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Why Am I Craving Carbs, Sugar?

If you feel like you’re addicted to sugar, craving carbs, you can learn why and make peace with all foods by learning Intuitive Eating.

Have you tried to solve this “problem” by restricting these foods? Perhaps you’ve tried a 30-day sugar detox or a “healthy lifestyle” eating plan “to fix” your cravings for carbohydrates, sweets. And maybe it felt like it “worked” but then after, your cravings returned. 😬

Consider your relationship with simple carbs like breads and cookies. What feelings come up? Maybe…Guilt. Shame. Stressed. Worried.

I too once had a fraught relationship with carbs stemming from the low carb trend that said bread and sugar are “bad.”

I used to follow a “healthy lifestyle diet” that restricted grains, added sugar and even the amount of natural sugars in whole foods.

  • I avoided sandwiches and was “good” when I had a salad instead. And if I had a sandwich, I would avoid other carbs that day.
  • I viewed sweets as “bad.” ( I mean everybody knows this is true, right?)
  • I could have berries but not a banana (because some sneaky diets out there say they’re too high in sugar and don’t care if your banana contains fiber that slows down how you metabolize the sugar.) Yikes.

I was “so good,” until for a variety of reasons (which I’m going to share with you below), I ended up overeating them and even bingeing on them. I’m talking to you entire bread basket and six-pack of cupcakes. Then I felt horrible both physically and emotionally – beating myself up, worrying about my health (and if I’m honest – my weight).

But after working for over a decade in nutrition, eating psychology, Intuitive Eating and body image, I learned that if healthy eating doesn’t include a healthy relationship with food, where all foods could fit, it wasn’t truly healthy eating.

healthy relationship with food

Here are four reasons why you may crave carbs, sugars and the solutions so you can finally have a healthy relationship with all foods and your body.

4 reasons you crave carbs, sugar and what to do about it

# 1 You crave carbs because you’re not eating enough food (and/or eating when hunger is “gentle”)

One of the number one reasons we crave carbohydrates is because we’re not getting enough food. Period. If you’re not honoring your unique biological hunger needs (which change every day according to your energy needs), your body will drive you to eat.

And guess what it will drive you to eat more? Yup, you guessed it – carbohydrates, sugars. Why? Because carbohydrates give you energy quickly – like kindling on a fire.

Have you heard of Neuropeptide Y?

Neuropeptide Y is a chemical produced by the brain that triggers your drive to eat carbohydrates, the body’s primary and preferred source of energy. NPY production is increased by food deprivation, under-eating and during stress. Eating carbohydrates produces serotonin which turns off production of NPY.

And did you know…

When your body is not getting enough of its preferred fuel source (glucose), it will break down protein mainly from muscle to convert it to glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis. This process comes at a high cost, as protein is then used as expensive fuel source instead of what it’s supposed to be used for: repair, maintains and builds muscle, hormones, enzymes and cells in the body.

It’s like using batteries in your toaster instead of plugging it in to use electricity – not efficient and potentially harmful.

When people lose weight on low carb diets it can be caused by losing muscle tissue – which is NOT what we want to be doing. Muscle tissue is your most metabolically active tissue (calorie burning tissue)!

KEY POINT: The more you deny your true hunger and fight your natural biology, the stronger and more intense food cravings and obsessions become. Furthermore, honoring hunger is foundational to being able to honor comfortable fullness (yes, read that again if you feel like you’re an over-eater).

Barriers to honoring hunger include:

✅ Diet culture rules: it’s not time (intermittent fasting), skipping meals to “save” calories, not eating after __ pm (even if you’re biologically hungry), diet plan says you can only eat __ calories, certain portion sizes, restricts carbs – so you feel hungry. You ignore hunger or at least try to using your “willpower.”

✅ Chaotic life: you’re too busy, over-scheduled. You can’t (your job doesn’t allow you to) or won’t stop and give yourself the gift of time to nourish yourself. Then by time you eat, you’re ravenous, hangry and might even feel “out of control” with your eating, or beat yourself up for craving sugar.

💡THE SOLUTION: Make sure you’re biologically fed with adequate energy and yes, carbohydrates. Ditch the diet mentality and its rules that take you further away from being able to tune and honor your true biological needs (Principle 1 of Intuitive Eating). Practice honoring your hunger when it’s gentle so that you can make conscious eating decisions and avoid triggering a primal drive to overeat (what you learn and practice in Principle 2 of Intuitive Eating).

# 2 You crave carbs when you’re feeling emotional, stressed.

First, nothing will make you feel more emotional than not getting your energy needs met (read that again). Thus dieting, restricting food (both physically and mentally!) is a stress on the body and can feel very much like emotional eating.

Also recall from above, that when you’re struggling with stress of any kind, such as an out of balance life, your body will produce Neuropeptide Y and trigger your drive to eat carbohydrates: your body’s primary fuel source.

Third, we are all emotional eaters to some degree because we’ve learned to equate food with love and comfort since infancy when we were held, loved and fed.

Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger may only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion. – Evelyn Tribole, Elyse Resch – Intuitive Eating

💡 THE SOLUTION: Cope with your emotions with kindness. These are skills that you will learn and practice in Principle 7 of Intuitive Eating.

# 3 You crave carbs and sugars because you have food rules that forbid them.

Humans don’t like to be told what to do period and that includes with food. We want autonomy over our food choices and nothing amplifies a craving like restriction. If we make something “off limits” – we will want it even more.

Nothing amplifies a craving like restriction

For example if you tell a toddler that he can’t have a special toy that his friend his playing with, guess what, he’ll want that special toy even if other toys are available.

Thus because of dieting, restricting or forbidding foods (physically or mentally not allowing them due to food rules) you’ve made certain foods “special” or off-limits.

A non-dieter that allows all foods in her diet has a completely different relationship with a pan of brownies. She may eat one or more and move on versus a dieter who is fixated on the plate of brownies and feels like he can’t have them in the house as he’ll eat the whole pan. Restriction and food rules cause the physical and or mental seeking – the obsession with forbidden foods.

And let me ask you, when you eat your “forbidden” foods, do you eat them consciously, slowly, truly savoring them? Or do you eat this food fast and distracted, trying to “get rid of the evidence?” In order to feel fully satisfied with any food, we need to slow down and bring presence to our plates. So many of my clients don’t really eat the brownie when eating the brownie. Satisfaction is a key piece of your nourishment.

💡 THE SOLUTION: You learn to make peace with food through a science-backed strategy called habituation and challenge the food police (Principles 3 and 4) by practicing removing all or nothing thinking (such as it’s either 100% bad or good) about carbs, sugars. Do you remember a time when eating an ice cream cone or having a sandwich with 2 slices a bread wasn’t surrounded by the food police? You can return!

# 4 You crave carbs because your meals and snacks are unbalanced.

Like I mentioned above, carbohydrates give you quick energy. But also like kindling on a fire, the energy we get from them burns out quickly.

💡THE SOLUTION: Build meals and snacks, in general, by including all three macronutrients – protein, healthy fat and carbohydrates. There’s no need for perfection – as that’s black and white thinking and, it’s not necessary to be healthy. Read more about building balanced “campfire meals” here.

And remember that carbohydrates include whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans!

♡♡♡

It will take time to re-establish a rational relationship with carbs, sugars or your forbidden foods. But with consistent practice, over time, your body will learn to trust that you’re not going to put it on another self-imposed famine and/or forbid certain foods, either physically or mentally. Bagels and sweets will just be another food – nothing special.

Don’t let diet culture steal your life. Life is too short to waste another day struggling with food and your body.

So my lovely friend, I’ll be 100% honest with you. I’ve been teaching Intuitive Eating for years and have found that sure you can read the book, but if you would ♡ to get to where you want to go much easier and much faster, reach out for private coaching or join my next group coaching class!

P.S. If you’re not quite ready for coaching but want support, grab my free guide: 5 Steps to Stop Feeling Crappy in Your Body and Make Eating Easy and join my community to receive my free newsletter, Redefining Wellness! ♡ Tanya

The anti-diet is called Intuitive Eating

“Eating low-carb is part of my healthy lifestyle.”

“I have to have a meal plan to eat healthy.”

“I’m a sugarholic — I’m addicted to brownies.”

“Without portion sizes, I’ll overeat.”

Healthy eating has become synonymous with food rules, labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” eliminating gluten, dairy, sugar and processed foods, and restricting the evil macronutrient of the year — currently carbs. It has become “normal” to control your eating to get “healthy.”

But notice how this restrictive approach feels. It’s wrought with guilt and shame. It’s filled with fear and a preoccupation with food, creating a stressful relationship to food.

Relying on external rules to determine what we should eat disconnects us from trusting our inner signals to guide us to eat healthfully. We were born with this instinct and can return to our birthright through the process of intuitive eating.

What’s intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is an evidence-based, compassionate self-care eating framework with 10 principles created by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch as a solution to a problem they faced more than 25 years ago: “Dieting” doesn’t work.

The 10 principles are designed to enhance or remove obstacles to interoceptive awareness — considered intuitive eating’s “superpower” — a process in which your brain perceives physical sensations arising from the body such as heartbeat, breathing, hunger and fullness.

The 10 principles of Intuitive Eating

  • Reject the diet mentality
  • Honor your hunger
  • Make peace with food
  • Challenge the Food Police
  • Discover the satisfaction factor
  • Feel your fullness
  • Cope with your emotions with kindness
  • Respect your body
  • Move and feel the difference
  • Honor your health with gentle nutrition.

Only recently has intuitive eating gained popularity. Since this summer’s fourth edition release of Tribole and Resch’s 1995 book, “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach,” articles regularly appear in mainstream media such as Self and Real Simple magazines and Goop.com.

Why intuitive eating now?

Because we’re tired of being at war with our bodies. We’re fed up with the 95% failure rate of restrictive diets that an estimated 45 million Americans return to year after year. See BostonMedical.org. We’re frustrated by the dismal statistics that report two-thirds of dieters regain the weight, plus more, within two to five years. We’re craving both the happy and healthy relationship with food and our bodies that intuitive eating delivers.

The intuitive eating process begins with “reject the diet mentality.” But you may say, “I’m not dieting. I’m just eating healthy.” Most of us don’t realize that we’re swimming in diet culture. As Tribole says, we’re like fish in water: We’re not conscious of it.

Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear conversations about being “good” for skipping dessert, needing to make up for “overeating” by skipping a meal or burning it off with exercise, and ordering bunless burgers. This is diet mentality, which has become a “normal” part of “healthy” eating. Thus we must opt out of the diet mentality to engage fully in the intuitive eating process.

Intuitive Eating is an empowerment tool to healthy eating

With popularity comes confusion

Perhaps you’ve read that intuitive eating is just a mindfulness diet or a hunger/fullness diet.

Yes, it includes eating with awareness and honoring satiety is key. But these descriptions oversimplify the process of intuitive eating by cherry-picking one or two of the 10 principles, which are designed to be practiced together, synergistically.

Furthermore, the principles are guidelines, not rules to pass or fail. Instead the process emphasizes a self-compassionate, curious, “for the most part” mindset. There’s no room for restriction, guilt, shame, judgment or the black-and-white thinking of diet culture in intuitive eating.

“Make peace with food” focuses on unconditional permission to eat all foods, especially the ones you feel are your “problem” foods.

Take the pan of brownies. You feel you can’t trust yourself to have them in your house because you’re “addicted” to sugar and will eat them all. But by practicing an evidence-based strategy called habituation — repeated exposures to a food making it less appealing — you can make peace with the brownies.

Common food “problems” such as cravings, emotional eating, binge eating, overeating are often caused by the restrictive, “I can’t have” mentality.

Intuitive Eating is not a weight loss plan

If you encounter an “intuitive eating” plan that promises weight loss, Tribole says to “run away.” Recognize that it’s sneaky diet culture co-opting the term.

Putting weight loss on the back burner is critical to becoming an intuitive eater. Focusing on your weight interferes with your ability to perceive the physical sensations that arise from within your body.

“Honor your health — gentle nutrition” is the 10th principle of intuitive eating. To make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel well, you must ditch diet culture confusion that muddles your mind, master interceptive awareness and experience all the principles of intuitive eating.

Finally, Tribole and Resch remind us that healthy eating isn’t perfect eating. “You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one food, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters; progress not perfection is what counts.”

After learning, practicing and experiencing the 10 principles of intuitive eating, the conversations about healthy eating sound different:

* “I can enjoy sandwiches again, guilt-free.”

* “I don’t need a meal plan, because healthy eating isn’t complicated.”

* “Dinner didn’t fill me up, but it felt good not to have the negative head space about getting seconds.”

* “My husband is thrilled that having a pan of brownies in the house is no big deal anymore, just a pleasurable food to enjoy.”

Ah, yes, that last statement was one of my shifts.

Intuitive eating, the “revolutionary” anti-diet approach, is changing lives and healing relationships with food and body. Be a rebel. Let it change yours, too.

To your happiness and health,

  • Tanya

Ready to learn how to eat intuitively? Get started!

(This article was originally published in the September 20, 2020 Jackson Hole News and Guide).

Reject dieting and learn Intuitive Eating

Maybe you’ve heard that diets don’t work and believe that diet culture’s “thin(er) is better” messaging is toxic. Yet you, like millions of other Americans, still want to lose weight.

You find yourself wanting a healthy relationship with food but you’re bombarded by the “New Year, New You” pressure to transform your body.

That makes perfect sense. And I get it because I too, as a former fitness expert and “eat this, not that” nutrition professional, fell prey to the “wellness” marketing that says you must, “look good to feel good.” Who doesn’t want to feel good about themselves? But remember, it’s diet culture that masquerades as “wellness” that convinces you that only one body type is “healthy” and to tie your self-worth to your looks.

Every January the mental berating in your head goes something like this – “Why can’t I just eat well without needing a “plan” to follow? Why don’t I have the discipline to sustain “success” after 30 days?”

Following the rules of “healthy eating” and restricting your favorite foods is exhausting. You feel guilty for ordering a Domino’s pizza or enjoying a Ghirardelli chocolate square after dinner; it’s only ok to eat these “bad” foods on a “cheat day.”

You’re “good” when you control your portion sizes, yet you’re hungry in an hour. But now it’s after 7pm and you “shouldn’t” eat because the “kitchen is closed.” “How can I possibly be hungry? I just ate.”

Or maybe you “can’t” eat because you’re still within your 16-hour intermittent fasting window. The negative self-talk in your head is loud, rigid, and lacking self-compassion. You wish you could stop thinking about food and your body all day, every day.

Does this sound like wellness? No.

What’s creating all this food drama? Diets.

Learn Intuitive Eating and reject dieting

Diets teach us to follow food rules that restrict or ban foods rather than listen to our own body’s food and self-care needs. Many of us believe that “dieting” is healthy eating and good nutrition. It’s not. Eating healthy includes having a healthy relationship with food. It’s approached gently and respects biodiversity – different bodies, have different needs.

The ✨ good news ✨ is that you can:

Ditch diets and learn how to eat intuitively

Dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch created Intuitive Eating in 1995, as an anti-diet, a response to the failure of “diet” plans. Intuitive Eating is a self-care eating framework with 10 principles designed to guide you back to attunement or body awareness – listening for and responding to your individual body’s needs for nourishment – physical, emotional, and psychological.

You were born knowing how to eat. As an infant, you cried when you were hungry and turned your head, refusing to eat, when you were full. But over time, you can lose this natural ability to honor hunger and fullness because external forces interfered.

  • Maybe you had to “clean your plate” even if you were full.
  • Or you were served portioned plates and not allowed to have a second helping despite being physically hungry.
  • Perhaps you weren’t allowed to have dessert unless you ate your vegetables.
  • And cookies or chips were forbidden foods in your home so when available you “binged” on them.
  • Or you learned that you “shouldn’t” trust your body’s signals when you first dieted.

So how do you return to eating intuitively?

“The first thing you do in Intuitive Eating is reject that diet mentality – meaning we’re not getting back on that diet this new year, we’re going to reject those juice cleanses and intense programs and start eating food when we’re hungry, we’re going to start making peace with all food,” says clinical mental health counselor and Therapy Thoughts podcast host, Tiffany Roe.

Interviewed on CBS News this month, Roe discussed Intuitive Eating as the antidote to dieting.

“The difference between a really healthy relationship with food and dieting is you feel connected to your body, you feel satisfied, you enjoy variety, you enjoy life, and you can listen and respond to all your bodies cues. Dieting doesn’t give us that result. Dieting is about restriction, obsession, fixation. And its short-term results never stick. We get stuck in this cycle of depending on dieting” says Roe.

So what if you want to eat pizza tonight and feel you shouldn’t?

“What I am going to say is going to go against everything we’ve learned in diet culture. Eat the pizza,” advises Roe.

“The dieting rules trigger an inner rebellion, because they’re an assault on your personal autonomy and boundaries” says Tribole and Resch. A 2012 research study “Dieting and Food Craving” by Massey and Hill provides evidence that dieters experience stronger cravings for the foods restricted on their plans compared to non-dieters.

Learn to eat intuitively and beat sugar cravings

A healthy relationship with food could be enjoying a green smoothie, because you like it – and pizza. Intuitive Eating takes an all foods fit approach to gentle nutrition where pizza isn’t “bad.”

Instead of restricting and banning foods, Intuitive Eating gently guides you back inside your body asking:

What do you need?

