Nondieting, in it’s most basic form means eating based on hunger and fullness cues with respect for the body. It relies on instincts that arrive with us when we’re born, and in our culture, get tuned out by “body nonsense.” Nondieting is the active refusal to participate in body nonsense.
Body nonsense is how I prefer to talk about complicated ideas of health, sex/gender, and attractiveness that come together to judge folks based on appearances and work to deprioritize wellness and connection. Body nonsense tends to assume that thin equals beauty, virility, diligence, and fitness and these assumptions get in the way of taking good care of ourselves and each other. Nondieting, in it’s deeper form, works to disrupt body nonsense. It does not prioritize thinness and makes no assumptions based on appearances.
I am not saying that anyone, or everyone has to participate in nondieting. However, it is an alternative that is available for folks who want to do something differently. It is something totally different from the variety of efforts at body shrinkage and something different from the “fuck it” mentality. It is something you can begin to embrace, simply with willingness to question our culture's thin bias and to care for your body's needs, irrelevant of it's looks.
The nondieting movement has been popularized by some concepts known as Intuitive Eating, Mindful Eating, and Health At Every Size. The premise of these ideas rest on giving up weight loss goals and prescriptive eating plans, in favour of eating what one likes and trusting the body, in both it’s signals and forms. These approaches are great and I recommend looking into them to see if one approach, or a combination, can support you in nondieting. The entirety of the nondieting concept can be intimidating in our current culture and any help to break through the body nonsense is worthy of your time and attention.
However, nondieting is simplistic in explanation, and instinctual, though life-changing and challenging for many. A guide can be helpful. It doesn’t have to be a holy journey, though it might be. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need to have a university degree in feminism. You don’t have to be recovering from an eating disorder. You don’t have to be thin, fat, healthy or ill. You don’t have to be a women. You don’t have to be able-bodied. You don’t have to be young, or old, or wise. You don’t have to drink green tea. Keep the coffee- make it a Red Eye if you want. Put some sugar in it if that's how you like it. Nondieting is not an exclusive club of the elite and/or zen.
Nondieting is a journey you can begin in this very moment, without a whole lot of research or effort. Helpful, is the critical understanding that the weightloss, diet, and mainstream fitness industry has made a lot of money off of your personal suffering and insecurity about body shape and health, however that plays out for you- the industry banks on you having some kind of guilt and shame. You can refuse to give the lot of them another penny.
The nonsense can stop right now, with one principle: Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. Really that is all you need to know to follow the nondieting approach. You don’t have to read another word of this or anything else to do it.
Some people don’t know what these signals, hunger & fullness, look like. Others have simply ignored them for a long time and have an elaborate system of self-distraction. Either way, stop ignoring/distracting, and start listening. It probably won’t be a light switch moment. It hasn’t been for me or anyone else I’ve worked with regarding nondieting. People who find this more challenging or uncomfortable, don’t necessarily have an eating disorder, trauma history, or anything very interesting to a therapist. They have simply paid attention in our culture.
A very few number of people will have completely distorted cues- many of them will currently or previously have suffered eating disorders- that they can not trust their own cues to begin, and they will start with something called regularized or mechanical eating. Folks with eating disorder history will benefit from working directly with a Registered Dietician and care team to establish their recovery eating. This writing is not for them specifically. Though, they are welcome at the nondieting table. I plan to write something specific, based on this work. Or they can consult the previously mentioned books, or a skilled clinician.
So, most folks who want to start this journey- you can. You eat when you are hungry, you stop when you are full. You can add on further principles: Understand what food and activities you enjoy. Eat the food you enjoy. Don’t eat the food you don’t enjoy. Do the activities that bring you joy. Care for your body in other ways.
Some people know what they enjoy and others will have to learn about themselves in this way to embrace the second principle. Understanding enjoyment can take time- this is not something we actually give much attention to in our culture. This could be a new way of thinking about things. It means actually caring about your own preferences, and respecting other people’s preferences, without having to be the same. It means acknowledging pleasure and satisfaction as normal parts of lived experiences. It also means saying, “no- I don’t like that,” to certain things. Maybe you always ate cauliflower because it’s a “super food” but it actually gives you really bad gas and cramps…. maybe it’s fennel or kale and you just don’t like the taste or texture? Maybe its spin class or pilates or pottery? Things that everyone “adores” and you just can’t stand? This sense of discomfort is not the same as needing to ease into things and give it a real try. Or other barriers, like life is so busy that adding a class is just too stressful. Those are totally different obstacles, again that I hope to address in another piece. Stay with me for the quick and dirty definition for now (well maybe not so quick?)
Nondieting is a journey of letting go of what the world tells you your body should look like or what it should do. It’s letting go of shoulding all over yourself while you eat. Don’t should where you eat, I’m pretty sure my Grandma always said… Or maybe it was something a little different? Whatever, I think that’s about the only rule you “should” have.
It’s also about letting go of the limits you set for your body based on aesthetics. Things like avoiding strength training because of fears that you’ll look bulky. Or giving up on your lunch time walk because there’s no “benefit” even though you think clearer and sleep better, but you don’t see it’s value because you still don’t fit in those jeans that are too small for you.
Nondieting is a bit rebellious. It can be incredibly liberating, but also scary, and you will come against opposition in some of the most unlikely places. Starting is easy, continuing takes fortitude. However, that is the one good thing dieting culture has probably instilled in you- the willingness to try again! So embrace that quality, and leave the rest.
This is not a quick fix. It's not a specific # of days to a new you. Nope, its exactly who you have always been. It takes you home to yourself. Maybe dieting has always been a journey to leave yourself behind? If that’s the case, you may find some complications and many moments of starting over again. Maybe that is where you need to find support? That’s okay. Starting over doesn’t cost you any money- no new gym memberships or protein powders to buy when they all expire in the cupboard. Nope. Not a cent above the cost you have to pay to feed yourself anyhow.
Needing extra help- psychological, physiological, or logistical- does not exclude you from choosing the nondieting path. However, folks with different starting places benefit from accounting for their needs as they encounter them and seeking support, not minimizing their needs and figuring that because it’s "intuitive" it doesn’t require help. Nondieting makes space for all bodies and gives space to all bodies.
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