Health At Every Size

The Anti-Diet Approach

December 28, 2023

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I'm Michelle — health coach for women who want to escape diet culture and find the health they deserve.

Meet Michelle

I’m thrilled to share some valuable insights from a recent conversation I had with Leah Horton, a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and Master Health and Life Coach. Leah’s journey is a testament to the transformative power of intuitive eating and the anti-diet approach. As someone who has navigated the challenges of breaking free from the diet roller coaster, Leah understands the importance of redefining health, loving our bodies, and embracing food freedom. S

Leah has now made it her mission to help other people find peace with their body and their relationship with food and still pursue health in a way that is health-promoting and sustainable. Today, we explore the conversation around dieting, the true meaning of anti-diet culture and changing perspectives to focus not on how we look but on how we feel.

Understanding the Anti-Diet Approach

When we talk about “anti-diet culture,” it’s not about simply saying “no” to traditional diets. It’s about looking at health in an entirely different way. Instead of only caring about weight, it’s more about how we relate to food, exercise, and our overall well-being. This idea fits nicely with intuitive eating, where we focus on listening to our bodies.

The problem is, talking about anti-diet culture can be tricky. Even as people realize that mainstream diets don’t really work, the diet industry is getting smarter with how it sells its programs. Terms like “anti-diet,” “lifestyle,” and “health programs” often still get used to sell us weight loss when, in reality, it’s just hiding yet another program that is trying to get us to change our body in some way.

Leah Horton’s own personal story helped her see this shift. While she never engaged in extreme diets, Leah’s diet of choice was counting calories. She liked that it seemed more flexible and allowed her to eat a variety of foods within certain limits. But eventually she discovered that any kind of restriction, whether it’s what, when, or how much you eat, is still a diet. What a lot of people don’t realize is that when we’re talking about diets, they think of it as being strict and regimented. But a diet is any sort of restriction on food and even small restrictions can be harmful.

Leah’s journey to intuitive eating

One of the appeals for calorie counting for Leah was boiling her body down to a simple math equation. “If I eat this much and I do this much exercise and this is my BMR, I’m creating this much of a deficit and so this is what the scale is going to do.” Driven by the desire to control her weight, she meticulously tracked every aspect of her food intake and exercise routines. As a type A personality with perfectionist tendencies, Leah became obsessed with measuring and tracking but despite her dedication, the math never aligned with the promised outcomes. Frustration led to repeated stops and starts in her calorie counting journey.

Playing with equations, altering activity levels, and constant adjustments yielded no positive results. The forums echoed the conventional advice to “eat less, move more,” which only intensified Leah’s frustration. It was at this critical juncture that Leah stumbled upon the Health at Every Size book, which marked a significant turning point in her journey. The book challenged the simplistic notion of the body as a math equation and introduced Leah to the idea that the human body is far more complex than such a reductionist approach allows. This revelation became the catalyst for Leah’s exploration into a more holistic and intuitive approach to health and well-being.

Initiating Conversations about Intuitive Eating

If you’ve decided to break free from the grip of diet culture and embrace a more intuitive and attuned approach to eating and relating to your body, navigating conversations with friends and family who might not understand can be challenging. The concept of accepting your body and disconnecting health from weight is counterculture, and can be a major source of discomfort for many.

When you’re just starting, it’s essential to understand that educating others about your choice isn’t your responsibility. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. If you lack the confidence or language to discuss your journey, it’s perfectly fine not to engage. Some people may not be open to these discussions, and that’s okay too; there’s no need to enter into losing battles.

As you gain confidence and feel ready to share your experience, relating your personal journey becomes a powerful tool. Explaining how focusing on weight, intense exercise for weight loss, and strict food restrictions negatively impacted your mental well-being can help others empathize and understand your perspective. Sharing personal challenges with traditional dieting humanizes your experience, fostering a connection and opening minds to alternative health approaches.

While it’s not your role to change minds or educate, pointing out instances of diet culture creeping into conversations or situations can be helpful and bring the toxic nature of certain behaviors to people’s attention. Once you embrace intuitive eating and the anti-diet approach, you become more attuned to these instances, and gently pointing them out may prompt reflection in others.

The shift to intuitive eating is like taking off the diet culture  glasses that have distorted your view for so long. You soon start noticing the toxicity around you and empathize with others who may still be trapped in that mindset. And once you’ve taken those glasses off, the idea of putting them back on and going back to a place of restriction becomes very unappealing.

Reflecting on Personal Values

One of the things Leah likes to encourage people to do is reflect on their personal values and the things that are most important to them and what they see in other people. Whenever she has this conversation with people and they are digging deep into what really matters to them, it’s not appearance ort aesthetics or a number on the scale. 

How are you living your life? What kind of person are you being? Those are the things that matter. And if you can take that step back to really connect with those things, it makes it so much easier to set aside everything else. Stepping back to connect with these values makes it way easier to ignore the societal pressure about how your body should look.

Life is about more than meeting some random standards. It’s about creating a life that fits the real you. Take a moment to jot down your values and see what truly matters to you right now. Thi will help to shift your focus from what your body should look like to who you want to be and what brings joy and purpose. This change doesn’t just impact your relationship with food; it transforms your whole outlook. It’s about asking yourself, “What kind of life do I want to build for myself?”—and that question holds the key to a happier, more fulfilling life.

Embracing intuitive eating is not just a shift in dietary habits; it’s a holistic transformation that nurtures a positive relationship with food, promotes body acceptance, and fosters overall well-being. As we embark on our unique journeys, let’s celebrate the beauty of intuitive eating and the freedom it brings to live authentically and joyfully.

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