How I Stopped Fad Dieting and Found a Better Way to Eat

Spoiler alert: Anyone can do this.

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Healthy style

Healthy style

Green apple bounded with measuring tape with two dumbbells and bottle of water behind

Name a fad diet and I bet that I’ve tried it. Keto, Paleo, Zone, raw food — they all seemingly “worked” at first but weren’t sustainable long-term. What’s worse: Years of improperly fueling and working out too much wreaked havoc on my mind and body, sparking an unhealthy relationship with food and ultimately resulting in (TMI but…) too-low body weight and fertility warnings from my doctor. At the age of 22.

Queue the sappy self-discovery montage and fast forward to me now — looking, feeling and performing my best, all thanks to not dieting. That’s right, learning to tune into my body and acknowledge its needs has completely transformed how I approach fueling for success in the gym and daily life. So what does “eating intuitively” mean? And should you, too, ditch the vicious cycle of traditional diets? Let’s dig in.

THE BASICS

Take five, food police. Reject the diet mentality of labeling foods “good”/“bad” and let go of food guilt once and for all. “Intuitive eating is a means of handling your nutrition based on your internal cues, like your hunger levels and recovery needs,” says NCI- and PN1-certified nutrition coach Georgette Yacoub, founder of Fuel Your Fitness. “You don’t restrict yourself from anything — focusing less on 'rules' and more on behaviors and biofeedback.”

“The theory is based on psychological and nutritional studies of the inherent ability to feed ourselves that we are all born with and that culture of ‘diets’ and fear-mongering have cluttered and confused for us,” adds health coach, Sharyn Saftler, MPH, RDN.

SHOULD YOU TRY IT?

No longer pinning food as the enemy sounds liberating, right? It is. For years I fell victim to diet pressures, often allowing strict clean eating regimens to prohibit me from truly enjoying life. (What a bummer!) I also overlooked how debilitating dieting can be when it comes to goal-crushing.

“I think almost everyone would benefit to knowing their body enough to understand how to fuel it properly outside the confines of some diet or meal plan,” says Yacoub. “Work with someone to figure out how you should be eating for your body, life and goals.”

So cookies around the clock? Not so fast. “It’s not just a ‘throw everything out the window and eat whatever you want whenever you want’ apathetic view of eating,” says Saftler. “In fact, it is the opposite of that. It involves a lot of introspection, slowing down and listening to what your mind is saying while you interact with food. It asks you to dig deep and begin to doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs.”

GET STARTED

Being aware of what you are putting into your body — both food quality and quantity — is a great start, advises Yacoub. “I think tracking your food, at least temporarily, is a precursor to truly understanding what your body responds well to.” That’s why I kickstarted my journey with food logging. To my surprise, I wasn’t eating nearly enough to be supporting my body’s daily functioning, let alone strenuous workouts.

Once you have that understanding, the true lifestyle change begins. “Give yourself grace,” says Saftler. “You are learning a new skill. In a very loud diet/food-centered world it will be really hard to calm the competing voices, latest fads and truly listen to what your body needs.”

Differentiating hunger levels can also support successful intuitive eating. Prior to mealtime, ask yourself, “Am I hungry?” and pay attention to whether it is an emotional or physical hunger you are sensing. “One is fleeting, emotional and rarely feels better/is resolved by eating,” says Saftler. “The other is biological, usually leads to noisy grumbling if ignored, and goes away once you’ve eaten.”

Rate your physical hunger on a scale of one to 10 before and after eating throughout the day (1 being you could chew your arm off, 10 equating to feeling overly stuffed). According to Saftler, “Typically, physical hunger starts (tummy rumbling) at about a 3 and after eating is resolved to 5-6 of fullness.”

BOTTOM LINE

“There is no ‘perfect eating’ in intuitive eating,” says Saftler. In fact, if you feel great doing it, chances are it’s right for your body. “Our bodies are very good at telling us what they need so if anything is off in regards to energy levels, sleep, workout performance, hunger levels, etc. then it may be time to dig a little deeper,” adds Yacoub. So listen in and kick those quick-fix “I’ll start on Monday” negative thoughts to the curb once and for all!

Lauren Seib is a pug mom, personal trainer, online coach and group fitness instructor based in Stamford, Conn. Her credentials include NASM CPT, Spinning®, RYT 200 and Barre by exhale.

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