♡ Are you honoring your individual hunger and fullness?
♡ Which foods give you pleasure and make you feel good?
♡ And if not food, what are you hungering for in life – making a difference, more pleasure, connection?

You might have one big question:

Will Intuitive Eating make me thinner?

When your mind is stuck on your weight – the goal of diets, it interferes with the foundational concept of Intuitive Eating – body awareness – listening to the physical cues coming from your own body without diet culture “shoulds” and “shouldnts” getting in the way.

Intuitive Eating is an empowerment tool that guides you to trust your body to settle where it’s healthiest, not where diet and “wellness” culture says it “should” be.

Liberate yourself from diet culture and weight obsession in 2022. Reject dieting and eat intuitively. You are the expert of your own body.

To your happiness and health,

  • Tanya

Ready to transform your relationship to food and your body? Get started!

You might also enjoy Intuitive Eating: Do you need to relearn how to eat?

Don’t let diet madness ruin the new year

“When I was little, someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up and I said, ‘Small.’

By the time I was 16, I had already experienced being clinically overweight, underweight, and obese. As a child, fat was the first word people used to describe me, which didn’t offend me until I found out it was supposed to” says Blythe Baird in her spoken word poem video When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny which has received over 4 million views.

She describes a teenaged life filled with eating “skinny-pop,” complimenting each other’s thigh gaps, trying diets she and her friends found on the internet, “Googling the calories in the glue of a US stamp” and “hunching naked over a bathroom scale, trying; crying into an empty bowl of Cocoa Puffs because I only feel pretty when I’m hungry.”

When Baird lost weight, her dad was so proud that he carried her before and after photo in his wallet, relieved that he could stop worrying about her getting diabetes and finally see her taking care of herself.

“If you develop an eating disorder when you are already thin to begin with, you go to the hospital. If you develop an eating disorder when you are not thin to begin with, you are a success story” says Baird.

“So when I evaporated, of course everyone congratulated me on getting healthy. Girls at school who never spoke to me before stopped me in the hallway to ask how I did it. I say, “I am sick.” They say, “No, you’re an inspiration.

How could I not fall in love with my illness? With becoming the kind of silhouette people are supposed to fall in love with? Why would I ever want to stop being hungry when anorexia was the most interesting thing about me?”

I share Baird’s story with you with urgency, before the new year, to stress the harms of continually reinforcing the societal norms that we’ve been socialized to accept such as dieting before any major life event, “swimsuit season,” beginning every January or actually just dieting in general.

Think of someone you know whose time, energy, money, physical and emotional health and self-worth – whose life is being stolen by the constant pursuit of maintaining or attaining an “ideal” body shape or size, that is, according to diet culture.

Maybe this person is your best friend, your mother, or you.

Nobody diets for fun

Like Baird, we try to control our bodies to belong, to be accepted as “healthy.” We believe we must “look good to feel good” about ourselves, the diet industry marketing messages promise.

Diet culture equates thinness, muscularity, and particular body shapes with health and moral virtue, according to author of Anti-Diet, Christy Harrison. You can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like this ‘ideal” she says.

And even if you have a small body, you may live with fear of weight gain.

I want you to know that you have a choice. Your only option for love and a content life isn’t to be a slave to the scale and other people’s opinions.

Ditch diet culture

You can choose to opt-out of harmful dieting and diet culture.

Dieting is disordered eating and is one of the strongest predictors for the development of an eating disorder, which can occur across the weight spectrum according to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration.

And you don’t have to be actively “on a diet” to be swept up by the culture of dieting.

Disordered eating habits also include preoccupation with food and your weight, feeling stressed about food and whether you’re eating the “right” or “wrong” foods and rigid food rules. It’s fasting, cleansing, detoxing, skipping meals to save calories, avoiding a type of food or food group, drinking laxative teas.

We can take “healthy” eating too far. There’s a term for this, orthorexia, also disordered eating, which is an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy foods.

The risks associated with disordered eating and dieting include developing a clinical eating disorder, osteoporosis or osteopenia, fatigue and poor sleep quality, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, muscle cramps, feelings of shame, guilt, low self-esteem, depressive or anxious symptoms and behaviors, and nutritional and metabolic problems according to National Eating Disorder Collaboration.

And because diet culture is deeply embedded in Western culture masquerading as health, wellness and fitness, disordered eating habits have become an alarmingly “normal” way to “take care of ourselves.”

