There are few women that I know who haven’t been a slave to dieting or a victim of food obsession to some extent. Pretty much from my late teens to my mid-thirties, I have indulged in ruthless calorie-counting, merciless carb-cutting, virtual starvation, and other forms of disordered eating in a bid to keep my weight in check.
The saddest thing is, when I began that relentless cycle of restriction regimes, I didn’t even need to watch my weight. I was a slim and flat-stomached teenager, who grew some hips, as tends to happen after puberty. But looking back at my photographs, I had a figure to die for.
Why is it that we can’t appreciate what we have, when we have it? Instead, I tried to make thinner what was already thin.
Once we begin turning inside that wheel of dieting deprivation, we are ultimately set to fail. The dieting industry has been very clever at making us believe we are the cause of that failure, rather than the diet, so it can carry on earning millions of dollars from people who only blame themselves as to why they can’t stick to 500 calories a day.
And the more we deprive ourselves, the more we will want to eat (and binge). Then our bodies, which have tried their best to hang onto fat reserves while we are starving it, pile on extra fat when we eat properly again, for the next time a food drought occurs.
Thank goodness the penny finally dropped, 6 years ago, that dieting is an evil that I could do without. I read a book (Beyond Chocolate by Audrey and Sophie Boss) which changed my perspective entirely, and I began to learn how to eat normally, in order to break free of the diet cycle forever.
So, what’s intuitive eating?
Diets are about restriction and eating certain types of foods, which are factors that make us crave ‘forbidden foods’ even more, dooming the diet to failure.
Intuitive eating is about breaking the negative cycle of deprivation, retraining our bodies and minds to eat and behave like ‘naturally slim’ people do – according to hunger, rather than at certain times of the day, according to satiation, rather than just eating everything on our plate.
And importantly, it’s about eating mindfully (like not stuffing food down quickly) and eating what you want, rather than choosing foods simply because they are ‘low-fat’, or a ‘diet version’, even if you don’t like them all that much. Eating ‘real food’ that tastes good, and learning to recognize what is the right amount for you.
Dieting ruins this intuitive process. It makes us eat to a regime and stops us being able to notice satiation signals.
Once I had decided to ditch dieting for good, I can’t say it was an easy task. Retraining my body, which had its metabolism all messed up after years and years of yo-yo dieting and disordered eating, is tough. And learning to eat intuitively and reduce weight through doing so is a long-term process, unlike the short-term fix provided by diets.
I put on weight (your body needs to adjust, and weight gain is likely to happen initially), resulting in lots of tears and me wanting to diet and restrict again. For some time, I was utterly depressed as I felt fatter than ever.
Freedom from dieting
As the months and years rolled on though, I started to feel emotionally liberated from the confines of dieting.
I stopped thinking about food in terms of being ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and it lost its personality. It became easy to have chocolate in the cupboard and not feel the need to eat it all at once (it can now be there for weeks). I stopped checking calories and fat-grams, and weighing myself several times a week.
I had times when I allowed myself to over-indulge, without feeling guilty, and I went out for dinner and picked the meal that sounded nicest to me, not the one that sounded the least fattening. I took home what I couldn’t finish, or just left it.
And when I heard friends talking about how they are going to be ‘good’ when we go for a meal, I wanted to yawn. How boring to be so focused on what the food may mean for their waistlines, that they actually forget about the enjoyment? That person used to be me.
Truly, getting off the diet treadmill has been the most liberating thing I have done for myself.
Being vegan and eating intuitively
The reason I originally started Chocolate and Beyond (now a vegan foodie blog) was to document my personal journey of intuitive eating. Back then, I was not vegan. So eating what I wanted included animal foods that I would never choose to eat now that I am enlightened. At that point, regardless of what the food was, if I felt like it – I ate it.
That is part of the process for learning to leave dieting behind, but I didn’t have the same awareness then as I have now, which is that animals and their secretions are not food, and therefore must not be viewed as such.
It would be easy for someone to use ‘eating intuitively’ as an excuse to not be vegan, or to have some cheese or make a choice that isn’t compassionate. However, I think as long as anyone can see that a sentient being should never be considered ‘food’ in the first place, then we can still, as vegans, approach eating in an intuitive way. And request that others do the same.
Eating what you want does not have to be at a complete disregard for other life, and a selfish journey only. Take the meaning of ‘mindful eater’ to its fullest and most compassionate extent. Of course, this is where I am at now. Eating intuitively to me means eating anything, as long as it doesn’t involve cruelty or exploitation.
The thing is, I am currently spending so much time exploring the most wonderful and exciting foods as a vegan, it is hard to not over-indulge sometimes. I see so many imaginative and inspiring recipes that I want to try, so I find myself giving a lot of food away to my parents or the dogs, because I can’t possibly eat it all (maybe I’d have tried to eat it all previously!).
And the great thing is, finally, I am starting to slowly lose weight again, naturally. Not that I am ‘obese’, but I just look that bit healthier, and can fit into jeans I thought were resigned to the recesses of my wardrobe. Not having to buy new (and bigger) clothes is always a bonus.
Andrea Wren, founder of Chocolate and Beyond vegan food blog
Andrea Wren is a UK-based freelance journalist and has a passion for vegan baking and food blogging. She ditched dieting years ago and loves to create interesting and imaginative dishes that tempt non-vegans as well as vegans. On Andrea’s blog, Chocolate and Beyond, you will find her free ebook, ‘Wot, No Eggs?! The Beginner’s Guide To Becoming An Expert Vegan Baker’, packed with tips and advice.
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