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Your guide to 2019’s no-diet ‘diet’ movement

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 7/01/2019 Kate Wills
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Eat what you feel like, when you’re hungry. It may not sound radical but in terms of weight-loss mantras it’s about as far from the calorie-counting, scale-monitoring, portion-controlling faddy diets of yore as you can get. But get used to it, because instead of the swathe of new miracle diet books which are inevitable at this time of year, the most-talked about titles at the moment focus on rebooting our relationship with food by embracing “intuitive eating”.

This month sees the release of How to Feel the Fear and Eat It Anyway, by Eve Simmons and Laura Dennison; Conquering Fat Logic: How to Overcome What We Tell Ourselves About Diet, Weight and Metabolism, by Nadja Hermann, and Just Eat It: How Intuitive Eating Can Help You Get Your Shit Together Around Food, by Laura Thomas — which has had Instagram in a frenzy with its no-BS approach to “#nutrib******”, and the idea that we just need to trust that our bodies know what we need to eat, and when.

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Female hands take by fork Classic Caesar salad with chicken breast in white ceramic plate. Served with ingredients above over old dark blue wooden background. Flat lay. Rustic style. (Photo by: Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/UIG via Getty Images) © Getty Female hands take by fork Classic Caesar salad with chicken breast in white ceramic plate. Served with ingredients above over old dark blue wooden background. Flat lay. Rustic style. (Photo by: Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/UIG via Getty Images) “The shift towards anti-dieting and intuitive eating has been inspired by the body positivity movement, and also the awareness that dieting often leaves us feeling worse about ourselves,” says Thomas, who has a PhD in nutritional sciences and runs the London Centre for Intuitive Eating. “When you sit a baby in a high chair, it will scream the house down until you feed it,” says Laura. “It will put some food in its mouth, it will find a balance. It doesn’t think, ‘Oooh, is this too many carbs?’’ And then, when it’s done, it’s done. It doesn’t need to calorie count. It just innately knows how to do that. We’ve lost touch with those signals.”

Decades of diets, “banned foods”, “cheat days” and an obsession with how we look rather than how we feel has left us disconnected with the physical cues and sensations around hunger, fullness and the nutrients our body needs.

“As a nutritionist, I see people choose unnecessary and unpleasant diets based on unsubstantiated claims. Sweeping statements that vilify entire food groups lead to eating rules that can backfire into overeating the forbidden foods or can become unhealthy obsessions, occupying valuable mental space and leading to self-shaming. Adopting a no-diet approach helps develop a healthy relationship with food and is sustainable” says leading nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert, author of Re-Nourish. “Once you allow yourself to enjoy items perceived as ‘bad’ as a treat, research suggests you are less likely to binge on them.”

Chocolate © Getty Chocolate IE posits that we need to listen to what our bodies are craving, rediscover the pleasure of food and become more mindful eaters. And although the anti-diet movement shuns the idea of weight loss goals, Laura notes that people who follow intuitive eating often end up with a lower BMI. “Research shows that intuitive eaters have less internalised food rules, less anxiety, and better mental health. They also have better body image. Evidence suggests that intuitive eaters have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Because they are flexible in their eating too, they tend to eat a wider variety and eat more nutritious foods.”

The best bit about intuitive eating? All the time, energy, money, effort and headspace we claim back that we used to spend on diets. “Beating yourself up for eating a chocolate bar is far worse for you than just enjoying it mindfully and moving on.” Amen to that.

The Rules for Intuitive Eating

Honour your hunger

Learn to recognise subtle cues for hunger — dips in mood and energy, headaches and lack of concentration even when you’ve had a good night’s sleep. Hunger isn’t just a deep rumbling in the pit of your belly, and most people wait until they’re overhungry to eat, which is when we overeat.
  Woman suffering from headache. (Photo by: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images) © Getty Woman suffering from headache. (Photo by: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)

Feel your fullness

If zero is totally empty and 10 is stuffed, you want to stop eating at around a 7, when you feel satisfied, content and comfortably full. Many people have a hard time stopping eating when they’re full, especially as ghrelin levels can be elevated for up to a year after stopping a diet.

Check in with yourself about halfway through a meal: Am I still enjoying this food as much as I did at the beginning? Is this food satisfying or might I want something else to bridge the gap between full and satisfied? unpleasant, or neutral?

Try not to backload meals

A lot of clients skip breakfast, eat a tiny lunch, and come dinner time eat the entire contents of the fridge in five minutes because they haven’t eaten enough throughout the day, so their hunger hormones and neurotransmitters are screaming out for them to eat. Try this instead: eat three balanced meals plus two to four snacks/desserts throughout the day.

Eat offline

Gym  © Getty Gym  Get rid of pseudo-nutritionists that makes you feel fearful of certain foods, or “fitness experts” with messages about punishing yourself for eating or “earning” food. We spend a few hours at the gym every week, max, and a small proportion of our days eating, so why are our social feeds 90 per cent salads and people doing handstands on the beach?

Practise mindful eating

Be curious about your eating experience and minimise distractions while you’re having a meal. What tastes most satisfying, how much is too much, too little, and just right? How does food make you feel? Energised? Content? Don’t be judgy, just gather information.

Shift the focus

Think about wellbeing instead of weight loss. Focusing on how exercise makes you feel instead of the calories it burns makes it more enjoyable and therefore more sustainable. Studies show that women who move for health reasons exercise more than women who work out for aesthetic or weight-loss reasons.

The Big Fat Food Lies

Bread is bad

Unless you have a genuine intolerance to gluten, there’s no reason to avoid it entirely. Carboydrates play an important role in transporting tryptophan (key to creating serotonin, your happy hormone) to the brain and also help that feeling of fullness, meaning you’re less likely to be tempted to snack unhealthily all day.

Sugar is addictive

Neither tolerance nor withdrawal has been shown scientifically in humans with sugar. You cannot develop a physiological dependence on it. Those with a binge-eating disorder may engage in some addictive behaviours with sugar, but that is an eating problem, not a physiological dependence. There’s nothing wrong with including sugar in your sensible “everything in moderation” diet.

Baked potatoes contain 19 teaspoons of sugar

It’s true that spuds are high in starch — a storage form of sugar — but your body is good at digesting it slowly, keeping your blood sugar levels steady. Whereas table sugar contains half glucose, half fructose, starch is just glucose. It’s excess fructose sugar that may be an issue — starch does not have the same effect on the body.

Weigh yourself every day

Your weight can easily fluctuate over 48 hours and depending on what you ate, how much water you drank, whether you ate lots of salty foods and what time of day you weighed yourself, your weight is likely to be quite different. Weighing yourself too often can cause anxiety and distress. At worst it can even cause a spiral of deprivation and low self-esteem.

We need supplements

For some vulnerable groups vitamins are necessary — if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant you should be taking folic acid; if you’re vegan you maybe should be taking B12; and if you work nightshifts (or in the winter months) you should be taking vitamin D. Otherwise vitamins aren’t required and might even be damaging.

We should all be detoxing

Unless you’re dealing with an emergency poisoning situation, your liver and kidneys have got you covered. No charcoal lattes or celery juice is required.

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