Health – Food wars to food freedom

It’s February and many people are struggling with a sense of failure over their diet and exercise resolutions. But this happens every year; restrictive diets are unlikely to bring health or happiness. Instead, they often damage our relationship with food and our bodies, negatively impacting our mental and physical health. What if there was another way to honour our bodies, prioritise our health and truly love ourselves? The great news is that there is a way to break this toxic cycle.

Our bodies are amazing vessels that carry us through life, but they need nourishing, nurturing and compassion. One of my clients speaks for many saying, “I feel so sad about the years I lost to restrictive diets, thinking I would only matter if I was thinner”. The $60 billion diet and ‘lifestyle’ industry thrives on a ‘restrict and relapse’ cycle. Research clearly shows that 85% to 97% of dieters regain the weight they lost, and one-third will gain even more within two to five years.

One reason diets don’t work is that our bodies are hard-wired to rebel against restriction. When we restrict food, our bodies think we are starving and work harder to store energy – our metabolism slows and our brains focus fiercely on what is being denied. As one client said, “I couldn’t even trust myself with a bag of chips or chocolate in the house. I felt totally consumed by thoughts of food.”
All of this restriction is in the pursuit of a thinner body, even though less than five per cent of people are genetically thin. Instead of striving for the impossible, it is time to treat your body with compassion, learning to love the skin you’re in.

Intuitive eating is about reconnecting with your body and developing a positive body image. It’s about getting in touch with internal cues rather than arbitrary rules around eating. By removing restrictions in a supportive environment, you can take back the power that food has over you. Learning to appreciate the unique needs of your body, you can make better decisions about food, movement, rest and self-care, leading to improved overall health and well-being. After years of shame and guilt, you can learn to enjoy the process of eating and preparing food again.

Rachael Wilson is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and mindful eating coach.