Happy New Year everyone! ‘Tis the season for getting bombarded with messages about setting our New Year’s resolutions, particularly the ones that focus on getting healthier. And if you’ve ever watched TV or browsed the internet around this time of the year, it seems like our health aspirations will never be complete if we’re not aiming for weight loss. Crash diets and intense 4-week ‘full body transformation’ fitness programs have stuffed the pockets of various health gurus way before we realized that something fishy was going on – that is, those methods didn’t seem to work long-term, or made things even worse for us in the future, both physically and emotionally.
To break the vicious cycle of mass media telling you that you’re not good enough unless you’re trying to reshape yourself via drastic diet and exercise routines, I’m inviting you to say no to setting diet and weight loss-related New Year’s resolutions! And since I don’t want to leave you empty-handed, I’ve talked to my friend Lacy Davis, the everyday hero of the wellness and fitness scene in Portland, OR, about intuitive eating – the approach that forever changed her own attitude towards food, guided her on the way to recovery from an eating disorder, and helped her appreciate her body the way it is.
Why Diet and Weight Loss-Related Resolutions Do More Harm Than Good
I’ve fallen into the trap of overexercising and restricting my food many times in the past. From this experience, I can tell you (in case you haven’t realized it yourself yet) that this approach doesn’t work. Here’s why I am advocating for ditching the diet and weight loss-related resolutions:
1. They set us on the road to self-punishment. We fall into a ‘lose weight or bust’ mentality, thinking that we are a failure unless we succeed at losing weight, and the quicker we do it, the better. This can become a gateway to forming unhealthy food and exercise habits like undereating and overexercising, obsessing over numbers, seeing different foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, etc. Have you ever found yourself thinking that you need to do an extra hour at the gym to ‘burn off’ a cupcake? Yeah, me too. It’s time to step back and look at the bigger picture: food or exercise should never be the reason or the means for self-punishment.
2. They make us believe that there’s something wrong with us. Today we are constantly bombarded with messages that make us believe that we’re not good enough, that we need to take up less space, be thinner and more fragile to be appreciated more. It takes courage to stand up and declare to the world that we love ourselves the way we are, and claim the space we take up as our own.
3. They make us fall into the trap of equating our self-worth with the numbers on the scale. THOSE. ARE. JUST. NUMBERS. They don’t represent all of the amazing things we’re capable of bringing into this world. They don’t measure our kind hearts or big dreams. No number, however big or small, should ever be the reason for feeling miserable.
4. Restrictive crash diets can wreak havoc on our metabolisms, and may lead to forming unhealthy dietary behaviors, or triggering the existing but dormant ones. This is why I quit training for a bikini competition last year. This is why Lacy Davis has been advocating for ditching diet mentality her entire career as a health and fitness professional.
So What Is Intuitive Eating, and Why Is It Better Than Dieting?
After years and years of misery caused by my overzealous diet and fitness mentality, I am throwing in the towel. Today I’m excited to listen to new voices in the health and fitness industry coming from people who advocate for a more wholesome approach to wellness – the approach that looks beyond physical numbers and measurements to embrace how it affects our minds. After all, if our health aspirations leave us feeling miserable, what good can they bring us long-term?
Lacy Davis has been one of those activists for many years. As an eating disorder survivor, she has been on a mission to help others break free from unhealthy eating patterns and body dysmorphia that have plagued her for years. Lacy is a co-host of the Rise and Resist and Adult Crash podcasts and founder of Liberation Barbell body-positive and gender-affirming gym in Portland, OR (see my previous interview with her over here).
Lacy Davis in her natural habitat – at her current Gym in Portland, OR. Her new gym, Liberation Barbell, is opening later this year.
In the past year, Lacy has talked about her positive experience with the dietary approach she calls intuitive eating. In its core, intuitive eating implies looking beyond the rigidity of diets and getting in touch with your body, listening to its needs and supplying it with the foods that make it feel its best. Here’s what Lacy says about intuitive eating (as quoted from her Reset and Restore program):
“At its core, intuitive eating is eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. It’s eating the food your body desires, and letting it go when you eat a thing that makes you feel not so great. Intuitive eating is innately trusting the messages your body gives you. …[With intuitive eating,] we are listening to our bodies to find out what tastes good and, more importantly, – what FEELS good. We are identifying a base way of eating that feels good, and making our choices from that baseline (and not beating ourselves up when we stray from the baseline).”
Lacy Davis identifies these points of the intuitive eating approach:
1. Reject diet mentality – instead of focusing on calories, macros, pounds, etc., let’s listen to our bodies and their needs, providing ourselves with nourishment that makes us feel good.
2. Honor your hunger and fullness – let’s eat when we’re hungry, and stop when our bodies tell us they are full. As simple as this sounds, it’s surprising how damaged our relationship with these cues could be if we’ve been following some type of diet for years.
3. Discover satisfaction – let’s draw the enjoyment from the flavor, texture and appearance of our food, and learn to high-five ourselves whether we’re eating salad or cake.
4. Cope with emotions without using food – if you’ve ever tried to numb your anxiety of stress through eating, now is the time to step back and reassess the situation. It’s not a matter of distracting yourself from food, but rather listening to your emotional cues and dealing with what they bring up.
5. Respect your body for everything it does for you – here’s what Lacy says: “The only way I learned to love my body was to thank it daily for doing the things it does for me. It took a long time, but the mental switch happened. Affirmations and gratitude and positive self-talk are great places to start, but eating and nourishing yourself with rad food on a regular basis is king. Thank your body and your body will thank you back.”
My Goal for This Year
The idea of eating intuitively and listening to my body’s natural cues is especially appealing to me right now. Instead of setting any lofty goals or resolutions for this new year, I’m aspiring to pay more attention to my physical and mental health. I’ve been spreading myself too thin, often losing touch with what’s truly important in the long term (my health, my relationships with people around me) for the sake of small achievements that wouldn’t even matter in a month (pageviews for my blog posts). My workouts have been aggravating various injuries that keep sidelining me for weeks. Looking back at the past year, I know I have to make adjustments to my day-to-day routine, or I’m going to hit a wall.
So here’s what I’m going to do. Instead of training for another marathon or working out to get shredded, I’m going to move in a way that’s kind to my body. Instead of feeling bad that I’m not eating 100% plant-based and oil-free all the time, I’m going to enjoy every spoonful of that vegan ice cream or every forkful of that salad – depending on which one of those I’m craving at the moment.
Do I have a solid game plan for how to achieve this? Of course not. I’m going to take it one step at a time, and if I take one step that brings me peace, that must be a step in the right direction.
Whether or not this is something you should consider – that’s entirely up to you. But whatever resolutions you’re setting for yourself this year, I hope that you sprinkle in plenty of self-care.
I can hear one question coming from some of the readers of this post, so I’m going to address this. “Hey Alina (and Lacy)! When it comes to intuitive eating, are you giving us a pass to ditch our vegan ways if we’re craving something non-vegan?”
My answer: Well, it’s all up to you. Personally, I’ve long since moved on from viewing veganism only as a diet. My main motivation for being vegan these days is going against animal cruelty (killing animals to eat or wear them is the ultimate cruelty, in my opinion), and being kinder to the environment with the choices I make every day. So all of the above mentioned intuitive eating pointers fit perfectly well in my vegan ways. In the 3.5 years since I went vegan, I’ve found plenty of substitutes for occasional non-vegan cravings.
What you do in your situation – that’s entirely your business. However, I do hope that in this new year we all move in the direction of kindness, both to ourselves and to others, whether they look like us or not.
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