The Feeding Self and the Eating Self

A common question people have when learning to eat normally is HOW??? How do you go from what seems like a lifetime of diets to feeling in tune with 8th your body and relaxed about food.

There are a few models for this – two I like are Evelyn Trible’s “Intuitive Eating”, and Ellyn Satter’s “Eating Competence”.

While I first jumped into the non-diet space I was a big fan of Intuitive Eating, but I’ve found that for some clients it is such a big jump, and the idea of just choosing when and what to eat based on your intuition in the moment is too scary to even contemplate.

I first came across Ellyn Satter for children, and you may have heard of the ‘division of responsibility’: that the parents choose what, when, and where about the food, and children decide if and how much they will eat.

I love this principle for kids, which helps children become Eating Competent adults

As an adult, we don’t get someone doing all that deciding for us, and that can be pretty scary, especially if we’ve been following diets that do tell us when where what and how much to eat.

This is where the division of responsibility can come in: we can see that there are two parts of us with different responsibilities: one part responsible for the adult decisions, and one part responsible for those intuitive responses in the moment, the child’s responsibilities. We can call the parent role the “Feeding Self”, and the child role the “Eating Self”.

Imagine you’re responsible for feeding a child.

What would you like to include for them? When I ask people this, they often say things like:
A mix of nutritious and delicious food, regularly, in a calm, no pressure environment.

Once your feeding self has made the decisions of what, when, where and how, it’s time to sit back and let the eating self take over: to decide which foods provided to eat, and how much of each food.

Letting the adult, parent-y part of your brain make some of the decisions means you can practice being intuitive in the moment, and you don’t have to spend the whole day wondering when to eat, and, of all the foods in the world, which ones you want.

Tips to move towards ‘Eating Competence’

  1. Plan your day of eating: 3 meals and 2-3 snacks is a good place to start. Make sure it fits in your schedule, and you don’t leave much longer than 3 hours between eating.
  2. Pick 2-3 different kinds of foods for each meal/snack
  3. Don’t restrict yourself. Eat as much of the 2-3 foods as you want, and make sure you have enough available (cost limitations are ok!).
  4. Pay attention while eating. Your brain processes lots of different information to know whether you’ve eaten enough, so attention is important.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you!

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Is it time to bring back the fat? 

In the last couple of days, there have been two media pieces that want us to ditch dietary guidelines, claiming that promoting ‘high carbohydrate, low fat diets’ is to blame for the ‘obesity epidemic’. The first is Channel 7’s news piece from ‘dietitian’ Christine Cronau (not actually a dietitian!) and The National Obesity Forum in Britain.
I have a lot to say but I’ll try to keep it to one or two (or four) points.

  1. These people are not using the best methods of looking at the science.
 Christine is using anecdotal evidence: ie, what works for her. We know that as long as you stick to a diet, you can lose weight for a few months. This includes very low carbohydrate diets like the Atkins diet. This is not news.
The National Obesity Forum looks a little more legit. It references studies! That’s scientific, right? The thing is when you look at individual studies, you can make claims about anything you like. The report looks at 43 studies, which sounds like a lot, but the dietary guidelines examine literally thousands of studies. These giant reviews are much more reliable.

  1. People aren’t following dietary guidelines.
 Less than 4% of adults in Australia are eating the recommended amount of vegetables. There is a great chart in this article. To claim the guidelines are to blame when practically no-one is following them is bizarre. Also, Australia’s Dietary Guidelines are moderate carbohydrate, not high!

  1. Weight is not a good measure of health.
To claim that all thin people are physically healthy and all fat people are not is ridiculous. What truly matters is health behaviours. And remember that there is more to health than physical health. Having a good social life and good mental health are extremely important, and if your way of eating is not helping your to see friends and be happy, it’s not healthy.

  1. There is not one diet that is the best diet for everyone.
 As I wrote in my take on high/medium/low carbohydrate diets, healthy diets do have common features: Lots of fruits and vegetables, high in fibre, has all the energy, vitamins, and minerals you need, and not dominated by highly refined grains, sugar or processed meats. Eat delicious food you love that makes your body feel good.

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We Are Being Lied To About Weight Loss

lies about weight loss

Nothing makes me quite as annoyed as the myths about weight loss. I went through some common ones on the science-side of things.

“It’s simple energy-in, energy-out.”

Our body isn’t an in-out energy machine. As soon as you start to eat less food than you need for your body and brain to work at their best, your brain starts to find ways to reduce your need for energy and increase how much you eat. Because it thinks you’re in a famine.

Things your body may do:

  • ramping up hunger (especially for high energy food)
  • reducing satiety (fullness) signals
  • reducing your metabolism (making you more tired)
  • increasing efficiency of muscles (so you use less energy doing everyday movement)
  • holding onto fat as much as it can
  • reducing adrenaline response (so you can’t run as fast in an emergency)

Which means that any efforts to lose weight by changing energy balance are counter-balanced by your body in an effort to maintain your weight.

“[insert fad diet of the week] is the answer”

Diet gurus try to claim that their diet is the best way to lose weight and keep it off: that somehow eating certain foods in just the right proportions, or cutting out the right food group will somehow overcome your body’s efforts to make sure you don’t starve.

A study found that of all the ‘named’ diets (think Atkins, Zone) worked pretty much exactly the same for weight loss at 12 months, as long as you can stick to them.

“If you fail at weight loss, you lack self-control”

Every single diet study shows that an overwhelming majority of people regain weight. Weight loss maxes out at six months and most is regained by 12 months. Less than 3% of people will have kept all their weight loss 5 years later, and most people will have regained at least 83% of the weight they lost. This is because as long as your body weight is lower, your body is putting in a lot of effort to get you back there. Being on a diet is a risk factor for weight gain. Diets are perceived by your body to be times of famine. And times of famine could come again, so your body stores fat to protect you.

