Yeah…Immaeatthat

Mar 23

Being a competent eater instead of eliminating food groups.

When I was at the Circles of Change Conference to speak, Carolyn Hodges Chaffee MS, RDN, CEDRD shared the below graphic which is an example of what happens when your restrict yourself from the food you need.

Which got me thinking about how people today are so conflicted about how to eat.   People are eliminating particular foods from their life under the guise of “i’m being healthy” and not realizing the impact it could have…increase in depression, obsessive & compulsive thoughts, anxiety, and uncomfortable GI side effects.  And, it’s worth mentioning again that dieting is one of the top risk factors for ED development.  

Every day (even outside of counseling clients) I hear someone mention how they are eliminating “x food group” from their life.  And I get it.  By eliminating a food group they don’t have to think.  Having a black and white rule that says, “you can’t eat ‘x'” gives one a (false) confidence that they can prevent their body from being the size it’s meant to be and keep them from getting chronic diseases.  Diet culture also likes to make people feel they are informed or taking care of their health if they are eliminating something from their eating pattern. My problem with eating patterns that eliminate an entire food group is shown in the graphic below.

Eliminating food groups may work for a bit until your primal instinct to nourish your body with all food groups takes over, causing you to overeat the food group or food you have been avoiding.  What is more sustainable than eliminating foods/food group is becoming a competent eater.

Being a competent eater means…

  • you can have oreos in your house and don’t have to eat an entire row of them in one sitting.  You can have 4-6ish with a glass of milk and be satisfied.  If you grew up in a home where you weren’t allowed to have certain foods, it may be tricky in the beginning to have ALL foods in your house without overeating eating them.  You may feel you need the support of a non-diet dietitian to bring ALL foods back into your life in a nourishing way.
  • you don’t feel insane around carbs because you eat all food groups at every meal and don’t villainize any of them.
  • you don’t feel obsessive around certain foods because you are nourishing your body with meals and snacks throughout the day.
  • you eat a variety of foods and allow your body to find the size that is right for you.
  • you give yourself opportunities to learn.  With intuitive eating, it’s like you are aiming for a target.  Sometimes you land above the target and end up overly full.  Other times you land below the target and aren’t fully satisfied by your meal.  Instead of being judgmental, be curious about if you would like to take care of your body differently next time you eat at that restaurant or make that dish.  Maybe you decide overeating added joy to that day and you wouldn’t change anything about it.  That’s fine too, as long as eating isn’t your only coping mechanisms for managing stress.
  • you delete My Fitness Pal from your phone so you can begin to shift from calorie counting (external control of what you eat) to listening to your body (internal awareness of what/how/why you eat).

Just a note: doing Whole30 or some other trendy eating plan doesn’t teach you how to be a competent eater.  Those trendy eating plans just teach you how to restrict.  Sure you may feel better if you are taking time to think out and cook meals with whole foods while on Whole30.  But that doesn’t mean you have to eliminate other foods or that your body can’t process certain foods.  (To read a great post on why Whole30 isn’t fabulous…go here.)

Cook some at home.  Eat out when you have a craving or it’s convenient.  Eat “fun” foods/desserts regularly (i.e. everyday) so you don’t feel deprived and therefore obsessed with them.  Tune into the satisfaction factor.  Notice when your intentions for eating shift from finding fullness to covering up a negative emotion.  Boom.  Those last 5 sentences sound way better than Whole30 restriction to me.

Something Robyn and I have talked about is that you still get the health benefits of eating fruits and veggies even if you are eating desserts and literally ALL other foods as well.  Society puts out this message of your eating pattern having to be all or nothing, which is just ridiculous.

So what questions or thoughts do you have on this topic? Would love to get a good discussion going.  I imagine some people have positive things to say about Whole30 and I’m open to hearing your thoughts since you let me share mine;)

63 comments on “Being a competent eater instead of eliminating food groups.”

