You see now that a diet by any other name is still a diet.
Whether it’s the traditional Weight-Watchers or Jenny Craig or the nouveau Paleo or Whole30 you know that if it asks you to follow rules, if it tells you that your body’s cravings can’t be trusted, if it makes someone else the expert, if it demonizes certain foods or entire macronutrients that it’s a diet. Plus you’re not going to be fooled by misappropriated buzzwords and phrases like “health” and “body love” and “make peace with food.” A spade is a spade and you know it.
You see that yo-yoing in weight is not and has not been a fault of yours but an inherent side-effect of dieting.
When a human being is threatened with starvation over and over again as they are when dieting the body acts in the interest of self-preservation and decreases metabolism. This is the brilliance of our bodies, they want us to live. This the problem with restriction. This is the “planned obsolescence” or built in expiration date of diets. It’s diets that don’t work but people blame themselves for not sticking to it, for not having the willpower, for eating sugar or bread…when all all along it was the diet itself that was set up to cause weight-gain. You see this now. You’re not playing a rigged game anymore.
You see now that you’d rather be happy than weigh any specific amount.
Most often when we’re chasing weight-loss we’re really chasing what we think weight loss will give us: happiness, love, desirability, etc. Most often when we’re restricting our food we’re chasing order in our life, a sense of control, or a decrease in our anxiety. But now, you realize that people have all the things we’re promised weight-loss will give us without the pursuit of a different body. Now you realize you can have those things too. Now you just want to be free and happy.
You’re not holding out hope anymore for a miracle, quick-fix, lose-weight pill, plan, or program.
You’ve tried enough to know that the next diet will not have different results from the last one, or the last ten. You also know that the path from chronic dieter to normal eater won’t happen overnight or in six weeks. That speedy pace is only ever sold by industries that care more about profits that results or your well being. You now know that being the tortoise is a better bet than being the hare. Slow and steady wins the race.
You see now that weighing less, if it means you have to starve and torture yourself, isn’t worth it.
Priorities change. As we live, we learn. It can take a while but eventually, if we’re lucky, where we find meaning and fulfillment becomes clear and it turns out that’s it’s never found in how we look or what we weigh or how “perfect” of an eater we are. Meaning is found in relationships, in creative expression, in service, in play, in nature, in enjoying our bodies, and in loving one another. It’s not found in a pants size. The cost is just too high for you to continue to inflict harm on yourself in the name of calories or points or carbs or pounds or inches.
You have just enough faith that you can relearn how to be a normal eater even if that scares you.
You may not know how. You might crave support. But you have faith, however faint, that you can be free. Others that you respect and trust have gone before you. Somewhere inside is a voice whispering “We’re done. So done. Never again. So what’s next?”
If you are truly done with dieting and want support for this next stage consider applying to be a part of Feast. It’s community, mentoring, and support tailor made for when you’re D-O-N-E.
In the early months of my anorexia the praise I received about my appearance and weight loss served as fuel for a dangerous fire.
“You look great!”
“What are you doing? You look awesome.”
“I wish I had your willpower.”
“Wow, you have a great body.”
Friends, strangers, and even my parents, in the early days, doled out praise for what appeared to be a newly discovered commitment to health and the smaller pants I could fit into.
Approval was like a drug. It felt good, really good, when it started and it served as a motivation later on. When I didn’t want to go to the gym or I wanted to eat something beyond my ultra restricted diet all I did was think about what people would say if I gained weight and that was enough to keep me in line.
In a lot of ways I was addicted to praise. The high I got from others celebrating my physical form (and how it conformed) was palpable. The panic I felt when (I projected that) others judged my body negatively was crushing.
- Dependence on, or addiction to praise – causing us to do only those things that are likely to get us gold stars and others’ approval
- Avoidance of praise – not wanting to stand out from the crowd – even for positive reasons, which causes us to self-sabotage, to not do our best work
- Fear of criticism – which causes us to not innovate, share controversial ideas, pursue interests where we’ll be fumbling beginners or fail along the way, or do anything that makes us visible enough to be criticized!
She makes the astute suggestion to “always look at feedback as giving you information about the person or people giving the feedback, rather than information about yourself.”
Tara’s writings explores this topic mostly in the context of our careers and I want to take it further and apply it to praise and criticism of our bodies and food choices.