“Diets don’t work, but lifestyle changes do”

This, of course, depends what you mean by ‘work’. Lifestyle changes can make you fitter, healthier and happier. They can also help you lose weight in the short term. However, the changes that your body makes to protect itself from weight loss still happen whether you call the changes a lifestyle change or a diet. It’s still less energy for your body to function.

“You can’t be ‘overweight’ and healthy”

So where does this leave us? Is it all a lost cause? Are we doomed to diet of obesity-related diseases? The answer is NO. Health and weight are not 100% linked. It is true that higher body weight seems to be associated with higher risks of certain disease – but this does NOT mean that they are caused by the weight itself.

Changing your lifestyle by increasing healthy behaviours will increase your wellbeing and increase the odds of living longer, regardless of your weight. Healthy behaviours include:

  • getting enough fruit and vegetables
  • doing some exercise
  • staying socially connected
  • seeing a doctor regularly
  • drinking moderately or not at all
  • not smoking

Good luck on your non weight-focused quest for health!

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Some sciencey reading if you’re interested in some facts behind all this:

Physiological defense of body weight.

All diets are the same.

Long-term weight loss.

Diets predict weight gain.


Carbohydrates: Good or Evil?

On Catalyst the other day was an episode about low carb diets. Naturally I watched it with great interest. I was sad to see that there were so few actual nutrition experts. Associate Professor Tim Crowe and Melanie Grice, APD, had some good, balanced comments. A lot of the other comments were riddled with errors (if you want you can read a list here, but putting those aside I still think the ‘debate’ is missing the point.

There is not one ‘perfect’ way to eat. Diets vary so much around the world. Some of the longest-living people, the Sardinians and Japanese, have completely different diets. Yes, it is possible to eat a healthy ‘low carbohydrate’ diet, but it is also possible on a ‘moderate’ or ‘high’ carbohydrate diet. Carbohydrates are not evil – in fruit and wholegrain form they are amazingly good for us.

A healthy diet has a few important features:

  1. Lots of vegetables!
  2. Mostly whole foods
  3. Not too many processed carbohydrates and preserved meats
  4. Good fats
  5. Gets all your vitamins, minerals and proteins.
  6. Eating when hungry, not eating when full (except occasionally when the food is truly delicious)

Finding a ‘diet’ which fits these features, you enjoy, and is realistic and sustainable, is the key to health. If that mean low carb or high carb or somewhere in between, that’s totally ok. *

Remember, a ‘perfect’ diet is not realistic or necessary. Eating today involves a lot of cultural foods that may not be good for our bodies. Sure, we might all be healthier if we never ate these foods again, but it’s not sustainable, realistic, or fun.

Having a bit of chocolate, an ice-cream, chips or a piece of cake a couple of times a week is not going to ruin anyone’s health. Eating is more than getting nutrients and preventing chronic disease, it’s also about enjoying food, and enjoying life.

*If you have a medical condition, such as diabetes, advice from an Accredited Practising Dietitian will help you determine if you need a specialised diet.

Why don’t diets work?

Today I’ve been reflecting on two pieces of information:
1. This article ‘Dieting must Die’ from Dr David Katz. “Dieting is a short-term, get-on-then-get-back-off approach to the permanent challenge of losing weight and finding health. It has been tested rather generously, and it does not work”

2. This spaghetti-like ‘obesity map’ explores the hundreds of factors that influence energy balance. Just look at it. It’s huge!

Diets are by definition restrictive. Restriction leads to weight loss, because reducing ‘energy in’ will cause weight loss. So as long as you keep that conscious ‘restrict restrict restrict’ mindset forever you’ll keep it off (Hooray…). Besides the fact that restriction is boring and psychologically damaging, it usually doesn’t work long-term. Studies show that most people on diets start to regain weight about the 6 month mark.

What diets fail to do is address the reasons WHY people have gained weight. Unless you remove the factors, or manage them, diets will not work.

The human body is quite well designed. We have excellent appetite signals – we get hungry when we need to eat, and we feel full when we do not. If we pay attention to these signals most of the time, we’d be right. The only exception is junk food- It’s hard for your appetite to keep up when you can inhale a large big mac meal (5000kJ – about 60% of your requirements for the day) in about 10 minutes.

Eating mostly whole, healthy foods to promote health, paying attention to appetite is not only a recipe for being a healthy and comfortable weight. It’s also an important part of a happy and calm life.

So why don’t people eat whole healthy foods? It varies for each person, but here are some factors I (and the spaghetti diagram) think are important:

  • cost and income
  • convenience
  • family preferences
  • personal preference
  • media pressure
  • peer group and social pressure
  • time restrictions
  • food literacy
  • habit

Why people eat when they’re not hungry, or keep going once they’re full?

  • Emotional eating
  • Habit
  • Social occasions
  • The food is just so delicious
  • Feeling deprived
  • Bored eating
  • Big portion sizes
  • Big plates
  • Eating too fast to register fullness
  • Not acknowledging hunger/satiety.
  • Pressure to finish everything on the plate / not wanting to waste food

So what can we do if we want to lose weight? It can be difficult to figure out what factors are having the biggest impact in your life. Taking time to consider WHY you are making certain food choices can be really helpful.

If you want to make a start, try asking yourself questions such as:

  1. Do I really want to eat this?
  2. Why do I want to eat this?
  3. Do I want to keep eating?

I hope you forgive some shameless self-promotion for dietitians here! A dietitian can help you figure out and manage your factors, and help with motivation and accountability.

Feel free to send me a message, or look for a dietitian in your area.

If you want to read book that address these topics, check out Don’t Go Hungry and Mindless Eating.