  1. I cannot thank you enough for your voice of reason!! I truly think back to your posts if I become overwhelmed by something. I have a nurse coworker who is a self-proclaimed hypochondriac. I admittedly have some tendencies and mostly just struggle with anxiety {still seeking therapy and loving it :) }. The other day she asked me about LDH or something related to the body’s inability to process glucose, leading to pre-diabetes. She can honestly trigger overactive thoughts on my part, but I walked away saying to my body, “thank you for all you do and allowing me to be curious about foods, not fearful or restrictive.” You make nutrition approachable, fun, and far less medical. I truly feel sorry for her because she’s stuck in the diet mentality and always finding something wrong. I love this post and agree wholeheartedly!

    • Thanks, Kori<3<3<3 That nurse would be hard for me to be around! Glad you're able to turn the volume down on your overactive thoughts

    • I love that you point this out! I am a nurse and my co-workers (nurses – well really lots of them but I mean the nurses) do a lot of diet mentality talk. I get it as it’s part of our training but having a history of ED makes it so difficult and brain just can’t be quiet. Sometimes I just have to walk away. Literally leave the conversation. And, like you, Kylie’s posts have been literal life-savers. Thanks to you both!!

  2. You know I’m with you on this one! I did a whole blog post last week about why I don’t recommend Whole30 (http://www.fannetasticfood.com/why-i-dont-recommend-whole30/) — definitely had a lot of people not agree with me, but I stand by what I said. Thank you for also spreading such positive food messaging! xo

  3. Oh gosh, whole 30, vegan, plant based, “healthy” eating, limiting my sugar etc were all ways to coat my underlying desire to be thin and look like or try to convince myself I’m not on a diet. Even just beginning to plan a diet sends me out of control (even without the physical restriction, I end up binging from just the thought of restricted eating.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect now and still have thoughts about wanting to be thinner/try to control my natural shape, but instead of acting on those thoughts, I come to bloggers like you to read posts like this!! I love love love reading posts like these because when I’m stuck in an unhealthy mindset, or become fixated on someone’s comments about their new diet/healthy eating/losing weight plan, I can surround myself with a positive vibe and non diet mentality.
    I actually have now started repeating to myself “purple purple purple” (like you said to do!!) when I hear stuff like that and it makes me laugh instead of becoming fixated haha!!
    As always- thank you for posting XO
    Rachel

    • Love this, Rachel:)

    • I felt exactly the way you are describing above!!! Once I started to understand that my body is curvy not straight up and down, I appreciate it so much more!! This 41 year old body has carried two babies, ran multiple 1/2 marathons, a full marathon and is about to start training for the NYC marathon. I’m curvy and strong!!!

  4. I agree with literally everything in this post. :)

  5. I definitely support eating a variety / eating intuitively! I did a whole30 and really liked what it taught me though. I thought I would struggle with the restrictions but it was good for cooking creativity :) It was also my first time not eating X for 4 weeks (doesn’t sound like a lot but it is…) and since I’m X it made a big difference! I felt so much better (maybe in conjunction with the other restrictions), but it made me more mindful about how I eat dairy now. I haven’t elimiated it, but choose wisely when I *really* want it and am ok with feeling a little bad afterwards. Whole30 also made me more creative about cooking with veggies and fresh things which I appreciated! I’ve incorporated back some things I just love and still consider healthy for me (oats!!) but found that I really liked having savory breakfasts so I do that now too.

    Anyway, totally support trying new things as you never know what you’ll learn or how you’ll like it in the end. Then mix and match to fit you best, which you do a super job at!!!

  6. I do try and eat mostly plant based because I have high cholesterol, but I know better than to forbid myself foods. It took a few years of therapy and many years of practicing what I learned there, but I haven’t had foods I “can’t” keep in the house for ages now. I choose not to eat certain things most of the time, but when I choose to eat them, it no longer leads to bingeing or “I’ll start again tomorrow- what the hell” days. I feel so much healthier mentally.

  7. This is wonderful. I totally agree that putting foods off limits makes me have obsessive thoughts and makes me want that food so much more! What finally led me to intuitive eating was the shame and guilt that I felt every morning after not meeting my own arbitrary expectations. It was the worst and just not a way I wanted to live anymore.

    I’m currently on the path to being the competent eater. I was listening to Food Psych the other day and Christy and her guest were talking about being “chill” around food. I was like “yesss!” I just want to be competent and have some chill. To me this means not obsessing, eating things that make me feel good (sometimes salad, sometimes cookies) and being open to all foods.

