There Are Diets, And Then There Are DIETS

meowser-48.jpg posted by meowser

Fillyjonk’s tremendous post yesterday on intuitive eating and how it doesn’t always mean eating everything you’re “allowed” to eat — and the ensuing discussion that climaxed in the question, “What if you can’t stop eating things you know are bad for you?” — got me thinking. (Ooh, dangerous.)

There’s no universally “bad for you” food unless it’s food that has been tainted in some way that will make everyone who eats it deathly ill. We’ve established that. But teetering on the precipice of codgerhood, and having created more medical records than I can count where people are put on restrictive diets for one medical condition or another, serves to remind me once again that there’s also no universally “good for you” food either, and that some food encounters that are benign for some people are less so for others. C. has had kidney stones and isn’t supposed to have spinach (or at least not very much of it). My XH has hereditary hemochromatosis and is told to avoid leafy greens. Similarly, people on blood thinners like Coumadin (a very common medication for people over 70) are told that if they do eat greens, they must eat the same amount every day or not eat them at all, so that their medication can be adjusted accordingly. But the rest of us are told that there’s no such thing as too many greens, we can knock ourselves out, and can actually be given a hard time for not eating enough of them, especially if we’re fatasses.

Some people with diabetes can eat sugar and other carbs and as long as they don’t go bonkers, it’s not a problem for them, they just adjust their insulin dosages or tweak their diets in some other way and they don’t have blood sugar spikes. Some others with diabetes find that even eating one or two bites of candy made with sugar will make their fasting glucoses soar into the 300s and beyond, or even put them in a coma. Some people with diabetes need to have sugar at a particular moment in time if they are experiencing hypoglycemia; others never get hypoglycemia at all.

People with kidney failure are told to avoid all but minimal protein. People with dysphagia (trouble swallowing) have to have pureed diets. People who are treated for heart disease in the hospital are given “heart healthy” diets which are low in saturated fat. People with dental problems need soft foods only and probably have to pass up that pizza unless someone puts it in the blender first. (Pizza shake, yummm.)

And of course, some people have food allergies or intolerances ranging from severe anaphylactic reactions to vomiting and diarrhea if they have wheat, dairy, mushrooms, shellfish, peanuts, soy, or any number of other things they don’t feel well after (or can actually die from) eating.

Me, I have PCOS. If my eating is too heavily carb-weighted, I will get foggy and sleepy. I don’t avoid any particular food entirely unless I just don’t care for it, but I do consider how certain foods will make me feel and function after I eat them. The combination of pizza and beer, for example, is restricted by me to times when I don’t have to do anything at all after I eat, because it will make me stuporous. Sometimes stuporous is nice, but not when you still have four more hours of work ahead of you. And if I haven’t been having a lot of fiber, my digestive tract pays the price and my energy can go out of whack. So I sometimes do push myself to eat more of it even if it’s not what I’m craving. It isn’t so much, “Get the brown rice, white rice is bad for you,” it’s more like, “I’d rather have white rice, but brown will be more filling, and I’ll be able to sit in my chair afterwards without bouncing up and down in it.” And sometimes I’ll get the white rice anyway and take my chances, and sometimes that will be the right decision, too, especially if I’m going to be active immediately afterwards.

The older you get, the more the odds go up that there’s going to be something you used to love to eat which you can’t chew, swallow, digest, or process the way you used to. And even a lot of younger people have health conditions for which their eating is limited by something other than personal predilection. So if that’s true for you, does that mean you have to throw IE out the window? Of course not. Whatever particular food restrictions or requirements you have, you just incorporate into your fund of knowledge about how to feed yourself.

If you have a food restriction that will cause an acute reaction if you violate it, of course, it’s a lot easier to follow that; if you know you get hives the size of NBA basketballs after eating strawberries, you’re probably not going to want to touch them no matter how tasty they look. But it gets trickier when there are no immediate sequelae to eating something your body has trouble processing, at least in the amounts you’re giving it, but the sequelae show up later in the form of impaired insulin response or sluggishness or constipation or some other decidedly non-salubrious effect. What then? Does that mean you can’t be trusted to feed yourself and need a “don’t eat” sheet?

