One of the questions I get asked quite a lot as an anti-diet coach is, “What about my health if I don’t follow the diet plan?”

For example, here’s how a typical opening session with a new client goes:

Coach: Hi my name is Denise, and I am a non-diet, weight inclusive nutrition coach. I help women who have been unconfident in their skin to eat intuitively which is important because it allows them to reconnect with food, with themselves and speaks to their underlying desire to pursue a meaningful and fun life without the Mammy guilt and in full confidence that they are worthy and capable to do this. How would you like me to support you?

Client: Oh right, ok yes, I am really fed up of following diets and I just don’t have the energy to start another one. And well, I really want to work on my health?

Coach: I sense that fatigue with diets for sure. I’m curious though what does ‘being healthy’ mean to you. What do you think that actually looks like?

Client: Well, you know, I am eating well, I am exercising, I have energy. I am able to focus at work. I am able to do things with my children. And well, I suppose if I lost the weight I’d be healthier.

Coach: That’s interesting. So, looking after yourself with movement, fuel and losing weight? What kind of support would you like me to give you?

Client: I’d just like to know what kinds of food to eat that will help me to feel better.

Coach: Would you be ok if we talk about health first before we get to the food?

Many people are hoping for a quick fix and this is precisely an example of why diets don’t work long-term. In order to create a sustainably healthy lifestyle, we must first understand what health is and how that can look different for everyone.

What is the definition of health?

A quick google search will reveal many definitions of health and that in itself is enough to confuse anyone about what it actually means to be healthy.

I believe, in order for us to work on our health, we need to first educate ourselves on what health is, according to the literature; and more importantly what then does that mean for us?

Here are three definitions of health that are used.

  1. Health is the absence of any disease or impairment.
  2. Health is a state that allows the individual to adequately cope with all demands of daily life (implying also the absence of disease and impairment).
  3. Health is a state of balance, an equilibrium that an individual has established within himself and between himself and his social and physical environment.

What’s your gut reaction now on reading this? What does health actually mean? Health is ambiguous and subjective and absolutely not perfect.

Perhaps digging deeper, we could think about what the determinants of health are?

Determinants of health

According to the literature, there are several factors that guide us in determining heath and these have been categorised as the following which are not mutually exclusive in any discussion on health. That means 1, 3 or all 5 of these categories impact how ‘healthy’ you are. Some are beyond your control, and some are within:

  • Genetics
  • Behavior
  • Environmental influences
  • Physical influences/Medical care
  • Social factors

Health is pretty complicated. Several factors are at play like your early childhood, your education, your access to food, your earning potential, your living conditions at present.

There are deeper rooted issues when it comes to health. Looking at food in isolation, or indeed just simply losing weight is not the answer to your deep desire of feeling healthy.

Moving from calorie counting to Intuitive Eating

What if I told you, you could be healthy without losing weight?

What if I told you, you didn’t have to worry about calories or weighing scales? What if I told you there is another way to be confident as you are?

What if I told you, it was the diet that never worked…not you? The diet created as much harm if no more.

Let’s take a look at some of the facts associated with dieting and diet culture:

  1. Dieting increases your risk of weight gain.
  2. Obesity is higher than ever across the globe.
  3. BMI, as a single measure, is not an accurate reflection of health.
  4. Dieting decreases self-esteem.
  5. Dieting can impact your hormonal system
  6. Dieting reduces your metabolic rate.
  7. Dieting leads to increased cravings, sense of loss of control around food, binge and emotional eating.

Diets, on a whole, operate on restriction and an unhealthy relationship with food. They focus on restriction of foods you enjoy, of quantities consumed and the times you are “allowed” to eat. ⠀

What they ultimately do is create an obsession with food and cultivate feelings of guilt and shame.⠀

Yes, in the short term you might notice some results and even weight loss, but a strategy based on deprivation is not a sustainable strategy. Deprivation (even self-deprivation) causes stress and stress hormones (cortisol) can actually lead to weight gain.⠀

Did you know that in fact, 95% of people who lose weight on a diet will regain it again after 12 months.⠀

Instead, we need to focus on building a healthy relationship with food and learning sustainable techniques that will help us to lead the healthy, balanced lifestyle we crave. The Intuitive Eating approach does exactly that.

Using intuition instead of restriction

At its most basic level, you might think intuitive eating is all about just eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. But in reality, it is far more than just eating to satisfy hunger or recognising fullness. In fact, it’s a really nuanced topic.

Intuitive eating means you learn to lean into your wisdom and your instincts. You learn to understand and process emotions, so that you are allowing yourself to make rational, conscious and personal decisions.

When you practice intuitive eating, you’re honouring your health for more intrinsic reasons. Rather than measuring your health on the external elements like weight loss or body image, you’re looking more into how you feel.

The intuitive eating journey allows you to become an expert on yourself. After all, you understand your thoughts, your feelings and your own life’s experiences better than anyone else, and armed with this knowledge, you can decide for yourself what’s right for you.

Unlike diet culture, intuitive eating is not something you can “fail” at. It is a gradual lifestyle shift where each eating experience is about curiosity and learning rather than following a plan.

How to get started with Intuitive Eating?

With my clients, I like to give all the information first and offer reassurance that there are no expectations. This is a learned approach and needs to be done at each individual’s own pace.

It’s at this point I like to share with you that I am like your Sherpa. We are on our way to Mount Everest – I’ll be the guide, but you direct the journey. I’ll hold the baggage, but you control what’s in the bag. And there’s no rush, we’ll get there when we get there. So in the great words of my dad, “Settle Petal” and I will manage the time.

It’s never my position to convince you to use any approach that will allow you to include as many health promoting behaviours in your daily life that you can. One blog, one person, even one approach is never enough to change the weight stigma and unconscious bias at a population level in our society.

It is important to me that you understand, I remain true to my ethics and moral values at all times.

I bring you information so that YOU get to make the choice. I give you the autonomy to write the roadmap for yourself. I offer you a space to explore what foods and what actions work in your life, and over time I delight as I begin to see you trust your own way of being.

In conclusion

So, after reading this blog and digesting this information, I’d like you to imagine, what if healthy meant:

  • You could eat a slice of cake and stop when you feel full, any day of the year you choose?
  • You invest in yourself, and you get approached for a dream job?
  • You are now on the trampoline with your kids laughing instead of watching from the side waiting to lose the weight?
  • You finally throw on that swimsuit and jump into the sea and feel the waves of relief, fun and adrenaline?
  • You suddenly notice you are sleeping so much more peacefully?
  • You finally give yourself permission to sit down and relax, truly relax without guilt?
  • You find yourself? Big, I know…but possible I also know.

Watch out for my one-to-one coaching programme launching later this year. I have designed this programme to support you to think and grow healthy in the most meaningful way. Make this year YOUR YEAR to invest in YOU and to avoid the lure of the quick fix.

It’s a cliche at this stage but I am so confident to say this, invest yourself in the journey, focus on using pleasure as fuel for your actions not the reward.

I leave you with the following quote that I don’t know where I heard…

“The application of science in the real world is an ART”

Starting right now, today, start creating your own masterpiece. Trust in yourself a little more.