    Thanks for another great post!

    • Hi Lily! Thanks for reading:) How you eat should help you live a better life and it sounds like the way you were eating before was not helping you live a better life. I’m glad you made a shift and are in the place you are now!

  8. You’re so right !! Since I’ve adopted an anti-diet and anti-rule mentality, eating has become easier and more fun. I eat all food groups and truly enjoy my meals become I value satisfaction over clean/perfect eating. Letting go of perfectionism to become and intuitive eating has really helped me deal with my overeating/binge eating issues. I feel so free and don’t feel guilty a second about eating dessert I don’t obsess over it.

  9. I have absolutely nothing positive to say about Whole30. It made me feel crazy and I was starving. I opened a container of spaghetti squash and whole 30 approved meatballs one day and literally gagged. Then I threw it away and went and ate a chocolate bar. I feel SO much better eating all the food groups. It just feels natural. And i may not be completely happy with my weight or how my body looks but I’ll NEVER diet again.

    • LOL “I gagged and went and ate a chocolate bar.” GOOD CHOICE!

      One more thing –> I’m gonna write a full blog post on this in the future, but have you ever tried expressive therapies to help you make peace with your body size? Dieting and eating disorders dissociate you from your body and you have to practice embodiment again to accept your body size…AKA you have to get out of your head and into your bodies via movement. Mirror free yoga or mirror free modern/African/hiphop dance classes would be my recommendations for expressive therapies. And they are great for people who have a hard time with words or expressing their emotions. Body image is the last thing to change when leaving dieting behind and a lot of time you are not going to make peace with your body size just through reading about how to heal body image. You have to find a way to move to begin embodying your body size again. Worth a try!:)

      • I didn’t realize mirror free yoga existed anywhere. That is an awesome tip! Not sure if there’s any around me, but I’m definitely going to check. I tried yoga lately, and some hip hop classes, and it was the mirror that messed with my head. I would be fine and enjoying myself up until the point I’d look in the mirror. May also try again the online yoga I bought as it’s obviously mirror free, it’s just more fun if I can find a place to do it socially.

        Loved the article! It was posted to one of my BoPo groups :)

  10. This is so helpful right now. I have numerous health issues and the whole 30/paleo world make it sound like the cure all for many issues. I get sucked into it a lot with the hope of curing my health problems. The issue is that it makes me feel crazy about food. Your article helped to put things in perspective. Thank you!

  11. I agree 100% with what you’re saying. I have (admittedly) only been introduced recently to the idea of a non-diet approach and it has truly been eye opening. There has been relief in knowing that it is not only warranted, but acceptable to NOT be on some sort of diet. Society places such an emphasis on the way we eat that I have literally not known a “normal” way of eating since probably grade school. To think about that now it just sounds crazy!

  12. I grew up in a house where my mom preached healthy and was/still is a runner. I was given anything but then questioned why or how about everything good wise. It created ED at 16. I’m turning 32 this year and I feel like I needed this 16 years ago. My mom still to this day criticizes my food and I feel paralyzed to it. My husband even recognizes it. I work really hard to not have bad foods or good foods with my daughter. Every time I have a bad day in my mind I have to go back to the X diet because that’s what my mom did. Then I usually come to my senses but those though though!!!

  13. Such a great post. Even if restricting didn’t result in bingeing, it’s not a fun or relaxing way to live life! 

  14. Love this post and voice reason, per usual. I agree wholeheartedly with this post and have experienced it in my own life. I was actually just reminded of the last time I tried to do a Whole30/paleo; I’d done is a few times in the past, knew what to expect, and all the junk they tell you. That time, though, I literally felt sick to my stomach and even the thought of eating meat made me nauseous. I finally decided to say screw it, had some toast, and never looked back. I also noticed paleo eating took all the joy out of food and eating for me, whereas food used to be something extremely joyful and celebratory in my life/family (big Italian household that loves cooking/food). Intuitive eating has made such a wonderful impact on my life, although I am of the mindset of to each their own (i.e., whatever someone wants to do/feels best for them, is their own call). Oops – sorry for the long comment!

    ps. I can’t thank you enough for you blog and for turning me onto the Food Psych podcast! I had always been interested in nutrition/wellness, but this all has helped recognize how passionate I am about intuitive eating and the body positive message, and I’m hoping to move my career in that direction somehow (actually emailed you about that too).

