Ask Bodyposipanda: I'm Ready To Stop Dieting, But Will My Quality Of Life Suffer If I'm Not Careful With My Food?
I feel really ready to stop dieting. The only hurdle that I'm facing is the fear that I'll be less healthy for it. I know mental health matters too, but I worry that I should control my food more to have a better quality of life, especially later in life. I'm afraid that my quality of life will decrease if I am not super careful with carbs. I don't want to live in fear, though. Thoughts?
Two things in this message really stand out to me: 'control my food' and being 'super careful with carbs'. Both of those phrases make it sound like you've lost all trust in your own ability to make food choices that are right for your body. Which makes total sense considering you've been on the diet merry-go-round for a while.
One of the most insidious ways that diets hurt us is by teaching us that our own bodies can't be trusted. Our hunger should be ignored. Our cravings should be treated as suspicious. And that the only way to choose foods that are right for our body is to follow the outside rules of the diet plan, and ignore all of our own internal signals of hunger and fullness, cravings or dislikes. Without these rules we'll lose control, dive head first into a vat of ice-cream and never come out.
What the diet doesn't want you to know is that every one of us is born with the innate ability to choose the foods that are right for us, to eat when we're hungry, and stop when we're full. In fact, every time we go on another diet and choose to follow those outside rules rather than our own internal signals, we push ourselves further from that innate ability and send a message loud and clear to our bodies that we don't trust them.
Then when we do fall off the diet and into the ice-cream, or the carbs, or whatever else we've learned to see as 'bad' or 'forbidden', we take that as proof that we have no control. Rather than seeing it for what it is: a biologically programmed response our bodies have evolved to have when faced with restriction and deprivation. That end-of-diet binge that sits at the root of our fears of losing control is our bodies saying PLEASE LISTEN TO ME WHEN I TELL YOU WHAT I NEED, STOP IGNORING ME. It is not a personal failure on our part, and it's not a loss of control.
In order to get to a place where you can prioritise your physical health by choosing more nutritious foods without it being based in fear or guilt, you have to let your body know that you trust it again; that you will re-learn how to truly listen to it, that you won't punish it with starvation, that you will feed it when its hungry. In short, that you will learn to eat intuitively.
Most intuitive eating programmes don't recommend an immediate focus on nutritious eating, because the first step has to be truly breaking away from the diet mindset, leaving the 'good' and 'bad' food mentality behind, and rebuilding trust with your body. It can be far too easy for 'nutrition' to become a guise for old restrictive tendencies. But when you've reached a point where food is neutral and your choices are no longer based in fear, you can absolutely prioritise nutritious eating if you'd like to (and for anyone who doesn't/isn't able to, that's fine too, because what you eat will never be a measure of your value).
Once you're in the intuitive eating mindset, those choices can be based in how certain foods make your body feel, and listening to your body in that way will tell you which nutrients you need to function to the best of your ability. Letting go of dieting is not at odds with eating nutritiously. But when we keep following those outside rules and ignoring our internal signals, we will never let go of that fear and learn to trust our bodies again.
If you're interested in learning more about intuitive eating (do it!), here are some books you can check out: Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Body Respect by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, Overcoming Overeating by Jane Hirshmann and Carol Munter (careful for the sneaky bits of diet culture in that one though), or my book, Body Positive Power.
Oh, and one more thing that Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby wrote in Lessons from the Fat-O-Sphere — 'eating ice cream is not actually equivalent, health-wise, to pouring battery acid down your throat, no matter how much people who dispense dieting advice might like you to believe it is' — or in your case, carbs.
Love & bopo,