And unhooking in this realm is not an easy thing to do because we all want to belong. We all want approval. When we are praised it feels great. When we are judged or rejected it can feel devastating.
And yet, living at the mercy of the approval of others, striving to conform in our appearance or diets to what others or “society” deems good is the definition of disempowerment.
Being able to live our lives and make basic choices like what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat without factoring in what other people will think is essential if we are to feel free and unmasked—if we are to stay connected to the immense wisdom of our bodies.
Feeding ourselves is one of the most basic acts of autonomy. No one else should have a say in what we put into our bodies and yet for too many women, with each bite, comes a cacophony of judgemental voices—some real, some projected.
This happens when we get dressed too. Our minds run off with thoughts of “Does this make me look fat?” “Does this show my belly/thighs/arms/butt, etc?” “Will so and so think I’ve gained weight?” “Will they think I’ve given up?” Too often we sit on the side lines, skip the party, or spend more than we can afford on clothing just to mitigate the judgement we fear others will have of how we look.
But, as Tara so eloquently explains “the goal…is not to become impervious to praise and criticism. That would be impossible. It would also be inhuman, and would force us to deny an important part of ourselves….The part of us that wants others to receive us with appreciation, with enthusiasm – the part that wants to be loved by those around us? I think that’s a very tender, real, part of us, a part to honor too. The point is not to become disconnected from feedback, to have such a thick skin that we can’t feel it or hear it, but rather, to become “unhooked” by it, to not be run by it. The point is to be run by our own wisdom…The goal is to not have others’ ideas about us distract us, silence us, or take us on an emotional roller coaster.”
I agree. In the end it comes down to what we each, as individuals, decide is important in a meaningful life. Unhooking from praise and criticism when it comes to our bodies and our food choices is a life long practice. Each of us has an ego that is ready and willing to lure us back to that to the roller coaster. Getting hooked isn’t a failure.
So what does it look like when we’re unhooked from body praise and criticism?
It looks like this:
- Eating what we want, not more or less based on what other people are eating or who we are eating with, or what social function we have coming up on our calendar.
- Allowing photos of us to be taken and seen, knowing that a moment captured in 2-D doesn’t define us or tell our whole story.
- Not hiding in the ways we dress or hiding what we are choosing to eat.
- Letting someone else’s comments about our appearance be about them.
- Dressing and adorning ourselves for ourselves, with pride, and the body we have today.
- Observing the hurt or fear that comes from criticism and looking inward to where we may be holding self-judgement. After all, it’s much harder to be hurt by criticism we don’t agree with.
- Doing our best to practice non-judgement when it comes to other people’s eating and appearance.
- Sometimes consciously giving up the SHORT-TERM high we know we’d get if we went on a crash diet. We unhook when we choose long-term, internally-based sustainable happiness instead of short-term, external hits of power. This happens in small moments.
- When necessary, reminding other people that our body, appearance, and food choices are entirely our own domain—no outside contributions needed or welcome.
Unhooking is a practice, but remember, what I think of you, or she thinks of you, or he thinks of you, or your inner critic thinks of you doesn’t much matter. You are in charge. Your body is yours. Your reasons behind your food choices are personal and multifaceted and no one’s business.
Go to the party. Take the photograph. Put on whatever size clothing fits your body today and feels comfortable. Eat what you want, in public, in front of people who are still entranced by diet culture.
Have no shame for struggling, getting hooked, bumbling toward finding your way, or being a human who feels deeply—this stuff isn’t easy.
Ultimately though, when you can, remember that what other people think about your body and food choices only has as much power as you give it.
If you’re interested in learning more about Tara Mohr’s teachings on unhooking from praise and criticism check out her book Playing Big. It’s a game-changer.
Her: “I have a question.”
Me: “Go for it.”
Her: “What’s a typical day like for a well-fed woman? For an intuitive eater?”
Me: “Hah! As if there is a typical day…”
Her: “I ask because we’re told all the time what a typical day looks like for a dieter. Every women’s magazine tells us what this it-girl is eating, or what that celebrity nutritionist recommends. We never hear or see what a normal eater eats.”
This is an exchange I had with one of my Feast students a few months back.
And she’s right.
How often do we hear that Jane Doe movie star has protein and steam vegetables for dinner or that her personal trainer has her start her day with an egg white omelet? Craving something sweet? She’s allowed one half cup of strawberries. You get the idea. And this is presented as normal! This is not normal. This is extreme restriction.
Here’s the rub though in answering my student’s question: the point of intuitive eating is that it’s flexible, changing, adaptable, and entirely personal. As such, there really is no typical day for me or for others who practice this approach to eating.
And yet I wanted to give her an answer so I reached out to a handful of my attuned eater friends and thought I’d share with you how six women might eat on any given day. When I made my request to these contributors I kept it loose and didn’t edit their responses so you’ll see a range of formats*. Some tracked what they ate over one or two days. Some jotted down their approach to their daily eating habits. I think the mix is perfect and goes to underscore the diversity in eating for those who eschew rules, programs, and diets.
Rachel Cole (Me!), Writer, Teacher, and Life Coach
I typically start my day with either hot cereal (oatmeal, cream of wheat, etc.) with a pat of butter, whole milk, honey or maple syrup, and whatever nuts and fruit I have on hand. I like to feel really satiated as I start my day. If it’s not hot cereal I’ll have leftover. I love cold spaghetti and other savory foods in the morning.
A typical lunch for me might be one or two tamales and some sort of veggies on the side (leftover sautéed greens, cut up bell pepper, etc.). I’ll usually have a piece of fruit here too.
Snacks, which I might or might not have before/after lunch might be buttered toast, an apple and peanut butter, a piece of cold pizza, gummy bears, etc. Just depends on what I have and what I’m craving.
We cook at home many nights and we might have asian rice bowls (brown rice, omelet, tofu, kim chee, asian roasted vegetables, etc.) or skirt steak with chimichurri sauce and good bread.
We have dessert most nights, but all. We tend to keep a big batch of homemade cookie dough in the freezer and then bake off a few when we have a hankering for something sweet. Most often I’ll have mine with a glass of whole milk.
This is all what’s most typical but I also go through phases where I’m eating mostly take out and not getting as many vegetables as makes my body happy. It all just depends on what I’m in the mood for, if I’ve been to the grocery store or had time (or the desire) to cook, and what’s in season.
Melissa Toler, Writer, Speaker, and Certified Wellness Coach
- I woke up at 7:15 and breakfast around 8:30, which was homemade turkey sausage, black eyed peas, and sautéed kale (I don’t eat eggs so this is my version of a warm, filling, tasty breakfast). I also have a big cup of French press coffee w/sugar with it. Sometimes, I’ll have a banana afterwards (what I like to call my breakfast dessert), but I ran out that day.
- I went to the gym at 11:30, then had a protein shake with spinach blended in after my workout
- For lunch I had chicken thighs, green beans, and roasted sweet potatoes
- I went to Starbucks to do some work and had a bag of jalapeño corn chips (which were yummy, to my surprise)
- After working at Starbucks, I came home around 8:30PM and had ground beef, green beans, and rice.
- I went to bed around 11:30
Caroline Dooner, Founder of The Fuck it Diet
I’m pretty bad at grocery shopping. I live in a city and go to the deli every day to get kombucha and avocados and Lärabars and ice cream and oranges.
These days, I wake up, and I either remember to make myself sourdough toast with butter and/or a banana, or I don’t, and I go to the cafe up the street to get a cappuccino – or two- and write for a few hours. By a certain point it’s lunch and I realize I should have eaten the toast, because now I’m just running on caffeine and milk.
I go home and make whatever lunch is lying around. Leftovers. Pasta. Ground beef. Or avocado toast. Those are the usuals. And sometimes it’s cheese and crackers.
I forget about food a lot these days, because I know I’ll eat it when I want it and need it, but I do also get hungry often, because I’m alive, and it’s almost like an, “OH, How have you not learned by now that I need to eat lots of food?” (This is starkly different from my life before when all I thought about was food and what I was going to eat.) So, for snacks I normally eat more cheese and crackers, or Lärabars, and kombucha. Or more lunch. Or if I’m out, I just get whatever I want. I can’t even think of what that is because it’s always something different. I went through a long phase where I only wanted brownies. Now I kind of want anything but brownies.
