Abandon the diet | Weekend magazine

Ah, the holidays. It’s a gourmet period marked by decorated cookie platters and special family recipes that only appear at this time of year. And looming on the horizon of a new year just ahead is the quick end of it all. This is the time of year when our resolutions are an opportunity to “get back on track” with food consumption and our bodies. This is the most popular time to make a commitment to lose weight and start a diet.

But what if there was no “trail” to go back to? What if you never went off the rails to begin with? What if our relationships with food were just happy, winding journeys where we listened to our bodies’ hunger and fullness cues, ate what felt nourishing, and moved for sheer joy?

A growing number of healthcare professionals are claiming that not only is this possible, but science shows that it is, in fact, much better for our health.

Yet 45 million Americans will mark the turning point of the year by going on a diet; losing weight is one of the most common resolutions. But alarmingly, 95% to 98% of these diets will fail. And while the million dollar food industry might have you believe failure is the dieter’s fault, it’s actually simple biology: Our bodies react to a diet like a famine; we are programmed to gain weight in response to what our body thinks is a lack of food. This is why so often weight loss is followed by immediate recovery, and more.

This weight cycle in itself can be bad for our health, says dietitian Britt Richardson. She has a new practice in Montpellier called A Full Bite Nutrition (www.afullbite.com), and she says weight cycling, which is weight gain after intentional weight loss, as little as three times over the course of a person’s lifespan puts them at greater risk for cardiovascular disease.

Dieting is also bad for our mental health. There is the time, money and energy wasted on dieting; poor body image resulting from a diet; and this frightening statistic: the prevalence of eating disorders has doubled.

It is not our fault, however, that we equate losing weight with improving our health. There is a long-standing paradigm in the medical field that good health can only be achieved at a certain body weight. But when Lizzy Pope, director of the Dietetics Education Program at the University of Vermont, asked if this was really true, she took a look at the science and realized we can’t be so sure.

Pope found that many studies showing a link between weight and health had holes; they had flaws in that they did not look at the whole of a person’s health. This includes well-known social determinants of health such as adequate housing, exercise habits and food security. It turns out that there is more to promoting health than just losing weight.

“It’s not what we are made to believe about weight, and certainly not what we are made to believe after the New Year,” Pope said.

Add to that that up to 70% of our body shape and size is attributable to genetics, and therefore our weight is something we have limited control over, anyway. Instead of focusing on healthy weight loss, Pope says, a better approach is to focus on health-promoting behaviors, like walking 10 minutes, eating fruits and vegetables, meditating, or getting enough sleep.

“It’s more motivating,” Pope says, “because we have more control over these. “

These healthy behaviors will improve not only physical health, Pope says, but also mental and emotional health, which are also important for overall health.

All of this makes dieticians like Richardson and Pope wonder, what do you gain when you give up weight loss?

A mother of two pre-teens in central Vermont, who asked not to be named for confidentiality reasons, recently began exploring the same issue for her own family when her eldest daughter developed an eating disorder.

“My relationship with food was negative,” the mother said, and she passed it on to her daughters. “I would tell them ‘don’t eat this, this is junk food’ or ‘this is too sweet’. I was hiding at the drive-thru because God forbid anyone who saw me there. All this anxiety around what to eat and what not to eat led her daughter to stop eating completely.

“I had to flip a switch in my brain,” said the mother of two. She started working with Richardson to establish a new relationship with food for her family, and she says, “It was like tons of bricks were lifted off my shoulders.”

“It’s about getting out of the diet mentality,” says Richardson. “It ranges from needing to know what to eat and when to eat to listening to our body’s internal guidance. “

Richardson and Pope, along with many other healthcare professionals, help practitioners and clients make peace with food through an approach called Intuitive Eating. There are ten principles, such as rejecting diet culture, honoring hunger, feeling full, finding pleasurable ways to move, and incorporating what is called “gentle nutrition”, among others.

What we gain, says Richardson, when we give up weight loss are things like time, energy, money saved, and self-esteem. And science, she says, shows a measurable improvement in health statistics: among intuitive eaters, good cholesterol increased, bad cholesterol decreased, blood pressure decreased, and binge eating attacks, which consume very quickly. large amounts of food, have declined.

Although intuitive eating sounds simple, it takes a lot of work and support to achieve it. Richardson and Pope both recommend getting help.

“It sounds simple,” Pope says, “but it can be difficult to do it on your own. On the one hand, she says, it can be very scary at first. She says people often ask, “Am I going to eat whatever is in sight?” It’s a natural reaction to have, she points out, but no, she said, that’s not what’s going to happen.

“When you release the restriction,” Pope explains, “you actually don’t want to eat cakes and cookies forever. When a person begins to listen to their own bodily signals for satiety and hunger, their body will eventually want broccoli, she says.

Richardson agrees. “What’s going on is habituation,” she said.

To begin with, Richardson points out a number of resources. Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch’s “Intuitive Eating” book is a great place to start, she says, as are Linda Bacon’s “Health at Every Size” and Bacon and Lucy Aphramor’s “Body Respect” books.

“There are some great resources just for exploring what this is about,” says Richardson.

Then there are podcasts, like Food Psych with Christy Harrison, and an episode of 10% Happier, hosted by Dan Harris, on which he is joined by Tribole as a guest.

“This podcast,” Richardson says of the 10% Happier with Tribole edition, “is probably the best entry point ever, and it’s only an hour long.”

Then there is the choice of a health professional. Richardson recommends finding someone qualified to deal with your specific problem. Pay attention, says Richardson, to the approaches they use in their practice, because while some will use a weight-centric approach, others are certified as Healthy Every Size or Intuitive Eating.

“Look for a registered dietitian with licensed practice and credentials because they have the science degree, training, and continuing education,” says Richardson. And more importantly, she says, “your practitioner needs to make you feel heard, they need to support your values ​​and help you set goals rather than forcing what needs to be done. “

This is exactly the approach the mother-of-two in central Vermont needed. After working with Richardson for a few weeks, this mom brought her daughter to the grocery store and let her choose whatever she wanted to eat. Her daughter asked if she could get ice cream, to which her mother said yes. When asked if she could have a donut for breakfast, her mother replied, “Of course.”

Then, said the mother laughing, her daughter asked her, “Are you okay?” “

A few months later, this mother says her daughter has started eating again and the novelty of foods like ice cream has worn off. Now her daughter asks for grilled chicken and soup. But before they can get to that, says the mother, “I had to let go of my negative past around food.

She says, “It takes all the language we’ve heard about food and diet and teaches us to listen to our bodies instead. “

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