Nearly 75% of women reported engaging in disordered eating behaviors in a 2008 survey of over 4,000 women done by UNC and SELF magazine.

“Ideal” weight as myth

But you have another option. You can separate “taking care of yourself” and your “health” from some “ideal” number on the scale.

Think about how we determine a “healthy” weight. It’s measured by BMI (body mass index) – just your height to weight ratio. That’s it. It doesn’t consider your eating or movement habits, muscle mass. It doesn’t factor in a long list of behaviors that impact your health such as smoking. It doesn’t consider your genetics, nor the complexities of health. BMI is a poor determinant of health.

Furthermore, ingrained beliefs that fat poses significant mortality risk are not fact.

Research reported in Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift shows that except at statistical extremes, BMI only weakly predicts longevity. People who are “overweight” or “obese” live at least as long as normal weight people, and often longer.

You can’t determine somebody’s health status just by looking at their body size. A small body may be healthy or not and the same is true for a larger body.

Honor Body Differences

With this knowledge, you can choose to honor that your body, other bodies may want to be different than what you and our culture think they should be.

Baird lamented that her “small’ body was the “most interesting about her,” but now as part of her healing “how lucky it is now to be boring,” says Baird.

“My story may not be as exciting as it used to but at least there is nothing left to count. The calculator in my head finally stopped. Now, I am proud I have stopped seeking revenge on this body.”

As the new year approaches and yet another wave of dieting madness tries to steal your self-worth, I want you to know that you have another option: you can ditch the false belief that there’s only one size that’s “healthy,” worthy of love and belonging and make peace with food and your body.

To your happiness and health,

  • Tanya

Ready to transform your relationship to food and your body? Get started!

P.S. (You can watch Blythe Baird deliver her powerful poem, here).

(This article was originally published in the December 8, 2021 issue of Jackson Hole News and Guide.)

Here’s one Thanksgiving ‘tradition’ you can drop

Every body deserves a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

But as a nutrition student back in 2012, I would have found that statement reckless, disregarding the “epidemic” of weight/health challenges facing our country.

That year my parents traveled from Maryland to Denver to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with me and my family. While I swung kettlebells and climbed revolving stairs at 24 Hour Fitness, Mom and Dad went for a stroll around the neighborhood. While I ate a “lighter” lunch to “earn” and “burn” the calories I would consume, they ate their regular meals.

To me healthy meant thin, low body fat. Though far leaner in my mid-40s than I’d been in my 20s, I still didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. All I saw were my perceived flaws: the cellulite, my furrowed forehead and a roundness to my female belly that I believed wasn’t flat enough.

I cooked my family a “clean” holiday meal, removing ingredients that my nutrition books touted as “bad” — the marshmallows in my husband’s favorite sweet potato casserole, the gluten in my dad’s famous sausage stuffing.

But I wasn’t done subjecting my parents to my righteous rules of nutrition perfection: For a class project they agreed to track their food so I could scrutinize their supposed nutritional flagrancies and offer upgrades promising “better” health. Bless their hearts.

Looking back now, I see that neither my parents’ nutrition nor health needed fixing. The real flaw? My misguided belief in diet culture, disguised as wellness, and its simplistic, one-dimensional definition of health: that a thin body is ideal. When we expose the origin of this false depiction of health and redefine it, every body can enjoy holiday favorites, no “earning” or “burning” of food required.

Weight does not equal health

“You’ve been lied to about the relationship between weight and health so that you’ll perpetually try to change your weight,” say Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski, authors of “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.”

The lie is driven by what the Nagoski sisters call the Bikini Industrial Complex, the “$100 billion cluster of businesses that profit by setting an unachievable ‘aspirational ideal,’ convincing us that we can and should — indeed, we must — conform with the ideal, and then selling us ineffective but plausible strategies for achieving that ideal.”

This false and simplistic definition of “wellness” can lead to lifelong weight worry and make it difficult to feel good in our bodies. It’s a chronic stressor.

Food psychologist Paul Rozin concurs. Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, registered dietitians and authors of “Intuitive Eating,” say that in his 1999 research study “Rozin was way ahead of his time and concluded that the negative impact of worry and stress over healthy eating may have a more profound effect on health than the actual food consumed.”

Furthermore, Rozin’s research showed that while Americans have the most food worry and least food pleasure, the French were found to have the exact opposite, plus a longer life expectancy. Consider some mainstays of the French diet: bread, brie, creme brûlée — foods containing the “forbidden” ingredients my nutrition books said were “unhealthy.”

Yes, certainly nutrition has a role in your health and in preventing chronic disease, but your health is impacted by far more factors than what you eat and how you move. According to research in author Christy Harrison’s book “Anti-Diet,” “eating and physical activity combined account for only about 10 percent of population health outcomes. Other health-related behaviors account for only another 20 percent.” If you do the math, we have some individual or societal control over only 30% of our health.

The complexity of ‘health’

Other important factors are financial and social status, healthy childhood development, social environments, personal coping skills, traumatic experiences, weight stigma, access to health services, gender, race, physical environment, education and literacy, food and job security, and genetics.

And positive, satisfying relationships of any kind. The Nagoski sisters found that relationship quality was a “better predictor of health than smoking, and smoking is among the strongest predictors of ill health.”

This holiday season, instead of fretting over the marshmallows in your husband’s childhood favorite sweet potato casserole or your father’s famous sausage stuffing, consider taking a gentle nutrition approach to healthy eating.

Remove weight hate from your holiday plate.

(Originally published in the Jackson Hole News and Guide, November 25, 2020).

Escape from the body hate diet cycle

Do you or someone you love struggle with healthy eating and/or suffer from body dissatisfaction?

If you said yes, it’s absolutely not your fault. It’s diet culture’s.

Let’s break down two major drivers of these challenges:

  1. You compare your body to health and fitness culture’s perfectionist and unrealistic body ideals.
  2. You’re stuck in “diet culture” (which created these body ideals) that profits off selling you the latest greatest eating plan, shakes, programs to maintain or “fix” your body, under the guise of wellness.


This can lead you to a lifetime of feeling like you and your body are not enough – regardless of your size or shape.

And it all seems perfectly normal, and is considered the way to take care of your “health.”

It’s a helluva business plan – keeping you coming back for another “hit of success” (= pounds lost) despite research showing you it’s temporary (unsustainable) for 95% of us. In fact, by 2023, the worldwide weight loss industry profits are expected to reach $278 billion.

Again, I repeat, it’s not your fault. It’s the culture we live, eat, move and breathe in and we’ve been passing these messages down for generations, thus keeping us stuck in:

The Vicious Body Hate/“Diet” Restrictive Eating Cycle:


START:
 You “feel” unhealthy, dislike your body, feel “fat”, and/or you’re told to lose weight for a variety of reasons.

RESTRICT: You choose one of the restrictive eating plans du jour. During this time, you may experience “feeling better” and/or losing weight but at some point either during, at the end of the 21 or 30 days, or months later when you’re trying to “sustain” it, you experience…

DEPRIVATION: the “diet/restriction” fatigue, backlash. This is when cravings kick in for certain types of foods (such as carbohydrates), “forbidden” foods (your favorite dessert) or you just feel hungry and simply want more food. Which leads to…

GUILT: You feel like you’ve “cheated,” “given in,” “fallen off the wagon” “don’t have the willpower” – you judge yourself as the failure, not the approach. You may regain weight, or for many of you who’ve been stuck in this cycle for years and years, even more weight than when you began. (Studies show that up two-thirds of us will regain more weight than lost).

💣TRUTH BOMB: Did you know that “diets” and restrictive eating can actually be the cause of perceived eating challenges such over-eating, intense cravings, bingeing and emotional eating? (Ironic, huh – as we often go to these plans to “fix” these “problems.”)

REPEAT: At some point (next year, next month) you begin again with another round of your “favorite” eating plan or you try a new one that promises you that you will be part of the 5% of people (the 🦄 unicorns) that can change your body size permanently – sustain it. Remember, we’re not all supposed to be the same size and that health and body weight are a complex subject (see my article ⬇️ to learn more).


The good news is that there’s a way out of this madness.

But I’ll be honest with you, it’s not a quick fix. But worth it – if you finally want to have a healthy relationship with food and feel good in your body.

What you can do instead:

  1. Re-educate yourself and learn more about how health can come in different sizes and shapes and how your health is impacted by many factors. ​That’s why I take a “deep health” coaching approach – when all dimensions of your wellbeing are in sync (physical, mental, emotional, relational, environmental and existential).To learn more, come on over to my blog and read: Size or shape doesn’t define your health
  2. Practice “true” self-care from this new space.

What if you could allow your body to be the size and shape it where its healthiest – when you’re nourishing it by listening to your hunger and fullness cues, being aware of which foods make you feel your best, moving in ways that bring you joy and living your best life? Don’t allow “diet culture” to be the life thief that it is – taking away your precious time, energy, health and happiness. Want to learn more about how you can learn to eat intuitively and take care of your health? Check out: Intuitive Eating: Do you need to relearn how to eat?