Not hardly, say I. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with allowing the part of your brain that knows your particular body well to have final say over what goes in your mouth. For most people, that takes the form of, “You don’t want to be fat, do you? You’d better not, piggy.” But over here, where we practice earth logic rather than superstition, nobody voluntarily goes hungry to fit a certain pants size, not least because that will completely mess up your hunger responses and make you crave things (and amounts of things) you might not otherwise want. I’ve seen women on diets completely helpless in the face of a tray of day-old Costco muffins: “Get those carbs away from me!” And me, I look at the day-old Costco muffins and see…day-old Costco muffins, gag, no thanks.

The thing is, those it’s-bad/I-shouldn’t/I-want-it-even-more effects can persist for years — decades — after you cease trying to lose weight. (Remember the Ancel Keys semistarvation study? It doesn’t take much calorie restriction, or too long a period of time doing it, to potentially screw your head up but good.) That’s why not everyone can practice IE out of a book, or a blog post, without outside support (and why people with full-blown eating disorders can especially find it problematic). And that’s also why your particular brand of IE can involve your left brain as much as your right. Only it’s a matter of training your left brain not to make this about your looks or about your food choices as caste markers, so much as saying, “Is there something my body could use more of? What do I have access to right now that could satisfy that?”

It gets dicey, of course, when your access to foods your body wants is limited by finances. Sometimes I really, really want those white anchovies, but my bank account says, “Forget it.” That’s when my left brain steps in and says, “Here’s some canned sardines, you like those, too, and they’re a lot cheaper.” Maybe I won’t like them quite as much as the white anchovies, but it’s at least in the ballpark. Similarly, your life circumstances may not allow you (or whoever you live with) to do much cooking or food preparation or shopping, and sit-down restaurant meals may be a rare treat. It’s admittedly much more difficult to get a lot of dietary variety under those circumstances. In which case, I say screw it, you can only do what you can do, and you don’t owe anybody the last of your health and energy to find and chop cauliflower.

The last thing I would ever want to see is for intuitive eating principles to be something people think they’re “failing.” The whole point of doing this is to quit punishing yourself already! You don’t have to eat the exact thing that pops into your head, and that thing that pops into your head doesn’t have to be something “healthy,” or you flunk. Nobody flunks, okay? It’s perfectly understandable that some people will have to go about things a little differently for one reason or another; when you’ve had shit pounded into your head about right and wrong food from the time you were a little kid, those idees fixe can be pretty damn difficult to dispense with, especially if they’re mixed with genuinely appropriate reasons for you to avoid or restrict certain foods that your particular body has trouble with.

But maybe you can gently nudge yourself to start thinking in terms of addition rather than subtraction. C. isn’t supposed to have peanut butter either, which he loves, at least not as often as he used to have it. But he doesn’t clobber himself when he gives in and buys it and eats it more often than his doctors would approve of. Instead, he says, “What can we get next time that I can spread on bread, so I won’t automatically go to the peanut butter?” That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about here. Not forcing yourself to eat stuff you really don’t like, because as we know, you don’t get as much nutrition out of food you don’t care for. But I think you’re allowed to feel “meh” about what you’re eating and have it anyway, because that’s what’s there or because you genuinely need it for the sake of balance. If this is about loving every single bite you eat, and always picking the “perfect” thing and the “perfect” amount of it, I flunk too, believe me.

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18 Responses to “There Are Diets, And Then There Are DIETS”

  1. lilacsigil Says:

    This is the totally logical extension of “every body is different” and makes so much sense – but you’re right to say we’re all attacked with “good and bad foods”, rather than “food which makes me feel like this”. In my case, for example, I don’t like meat very much, but it’s difficult for me to replace the protein, iron and B12 effectively (with my thyroid problems, my body absorbs vitamins and minerals poorly) so I put the meat in a nice big curry and really enjoy the meat AND vegetable flavour. I also have PCOS and thus risk INSTANT DIABETIC DEATH by eating low-fat dairy foods (I don’t like regular-fat dairy much of the time), but I need the calcium, so I eat a mix of low-fat and regular-fat dairy. I don’t like brown rice thanks to unpleasant childhood experiences, so I eat basmati rice, which has the lowest glycaemic index of all the white rices, and it’s delicious. It’s taken me a long time to work all this out, and it’s an ongoing project!

    The other thing I found interesting was that my girlfriend and I get hungry at different times – I like a big breakfast, not so much food through the day, and a big dinner. She likes a small breakfast, small frequent meals during the day and not so much dinner. And that’s okay – we can be social when only one of us wants to eat food, rather than both of us eating just to keep company.

  2. buttercup Says:

    Oh, excellent post. Recent health developments have me pondering much along these lines.

  3. Lori Says:

    But I think you’re allowed to feel “meh” about what you’re eating and have it anyway, because that’s what’s there or because you genuinely need it for the sake of balance. If this is about loving every single bite you eat, and always picking the “perfect” thing and the “perfect” amount of it, I flunk too, believe me.

    Yes. Thank you so much for saying this. You aren’t a big HAES Fail if you eat your veggies because they’re good for you and you like them, even though they aren’t as delicious as the fresh-baked bread you could fit another slice of. I think there’s a sense that IE is about always eating whatever seems most delicious, but eating what sounds most delicious is simply not practical for most people. Every meal doesn’t have to be a scrumptious feast in order to qualify as acceptable IE.

    I also think our bodies are pretty smart about whether we should avoid something, or if it’s okay to eat in moderation. I’ve been somewhat lactose intolerant for 15 years or so, but I still eat dairy. I know that certain combinations, or too much, makes me sick, and I generally avoid that, but once in a while a big bowl of ice cream or a plate of fettucine alfredo is just too appealing and I decide it’s worth some digestive discomfort later. It’s a matter of comfort, not health, and so I’m not going to go crazy figuring out the perfect amount of dairy I can handle at any given time, and I’m certainly not going to cut out an entire food group because once in a while it gives me diarrhea. (For some people, maybe that is a good choice, but not for me.)

    On the other hand, I recently started having bad reactions when I eat honey (my throat starts to feel like it’s closing up and it feels like there’s something stabbing my throat when I swallow, which is Not Good), and I have completely cut honey out of my diet. I never put even a little honey in my food, I check labels for it, and it’s become a Do Not Eat food. And, while I used to enjoy the taste of honey, it’s been no big struggle, because the physical reactions I have after eating honey are so unpleasant that they far outweigh the yumminess of honey. At this point, I actually feel an aversion to honey, probably because my body is telling me that this is a food I should avoid.

  4. peggynature Says:

    “That’s why not everyone can practice IE out of a book, or a blog post, without outside support “

    Yes, EXACTLY. I was one of those people who couldn’t do unstructured demand feeding/intuitive eating right away after only ONE moderate dieting experience.

    I love the idea of intuitive eating, and nowadays, I am able to do it myself without imposing any real stucture on myself. But for a good five or more years, there was no way I could do it. And I’m afraid that by pushing IE as the cure-all for eating troubles only gives people ANOTHER reason to feel guilty for not “doing it right.”

    This has bothered me for a couple of years now, since I got involved in the fatosphere. I just want people to be cautious about “shoulds” when it comes to eating. The only thing you “should” do when it comes to food is take care of yourself the best way you know how. Sometimes that will mean intuitive eating right off the bat. Other times, you might need help to get there. I certainly did.

    I’m working, right now, on a “thing” which can help people GET to that intuitive eating, body-trusting good place, since I have lived first-hand the frustration of wanting to just be able to eat normally, dammit, and not being able to. I’m really hoping to help a lot of people going through the same crap I did.

    And of course, this also applies to anyone who has some kind of external restriction on what they can tolerate eating.

    There’s no point to something like Intuitive Eating if it’s just another thing you beat yourself up for “not doing right.” That whole mindset is antithetical to HAES, which won’t work if you’re hauling that kind of baggage along with you.

  5. peggynature Says:

    And, really, also Meowser, I’m glad you emphasized the whole self-compassion thing. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I’m convinced that this is a large underlying problem with our culture, when it comes to MANY things, not just eating — people are expected to FIGHT themselves all the fucking time. Not make friends with themselves and have compassion for themselves.

    Which is ridiculous. The more you fight with yourself, the more resistance you encounter. And the more “split” you become — whether that split is like mind/body or id/superego. That’s not a healthy way to be. I’m convinced that “becoming friends” with youself is the first step to healing the rift and integrating yourself into a healthy, functioning whole.

    /psychobabble

  6. Fat Angie Says:

    Is C allergic to all nuts? I have recently discovered the joys of non-peanut nut butters, including macadamia, almond, and sunflower seed (my personal favorite).

  7. bigliberty Says:

    I just posted on this on my blog, but I have orthostatic hypotension and lipedema. As a result, the prescription is basically to keep my sodium and fluids up, avoid alcohols and other depressants, moderate exercise, and to avoid weight loss and calorie restriction (as either will depress my system).

