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by Margaret Fiero
In my time spent training to be a counselor, I often urged clients to dive wholeheartedly into radical self acceptance. How do I reconcile those urgings with my own reticence about loving myself? My weight struggles and body image issues always seem to stand in the way.
I’ve been down this road before. In the past I would find myself excited by starting a new diet or embracing an allegedly transformational fitness regimen. The deja vu doesn’t end there. Some “failure” inevitably sends me spinning, rebounding to a place of sedentary overeating and shame, resulting in increased weight and decreased self-esteem. I feel like the actor in the black-and-white “before” part of the infomercial cliché, saying emphatically, There’s got to be a better way!
Could it be that I am the better way? That self-acceptance is the key? Though it may be subtle, shame-based diets imply that in order to change, we must first hate ourselves. No wonder diets fail 80-95% of the time. Real change requires that you first accept yourself. Without committing to the dialectic of desiring change while also accepting ourselves, any “changes” we make are destined to be fleeting and surface. We keep searching for a new magical elixir, when in fact it’s inside of us, and it’s practically free – all it costs is rejection of the diet mentality. If you’re addicted to dieting, though, it can seem a high price to pay.
What is this new, strange philosophy, you ask? It’s actually not new at all; it dates back to the 1970s, a time when diet backlash was beginning to coalesce into a movement. Geneen Roth’s Feeding the Hungry Heart (1982) is a key early work. In the 1990s, nutritionists Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch gave us Intuitive Eating, a practical manual on eating for health without dieting, now in its third edition. There are many studies showing the benefits of their approach, and the anti-diet movement still thrives in online communities, including the inspirational Anti-Diet Project.
Intuitive eating empowers the individual to listen to their body. Practitioners simply pay attention to and respect their internal hunger and satiety messages. Though we were born to hear those messages, external signals, such as diets, have all but drowned them out. Fortunately, Intuitive Eating offers exercises on reconnecting with your own hunger and fullness. A huge component is eating without distractions, a radical concept in our fast-paced society. Other key elements include respecting your body and exercising for health’s sake, not to get, or stay, thin. Intuitive eating is not about “miracle” weight loss. It is about making substantive, sustainable change. The idea is that when we eat intuitively, we will eventually return to our “natural weight.” That, however, cannot be the goal. The goal is to repair your relationship with food and your body, trusting that improved health will follow.
So far I have found Intuitive Eating to be both easier and more difficult than dieting, because of the freedom it grants me. Diets offer rules on what to eat and when, and of course, what not to eat. You only have to do what you’re told. Freedom can be scary, especially when it comes to food. The chronic dieter tends to feel like they’ll lose control and eat everything when the reins are loosened. Trusting yourself is crucial, and that may seem impossible if, like me, you feel condemned as a food criminal. At the heart of it all is (you guessed it) self-acceptance. If you liked this post, you can also read How to Practice Moderation.
Some resources on Intuitive Eating:
Feeding the Hungry Heart by Geneen Roth
Women Food and God by Geneen Roth