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Just eat it: How to have a healthy relationship with food this January

Welcome to the anti-diet movement

01 Jan 2019

It’s January. You’ve just had a joyous month of Christmas parties, mince pies, mulled wine and turkey naps. Maybe you’re feeling a little sluggish, a little tired, a little vulnerable about your body. At least one family member or friend has vowed to start a new diet and exercise regime. In fact, you’ve probably been privy to all sorts of “diet starts tomorrow”, “I’m going to eat salad only for a week”, “better start working off the Christmas weight” conversations. Right at this time, just as you’re getting that post-Christmas downturn in self-esteem, you’ll start to notice weight loss companies, gyms, personal trainers, diet books and wellness influencers ramp up their chorus: “New year, new you”.

What if there was another way? What if, this year, we gave ourselves permission to stay as we are? What if we declined the persistent invitation to reinvent ourselves and instead, learned to have a healthy, functional, even joyous relationship with food and our bodies?

The anti-diet movement is growing stronger and with it, their message: it’s time we rejected the lucrative, often sexist propaganda that tells us we’re not enough and learned to believe in ourselves as we are. Nutritionist Laura Thomas will this month release her book, Just Eat It: How intuitive eating can help you get your shit together around food. We also have How to Feel The Fear and Eat It Anyway: Fight the food fads, beat anxiety and eat in peace, by journalists Eve Simmons and Laura Dennison. By March, we’ll have The No Need to Diet Book: How to be a diet rebel and make friends with food, by nutritionist Pixie Turner. They all preach the same, very welcome message: that it’s time we un-learned the fearful, anxiety-laden messages of a diet culture we’ve been living in most of our lives.

Perhaps, guided by these experts, we could rewrite our 2019 resolutions. Perhaps we could vow to try and accept ourselves, care for ourselves and ease our disordered eating (as Laura Thomas writes in her book, disordered eating is thought to affect between 50 and 75 per cent of women). “We’re inundated with messages that we have to change ourselves to accept ourselves: to diet, to exercise, to control what we eat,” says Thomas. “And at the end of that rainbow, we’ll find the pot of gold and that is this flawless life. That’s the lie diet culture tells us: that if we’re thinner or if we fit a certain dress size, we’ll be cooler, happier and more worthy of love. But actually, you get to that elusive place and you realise you still have all your problems, but you’ve added this extra layer of guilt and shame around food as well.”

Getting rid of that shame and guilt – the presence of which is likely evidence of disordered eating – is what these anti-diet crusaders are all about. Thomas teaches her clients, and readers of her book, the art of intuitive eating. “At the core of it, intuitive eating is about learning to eat with your physiological and psychological cues. It’s about hunger and satiation and comfort. It’s about responding to those cues without guilt, without shame. The non-diet movement is about looking after your physical and mental and emotional health.”

So that means no restriction, no eliminating food groups, no fads, no food plans. It means reverting to a natural way of eating where we trust our natural sense of hunger, satiate our cravings and eat freely.

This is a thought Eve Simmons echoes. “What happens naturally, when we’re not inundated with all these messages about diet and anxiety around food, is that we just eat what we need and want and then leave it. The message is exactly the same from people who’ve been studying diet and nutrition for decades and it is that the only thing you need to do is to eat a balanced diet with a range of different foods and not eliminate or restrict yourself from anything. In January and every month, we have to eat for our mental and physical health. We have to eat for social interaction and happiness. All these other messages are just noise.”

Simmons and her co-author Dennison have lived with eating disorders, and Thomas with disordered eating, which puts them in a powerful position to understand and sympathise with the anxieties we all have around food and our bodies. They’ve learned the hard way, as I have, that trying to shrink yourself, trying to take up as little space in this world as possible and trying to control your body lead only to anguish. It makes their plight to help women accept themselves even more persuasive. Their books are timely, important, accessible manuals for a new way of treating ourselves, our bodies and our relationship with food.

To make it through the labyrinth of January marketing, try eating as normal, exercising as much as you want to and being kind yourself. And, as Simmons says, “Bear in mind that you’re enough. Try, if you can, to remind yourself that you are worth something and that you are loved and that is undoubtedly the most important thing. Beating yourself up for not being or looking a certain way is not worth it, it isn’t doing anyone any good. You are enough as you are.”

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