Intuitive Eating

The Real Reason You Can't Stick To A Diet

Happy New Year! I can’t believe I’m even typing that - wasn’t it just January of 2018?! Either way, 2019 is here and it brought tons of diet ads and “new year, new me” posts. I’m here to share two truths with you: you don’t need to seek out a new version of yourself just because you had to buy a new calendar, and the best way to improve your health this year is to not diet.

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I’d like to start by saying that if you’re dieting, restricting, or just here to read with zero plans for intuitive eating, there is still space and compassion for you here. I’m just here to offer up another option, because as a healthcare provider, I cannot ethically make the recommendations of dietary restriction (beyond medical necessity, like food allergies) or intentional weight loss to my clients.

To start the new year, we’re walking it back to the foundations of intuitive eating, beginning with ditching the diet mentality. To begin, we’re starting with one of the first questions people usually have when hearing about intuitive eating for the first time: why can’t I stick to a diet? Before we get into the answer, we need to dig into set range weight theory.

Set Range Weight

There’s several different systems in place in your body to regulate things like breathing rate, body temperature, and blood sugar. They’re called “homeostatic mechanisms” and their function is to keep your body at equilibrium around a set range. For example, when you’re in a hot environment, your body sweats to release heat - but when it’s cold, you shiver to produce heat.

Each of us lives in a body that has a preferred weight, similar to a homeostatic mechanism. It’s usually referred to as the “set range weight” or “defended range.” It’s important to refer to this concept as a range, not a point - I’ve heard several estimates for how wide this range is, but it’s likely anywhere between 10-20 pounds.

Your body’s job is to defend this range, i.e., to keep your body at the same relative weight. Contrary to what we’ve been taught, we don’t need to micromanage our body weight - our body does it for us through a complex set of mechanisms. It appears that the bottom of our set range weight is defended more strongly than the top, meaning that we resist weight loss more than we resist weight gain. How do you know if you’re in your set range? It’s the weight your body reaches when:

  • You're not dieting or restricting

  • You're moving your body in a joyful, life-enhancing way

  • You're providing your body with its energy and pleasure needs through food that nourishes your body and soul

  • Your brainspace and energy are directed towards living our your life and not obsessing over your weight

So, what happens when we diet and attempt to push our body weight below our set range weight?

Your Body On Diets

To begin, it’s important that we clarify that diet can mean either “eating pattern” or “attempt at weight loss” and I’m referring to the latter throughout this post. Any conscious attempt to lose weight, restriction of calories, elimination of whole food groups, etc. is a diet. To illustrate what happens to your body when dieting, let’s take a look at the diet-shame cycle.

The Restrict-Shame Cycle

This cycle is often referred to as the “diet-binge” cycle, but I know that while the word “binge” doesn’t always resonate, “shame” often and unfortunately does. I’ve also heard this referred to as the “restrict-rebel-repent” cycle, which I love for being a quick and accurate description. This cycle is a great, quick way to illustrate why diets set us up for failure and keep us in a perpetual rhythm of dieting.

We begin a diet due to a trigger, whether that’s an ad, a magazine article, a friend telling a “success story,” a doctor making comments, a celebrity testimony, or another event. We cut out calories or food groups, decide on a “clean eating” pattern, or track food on an app. In the background, our body is panicking due to underfeeding. It increases stress hormones, hunger hormones, and fat storage hormones and decreases fullness-producing hormones to protect us from starvation. Eventually, we become more and more preoccupied with food and our body’s cues begin to outweigh our self-imposed diet rules. We eat, and feel like failures for doing so. So we resolve to start another diet and try harder this time.

Dieting: What You Think/Feel

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Dieting: What Your Body Thinks

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Diets themselves point to the binge/shame point of the cycle as the problem, citing that with more willpower, we can successfully stick to a diet. However, the willpower argument fails to acknowledge the several physiological systems we have in place that override our will to diet. What if the restriction side of this cycle is the problem rather than the solution?

Side Effects of Dieting

So, why can’t you stick to a diet? You’re not designed to. Your body is too smart to let you intentionally underfeed it - and while it can’t tell the difference between intentional restriction and starvation, it has protective mechanisms in place in case of the former. Unlike with medications, we’re not typically warned of the side effects of diets before they are prescribed.