  8. Kristie Says:

    Great post. As an adult, I feel like I can make my own choices, whether it’s about food, or sex, or clothing, or what have you. I don’t need an entire force of “cops” telling me what to do, with all the Rules. I make the rules in my unicameral soul. :o)

    The Sunday special at one of our favorite restaurants is the chicken chilequilas. They are delish. There is also something in them that does not agree with me, and will have me in the bathroom catching up on my reading within an hour of eating them. Most of the time, because of this, they’re not worth eating. Sometimes, I’m willing to put up with it. But it’s my choice, and I’m aware of the consequences thereof.

    I’m with you on the day-old Costco muffins. I am, I believe, the largest woman at my company, and perhaps I outweigh the men as well. Hard to tell, of course. But people regularly put their leftovers and heaven-knows-what-else out on the kitchen counter. Once it was 2-week-old bakery cookies, which don’t have any preservatives; they were gone within an hour. I’m ever amazed how that stuff disappears so quickly; I pass it up 95% of the time. But as the fatty, I’m the one who has no control around food? Hardly.

  9. Top Posts « WordPress.com Says:

    […] There Are Diets, And Then There Are DIETS posted by meowser […]

  10. Rebellion or restriction? « Angry Gray Rainbows Says:

    […] 25, 2009 by sassyblonde If you haven’t yet, pop over to Fat Fu and read Meowser’s post on Intuitive Eating.  I read it this evening and it was exactly what I needed to hear right now.  […]

  11. meowser Says:

    Lilacsgil: Yes, C. and I frequently have separate meals, too, for that very reason. Meals together are nice, but forcing yourself to eat when you don’t want anything? Bleh. Nothing wrong with sitting and having a beverage if your partner’s hungry and you’re not and you want couple time.

    FatAngie: C. isn’t allergic to peanuts, he was given a diet sheet when he had his kidney stones and peanuts were on the “restricted” list. It’s high-oxalate foods that he’s supposed to avoid.

    Kristie: I’m floored when I see how long people leave things like cookies out at offices and still eat them. They must have teeth like nutria to be able to chew those things.

    Buttercup: I hope you’re feeling better.

    BL: Yeah, you don’t hear much about weight loss itself being a depressant, do you? It’s supposed to make us HAPPEEEE! (If that was true, I’d never have swallowed a Remeron.)

    PeggyNature: That happens with the “confidence” thing too, doesn’t it? “I suck, I don’t have enough confidence. Nobody likes a shithead with no self-esteem.” (Hm, maybe that’s the makings of another song!)

  12. Eating « Volcanista: a magmalicious blog Says:

    […] in large part by Fillyjonk’s brilliant post on the subject last week. Meowser also put up a great commentary on what IE means for people who have to live with eating […]

  13. Another Post on Intuitive Eating « A Day in the (Fat) Life Says:

    […] I read There are Diets, and then there are DIETS by meowser, who linked to Fillyjonk’s post Stumbling Towards Ecstacy.  Both of those […]

  14. librarychair Says:

    I was on the Warfarin diet for a while (no greens). I would tell people and they would act like it was some kind of treat to get a medical recommendation not to eat any green vegetables. Like I got off the hook or something, like eating delicious leafy greens was actually an arduous chore that no one could possibly enjoy.

    The thing is, I really disliked it because I actually love spinach and broccoli and brussels sprouts and cabbage. My close friends understood – having been raised on macaroni and cheese and hotdogs with vegetables that had been boiled to death, we all tend to get really excited over fresh vegetables. Having one of the largest outdoor farmer’s markets in the country a mile and a half away really helps, though. Grapefruits are way more exciting when there’s a guy who’s slicing off chunks with a pocket knife and handing them out as advertising, yelling “sugar sweet!” and then you taste it and you say “OH MY GOD” and you buy them.

  15. Ruth Says:

    Just the thought of day-old Costco muffins is makin’ me gag. I don’t need to see them. 🙂

    On a more serious note, I’m pretty new to the whole concept of IE and am going through Linda Bacon’s Health at Every Size book now trying to work out how best to eat for my diabetes and heart conditions. It’s really helpful to have the guidelines for figuring out how to give my body what it needs, instead of what some dietician thinks it needs.

  16. A Canadian Reader Says:

    Great post! Boy, can I relate.

    On January 7, 2009 I finally said f**k you to diets, after a doctor told me that I was sensitive to a whole host of wonderful, healthy foods that I love. Thing is, I have never felt neither better, nor worse, nor indifferent to any of those foods. It just didn’t make sense to give them up.

