In keeping with my “WTF am I doing?” theme of late… I decided to revisit a book recommended to me by an eating disorder therapist I saw in the early-mid 2000s. It made sense at the time and still does. Its underlying theme was very much at the heart of the therapy I was receiving back then, and I guess it’s in line with my current therapist’s thinking.
If Not Dieting, Then What? by Dr Rick Kausman was first released in 1998, but the edition I own was reprinted in 2004. I suspect there may even be later versions. (There’s a whole website dedicated to the program as well, here!)
Kausman talks about the dangers of the ‘diet’ mentality and the physical, psychological and emotional risks of ‘deprivation’. Certainly the notion of depriving oneself of certain foods leading to a sense of emotional deprivation and break-out bingeing (and that whole vicious cycle) spoke to me. He quotes statistics and studies which demonstrate that the act of ‘dieting’ is often a quick fix which can rarely be maintained. In a chapter on goal-setting, Kausman notes that most of us are focussed on weight loss: we’re focussed on the magic numbers that will tell us we are finally who or what we want to be (my words, not his). He talks about dieters aspiring to ideal weights or goal weights. Instead, he recommends we focus on our behaviour. It’s a perfect example, he says, of the journey being as important as the destination, particularly if we are to sustain any weight loss.
I’m a classic example of that. How many times have I been on a diet – from the ridiculous (liquid days, no carbs and fat camp) to the more sensible (Weight Watchers for example) and yet, regained all of the weight I’d lost – and usually more! In addition, how many former The Biggest Loser competitors have regained the weight – UNLESS they themselves have gone into a field where their focus is their weight and fitness (become personal trainers and the like!).
His ‘no-diet’ mantra requires us to better balance our ‘nutrition’ and ‘intuition’. Most of us, he suggests, are seasoned dieters and know A LOT about food and nutrition. We know what’s healthy and unhealthy, high fat, low GI and so forth; but over the years, he suggests, many of us have lost the ability to recognise our own body’s signals (when we are hungry, or full, or perhaps when we aren’t). I also ‘get’ this. I know what I should be eating. And yet… alas, alack…
I can sustain ‘clean’ or healthy eating for a while, but because I’m an all-or-nothing kind of gal, the deprivation gets to me and I end up bingeing on forbidden food for days on end. Like many nutritionists and dietitians, Kausman recommends we get in touch with our bodies again (and no.. not in THAT way, although…) Rather, Kausman suggests we focus on understanding what our body is telling us.
In his chapter on non-hungry eating, he talks about triggers. There are the obvious ones, emotional eating, comfort eating, boredom, being confronted with convincing marketing for certain products, tiredness and the notion of deserving a ‘treat’ or a reward (HELLO!?!). But he also talks about the fact that it’s ingrained that we eat at certain times of the day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sure, he says we should be eating breakfast (most important meal of the day, yada, yada, yada), but he says there should be no hard and fast rule we need to eat it at 7am if we aren’t hungry then, rather we could eat it at 9am. THIS I like as well. Since I’ve been off diet coke (again) I’m not as hungry as often. When I ‘dieted’ properly last time 3pm would often come and I’d realise I hadn’t eaten lunch. Although secretly pleased, I’d chastise myself for not eating regularly – what I was doing to my metabolism, etc etc. But… if I’m not hungry, why should I eat?! It’s not as if I’ve been about to collapse from weakness!
Back on the notion of nutrition vs intuition, Kausman is a proponent of a combination although asserts it will take time to find a balance given that many of us are well-versed in ignoring our body’s signals.
I’m actually only 2/3 of the way through the book (so this may be a part 1 post!). But, like my Geneen Roth citation in my last post, Kausman is also all about taking away the SHOULD and SHOULDN’Ts.
Instead, he suggests we should be saying:
I can have it if I want it, but do I really feel like it?
Obviously he says, it will take a while to retrain our bodies to know what we want and when we want it. He also notes that sometimes even the most balanced and intuitive among us, will occasionally still eat because we are sad, or because something just looks good – even when we are not hungry.
On one hand, this notion is liberating, but it is also very scary and I talked in my last post about my concerns about a similar concept from Geneen Roth – as I worried my cherry coconut filled chocolate fetish would blow out of control. Even now… if I allow myself rice cakes whenever I want them, IF I REALLY want them, will I eat them day after day, or – as Kausman suggests – will the fact that I know I can have them whenever I want, mean that they lose their allure. (The forbidden fruit, and all that!)
The hypothesis is a good one… if there are no restrictions, and we can have anything we want (but ONLY when/if we really want it – ie. the catch) does that mean no more binges during which: I eat as much of something as I can because I’m not allowed to have it EVER AGAIN; I eat it rarely as it’s a treat or forbidden, so I ‘sneak’ it and scoff it down; or I eat as much as possible because tomorrow I’m starting my diet (ie. my last supper!).
Again – and in accordance with my last post – he asks ‘What is normal?’ On the whole he says that there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer, but he believes:
A normal or natural way of eating is not to weigh food or count calories.
It is normal or natural to eat enough food and not be rigid in our choices.
It is normal or natural to eat something at least three times a day.
It is normal or natural to eat more on some days and less on other days.
It is normal or natural to overeat or undereat occasionally.
It is normal or natural to eat certain types of food some of the time, just for the taste of it.
A normal or natural way of eating involves stretching your thinking so that no single day really means very much on its own.
It is normal or natural for women to have fluctuations in appetite and cravings for certain types of food as hormone levels vary.
As you may have guessed, I’m enjoying re-reading this book. I haven’t been doing the exercises at the end of each chapter, although I’ve given them some thought.
I’m still musing over all of this. Panicked on one hand about not closely monitoring my weight or what I eat and my weight increasing steadily; but hopeful on the other that I could become more ‘normal’ about food and relax some of my bloody rules and regulations and feel less guilt-related-angst. As I said recently, I’m feeling a bit tired and a bit jaded. I guess I need to talk to my current shrinkette about some of this stuff – but like I’ve been saying, I’m tired of talking about food and eating and dieting.
If I can trust myself enough I’d like to try this approach. Nothing is off-limits. No SHOULDs and SHOULDN’Ts. No black / white thinking. Scary but exciting.
What are your thoughts?
I know this book’s been around for 14 or so years, but do you think the not-dieting notion is just another ‘fad’?
Or do you think I’m just copping out?