Q&A Sunday: How to eat intuitively when you have health issues

How do I go about changing my relationship with food in light of the whole "health thing"? How do I swear off dieting when I NEED to lose weight (and I mean doctor-recommended, at risk of suffering from problems like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, etc.)?  

Is there a way to make healthier choices, cut out sugar, eat less, without making it into a diet? Because as soon as I implement any kind of guidelines, they become rigid rules and my black-and-white brain goes right back into diet-restriction-binge mode. :-(

- Carolyn

Carolyn, the short answer is: YES.

Yes, it is possible to make healthier choices to reduce your risk of disease — which might mean eating less sugar or just choosing healthier things in general — without turning it into a diet.

Here’s the trick, though:

You have to make healthier choices with the sole goal of being healthier. And you have to stop trying to lose weight.

Why? Because it’s possible to improve your health — and, as a result, lower your risk of diabetes or heart disease or almost any other problematic health issue — without ever losing a pound.

Yep, you read that right.

You can be significantly healthier — by eating healthier foods, exercising more, or taking on many other lifestyle changes — without losing any weight at all.

This point is really, really, important. When we are dieting, we often lose touch with what we truly want because we have to reach that very specific goal. So we take on habits that make us miserable and aren’t sustainable and ultimately lead to binge mode, as it sounds like you’ve experienced. (And, frankly, we’ve all experienced).

If you take “I want to lose weight” out of the equation, and you focus on health as an end in and of itself, then it is more likely that you will choose sustainable practices and incorporate reasonable flexibility.

If you are really hungry one day, you’ll eat more.
If you find yourself at an incredibly delicious French patisserie, you’ll have some crème puffs.
If you feel exhausted from life and being a bad-ass lady, you’ll rest and not exercise.

This advice comes from a really practical place. It would be fine to try to have weight loss as your primary goal if it would actually work for you…but based on what you’ve written, it sounds like all diets do is send you into a tailspin of deprivation, frustration, and overeating. (And, frankly, an overwhelming amount of research is beginning to suggest that most people have this reaction to dieting)

So why not just focus on your health, as a goal in and of itself?

You might lose weight from all this healthy living. But if the worst case scenario is that you are healthier from eating more fruits and vegetables or exercising more or whatever it is that you do — would that really be so bad?

One last thing:

I’m not a doctor, so it’s possible that your doctor might disagree. He or she might say, “No, focusing on health isn’t good enough! You must focus on weight loss!”

But I also wonder what your doctor would say if you brought him or her the full picture of your past experiences with dieting, restriction, and bingeing, and suggested that at least for now, you just focus on your health instead so that you don’t end up in a tailspin that makes things worse in the end. Maybe you could even read Health at Every Size and bring him or her some of the data from Dr. Bacon’s very well researched book (she even has an example cover letter for doctors at the end!).

It’s also worth noting that doctors at times have a bias toward “weight loss” as the only possible health improvement lever — when this isn’t necessarily true. You have a right to a doctor who sees you as a whole, complex person. If you don’t feel treated this way by your doctor, I hope you can find the courage to find a doctor who does treat you this way. Asking, for example, if they know the Health at Every Size methodology is a great way to see if you can find a doctor who will work with you on your specific goals.

Carolyn, I’m so glad you asked this question. I know it’s something that’s probably on the mind of many other people — you are not alone.

And I hope you know that I’m sending tons of love your way. Whatever you decide, I fully support you.

And if you’d like your question answered in my Q&A feature, shoot me an email at katie@dessertclub.com!