10 Days of Beginner Tips for Ditching Diets and Becoming an Intuitive Eater

The lovely Jamie (@yourhappyhealthyrd2b) approached myself and a group of other amazing dietetic interns, dietitians, and nutritionists a few weeks ago with an idea that involved us all coming together to share a few useful tips to help you ditch the diet mentality and begin to tap into your inner intuitive eater. The #ditchthedietchallenge was born thanks to all of the hard work that Jamie did to put it together, so please head over to her Instagram profile and show her some love.

By now you probably know that dieting doesn't work for most people, yet calorie counting, food restriction, and anxiety around food may just be something that comes as second nature, making it really hard to ditch the diet mentality. This is why those of us who got involved offered a challenge, some tips, and practical steps each day of the challenge for you to try out in your own life as you walk this journey. The goal is for you to dip your toes in the water and see how it feels to reject the diet mentality. With all of the amazing people that took part, you will find lots of support and insight from people who have been where you are in the confusing world of diets! We know that everyone is at a very different place in their journey. Go at your own pace and show yourselves lots of compassion. Ditching diets is not easy but taking baby steps is a good start!

In this post, I've brought together all of the posts that I shared throughout the 10 day challenge with the intention of having everything in one place as a point of reference for all of you and for myself to read again and again as time goes on. Finally, Jamie will be putting together an awesome ebook in the coming weeks with even more amazing graphics and exercises for you to try, so I'll link to that here when it is ready.


Follow #ditchthedietchallenge on Instagram for some amazing inspiration


Day 1

Today's activity is meant to get you thinking a bit about the why behind wanting a change 🙇🏻‍♀️. Dieting seems to be something that many of us feel like we HAVE to do, because hey everyone is doing it, but unfortunately we also know that it often brings a whole lot of negative stuff into our lives including guilt and fear around food, disordered eating, a slower metabolism, and weight gain.

Spend some time reflecting on these things:

  • What has dieting done for me?
  • Has dieting brought about good changes in my life, or harmed my relationship to food and my body?
  • How does being on a diet make me feel?
  • What behaviours and patterns do I see in myself when I am on a ‘diet’?
  • What would my life be like if I were free of dieting?
  • What things would I have more time for if I didn’t think about food/dieting so much?

Think about how much time you spend dwelling on food, how ‘good’ you’ve been, and planning the eating plan or diet that you plan to start next. Reflect on all of the times that dieting has failed you (remember, diets fail time and time again for the vast majority of people and YOU are not the failure here). Now think about all of the things that you could accomplish if those thoughts no longer dominated your mind! Luckily being on a diet is not the only way. As you read through the next few challenges, hopefully you’ll start tuning into your inner intuitive eater and will slowly move towards ditching the diets for good ☺️


Day 2

Today is all about taking a small, but meaningful step towards putting guilt and shame around food behind you. For many of you, this might actually be a BIG and very brave move towards becoming a more intuitive eater 👏🏻 Today I want to encourage you to eat one food item that has nothing to do with ‘health’ or nutrition and to try and enjoy it without any judgement.

Here's an activity you can try:

  1. Get yourself a piece of paper or journal and write down foods that you really like but tend to avoid, restrict, or feel guilty for eating
  2. List them in order from the foods that make you feel really guilty/anxious/scared down to those that you feel a bit safer eating
  3. Take a look at that list and pick one item that you would like to eat right now, one that really stands out to you
  4. When you have a chance to do so, get hold of that item of food and sit down somewhere quiet, away from any daily stressors
  5. Take some time to eat the food, taking in the tastes, textures, and how it makes you feel. Acknowledge those feelings, without judgement, and then move forward with your day

This can be a really scary move to make, particularly with our ‘NO’ foods. One of the first foods I had to give myself full permission to eat again was pasta 🍝, after basically not eating anything with gluten in it for over 4 years. It was very scary. I had to learn to be gentle with myself throughout the process. Remember, no one food can take away from other food choices and a happy and healthy diet is one where all foods fit and where we can get a wide variety of different nutrients in our diet over the long-term.


Day 3

Out with the old, and in with the new 🙇🏻‍♀️. What we absorb each day can affect our thoughts and practices both positively and negatively, so it’s time to clear out diet culture messages and make room for people and messages that will fill you up and support you on your journey. Doing this exercise really helped me as I started this journey, seriously! I want to encourage you to start thinking more critically about what you expose yourself to on a daily basis, and implement this activity in your life today and in the coming weeks and months. Let’s replace a diet-centered feed with one that celebrates a healthy and happy relationship with food and our bodies 🍩🍏

Today I want to encourage you to:

  • Observe the thoughts in your head and how things make you feel anas you scroll through your Instagram feed, read your favourite magazines, etc. today
  • Unfollow accounts that make you feel inadequate, unworthy, sad, or jealous
  • Throw away magazines and stop watching TV shows that make you feel horrible
  • Follow some of the awesome people that I've listed below ☺️

 

some Great people to follow

ALSO, check out the useful resources page on my blog for some other amazing resources to help you fill your life with positive messages.


Day 4

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It's time to start learning how to recogise and honour your hunger. Hunger is a perfectly natural sensation that you feel when your body needs to eat something. We have a whole bunch of complex hormonal and other physiological systems that work together to keep us fueled 😵

 

Suppressing your appetite when your body is telling you that you need to eat is not healthy, it is a disordered eating behaviour that doesn’t deserve to be entertained. Keeping your body nourished with adequate energy is really important to help us get through the day feeling strong and full of beans. When we ignore our hunger and push ourselves to feel absolutely starving, we can reach a point where our primal drive to refuel when our ‘willpower’ no longer holds us back. We all know that when we push ourselves to ignore our hunger we eventually become a bit crazy around food and tend to eat far more than what makes us feel comfortable

Hunger is not a bad feeling. Feeling hungry does not make you a bad person. Learning to honour your hunger is an important step that is necessary for rebuilding trust with yourself and the food that you eat. Unfortunately most of us don’t even know how to feel our hunger, so for today's activity I'm going to encourage you to use this visual ‘hunger & fullness scale’ to help you start identify and better understand your hunger.

 
 Photo credit - Kylie Mitchell

Photo credit - Kylie Mitchell

 

So here is the challenge for today (adapted from the book Intuitive Eating (3rd ed)):

  1. Start to notice the small noises and feeling(s) that you experience throughout today that may signal hunger - light grumbling in your tummy, a slight headache, lack of mental focus and clarity, lack of energy, becoming HANGRY 😵
  2. Take a quick peek at the hunger & fullness scale above and try figure out where you’re sitting at the moment (this is purely to get familiar with your hunger) 😏
  3. During the rest of today and the week ahead, make time to eat something, no matter how big or small, when you recognise those signals in order to satisfy the hunger (even if it’s not a designated ‘meal’ or ‘snack’ time) 🤗
  4. Be prepared and have a few snacks on hand in your handbag, car or desk drawer that you will have available when life gets busy. In this way you can show respect for your body’s signals ☺️

Day 5

This challenge is difficult; it definitely was for me when I started this journey. Choosing to step of the scale requires a significant amount of reflection and strength, and may be the step in your intuitive eating journey that takes the longest to overcome. But once you manage to get over the hurdle, life becomes so much more pleasant and full of joy.

Today I want to encourage you to get rid of your scale, cover up those full length mirrors for a while, and stop analysing your body in every window and mirror that you walk past. Start to notice how you think about and speak about your body, and reflect on how those critical thoughts affect you (both negatively and positively) 🤔. Learning more about developing a good body image, and body image resilience is suuuuuch an important stepping stone. The scale was a major trigger for me for a very long time, and stepping on it and seeing the ‘result’ would often dictate whether or not I would have a good day. I largely lost touch with how my body felt, and tended to be more critical and mean to myself when I let the scale define my worth.

I have found a lot of freedom in stepping off the scale and in moving away from finding my worth in my size, shape and looks. Moving forward I choose to move with joy regardless of the outcome, notice how I feel in my clothing instead of what a number tells me, and seek out friendships where body talk isn’t at the center of every conversation 😉. I know it can be hard, I mean the world emphasises looks and weight all the time. BUT I want to encourage you to be brave and step away from the scales and mirrors for a bit. Start to notice your inner beauty and unique gifts, and allow yourself to live your life in a way that is no longer defined by a specific number on the scale.


Day 6

Time to get educated. Why? Because thinking a bit more critically about the information we absorb and knowing some of the facts behind dieting, weight loss, BMI, and health is important. Knowledge is power ☝🏻. Did you know that healthy habits, independent of baseline BMI and changes in weight, are associated with decreased risk of mortality?

 

How about the fact that weight cycling (which refers to weight loss, regain, loss etc) can result in harmful consequences - weight stigma, poor mental health, and increased allostatic load? 🤔 If you would like to increase your knowledge and understanding in this area I would highly recommend:

  1. Subscribing to Fiona Willer's weekly Health Not Diets Digest for some of the most relevant, interesting, up to date info relating to weight science as we currently understand it
  2. Get hold of the book Health At Every Size and give it a read
  3. Check out some of the resources shared by @yourhappyhealthyrd2b and @rise.bykate for this challenge 🙌🏻
  4. Listen to these two episodes (part 1 & part 2) of Laura Thomas' Don't Salt My Game podcast featuring Dr Oli Williams - social determinants of health are a HUGE consideration that’s often left out of conversations about body weight and its relation to health outcomes, yet they’re super important determinants of morbidity and mortality risk
  5. I have also listed a number of my favourite resources, including a handful of published articles over on the Useful Resources section of my blog for you to read

Day 7

Time to discover the satisfaction factor! When we’re stuck in the diet mentality our thoughts generally focus on nutrients, portion sizes, and meal timing rather than the tastes, textures and enjoyment that food offers us ☺️. But why is satisfaction an important part of the eating experience?

 

Think about it like this - have you ever been for a really long hike outdoors on a very hot day Usually throughout the hike you’ll have a sip of water here and there, maybe you'll snack on something light as you climb mountains, navigate difficult trails, and exert yourself. At the end of the hike you arrive at a small café that has cold water, Coca Cola, and a variety of coffees and teas. You’re absolutely exhausted, hot and sweaty, and need something to refresh you 😐. Now you could choose the cold water, I mean we know that it’s probably the ‘healthiest’ option. But you’re probably a bit sick of water by now, and might actually be craving something with a bit more of a kick. I know from experience that usually the Coca Cola (for example) is the most SATISFYING option in this case. And when it's ice cold, it gives you a quick boost of sugar and caffeine for energy, is super refreshing, and just tastes so good after what has been a long and hot day 🤗

You have full permission to nourish your body with all foods. Food is meant to be pleasurable. Guilt is not welcome on any occasion. By eating this food you are one step closer to freedom from food guilt.
— Haley Goodrich RD

How can you practically be more mindful and allow yourself to discover this satisfaction factor? Well today I want to encourage you to start thinking about and incorporating some of these things around food:

  1. When you’re hungry and need to eat, take a step back and think about what you would LIKE to eat - what textures, flavors, temperature, combinations of ingredients are you really craving?
  2. Notice any thoughts popping into your head from the food police telling you ‘no’ for any reason. Now set them aside, without any judgment.
  3. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat what you thought of in step 1. No swaps or substitutes, no alternatives (ie. If you’re craving a slice of pizza, get hold of some real pizza - not a cauliflower base pizza).
  4. Sit down somewhere where you have space, feel calm, and have the time to enjoy it nite by bite. As you start to eat that meal notice the tastes, textures, and how it makes you feel. As you progress through the meal, stop every now and then and take notice of how those feelings, tastes and textures change.
  5. Finally, remember that developing a healthy relationship with food is about nourishing both body and soul ❤️❤️

Day 8

This might be a tricky one, but today I want to encourage you to spend some time sorting through your clothes and box up, throw away, or donate any clothes that you’ve been holding onto that are either much too big, too small, or just make you feel really uncomfortable.

Why? Well what we wear can affect our mood, confidence, and overall attitude towards our day. As our bodies shift and change it can be really difficult to accept that maybe we need to discover what shapes, sizes and styles of clothing actually make us feel beautiful and comfortable. This can be really difficult though, and more often than not we tend to hang onto things with the expectation and hope that we will fit into them again ‘oneday’.

Maybe you will. But maybe you won’t. As we’ve already addressed during the past week, manipulating our body shape and size into the idea of ‘perfect’ that we have inside our head is really difficult and largely requires a lot of food restriction and intense exercise. Even with all of that, it’s pretty hard to know how our body will choose to distribute muscle and fat ☺️. As humans we grow, change, and develop in the most amazing ways. It’s NORMAL. Things like pregnancy, pubertal, and even the aging process all come with new changes that we can either HATE, or grow to LOVE & ACCEPT ❤️. Instead of fighting our bodies, why don't we start to take baby steps towards self-acceptance and body kindness?

Finalyl, clothing sizes are really weird. A size that fits loosely in one store can often be really tight and uncomfortable in another store. Once again, this is an opportunity to get rid of defining your worth by a specific number 🙇🏻‍♀️. I know that this isn’t an option for everyone (clothing is expensive), but if you can’t get rid of the things that make you feel yucky today I would like to encourage you to allow yourself to seek comfort, and things that make YOU feel and look beautiful when you go shopping in future!


Day 9

It's time to rediscover the joy in movement as we reflect on our relationship with exercise! 

Today I want to encourage you to think about your exercise and movement routine, and the things that you do to move your body. Think about how they make you feel, and consider the positive and negative things that these types of movement bring to your life 😏.

Before I continue, I want to do a quick re-cap of what Joyful Movement is:
🧘🏽‍♀️ Joyful movement is an approach to physical activity that emphasises the joy and pleasure that we find and experience in the ways that we move our bodies.
🤗 Advocates for Joyful Movement acknowledge that regular physical activity does make an important contribution to long-term health and well-being, but that all different forms of activity and movement are as beneficial, important, and worth as much as each other.
🚴🏼‍♂️ Joyful Movement is about developing a positive relationship with exercise, instead of viewing it as a punishment for eating ‘bad’ foods.

So, how can you get started with intuitive movement?

  • The first step is to start listening to your body and tuning into what it's telling you BEFORE you even move. Before you head off for the run/cycle/yoga session that you may have already planned to do, ask yourself: “How is my body feeling today?”. Is it tired or energetic? Does it want movement or rest?
  • If it wants to move, think a bit about WHAT kind of movement is it craving. Does it want to do some serious cardio, maybe sprints or spinning? A really leisurely, long walk? Do you want to dance and move your body to music? Or stretch and work with own body weight?
  • If it needs rest, think about how you can best honour that desire. Does your body need an afternoon nap, or self-love in the form of reading a book on the couch? 😯
  • Next, tune into how your body feels DURING and AFTER you move. Has your activity made a positive impact on your overall wellbeing? Has your mood changed for the better, or do you feel more stressed out? Does your body feel physically different, and is it happier after the movement?

💪🏻 Joyful movement should not be motivated by weight loss, guilt, or fear of judgement. It should be something that fills you up, brings you joy, and adds to your life rather than takes anything away from your life.
🤸🏻‍♂️ Find Movement that you LOVE and give yourself space and time to move in ways that make you feel great! And what if you’re training for something specific? Well joyful movement has a place in that too (check out this post that for some awesome advice from Rachel Hartley RD).


Day 10

As the #ditchthedietchallenge comes to an end, I want to remind you that this is only the beginning. You have your whole life to learn more and develop a healthier relationship with food and your body 🤸🏻‍♂️. I hope that you’ve been able to learn some valuable skills that you can take as you go out into the world and do amazing things, and hope that you’ve started to learn more about your unique needs.

As you move forward, remember that your journey is unique. It’s unlikely to be linear, and will probably have some twists and turns, and there may even be a few speed bumps that you’ll need to overcome. Remember that there is a whole community of awesome people out there to support you, including some amazing registered nutritionists and dietitians that work from a non-diet and intuitive eating approach 🤗. Remember that you can bookmark this blogpost, save my posts to your Instagram profile, and return to them at a later date ☺️.Finally, be kind to yourself and show yourself some compassion and grace as you move forward. You are awesome ☺️