SALT LAKE CITY — Sit back and relax and close your eyes: Can you imagine a world where you get to eat what you want, where you can love what you eat? The world where you enjoy food and movement, a world where restriction is not the name of the game, and eating doesn't stress you out or make you feel like a good or bad person?
How could you imagine yourself in this world? Would you be happier? Would you have the head space to make the world a better place and live a more meaningful life?
What if a life like this was actually possible? What if it wasn’t a dream that is totally unattainable, what if it feels glorious and not like you’re cheating life?
A world like this is possible — when you follow the anti-diet.
Yes, it is possible to actually be healthy and happy without focusing on your weight or on dieting.
The anti-diet is exactly that, it’s the antithesis of what Merriam-Webster defines as a diet: “a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight; going on a diet.”
That sounds miserable, doesn’t it? And your past dieting experiences probably support that. The hallmark sign of a diet is restriction, but dieting, partly because of the restriction, doesn’t work in the long run, again because it can be really miserable.
This miserable restriction concept makes sense because most of us are hard-wired to:
1. Enjoy sweet and high-calorie foods. This was helpful for us back in the days when we didn’t have the food availability we currently have. Now many of us don’t live in a feast or famine type of world but in a world full of choices. American society has also conditioned us to desire these foods.
One example is all the marketing for foods that are typically high in fat and sugar. We’ve been conditioned from an early age to want these foods. But diet culture tells us that we’re weak, unhealthy and unloveable if we eat this way, so we must restrict for the sake of being good.
2. We want what we can’t have. What’s a child’s reaction to you telling them no to something? They immediately want to do exactly what you told them not to do. Same goes for dieting.
Once we decide we can’t eat any more of whatever food (that we enjoy), that’s all we want. This is especially true when those food restrictions come from external forces. We like our ability to choose for ourselves. This is why bingeing often follows restriction.
A life without dieting sounds all great and happy, but can you believe that it’s actually possible?
Eating habits that center around eating intuitively and mindfully actually do allow for this kind of life. The nondiet focuses on trusting our bodies to tell us what we need, to practice gentle nutrition by eating a variety of different and nourishing foods and stop moralizing foods.
We can turn from external forces that guide our food choices to internal ones and do our bodies and our minds right. The nondiet focuses on nourishment and enjoyment versus the restriction and hunger that often accompanies traditional diets. The nondiet is about listening to our emotional and physical selves and practicing self-care, not punishment.
Let’s review a few common questions about the anti-diet.
Q: If I could eat whatever I wanted, I would just eat hamburgers all day. Can I do that on this diet?
Answer: When starting out eating intuitively, this really may be the case for you. Be patient with yourself. Eating is an experiment, treat it this way. Be mindful of your hunger and fullness, how food tastes to you and your satisfaction before, during and after a meal.
Take notes and compare your notes from different meals. Intuitive eating usually gets to the point of eating a variety of foods based on what our bodies tell us we need, not what external factors tell us, or what our punishing ways tell us.
Eating is a learned behavior, and if we strive to give ourselves complete permission to eat what we want and to eat it mindfully, we get to experience that satisfaction factor that allows us to stop when we’re done, and then leads us to be able to trust our bodies to guide us to what we need to nourish ourselves.
Sure, it’s not helpful to throw the nutrition book out the window, but considering all foods as emotionally equivalent helps release us from any expectations of how we "should" be eating and allows us to trust our bodies to tell us what we need.
Q: I really don't like vegetables, but I know they’re good for me. How can I eat more?
Answer: It’s no mystery that eating a number of vegetables and fruits each day is beneficial for our health. They are the source of a variety of nutrients that our bodies need to function properly.
First, it’s helpful to recognize that food preferences are learned, so if you want to like a certain food or food group, experiment with it. Try new preparation methods or food combinations to see if you’ll like it (here are a few delicious and simple recipes that include vegetables).
If we can get to that point of trusting our bodies and eating a variety of foods, we can properly nourish our bodies and improve our well-being by rejecting that miserable life of dieting.
Q: I have no self-control so how can I not be on a regular diet?
Answer: Whenever I have a client tell me this, I ask them if they intentionally restrict this food. Oftentimes they do. When we intentionally restrict foods that we enjoy, we’re setting ourselves up for a binge. No matter what we tell ourselves, our bodies think we won’t be getting that food again and we eat as much of it as we can.
Instead, experiment by giving yourself permission to have that food. When you eat it, especially the first couple times, practice eating mindfully.
For example, instead of endlessly grabbing handfuls of chips or cookies straight from the bag while watching your favorite movie, step away and pay attention to what you’re eating. Think about the textures, the flavors, the scents of that food. Eat it slowly to get the full experience. Being present while eating something you love allows you to fully enjoy it, and therefore feel satisfaction while eating it.
Eating this way often allows us to eat less than we would have otherwise, but still feel like we’ve been satisfied with that food.
Q: What if I gain weight?
Answer: This is a huge paradigm shift, but weight is not the greatest indicator of health. In all reality, you may gain weight, then lose weight, stay the same, or any combination of these.
Eating intuitively and mindfully allows us to nourish our bodies with what our bodies want and need. We often reach our own body’s ideal weight, which is not the same as a "healthy BMI" or the weight that’s best for your height.
Instead, your individual ideal body weight is more like your body’s set weight range where it functions well and you feel good internally. This has nothing to do with what society tells us we should look like. I know it’s a huge shift, but moving away from a weight-focused view of health is one of the most powerful things you can do to improve your health and well-being.
Q: if I'm not dieting/trying to lose weight, won't I just be giving up on myself?
Answer: Society tells us that we have to be dieting or at a certain weight to be healthy and happy. This just isn’t true.
Health and wellness come from respecting your body, feeling good about yourself and nourishing your mind and body. None of that has to do with the deprivation that comes from dieting. Your habits and your stress level determine your health more than your weight does.
Note that these answers are general tenets of intuitive and mindful eating. Everyone is different, and talking to an intuitive eating and nondiet-focused registered dietitian nutritionist about your specific concerns or lifestyle can be very beneficial.
The take-home messages about this new nondiet come down to self-care and enjoyment. The non-diet is empowering, it is individual and it’s positive.
Here are a few exceptional Instagram accounts that promote a nondiet and self-love that you can use for living and eating inspiration or just to learn more about this movement: