To drop a size
- The fear of food, deprivation diets, and intuitive eating
Picture this. You are meeting your friends for the first time after a month. You are excited. You walk towards them, and the very first comment you hear? “Oh, you have put on weight!” followed by a reassuring “but you look great”. The damage has been done, however, and you spend the rest of your meetup wondering how you can immediately drop two sizes. You go home and stand in front of the mirror, sucking your stomach in, or getting on the bathroom scale. Sounds familiar?
Living in a world full of content that pushes diets and body stereotypes, compounded by Sri Lankan society’s need to comment on our figure, our relationship with food has become something of an anxiety-inducer. To understand diets, deprivation, hunger cues, and intuitive eating better, Brunch spoke to Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD), SLMC registered Nutritionist, and Everyday Nutrition – a platform that encourages individuals to enjoy food, and still accomplish their health and fitness goals – Founder Kadheeja Wahid.
The vicious cycle of fad diets
“New diets come out every year. People are inspired to try them out because their favourite celebrities and influencers promote them. But if these diets really worked, why do we always have a new diet coming around the corner?” Wahid questioned, explaining her personal take on fad diets. The nutritionist stated that the “one size fits all” approach never works for dieting and nutrition in her opinion, elaborating that because each of us have unique metabolisms, body chemistry, genetic material, health conditions, lifestyles, and even cultural and economic settings, that all have a deep impact on how we eat, and why we eat what we eat.
Wahid also shared that most diets are inflexible and restrictive, cutting off carbohydrates completely, and therefore, in most cases, becoming unsustainable. According to Wahid, such restrictive and strict diet regimes often push people to feel monotonous and dissatisfied, resulting in periods of over-eating that then cause them to put on all the weight they might have lost, and sometimes even more. “A lot of these fad diets that come up have no research backing them up to indicate that they can be sustained long term. The adverts you see online have companies paying influencers and celebrities to try them out. But how do we know if the ‘before’ and ‘after’ images are true? How do we know if these celebrities are still on the same diet six months down the line?” Wahid asked.
The nutritionist believes that this type of dieting mentality needs to be rejected as much as possible. She shared that she has had clients who have experienced intolerances, health complications, and nutritional deficiencies because of the restrictive diets that they took on. Wahid added that while some fitness instructors may have the right training to plan out food regimes for clients, some of them may not, and that it can be detrimental to the health of unsuspecting clients. “I have had clients whose digestive systems were rejecting certain food types because their trainers had asked them to completely abstain from those food groups for extensive periods of time,” Wahid shared.
Carbohydrates, that most notorious of foes, is really a friend?
Discussing the popular notion that carbohydrates must be eliminated from a diet in order to experience any sort of weight loss, Wahid shared that, in her professional opinion, carbohydrates should never be completely removed from a diet. “Good and healthy carbohydrates like red rice, whole wheat rotis, bread, pasta, and even yams like sweet potatoes give us energy when broken down in the form of glucose. This glucose is essential for our brain functions to happen healthily,” Wahid shared, adding that some of the extreme mood swings that individuals on diets experience is because of the lack of fuel for the brain to function. Wahid also added that these healthy carbohydrates are often a source of fibre, which is an essential part of any healthy diet. She explained that while vegetables and fruits do contain carbohydrates, one must never completely eliminate consuming pulses, rice, grains, and whole wheat products.
“You will see weight loss when you completely eliminate carbohydrates from your plate of food, because you are now putting your body at a calorie deficit. But, can you sustain this for the rest of your life?” Wahid expressed concern that such diets push people to restart carbohydrate intake at some point, which then leads them to gain all the weight they have lost. She further explained that it would be realistic and healthy to have all food groups, in healthy portions, included in a diet.
The importance of personalised nutrition
Wahid discussed personalised nutrition, stating that a single type of diet will never be successful for everybody. She added that often, personalised nutrition begins with getting to the root of why previous diets were not sustainable. “Many clients admit that the diet was too restrictive, they were not happy, there were socio-economic conditions that could not sustain the diet, and more,” Wahid explained. She further elaborated that one must also consider their genetics, and understand that sometimes we naturally have a bigger body frame, in which case the goal must be to achieve optimal health and fitness levels within that natural body frame, rather than trying to fight against it.
“I invite my clients to explore and talk about the food types they enjoy. This allows me to create a sustainable and healthy nutritional plan that encourages maintaining a healthy weight or Body Mass Index (BMI), along with being happy with what they eat,” Wahid shared. The dietician also said that she takes into account the income level of clients, and how much access they have to certain types of food, especially in this pandemic situation, before creating a plan for them.
Wahid also shared that her role mainly consists of doing a deep dive into the food preferences of clients. “I had a client who confessed that they hated vegetables. After an extensive consultation session, I found that they hated vegetables cooked in a certain way. I offered alternatives, and they reverted to say that they now enjoyed vegetables,” she shared, adding that she wants to leave clients with a long term plan they can maintain even after her sessions have come to an end.
Hunger cues, ‘food fear’ and adapting an intuitive eating approach
Wahid discussed intuitive eating, elaborating that it entails a thorough level of self-awareness in clients, guiding them to understand what their body really needs. “This is a ‘back to the basics’ approach, that allows for autonomy in clients and motivates them to make healthy and wise eating habits, without the rigidity of a restrictive or deprivation diet,” she shared.
The dietician also explained the importance of understanding hunger cues accurately. “As children, we are often expected to eat at a certain time of the day, and finish all the food on our plates, even if we are full. This can extend into adult life, making us unaware of how much food we really need to consume, and at what times of the day we really feel hungry,” Wahid shared. She also added that boredom can cause overeating.
“Our brain tells us when we are hungry, or when we crave certain food items. Similarly, if we eat slowly, our brain tells us when we are full. It can be something as subtle as noticing that your stomach is not rumbling anymore, or that you feel full in a comfortable way. It’s a matter of learning to listen and rewire our brain,” Wahid shared.
The nutritionist shared with us that she works with clients to remove their fear of food, or catastrophic thinking patterns with regards to eating. “I know clients who feel that all their hard work is completely obsolete because they ate one brownie. They fear food, and they catastrophise consuming food items,” she explained, stating that the more one fears food and considers it a “forbidden substance”, the more their mind will create a craving for it. She advises that being less afraid of food is the foundation to healthy but intuitive eating.
“Coping with your emotions is also central to understanding your eating habits. Are you craving certain food types because you are angry, bored, tired, or sad? Will eating that specific food solve your problem?” Wahid questioned. She also added that often, taking a walk, talking to a friend, enjoying a shower, and honouring our health and body, can remove a craving and help one understand what they really need to do instead.
Looking good is important to most of us, but we often forget that feeling good, both inside and out, is just as important. With the ideal body type changing constantly, it can be challenging to maintain a certain physique and be completely satisfied with it, in most cases.
The key to adapting a healthy food regime, on an individual level, begins with understanding one’s body type and chemistry, along with gradually removing the fear one has towards certain food types. As a society, we could perhaps begin with not commenting on one’s weight loss or gain, and instead, encouraging everyone to be as healthy as they can be.
You can contact Kadheeja Wahid on: