September 21, 2012 • In web :: Features
Health at Every Size
Continued from page 2
2. Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite.
Fat acceptance implies acceptance of fat bodies as they are, which for many activists means a no-dieting stance. Health at Every Size proponents believe there are many reasons why people are fat, and that genetics play an important role.
What’s more, evidence has shown us that diets don’t work. Sure, they do work for a small number of people, and some people have lost weight and kept it off for more than five years - but these people are the exception, not the rule. During my dieting years, I needed to return to restrictive eating behaviours again and again in order to maintain a lower weight. Every time I eased up on my diet, I gained weight. I was proving that my body’s natural set point weight was higher than my desired weight. This cycle of behaviours, known as yo-yo dieting or weight cycling, has been shown to have negative health consequences.
Health at Every Size promotes an alternative to restriction and diets called intuitive eating. Intuitive eating means following your body’s cues; while diets or calorie-counting rely on external factors to determine what, when and how much you should eat, intuitive eating means listening to your bodyM when it comes to hunger and fullness cues. This might sound simple - eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full - but for someone who has been dieting for years, it requires work to get back in tune with their body’s cues. The Fat Nutritionist, Michelle Allison, cites Ellyn Satter, a nutritionist who spearheaded a program of teaching eating competence, in defining normal eating:
Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it—not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.
In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.
People sometimes try intuitive eating in the hope that it will result in weight loss. For most, though, it won’t, and the goal is to reach a stable weight or set point that doesn’t require yo-yo dieting or restriction to maintain, and to improve health outcomes through naturally eating a variety of foods. It make take years (it took me about four years to reach a stable weight).
As in Satter’s definition above, normal eating doesn’t have a strict definition or rules. It’s about finding out what works for you, and it takes experimentation and flexibility. Unlike a diet, there is no one-size-fits all, and there is no failure or “falling off the wagon.” If you overeat, you’re not a bad person. If you don’t get enough veggies today, you might eat more tomorrow or next week. If you have food intolerances or conditions that are exacerbated by eating certain things, it’s completely your call as to how best to manage your food choices.
And normal eating is way better for your mental health, as Cynara relates: “it makes me very angry to think about the time I wasted on trying to force my body to conform with an impossible and unsustainable ideal of thinness. I isolated myself, and thought cruel and ugly thoughts about my classmates who did normal things like eat a sandwich for lunch.”
On the other hand, the concept of intuitive eating is a privileged one. People who live with their parents or in shared living situations may not have control over their meals. Folks who work long hours may not have the luxury of eating when they feel hungry. Access to traditional and culturally appropriate foods can be limited for Indigenous people due to ongoing effects of colonization. And people living in poverty may not be able to choose the foods they like best or that have a high nutritional value. As Carrie points out, “it’s incredibly difficult to eat intuitively when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from.”