to freedom from diets forever.
My favourite thing about this way of eating is that you never fail. Sure, you’ll have days where you eat more mindfully than others, days where you overeat, but every time you eat, you acknowledge that you’re making a choice and that gives the guilt nowhere to live.
Do you want to imprison the thief once and for all?
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