I’m away from my apartment a lot at night, so I eat out. Something different every time. There was a long while when I nearly had a chipotle burrito bowl every day. Barbacoa, White rice, black beans, sour cream, lettuce, salsas. That’s still my go-to at Chipotle. Right now I’m in a phase where I order beef tacos from the restaurant down the street a few times a week. The delivery guy knows me now. It’s very embarrassing because I bet he thinks I am a taco-eating-hermit. But my biggest guilt about taco delivery is that I am ruining the planet. Plastic.
I went through a phase where I would have chocolate chocolate chip ice cream every night. Now I’m in a phase where I eat oranges and peanut butter chocolate chip Lärabars before bed… sometimes two. Often two. Let’s be honest, every day I go to the deli to get my kombucha and I buy two Lärabars, and I almost always eat them both that night. If I forget to eat them, I’m normally still hungry at bedtime, so I eat them in bed while looking at Instagram on my phone.
Then I remember I need to change my sheets and vacuum the floor. But I don’t do it, basically, ever.
That’s my “routine”, but I often break up my routine and am eating god only knows what, and thank God because I probably need more varied nutrients than my routine offers me.
Anna Guest-Jelley, Founder of Curvy Yoga
Over the years of my intuitive eating journey, I’ve now built my day around small rituals of food choice — they offer me a little structure so I’m not reinventing the wheel every moment but also enough freedom to adapt to my changing wants and needs throughout my day and week.
At the beginning of the week, I make a grocery list and plan my meals. I enjoy doing this because I get to think about what I want to eat, what meals would be good on nights I’m busier and what sounds good that time of year (hello, all the fruit in the summer!). I make sure to have enough food on hand for changing my mind, though, and have a few quick go-tos that I always enjoy no matter what so that if I look at that night’s dinner and decide I’m not into it, I can have something else.
My go-tos are generally comprised of ingredients that don’t go bad quickly so that I don’t have to get new ones every week and so I don’t have to get into a trap of thinking I have to eat something just so it won’t go bad. I can’t emphasize enough how key having choice is for me: If I have to eat something I don’t want, my inner narrative gets very negative very quickly. In my dieting days, I never ate what I wanted or would feel good for my body, so when I do that now, even if not related to a diet at all, all my old tapes and food “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” get triggered, which quickly sends me into a downward spiral. So having at least one other choice for any given snack or meal is the name of the game for me.
In the morning, I’m generally pretty ready to eat within half an hour of getting out of bed. Again, I have several breakfast options always available — oatmeal, cereal, smoothie and toast (depending on the time of year, that will be toast with butter, peanut butter or avocado). Because these are all made of ingredients I can keep on hand for a while, it’s not a problem or more expensive. I eventually eat all of it, but I’m not obligated to just eat one the whole week if I’m not digging that.
As the day progresses, I tend to start getting hungry around 10am. Honestly, I very often ignore that and keep working. When I plan ahead well, though, I bring a snack with me upstairs to my office because I’m more likely to eat it that way than if I have to go downstairs because my mind too often tells me I should just keep working and break for lunch early instead. This is something I’m continuing to work on because I feel better when I have the earlier snack, but it often means I just eat lunch around 11am instead. For lunch I usually go by the plan for the day, but I still have some alternates for when I need them.
One thing I know about myself is that I get hangry around 5pm if I haven’t had an afternoon snack, and because I wait to have dinner until my husband gets home because I enjoy sharing a meal with him, I have to have an afternoon snack. That, as opposed to the morning snack, is easier for me because I also know I may get a headache if I don’t have that afternoon snack. When and what I eat is totally dependent on the day and what I’ve done. Some days I go for a swim after lunch, and on those days I almost always want a snack when I get home and then sometimes something else later in the afternoon, too. Other days, I may have something in the middle of the afternoon. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m all about variety here, so I have several snack options around: dark chocolate, beef jerky, yogurt, chips, almonds or pecans, leftovers from lunch, Lärabar, etc. Some days I have one of those, other days more than one.
In the evening, yep — I generally go by the plan. But sometimes I don’t feel like having that, or I got busy and didn’t have time to make something so I text my husband to bring home take-out, or I just feel like going out or there’s enough leftovers for a third serving but I can’t handle it (I’m generally not interested in having something more than twice, so if there’s more, I leave those for my husband to bring for lunch). I never put so many meals on the week’s grocery list that I can’t just carry the ingredients forward and they’ll still be fresh enough to be able to use and not throw out early the next week, so it works for me to do this.