In addition, diets aren’t effective in producing long-term weight loss - only about 5% of people can maintain a weight lower than their set range weight, and the total amount of weight loss is often negligible. This is often the part of the conversation where people bring up friends, loved ones, influencers, or others we know/have seen who have lost weight. When this comes up, I ask clients to reflect on these thoughts:

  • Even though long-term weight loss is only seen in about 5% of dieters, we’re likely to know a few. But since our culture values weight loss and a smaller body size, it can feel like that 5% of people is given 95% of the voice and attention.

  • Things you cannot tell when looking at someone: their relationship with food, exercise, and their body, anxiety, stress, lab values, healthy relationships, and more. Things you can tell when looking at someone: what your own thoughts are regarding body size (inspired by Anna Sweeney).

  • Short-term weight loss does not equal long-term weight loss does not equal health.

I’d like to end by taking a moment to pause and normalize what you’re feeling right now, whether it’s validated, angry, sad, shocked, skeptical, or anywhere in between. We certainly have been brought up in a culture that values specific body sizes and shapes, views body size as controllable, and sees anyone in a different body size as less-than or lacking willpower (this is interchangeably called “fatphobia” and “weight stigma”, and we’ll talk about that, too).

If you’re feeling angry or sad at this information, and wondering how a dietitian can sit here and tell you that diets aren’t the key to improved health - please stick with me over the next weeks as we dig into intuitive eating and non-restrictive ways that yes, you can eat with regard to your health.

If you’re feeling skeptical or doubtful of this information, that’s okay too. You may have come here hoping for answers and what feels like a solution to why you can’t stick to a diet, and this wasn’t what you expected at all. I’d also like to invite you to sit with me over the next few weeks while we talk about why diets aren’t a prerequisite for health, why your weight isn’t a measure of your health, and what we can do instead.

4 Things That Will Happen When You Work With A Non-Diet Dietitian

I’m doing my best to get to all my reader questions (you can ask me one via email or Instagram!) and today we’re tackling a big one: what is it like to work with a non-diet dietitian? Our cultural and societal view is so wrapped up in weight that it’s normal to be unsure of what, exactly, we can focus on if not weight. Similarly, it can also feel like, if we’re not recommending weight loss, there’s no point to working with a dietitian.

I’m here to share some good news: a dietitian help you improve not only your health, but your relationship with your body - without the pursuit of weight loss. Here’s four things that will happen when you work with a non-diet dietitian (RD) (the fourth one may surprise you!):

1 | Your weight won’t be blamed

A lot of clients have come to me and said things like, “I was told to lose weight to manage my (medical condition)” or “Because of my size, my doctor was surprised that my blood sugar is great.” First of all, if this resonates with you or if you’ve experienced delayed care or compromised care due to weight stigma, I am so sorry. You deserve care that is caring.

When working with a non-diet RD, weight won’t be measured as an outcome. You and your RD will set goals that are personalized to your health and life, and you’ll decide together how you’ll view progress. If you’re coming to an RD for help managing a chronic condition, like diabetes, PCOS, IBS, or others, your weight won’t be blamed for the development of that condition. All told, we know very little about how those conditions arise and we certainly don’t have evidence that they have a causal relationship with weight. Repeat after me: I did not cause my condition.

Note: there is a time and place for the monitoring of weight, primarily in early eating disorder treatment and conditions that may cause unintentional weight loss, like receiving treatment for cancer. Should those circumstances arise, you and your non-diet RD can create a plan together for how to approach the situation in the least triggering way and you will receive support throughout.

2 | Your knowledge of your body will guide sessions

Your preferences, your preferred rhythms in life, your history - all of these things become the foundation for our work together. If we discuss some strategies you’re not into, or try and don’t like, we will find other things.

Additionally, if you’re finding it difficult to tap into your body knowledge (maybe you don’t feel hunger and fullness very loudly or you’re not sure what you like) we can work on that, too.

3 | You’ll learn skills to help you regain confidence in your eating

A hallmark of diets is stealing your confidence while promising better self-confidence - wearing you down and telling you you’re less-than until you pursue a smaller size, more muscle, or a specific set of eating rules. The secret that diets won’t share is that they all eventually fail, and come with a slew of side effects like slowed metabolism and preoccupation with food.

As we begin to heal your relationship with food and your body, we’ll work on skills to help you make decisions around food, improve your body image (including helping you define what body image means to you), and build your confidence in our work together - so you’ll feel sure of yourself when you say “no” to any future diets that may cross your path.

