Eat What You Want – Stop Dieting

Picture of Claire Chewning RDN Way app Partner

She graduated from James Madison University with a B.S. in Dietetics and completed her dietetic internship at The Ohio State University. She owns a virtual private practice and is passionate about helping individuals heal from chronic dieting and disordered eating so that they can discover more peace, satisfaction, and trust in their relationships with food + body. When she’s not working, you can find her reading a fiction novel on the beach, listening to Taylor Swift on repeat, or enjoying her favorite food…a good ole’ fashioned PB&J. Check out her work and learn more here.

As the holidays draw near, do you feel like you’re constantly at war with yourself over food? Do you find yourself experiencing guilt every time you indulge in your favorite foods, even while celebrating with family and friends? If so, you’re not alone. Eating what you want may seem directly opposed to years of family and social teaching.

Diet culture’s nastiest trick is to make you believe you “should” eat only certain categories of food, that your body “should” look a certain way, and that you “need” to replace your eating habits with its restrictive rules and if you don’t then you’re not worthy.

Why You Should Stop Dieting

Real talk: that’s total BS! These arbitrary and restrictive diet rules can land us in toxic relationships with food and can really harm our health (both mentally and physically) in the long run. And BTW – restrictive diets don’t work. They have an 83% failure rate, some studies show as high as 95-95% of diets fail.

It’s time to distance ourselves from these diet rules and learn how to make food choices that feel good. This means listening to our bodies, honoring our cravings, unpacking our “food rules”, and looking at our intentions behind our food choices. It also means trusting ourselves to make choices that feel good for both our bodies and our taste buds, instead of relying on external rules and restrictions.

You may have heard the advice in intuitive eating spaces to eat what you want. But if you’re new to making choices independent of diet rules, this can feel like a scary and somewhat overwhelming task!

So let’s break down a few actionable tips to help get you started…

To Stop Diet Culture: Stop Labeling Foods as Good or Bad

First, we need to stop labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” Food is not inherently good or bad, it’s simply fuel for our bodies. Not to mention that food is so much more than just fuel, too! It’s tradition, connection with loved ones, enjoyment, and more. Of course, different foods hold different nutritional properties – but this isn’t a negative thing. It’s a reminder that all foods we enjoy have a place in our lives and that we need to eat for both fuel and enjoyment.

Have you cut out or created a lot of rules around any foods because diet culture labeled them as ‘bad’? If so, what has the process of limiting those foods been like for you? Do you feel this kind of restriction helps you create a better, more peaceful relationship with food? Or does it lead you to more stress, guilt, and shame in your eating? 

Try to keep in mind that sometimes, cutting out certain foods might be medically necessary (think: allergies, certain autoimmune conditions, etc). Because we often need these restrictions to ensure our safety and implement them as part of self-care, we do not categorize them as restrictions led by diet culture.

While it’s important to make peace with food and remove rules from eating where we can, it’s also important to know that some rules/restrictions may continue to exist for some people and that’s okay. It’s all about our intentions behind our choices!

A picture of 3 different people with different types of food, highlighting intuitive eating.
Lady overlooking a lake at sunrise knowing she eats what she wants

Listen to Your Body – Hunger and Fullness Cues

Secondly, let’s try to get curious hunger and fullness cues (and any rules we may have around those cues). A core reason why Intuitive Eating works so well long-term, is because it’s steeped in listening to your body. Our bodies are incredibly intelligent and have many ways of signaling the need for fuel. Some of these signals are a bit more obvious (think: stomach growling), while others are more subtle (dip in energy, thinking about food a lot, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, etc). 

But how sneaky is it that diet culture teaches and encourages us to ignore these signals? You may have received rules about the times of day when you “should” or “shouldn’t” eat, or perhaps you’ve been directed to cease eating after reaching a certain (likely low) calorie limit for the day. One issue with being instructed to disregard our internal signals and to base food decisions on external cues is that, over time, it convinces us that our body cues are not trustworthy.In reality, however, our body cues exist for a reason and learning to both honor them and approach them with curiosity can be such a great act of self-care. 

Unconditional Permission to Eat

Thirdly, we can practice giving ourselves permission to enjoy our favorite foods without guilt.If you’re accustomed to criticizing every food choice or endlessly searching for ‘healthy swaps’ for all your favorite treats, this might feel challenging and foreign. But know that working on self-permission is an important part of building a better relationship with food! In fact, working to incorporate a variety of foods that you enjoy without guilt can decrease the incidence of binging and it can help free up some of your mental energy to think about things beyond food. By allowing ourselves to enjoy all foods, we can satisfy our cravings, avoid feeling deprived, and feel more relaxed around once “off limits” foods.

Learn Your Satisfaction Factor and Pleasure Peak

Finally, try to think about things you can do to find more pleasure and satisfaction in your eating rather than fixating on the number of calories or grams of fat. Enjoy your food instead of just tolerating it.

It’s unrealistic to think that every meal will be super tasty and satisfying, but by savoring most of our meals and focusing on enjoyment when possible, we can create more positive associations with food and improve our overall well-being.“Eat what you want” feels like a simple task, but as discussed above, there’s a lot that goes into being able to make choices that feel good for our minds, bodies, and taste buds!

Distancing ourselves from diet rules and getting curious about the intentions behind our food choices are both important steps in finding more peace and freedom with food. By letting go of “good” and “bad” food labels, tuning into our bodies, giving ourselves permission to indulge. By focusing on the pleasure of food, especially during the holidays, we can create a healthy and sustainable relationship with food over time.

So go ahead, dream up your next meal without a side of guilt or shame and know that you’re building a more nourished relationship with food + your body with every bite!