    I had also tried any number of diets to the point where I was afraid of mixing carbs and proteins, eating too many carbs or proteins, eating anything sweet, eating anything at all, in fact.

    So, on January 7, 2009, inspired by Paul McKenna’s book, “I Can Make You Thin”, I started trying to apply the principles of intuitive eating.

    Has it worked? I would say yes, but it’s a constant battle since I have decades of dieting behind me, and therefore decades of built-up fear and loathing of myself and of food in general, with perhaps the exception of lettuce with no dressing. lol

    I have lost a few pounds, nothing earth shattering. Do I want to lose more? Truthfully, yes. But I finally do feel that with intuitive eating, I’m on to something “real” and more psychologically healthy than I’ve ever known since my first diet when I was about 15. BTW, that diet consisted of fasting once a week. Yup, I lost weight. Yup, I gained it all back.

    Thanks for your great blog. I’ll be back!

  17. Paul Blake MH Says:

    I am from the USA and I wonder if the food I am eating today is still the same food I was eating yesterday. For Instance, I remember when a marshmallow was a marshmallow, do you? Have you tried to roast a marshmallow lately, good luck? What has happened to the good old marshmallow, the same thing that has happened to most of our food. When we were not paying any attention they took the marshmallow out of marshmallows but kept the price moving gradually upward. What is in the marshmallow today, artificial color, artificial flavor, corn syrup, dextrose, gelatin (cow hooves), modified corn starch, sugar and tetrasodium pyrophosphate, sounds like a gut bomb to me. It still looks like a marshmallow, tastes like one and they still call it a marshmallow but it is obviously not. This kind of slow changing of ingredients has gone on throughout the food industry; it reminds me of the Trojan horse. The food industry’s major concern is shelf life and marketing a lot of their junk to us, not what happens after we eat the stuff. Now suddenly everyone is noticing that gee, we have an obesity epidemic (1/3 of the country obese) and a whole lot of other epidemics. Medical science’s weak answer to the obesity epidemic is genetics, so they can research it and make more drugs. But wait a minute, how does the genetics of an entire country change in a matter of years? I am sure that your doctor cares but does the medical industry care? Why should they care; more sick people means more money into their industry. Many people I have talked to blame the obese person saying “they eat too much and they are lazy” one third of the country and growing, I don’t think so.

    Through the food industry our food is subjected to poor farming methods, Irradiation, Pasteurization, Emulsification, Over refining, Genetic Modification, Steriod-ization, Antibiotic-ization. Then before it gets to us they add Aspartame, MSG, Artificial colors, Sodium nitrite, Hydrogenated oils, High-Fructose Corn syrup, Acesulfame K, BHA, BHT, Olestra, Bromate, Sulfites, Seomyx, and I could go on and on. Good grief, what do they think we are? You and I know that this is not right, a marshmallow should be a marshmallow, not degrade into something chemically unrecognizable. Food should have food value and nourish us not turn us into an obese sickly country, you know it, I know it and they should know it. Paul

  18. meowser Says:

    Paul Blake, I’m approving your comment mainly because I want to point out a few things to those who are, um, new around here. Such as yourself, which you gave away by using the phrase “obesity epidemic” with a straight face. We don’t do that around here, capisce?

    The truth of the matter is that:

    – Weights in the U.S., according to the CDC, leveled off for women ten years ago and for men and kids six years ago.

    – As far as people not being “genetically different,” surely you’ve heard of immigration? This country is dramatically less white, and its white people less WASP, than was the case 50 or even 30 years ago. The American “gene pool,” which consists of every single person on U.S. soil who is physically capable of parenting offspring whether they are citizens or not, is genetically so different from what it was a century ago as to be barely recognizable. Lower percentage of WASPs = lower percentage of genetically skinny people. Amazing, but true. And the percentage of the U.S. population that is WASP gets smaller and smaller every single year. Get used to it.

    – Also something to ponder, besides the very idea that people can freely choose their BMI categories, which should be laughed off the face of the planet but hasn’t been because there’s too much money and emotion invested in belief of the opposite: A good half of the prescription drugs doled out in this country are for medications that have weight gain as a common side effect. Some of us must remain on these medications for decades. Remeron doesn’t give a shit how organic my marshmallows are, believe me.

    And please do some more reading of this blog and others on the Fatosphere, and other blogs that are linked to Fatosphere blogs, before you post here again.


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