    • Hi Joelle! I’ll respond to your email here:) Sorry for the slow reply! The evidence-based treatment team for eating disorder recovery involves at minimum treatment team of 3 people…1) a doctor/P.A., 2) dietitian and 3) psychotherapist. If the MS in Nutrition Education program moves you towards being a registered dietitian, I’d say go for it. I personally don’t use health coaches in ED treatment, but I’m sure it could be a beneficial resource to my clients if the individual is certified with IAEDP (http://www.iaedp.com/). Since you have a bunch of experience teaching yoga, a yoga teacher that encourages HAES messages would be SO great for ED recovery. I wish I had a ED trained yoga therapist in Houston to refer clients to. Expressive therapies, like yoga therapy, definitely have a place in the ED recovery field.

      I’d look into getting an associates certification or education certification from IAEDP. I believe that is something they offer for those who aren’t medical professionals/RDs/therapists. Good luck!!

  15. I love this article so much! Something that I have found that triggers me is following instagrammers/bloggers that are on paleo diets or are following Whole30. What triggers me is that they are saying no to dairy, carbs, etc. which I eat, so then I begin to question if I should be eating these things. I thought about doing the diet to figure out my food intolerances/my skin problems, but as soon as I even gave thought to it, I felt restricted and could feel myself becoming anxious of guilt when I would eat carbs or dairy. Then, I realized that what I thought were food intolerances weren’t actually intolerances at all. I had convinced myself that I couldn’t eat gluten or dairy because during my eating disorder, I saw these food groups as bad for me. Now, when I eat these food groups, I don’t feel sick at all, and I don’t really think I was ever intolerant. My anxiety over these food groups had caused me to feel sick when I ate them, because I would stress out and get anxious when I ate these foods. I have learned that I need to not follow or shape my diet around these instagrammers, and rather, I just need to listen to my body and find what works for me. There is nothing wrong with carbs or dairy, unless you seriously are alergic. Don’t let others tell you what you can or cannot eat because everyone is different.

    • Great comment, Erin! I always say we aren’t sponges. We don’t need to absorb the things we see Instagramers post. Especially given that most IGers are uneducated on how triggering their content is for those with EDs. Glad you are able to recognize diet mentality all around you and instead listen to YOUR needs!

  16. Yes! I totally agree with this all.  I think what you said about growing up without certain foods is why a lot of people have a hard time in college! You go out on your own and all of the sudden you live alone, there’s unlimited ice cream, cookies, pizza, french fries, literally anything you want. So most people seem to gain weight pretty quick when they’re just enjoying all these new things, and then start to realize oh I feel like crap and reign it in and get adjusted to eating those things in a normal way.  I’ve come so so far with my ability to eat normally and not over-think and its so amaaaazing 

    • Yay! Love hearing you’ve moved towards eating according to your instincts and away from over-thinking food. Curiosity over judgement FTW!

      • Kind of going along with Krista’s and others’ comments, I would love it if you did a post on how intuitive eating applies to raising kids. With eating disorders and dieting so prevalent, I worry about whether I’m getting it right with respect to my three daughters. As I was raised, we eat a variety of foods, and small treats every day. But I do limit their choices for snacking, for example – yogurt, trail mix, fruit, string cheese. Should I not be? But I honestly don’t want them to eat cookies for a third time that day:) Also, with meals, I really do think it’s important that they eat their veggies and most of their dinner before enjoying their cookie, chocolate square or whatever. But then am I setting them up to binge on sweets later in life? Agh! I know I’m like the old blog reading lady with kids, and maybe I’m the only one, but I would love a post with your thoughts on this topic!