4 | You can still ask questions about your weight

Because of our culture’s values of weight and a specific appearance, a desire to lose weight is normal in our culture. But normalized desires and healthy, productive desires are not the same thing, and intentional pursuit of weight loss is overall ineffective, unnecessary for improved health, and damaging physically and psychologically.

We can absolutely still hold space for your desires regarding your weight - but we’ll also talk about where those desires stem from and whether they’re productive and helping you to actually live a healthier life. When moving away from diets (and throughout life), it’s normal for weight to change and move up or down - or not change at all, and attaching value to weight change can feel unstable and emotionally distressing. So what we work on includes separating self-value from your weight, and focusing on behaviors because weight is not a behavior - it’s an outcome.

What questions do you have about working with a non-diet RD? What do you hope would happen during your work?

Ready to move away from diets?

Let’s work together!

Now accepting a limited number of virtual nutrition clients for January 2019! Click the button below for pricing information and frequently asked questions, or email me ( for more information!

Why Overeating Isn't Bad + What To Do When You Overeat

I shared some about this on Instagram the other day, but I think it’s time to talk about overeating. Overeating gets a bad rap in our culture, I think because it’s associated with “failing a diet.” But overeating is a natural part of being human, and while it’s not the most comfortable feeling, there are some practical and compassionate ways you can meet yourself rather than falling back toward restricting or binging. Here’s some thoughts on why overeating is normal, as well as what to do when you overeat.

What even is overeating?

First of all, there is no set amount of food over which you’re eating “too much.” The amount you eat is influenced by a ton of nuance, including: how hungry you are, how well you can sense and respond to hunger/fullness (this can be impaired by dieting & disordered eating but healed over time), how filling your food is, if you’re distracted, how close your points of satisfaction and fullness are to each other (sometimes they’re the same and sometimes not).

So when it comes to overeating, a better term would probably be “past full” because if we’re using our internal cues to decide an amount to eat, you’ll know based on how full you are - rather than diets where it may be defined as past your portion size or calorie level, etc.

Overeating is normal

It’s normal to eat past fullness sometimes because food is more than fuel and sometimes it takes more to be satisfying... like at county fairs, I tend to get pretty dang full because it’s not every day you can find gyros and loaded fries and corn dogs and fair donuts all in one place. This can also feel more common around holidays or celebrations involving food, where there may be more options or you may be more distracted than you usually are - which is also normal. To say that overeating is to be avoided at all costs is to reduce food down to fuel and a weapon to use against our natural body size, which does a disservice to the culture, celebration, and bonding that food is and can be.

If you find yourself uncomfortably full frequently, it may be helpful to examine the factors influencing the situation. Do you frequently eat distracted or so quickly it’s hard to check in with your body? Is eating your primary or only form of comforting yourself? We’ll examine those things in future posts, but in the meantime - try to meet yourself with compassion and non-judgment.

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What to do when you overeat

It can be helpful to have strategies in place for when overeating happens ahead of time rather than trying to find strategies in the moment. Here are some ways you can care for yourself when overly full:

  • Make a self care box so you have a tangible set of options at your fingertips

  • Call a friend and talk about something other than overeating (one helpful tool may be turning the conversation to something happening with your friend or something in the world)

  • Take a walk and listening to some calming music

  • Watch something funny videos

  • Drink some ginger or peppermint tea, or something warm to help settle your stomach

Above all, remember that your body still needs to be fed regularly and that being overly full in one instance doesn’t mean you’re not “worthy” of respecting hunger cues the rest of the day/week/etc. If you find yourself regularly overly hungry full at certain times of the day, like dinner, it might be helpful to try eating a little more throughout the day so your hunger level pairs with your meal in a way that feels more fitting.

Have a question about overeating? Leave it in the comments below and I’ll answer it in a future post!

Catch me on the Nutrition Redefined Podcast!

Hi friends! Dropping in real quick to tell you that I’m on the latest episode of the Nutrition Redefined podcast and it’s quite the episode!

Amy Hanneke Nutrition Redefined Podcast

Stephanie and I cover everything from:

  • Why I hate the phrase “everything in moderation”

  • Why intuitive eating isn’t another diet

  • How to create big and small self-care that works for you

You can listen to the episode here or click the button below!

Extra Resources

I’ve gotten some questions about elaborating more on things I said in this episode, so I wanted to include some extra resources here in case they’re helpful for you, too!

Did you listen in? What questions do you have?