At night, I go by what I feel. If I’ve given myself what I wanted and needed at dinner, I rarely feel the desire to eat again before bed. But sometimes I might have had a very active day, eaten dinner earlier than usual, be going to bed later than usual, or who knows what — sometimes I’m just hungry. If I am, I make sure to eat something before bed because waking up ravenous does not start me off on a good note for the next day.
Really, each day is different, but when I have options on hand, it’s so much easier for me to stay with intuitive eating because I can roll with the day as it is and not how I thought it should be five days ago.
Tracy Brown, Nutrition Therapist and Somatic Attuned Eating Coach
I certainly don’t have typical days. The only things that are similar are the weekdays bc when I get my kid to and from school, so the meal times are mostly consistent. And I, 95% of the time have some kind of dessert each day.
Easy going weekend day
8am) banana and large muffin with almond butter; decaf coffee with cream and sugar
11am) grilled chicken, strawberries, lentil chips and some fancy cheese you can grill on a grill
3pm ) half a large piece of cake at a birthday party; mostly ate the frosting bc cake part was dry, would have liked to finish but didn’t want to be full but not satisfied
530p) pasta with marinara and meatballs, broccoli and cauliflower with olive oil
9:15) strawberry coconut milk ice cream; not hungry per se but wanted a little something and it hit the spot
There are days with more or less fruit or veg or dairy; more fats, etc. The point is that after years of attuned eating the feedback my body consistently gives is that I feel more focused with better energy when I have protein for breakfast, though many days I don’t have a preference for it. In those cases like this day, I added a little almond butter because I do like it and it doesn’t feel forced or a should. Just a honoring of how I want to feel.
Dana Sturtevant, MS, RD, and Co-Founder of Be Nourished
While there is some consistency and predictability in my eating, the main question I ask myself is “What sounds good?” I have 3-4 rotating breakfasts that I make, depending on what I want and the time I have available. The entries below are for non-work days when I’m often running errands, and eat snacks between breakfast and dinner. Work day lunches are often leftovers (or a Whole Bowl around the corner!). New Seasons is also right by my office, so I might hop in there for something from the deli. I estimated the times I ate and included them here. Noticing how long the foods at each eating episode last—sometimes called the “meal mix”—can be helpful when planning what to eat. If I’m training all morning, my breakfast is going to be hearty—almost always an egg dish and something with it—beans, bagel, potatoes, fruit. If I’m in the office, I have more breakfast options (yogurt, granola and fruit, toasted waffles with nut butters, smoothies) because I can snack between meetings and clients. In summary, my eating varies in response to where I am, what I’m doing, the food choices I make, and the time I have available.
Steel cut oats with toasted coconut, pumpkin seeds, almond milk and brown sugar
Part of a caramel walnut roll from the farmer’s market
Part of a toasted bagel with cream cheese, salmon lox
A few pickled green beans on the side
5:30 p.m, Happy Hour at a Mexican Restaurant
Nachos with black beans, cheese, guacamole, and sour cream
Small green salad with apples, walnuts, and pepitas
Part of a caramel walnut roll from the farmer’s market
Eggs scrambled in butter
Toaster waffle (frozen) with almond butter
Iced herbal tea
Crackers with gouda
Part of an apple
A few bites of black rice while cooking
Pasta with nettle-walnut pesto, broccoli and tomatoes
Chicken apple sausage
*This last entry originally included exact quantities. The author doesn’t track this in her day to day life, but interpreted my request for submission as including this information. Several readers reached out to say these numbers were triggering and I’ve since decided to remove them as they don’t add to this post and don’t represent what the author does in her day to day life. – RC
It’s safe to say that today, weeks after these lists were shared with me, these women are likely eating something completely different. That’s real life. The point is that this is what intuitive eating looks like for a group of women who let their bodies lead (most of the time), don’t fret or stress about what they will eat or have eaten, integrate lifestyle, life phase, pleasure, socializing, and gentle nutrition in ways that ultimately feel easy to them.
It’s not a science. There is no prescription. Perfection is no where to be found.
There’s just real life, good food and the choice to trust ourself and our body.
If you’re wanting to learn to become an intuitive eater consider applying for Feast a three month masterclass that provides mentoring, community and support for this journey.