Intuitive Eating Embraces Health At Every Size (HAES®)
Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size (HAES®) aligned practitioners celebrate body diversity and challenge scientific and cultural assumptions about body size and body weight. According to the HAES®website:
"We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made the fat go away. And being thinner, even if we knew how to successfully accomplish it, will not necessarily make us healthier or happier. The war on obesity has taken its toll."
The facts are that overweight and obesity are so common today that two-thirds of adults and one-third of children experience these in the United States right now. That’s hundreds of millions of people, so please don’t feel alone. While overweight and obesity can increase the risk of many health problems like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers, we are also learning that many people with overweight and obesity are otherwise healthy with little to no increased risks of chronic diseases. In the research community, we sometimes call this metabolically healthy obesity or metabolically benign obesity.
It is true that achieving a healthy weight, eating nutritious foods, and being physically active can help improve health and reduce long-term disease risks.
However, there is so much more to the old adage: eat less, move more.
Weight loss is very challenging for many reasons:
● There is an abundance of food available around most of us 24/7
● Eating isn’t just something we do for sustenance; it’s gratification, a social activity, and sometimes even a reward
● Computers and cars, etc. have contributed to a much more sedentary lifestyle—we don’t all need to be physically active farmers to survive anymore
● Reducing calories voluntarily is really, really hard; it’s a huge challenge to change habits
● Many diets work in the short term, but fail later on because they’re simply unsustainable
● After losing weight, maintaining weight loss is extremely difficult (as evidenced by long-term research on the Biggest Loser contestants that found six years later their metabolisms were reduced by an average of 600-700 calories per day!)
So why don't weight-loss focused diets work? Let's discuss.
The Effects of Dieting on Our Metabolism
There are many factors that can affect your weight, and some of them are easily controlled. Although genetics, family history and hormones all have an impact on your weight, there isn't much you can do to control them. However, you can control, at least to an extent, how much you eat, your physical activity levels, how much sleep you get, and manage the side effects of certain medications.
Here’s where metabolism fits with weight. There are so many things that your body does at rest: breathing, pumping blood, adjusting hormone levels, maintaining your body temperature, and growing and repairing cells. The amount of energy (calories) your body uses to perform these essential functions is called your “basal metabolic rate.” Overall, your basal metabolic rate (BMR), or metabolism, accounts for about two-thirds of the calories your body burns each and every day.
“Metabolism is the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. During this complex process, calories in food and beverages are combined with oxygen to release the energy your body needs to function,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
Your metabolism is influenced mostly by your body size and composition. This means that people who are bigger and/or have heavier bones and more muscle mass burn more calories at rest. Because men tend to be bigger and have more muscle, they naturally tend to have a higher metabolism than women. This also goes for younger people. Because bone and muscle mass naturally tend to decrease (and fat mass naturally tends to increase) with age, if you don’t take steps to maintain bone and muscle mass, your metabolism likely will decrease which results in increased weight.
Certain medical conditions can also affect your metabolism. For example, the hormonal conditions of Cushing’s syndrome, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) can slow your metabolism down. These conditions often come with a range of other symptoms beyond just weight gain. If you suspect that you have an underlying medical condition, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or healthcare professional about tests to confirm these diagnoses.
A slow metabolism may be one factor that influences your weight, but it’s not the only one. How your body processes what you eat or drink and how active you are also play roles in your weight. The process of digesting food burns calories. About 10 percent of the calories in carbohydrates and protein are used to digest them. Plus, the amount of physical activity you do also accounts for some of the calories you burn every day.
While some people may gain or lose weight easier than others, in general, the balance of your “energy equation” counts for your weight. But this energy equation is different for everyone. Every body has its own unique set point weight.
Intuitive Eating Helps You Achieve Your Natural Set Point Weight Range
Set point weight is essentially the weight your body wants to be. Set point weight is a weight range (not a precise number) where the body functions optimally to perform and maintain all of its wondrous activities - including keeping you healthy and strong mentally and physically.
We all have a set point weight that our body strives to maintain. Some people are below their set point weight and some people are above their set point weight. The catch is that some people's natural set point weight falls into the overweigh or obese category, and that's OKAY, because that is what is healthy for them.
This is where intuitive eating can be helpful. Intuitive eating is a self-care framework that guides you through the process of being able to listen to you body's natural hunger and fullness signals and eat accordingly. This helps your body reach its natural set point weight range without the need for restrictive diets or calorie counting.
In fact, when embarking upon intuitive eating, one of the first steps is to ditch any desire for weight loss. When we focus on weight loss, we sabotage the process of healing our relationship with food, mind, and body.
In short, some people will lose weight through intuitive eating. Others will gain weight. During the intuitive eating journey, weight gain OR weight loss is often a sign that your body is being nourished, nurtured, and care for. Focusing on the scale immediately introduces an external factor and that contradicts the main goal of intuitive eating: learning to take care of ourselves through attunement with our body's inner wisdom.