  17. Hi Kylie,
    Thank you so much for this and all the posts you do! My eating disorder has taken turns from orthorexia to bulimia to binge eating, and it wasn’t until I started reading about your philosophy around intuitive eating and just eating like a normal person that I have felt freedom from bingeing from restricting. I have done almost all of a Whole 30 before and never felt so unsatisfied in my life. I was compensating for not feeling satisfied by eating way too much almond butter and other things in order to fill the gaps I felt in my diet. Now that I let myself eat everything (aka not just ordering salads whenever I go out to eat) I don’t feel the urge to binge on foods I previously couldn’t control myself around. Overall, thank you so much, and keep doing what you’re doing! I have so much respect for you and the other RDs who have such great advice!

    • Eating unsatisfying foods is the worst. Glad you’ve moved away from all the food rules that were dominating you! Thanks for the super sweet comment, Maggie<3<3<3

  18. I love this post so much!! I’ve been “working” on Intuitive Eating since last summer, and I finally feel like I’ve got a good rhythm going. I can actually check the Oreo comment off the list, because that’s exactly what happened last weekend when the husband brought home Oreos! I ate 3 with some milk, decided I wanted one more, ate it, and then was satisfied, knowing I could have more if I wanted them, whether tonight or tomorrow. I do focus on foods that make me feel good, but nothing is off limits. Some foods don’t make me feel good, but sometimes that’s worth it! PS I did whole 30 a few years ago and HATED IT.

  19. I love that you touched on not judging your hunger. I feel like SO MANY negative food/body thoughts come from judging our hunger since diet culture is so focused on presenting hunger negatively, as if we can’t trust it!  This is so key when moving towards intuitive eating, because hunger isn’t really the same every single day of our lives. I know if I’m hungry, there is zero reason to begin even thinking about being judgement all toward myself and what my body craves so it can be nourished well. Such a well spoken post, Kylie! 

    • Great comment, Kelsey! A great reminder is that you don’t have to fear feeding your body. Anytime I tried to control my hunger in the past it ALWAYS backfired. Here’s to listening to our bodies!<3

  20. Thanks for this great post! I find it very interesting because it is something I have been struggling with myself. I come from a disordered relationship with food which I thought I had recovered from until last fall when I decided to do the whole 30 and it was so triggering that I’m now back to having guilt/anxiety around certain foods. However my eczema which I’ve had my whole life completely went away. So I’m stuck in this place of knowing I have some sort of sensitivity to certain foods but not wanting to do the program again. I am curious about what you recommend to people with food sensitivities who also could be triggered by restrictive protocols like the whole 30?

  21. I love this post. Thank you so much for sharing. Something I have been working towards (and blogging about) is allowing myself sweets all the time and being okay when I have a little more on certain days. I especially love that you mention that it’s about aiming for a target and being curious as to how you can treat your body differently the nex time, if you want to.

  22. Ok this may seem like a very basic  question, but how do I deal with treats and my 3.5 year old? She eats when she’s hungry and stops when she’s full, like most kids do, but she had a major sweet tooth and is constantly asking for cookies/candy/etc. Do I let her eat all she wants and then allow her to realize that she overdid it and gets sick? Do I limit? I have been limiting to a treat a day, but everything puts fear into me. Limiting will make her binge and get an ED later in life, allowing her to eat whatever she wants will mean she lives on Goldfish and chocolate chips. I don’t know what to do. What says an RD?

    • What I’m asking is in relation to your blog vibe of intuitive eating. What you say resonates with me, but I’m trying to figure out how to apply it to my daughter. I’m not asking for individualized advice per say, just asking in general how does your message apply to kids? They are intuitive eaters by nature, but I’m unsure of how to apply this to foods that I know too much of will make her sick. As the parent, I choose what meals we eat, she chooses how much to eat. But when she’s constantly asking for cookies/candy, like any kid does, I’m at a loss of how to treat the requests. Eating junk all day isn’t “intuitive” is it? Help please!

  23. WOW, this really resonates! this is something that I’m really working on right now and it was so encouraging to know a lot of this. that competent eating is like aiming for a target- I’ve been sort of getting down on myself when I end up too full, but I love the point about being curious and figuring out what it means in that moment. I’ve been trying to navigate this whole intuitive eating/HAES lately, having just found HAES in the last couple weeks, and I definitely needed to read this.

  24. YES!!! SOMEONE PUT IT IN WORDS!! I usee to be in this same boat, very restrictive eliminating food groups, etc. In doing so it only caused more problems in the long run like causing adrenal fatigue and actual food sensitivities like lemon and lime and pumpkin seeds (confirmed by an allergy test :) ) because I was basically overdosing on “safe” foods. All food is chemicals and if you eat only 3 types of food you’re basically overdosing. There’s nothing wrong with dairy or sugar or grains, there’s something wrong with diet mentality.

    • Hi Mackenzie! That last sentence is gold –> “There’s nothing wrong with dairy or sugar or grains, there’s something wrong with diet mentality.”

  25. I have never understood why people eliminate certain food groups–entire macros, even–from their diets. I have a relative who eats all protein and vegetables. She won’t even eat fruit! It breaks my heart.

    • Yikes! That would be an exhausting way to live. Having food rules is like driving around with your emergency brake on…physically and mentally draining. :/

  26. Thought you might enjoy this – I just overheard a woman at a cafe telling her daughter how she downloaded an app that tells you what foods to eat and avoid based on your BLOOD TYPE. Since she’s a type A, she won’t absorb any nutrients from certain foods so she hasn’t eaten them since. WHAT?! And my only thought this entire time was “wow I’m so glad I have something more interesting to talk about than my crazy diet” – this lifestyle is a whole new world for me. 

    • OMGSH THAT’S RIDICULOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • I had NEVER heard of this, but way back in 2008 someone asked my thoughts on it. Well before I had completed my undergraduate and graduate degrees in nutrition, I still saw the obvious flaws, and quite frankly idiotic, explanations for this “diet.” We aren’t born with our parents given our blood type and associated diet. Just ridiculous, and as you said, sad for those who waste time on talking about and doing it.

  27. Love your posts so much! They’re always so thought provoking.
    I’m curious what your thoughts are on where you draw the line between people eating foods/food groups that make them feel their best and restriction? For example avoiding dairy because of digestion issues or trying to limit sweets to avoid breakouts? It’s so tempting to try avoiding X as a natural remedy but restriction is so unsustainable.

  28. I would truly welcome your thoughts;
    I’m 30 years old; I have struggled with disordered eating and obsessive dieting cycles since I was 11 years old. I swore off dieting 6 years ago(with one ‘relapse’ in there)! Liberating!
    But, in the insane sleep deprivation and hormonal fluctuations of pregnancy and breastfeeding, I *have* steadily gained weight for 3.5 years, until today, I saw the scale(I wish I hadn’t looked) at the doctors.
    I have never weighed more than I have today. And my knee jerk response was…I NEED TO CUT OUT______.
    Honestly the thought of any restrictive eating plan makes me feel like I can’t breathe–but yet, my health IS declining(insulin resistant/pre diabetic ,high cholesterol.
    I feel like I am a decently competent eater. I usually crave and choose nutritious food, and try to manage stress in self-caring ways.
    All the ‘data’ out there tells me I need to start a diet of SOME sort, just to stop or at least slow my weight gain.(roughly 75lbs in 3.5 years)
    (im 5’5′ and weighed in today at nearly 300lbs)

  29. Thank you for this post! I talked my boyfriend into doing Whole 30 with me in October but we both agreed that we wouldn’t do it again because it was so restrictive. It was a denial of foods/drinks you wanted even though they aren’t necessarily that terrible for you. We learned moderation is a better practice. Some days you just want a small piece of cheese which I still believe is okay. I’m doing Weight Watchers now and that’s teaching me all about intuitive eating and portion size which I like a lot more!

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  31. I am so happy you posted this!!!! I am in the midst of resolving some hormonal issues and some may be tied to food, but I refuse to go down that dark path again of restriction and over-consuming due to restriction. It becomes a full-time job, managing the food police, food rules and overcoming an eating disorder.  I would love to know what has helped you make peace with your body now?  Any blog posts on that? I am currently in the midst of revamping an older website of mine along the same line of loving our bodies and embracing ALL food that works for your body, and you are def an inspiration. Thanks! :) 

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