It’s a debate that’s gone on since the beginning of “non-diet.” The question of whether people respond best to a structured approach to eating that helps get their bodies back into balance so they can better sense their internal cues to guide them in healthy behaviors, or whether “permission to eat everything and anything and as much as you want” is the best approach.
In my and others’ opinions, both approaches are important. What it comes down to, as it does with so many other things, is the individual. What works best for you? It may be different at different times.
How Structured Eating Helps
In our women’s health retreat setting at Green Mountain, we offer a structured approach to eating for healthy weight management. Our reason — so many women come to us as chaotic eaters. They are completely out of touch with their internal cues. They aren’t clear when they’re really hungry for food, they don’t have a good sense of how their bodies tell them when they’ve had enough. They’ve been eating the standard American diet for so long, they’re not in touch with how healthy eating makes them feel, and their bodies don’t call out for healthy foods.
We help them quickly get back in touch with that, or at least get well on the road to it.
How Freedom of Choice Helps
But the idea of complete freedom of choice is also key to becoming a competent eater (using Ellyn Satter’s term) — someone who chooses what, when and how much she will eat based on what feels good to her at the moment and what she knows from experience will make her feel good after the immediate moment. It’s the ultimate way to a sustainable eating pattern that supports health and healthy weights.
In the short time women are with us, we can’t always help them move all the way to being a competent eater. Again, we help them get started on the path by providing different eating experiences. But perhaps more importantly by emphasizing over and over again the importance of giving yourself permission to eat what, when and as much as you want, and helping women understand they may need to take baby steps to be able to do that in a way that makes them feel well. We also try to support them along the way back home.
Where Deprivation Starts
Why is this subject on my mind today? It’s because of a post written by Christie Inge, an intuitive eating coach, talking about the feelings of deprivation that many people feel in response to restriction, which is how some people view structured eating.
We’ve written about that before (here’s a particularly interesting post on that; here’s another one), but I loved what Christie had to say — that feelings of deprivation start in our minds. It’s an important concept for those of us who have underlying physical problems that dictate careful consideration of what we choose to eat, such as with diabetes, PCOS, metabolic syndrome, and other problems that chronic inflammation often plays a role in. I identify chronic inflammation here because it is so impacted by what we choose to eat, and it is also at the root of many health problems.
How to Get Past Deprivation When You Need to Restrict
When I talk with women at Green Mountain about the idea of necessary restriction, I encourage them to connect with why they are doing it. My experience, both professional and personal, is that feelings of deprivation often arise most when the restriction is done for the purposes of weight loss. Many of us have such a negative history with that, likely arising for the most part out of the fact that the restriction we’ve tried in the past doesn’t take us where we want to go. Instead, we end up gaining weight.
When restriction is done for the purposes of health, however, it’s a much easier road. Because it’s not about how we look, it’s about how we feel. Although many of us need to make that connection, too. That’s why we encourage focusing on how we feel, instead of being “healthy.” Health is often thought of as a future goal.
When we’re focused on how we feel, it keeps us in the moment, not looking towards some future goal. And so far, it appears that living in the moment, e.g., mindfulness, offers the best hope for making wise choices that support feeling well. And when we truly feel well in the moment, we increase our chances of feeling well in the future, too.
What do you think about the idea of structured eating? Does it make you feel deprived? Have you been able to get past feelings of deprivation when you have to eat to manage diabetes or some other health issue? How have you done that?