The Eat-What-You-Love Diet

Last week I talked about the dangers of yo yo dieting and up-&-down weight fluctuations, specifically how they ravage the metabolism, leave you deprived of nutrients and energy, and are likely to lead to the dreaded "skinnyfat" syndrome. Yikes!

One of the challenges I encounter with clients - particularly, female clients - is disordered eating. There are the "eating disorders" we associate with extreme eating challenges and mental illness: anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder. But what about the disordered eating that falls outside of these medical and popular definitions? What about the woman who isn't anorexic or bulimic but wakes up worrying about what she will eat that day and goes to sleep thinking about how she'll "do better" tomorrow on her diet? What about those days you eat two chocolate croissants in your 10 a.m. meeting and starve yourself at lunch to compensate? What about last week when you found yourself knee deep in potato chips in front of The Bachelorette?

In case you haven't guessed, or don't follow my blog, those examples are all drawn from personal experience. I know what it's like to stuff, starve, obsess and self-criticize. I have never, on the other hand, watched the Bachelorette. So consider that last paragraph "based on a true story." My obsessive past is behind me but it does help me immensely as I work with women who still suffer.

I shy away from almost anything that defines itself as a "diet" - for myself, my clients and all the important people in my life who (sometimes) come to me for advice. That's part of the reason I was so happy to try out the Heart & Stroke Foundation's Healthy Weight Action Plan - it offers higher protein or higher carbohydrate meal plans, allows you to pick the number of calories you'd like to shoot for from a range of healthy allotments (eat more, you'll lose weight slower; eat less, you'll lose weight a bit faster...), and doesn't exclude any food groups or encourage any miracle foods or supplements. Programs like the Healthy Weight Action Plan encourage you to eat moderately, to eat until you are full, to not rely on food as a treat or to abuse yourself and make it a punishment.

Here is an example of the love/hate relationship we often have with food. One of my clients told me the other day that she craves something sweet in the afternoon. This is a pretty normal habit - wouldn't you agree? She drinks tea and fights the urge to have something sweet with it. I recommended she allow herself a teaspoon of honey or sugar in her tea to quell that sweet craving (which is more habit and taste-based than an actual need for energy). She admitted she turns down sugar in her tea because it is "unhealthy" but will reach for 4-5 tea biscuits on the side although she is not actually hungry. Adding a teaspoon of sugar? 15 calories. Adding 5 tea biscuits? 100 calories.

My favourite illustration of the treat-punishment view of food is summed up in the following statement, heard thousands of times in drive-thrus around the country each week, no doubt:

"I'll have the Big Mac combo with fries and a Diet Coke."

Pardon me?

I receive a few mainstream publications to keep me on top of the exercise & nutrition buzz out there, in addition to my industry journals and online research publications. Last month in Eating Well (a pretty good resource for healthy recipes and nutrition news if you're so inclined) there was an article entitled "The Eat-What-You-Love Diet" featuring a dietitian, Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D., who is blazing trails encouraging her clients to incorporate the foods they love, whether it be french fries, red wine or sugar in their coffee, in moderation and without obsession. The only rules she advises:

1. Recognize when you are hungry.

2. Eat only when you are hungry.

3. Stop eating when you feel satisfied.

Sounds simple, right? But trusting your body's internal cues to eat or not eat, and what to eat, is not something we're very good at, as a society. We have tons of diet products and are inundated by nutrition information but get fatter and fatter. In the meantime, we glare enviously at French women (a phenomenon immortalized in the book "French Women Don't Get Fat") with their steak, butter, croissants and red wine and wonder why they are all so Goddamn skinny.

If you are tired of cutting fat, cutting carbs, stuffing, starving and hating yourself, maybe it's time for a brain change and not a diet change.

This quiz, "Are You an Intuitive Eater?" from the aforementioned article and excerpted from "Intuitive Eating" by Evelyn Tribole, can help you figure out if you eat intuitively or if there are areas you might need to work on to feel better, inside & out:

Answer "yes" or "no" to each statement.

Unconditional Permission to Eat:

  • I try to avoid certain foods high in fat, carbs or calories.

  • If I am craving a certain food, I don't allow myself to have it.

  • I follow eating rules or diet plans that dictate what, when and/or how to eat.

  • I get mad at myself for eating something unhealthy.

  • I have a list of forbidden foods.

Eating for Emotional Rather than Physical Reasons:

  • I find myself eating when I'm feeling emotional (anxious, sad, depressed), even when I'm not physically hungry.

  • I find myself eating when I am bored.

  • I cannot stop eating when I feel full.

  • I find myself eating when I am lonely.

  • I use food to help me soothe my negative emotions.

  • I find myself eating when I am stressed.

Reliance on Internal Hunger/Satiety Cues:

  • I cannot tell when I am slightly full.

  • I cannot tell when I am slightly hungry.

  • I do not trust my body to tell me when to eat.

  • I do not trust my body to tell me what to eat.

  • I do not trust my body to tell me how much to eat.

  • When I am eating, I cannot tell when I am getting full.

Scoring: Each "yes" statement indicates an area that likely needs some work. The section with the greatest amount of "yes" responses indicates the area that needs the most attention.

Good luck!