When I was obsessed with food, I loooooved making graphical representations of the way I eat. Graphs, pie charts, bulleted lists, the more complex the better. I would depict the macros, the timing, refeeds, carb cycling. My old fitness blog was full of that stuff. I was thinking about that yesterday when I was reflecting on how my approach has changed, so of course I had to make a new graphic for the way I eat now. It's crazy, right? But that's primarily how it goes. I get hungry, generally around breakfast, lunch, and dinner time, I think about what sounds good and what's available, I eat until I'm totally satisfied, and then I stop. If I get hungry and/or want something in between meals, I eat it. I wouldn't be thinking about it otherwise. Though, there are times when I'm presented with all manner of food in between meals and don't care. At work last week there were hot dogs, nachos, cookies, pizza, cupcakes, candy, a whole convenience store spread. I wasn't hungry. None of it was appealing at the time, but I grabbed a couple of little candy bars for later because you never know. They were tasty before dinner. I do still think about how I want to feel, not just what will taste good. I still enjoy a lot of nutritious whole food but I don't have any guidelines. It's normal for me to eat fish and vegetables for lunch one day, and then have pizza and cookies the next. Neither is right or wrong, it's just a matter of what sounds good, which is often exactly what I need based on appetite and emotion. If I'm tired, frazzled and daydreaming of comfort food, creamy pasta it is. Other times a crisp, fresh, loaded salad is what sounds delicious. The more I pay attention to what I want and need at each meal, the less crazy I am around food. The easier it is to recognize satisfaction and lose interest until I get hungry again. If I place a bunch of external conditions on what or how much I can eat, then I overthink and second guess everything. Then I'm not satisfied. Then I'm looking for the escape hatch from this stupid plan, which leads to eating a lot of random stuff, feeling bad about it, and tightening up the plan. Repeat until I can't stand it anymore and acknowledge that it's not working. Letting my appetite determine what, when, and how much to eat works far better. Think about every wild animal in nature. Even with an abundant food supply, they eat to appetite and maintain an ideal weight without ever reading a fitness blog. We come preprogramed with that same brilliantly effective appetite regulation. We're told it's broken, don't trust it, hyper-palatable foods have hijacked our brains. You can't eat freely. You need a plan. I don't buy that anymore. Food plans result in failure, rebellion, and more plans. Eating according to what my body is telling me actually works. I despised anyone who tried to tell me that! I got so angry about it. I ranted about intuitive eating and non-dieting for years. That fear is why I was still clinging to elements of restriction years into starting a site about not dieting. I think some people dive in fearlessly, let their body do what it's going to do, and experience the mental and metabolic benefits relatively quickly. I was SO not going to do that. I let go of restriction in a "one toe in the water" sort of way, but the more I moved in that direction, the more confidence I gained in myself and the approach.
What dieting promotes as reasonable amount of food is anything but. It's horribly unreasonable. My appetite never settled down anywhere close to what I believed women "should" eat. I eat substantial meals and still get stomach growling hungry a few hours later, requiring another substantial meal. I snack. I graze. I eat something because it sounds good. That IS normal. Nobody tells us. We get all this diet nonsense about tricking our appetite, ignoring hunger, and using willpower. The implication is that if we don't do those things, we're just food obsessed and doomed, but they are what cause food obsession, weight struggles, bad body image, and low self-esteem. Of course nearly everyone who tries to live that way is going to be starving and feel like a failure! I think body dissatisfaction is often a stand-in for fear and insecurity in general. Our brain identifies a problem and wants to find a solution. "I feel uncomfortable, and if I do this it will go away." So, our body becomes the problem and fixing it becomes our life's work. We're trying to fix that feeling though, not so much how we look, which is why we can be confident and happy or very miserable at basically any size. How we treat ourselves seems to correlate to self-esteem and body image more so than how we look or what we weigh. There is something magical about being ok with looking like yourself, not thinking it should be some other way. The image in the mirror and the one in your head match. It makes me think of Byron Katie and "loving what is." When we believe that things should be different, that how they are now is not ok, we suffer. So the dieting way of believing we're unacceptable or flawed in order to change is a setup from the beginning. If we can embrace where we are now, not only are things better in an instant, all things become possible. Which feels a whole lot better than the panic and failure mindset.
An eating disordered mind likes to fixate on other people's set point, and set point in general, and "why is there obesity?" They're all potential "this can't possibly work for me" loopholes that could justify continued restriction. How people get to whatever weight they are (which I now recognize as not my business) is likely a combination of genetics, environment, dieting history, mindset, stress management, all kinds of factors, and it continues to evolve. It's never static. There is no trap that you might fall into, no lightening bolt where a set point is permanently bestowed upon you and then you're either screwed or lucky. How you treat yourself is always what matters most in terms of health and happiness. When we treat ourselves like crap, we feel like crap, and then (surprise) we often turn to our go-to thing, whether it's restriction, overexercise, or numbing out with food, in an attempt to feel better. That can definitely influence a person's weight. It's not just a matter of luck or biology. It's not which recovery method, influencer, or study is right or wrong. How we treat ourselves is everything.