Lower weight DOES NOT equal health, and a higher weight DOES NOT equal poor health.
But having greater self-love, self-respect, and improved health and vitality, certainly positively impacts your health for the long-term.
Intuitive Eating: Think Beyond Weight Loss
Your behaviors and habits have a huge influence on your health and you are empowered to adjust them as you see fit. It’s recommended that if you want to lose weight to instead shift your focus to non-weight related health outcomes. Here are six tips to help you get started:
1. Set specific, realistic, forgiving goals
● Instead of a goal to “lose weight,” try smaller and more specific goals that you can attain.
● Daily or weekly goals can be, for example, to cook a vegetable-rich meal on the weekend, decrease food cues (hiding cookies out of sight or disregarding food ads), or walk at least 30 minutes a day for at least 5 days a week.
● Try to stick with a new habit for at least a week or two to start making it routine. Then when one habit becomes consistent, add another one.
● Remember, it’s not uncommon to take 6 months to achieve your health goals, so that may be a more realistic goal to aim for.
2. Ditch the “diet” mentality and focus on making lasting improvements for sustainable health
● Focus on improving your food choices for overall health, rather than “dieting” for weight loss.
● Enjoy lots of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
● Replace saturated and trans fats with healthier choices such as olive oil, nut butters, avocadoes.
3. Try eating a different way and see what works for you
● Ideally, each meal should take at least 20 minutes to eat, so eat slower. Enjoy your food more and listen for fullness cues that subtly signal when you’re getting satisfied and it’s time to stop eating.
● Eat more mindfully by focusing on and enjoying what you’re eating while you’re eating it. Pay attention to your food’s smell, taste, and texture as you’re eating it.
● Try putting your fork down or sipping water between bites and thoroughly chewing before swallowing.
● If you have a habit of snacking in front of the TV or computer screen, try getting used to replacing that with a glass of water or unsweetened beverage instead.
4. You don’t have to do exercise to be more physically active (but you can)
● Boost your activity; move for at least 30 minutes per day (even three 10 minute sessions can help); more movement can bring greater benefits.
● Aerobic activity (e.g., walking, bicycling, etc.) is the most efficient way to burn calories.
● Weight training (e.g., using weights or pushing your body against gravity) builds your muscles which increases your metabolic rate; ideally you’d include at least two weight training sessions per week.
● Don’t forget you don’t have to do “exercise” to be physically active, you can take the stairs more often, park further away, walk a bit faster, or do housework or gardening—they all count toward your physical activity.
● Remember that physical activity has many health benefits (including achieving and maintaining a healthy weight).
5. Reward your successes
● According to the National Institutes of Health, “frequent small rewards, earned for meeting smaller goals, are more effective than bigger rewards that require a long, difficult effort.”
● Each time you reach a goal, however small, reward your success with a non-food activity or item.
● For example, you may want to buy yourself that book, movie, music, or game that you’ve wanted for a while. Or re-read, re-watch, or re-listen to an old favorite.
● Perhaps you can put a small amount of money away to save up for a larger reward.
● Rewards don’t have to be monetary. You can take some time for yourself like have a bath, do your nails, or enjoy a craft or hobby you love (or try a new one).
● Maybe you’d prefer some time to watch comedy skits or funny animal videos online.
6. Think long-term
● Behavior change is hard and most people have to keep trying before they find a way that works for them.
● Ditch the black-and-white or all-and-nothing thinking. Health is a long-term journey. If you feel like you get off track, you don't need to "make up for it" or "start all over." Just remember your goals, the benefits of achieving them, and refocus yourself.
● If you want or need extra support, consult a credentialed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who can work with your concerns and help you achieve your healthcare goals.
While weight is but one measure of health, it is a big concern for many people. Losing weight is not easy. Your metabolism is influenced by many different factors—some you can’t control (e.g., your genes) and others you can (e.g., what and how you eat). The fundamentals of good nutrition include enjoying well-balanced meals and snacks more often and engaging in physical activity that makes you feel good.
Shifting your mindset from weight loss to intuitive eating is really powerful and transformative. You don’t have to diet to achieve health. Hundreds of studies support the benefits of intuitive eating for disordered eating recovery, health, healing, and as an alternative way to relate to food without dieting.
If you're interested in learning more about intuitive eating, read my blog post: 5 Steps to Get Started with Intuitive Eating Today. This blog post includes a free intuitive eating self-assessment and free handout on the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating.
And I am here to help! Schedule a consultation via my secure only booking system, email, or phone:
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Hi! I’m Beth.
I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, and mom of 3 little ones. I believe that everyone has the ability to achieve health and happiness without restriction, guilt, or shame. My goal is to provide families, adults, adolescents, and children with practical solutions and tools to achieve health through good nutrition and positive body image. Let me help you get started on your journey to food freedom today. Get in touch! Contact | Welcome to FTSN! (fromthestartnutrition.com)
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