What to learn more about how “deep health” coaching can help you feel and be your best self? [](https://www.tanyamark.com/get-started)[Schedule a 20 minute consult](https://form.jotform.com/93306600537150) to chat with me.

I’d love to support you, Tanya

As You Shelter in Place, Forget About Your Weight

Is the Quarantine15 on your mind? It needn’t be.

We’re living in unprecedented times, and the fears are real. But fearing weight gain shouldn’t be one of them.

Social media’s latest pandemic hashtag — quarantine15 — is just ol’ diet culture ramping up again to prey upon our body insecurities, body shaming us for profit. I’m sure you’ve seen some of the posts:

“Gaining weight in college was called the freshman15. This time it will be the quarantine15.”

“Walking around the house in a sports bra will make you put the quarantine snacks away quick. Eat lunch in your swimsuit.”

“Please tell me that I’m not the only COVID Carboholic.”

Shame on you, diet culture, for making us feel ashamed if our bodies change, especially during a global pandemic, especially as food and eating challenges are “normal human responses to a global pandemic that do not need to be pathologized or treated as abnormal,” as stated by experts at TraumaAndCo.com.

Jackson psychologist and Wyoming Psychological Association President Sadie Monaghan concurs, recently sharing this response to weight fearmongering on her Facebook page:

“I am seeing a lot of fatphobic content on social right now. If you need this, let me say it loudly: Eating for comfort during a collective trauma is OK. Gaining a couple of pounds probably means you were forcing your body to be a weight it didn’t like. Urges to hoard food are a human response to perceived scarcity. Not ‘exercising’ for a few weeks or months is not morally wrong.

“You are more than your weight and/or shape. Weight is not equal to health status. Food is not good or bad, it is nourishment, whether for the body or soul or both. Go easy on yourself and others and don’t push weight stigma or food rules during a crisis, or ever.”

Or ever.

This pandemic will end. But diet culture will flourish, unless we burn it down. Remember: The $72 billion dollar-industry can profit only if we feel “flawed.” Diet culture is built on body shame, and it has warped so many into believing that it’s normal and healthy to be obsessed with “fixing” our bodies and to be hypervigilant with food and exercise.

But we can change that at any time, even now. Maybe especially now.

“In the rush to return to normal,” writes Dave Hollis, author of “Get Out Of Your Own Way,” “let’s use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth returning to.”

Collectively, when we speak out and confront diet culture we can start to undermine its place in our society. As shame researcher and bestselling author Brené Brown says, “Shame is deadly. And I think we are swimming in it deep.” But shame can not survive empathy because “shame depends on the belief that I’m alone” Brown says.

Let’s reclaim our time, energy, money, happiness and self-worth. Let’s imagine a new relationship with ourselves.

In this new normal, fitness is building muscles and improving balance, flexibility, agility and the quality of our sleep. It’s strengthening our energy, mood and mental health. It’s not hyperfocused on weight loss or body image. In this new normal, we enjoy movement for the pure joy of it.

In this new normal we explore nutrition and healthful eating as learning and practicing the basics of human nutrition while tuning in to listen to our body’s needs, internal cues of hunger, fullness, satisfaction and which foods make us feel our best. We transition away from a rules-based and restrictive model of nutrition and toward trusting our bodies, something BeNourished.org calls a “birthright.”

“You were born with an inherent trust for your body,” the website says. “Somewhere along the way you became disconnected from that way of knowing.”

In this new normal, health professionals and any person contemplating going on a diet will learn “Health at Every Size,” an evidence-based compassionate model that switches the focus from weight to healthy behaviors.

“Trumpeting obesity concerns and admonishing people to lose weight is not just misguided, but downright damaging,” says Lindo Bacon, author of “Health at Every Size and Body Respect.” “It leads to repeated cycles of weight loss and regain, to food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, weight discrimination, and poor health.

“Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat. Every time you make fat the problem, these are side effects, however unintended they may be. Everyone can benefit from good health behaviors.”

In this time of uncertainty I hope what is most important is becoming clear and what is not falls by the wayside. Let the hashtag quarantine15 fall away while you turn your attention to building a new, truly healthy normal.

(This article was published in the April 29, 2020 Jackson Hole News and Guide).

Size or shape doesn’t define your health

Your body is not a billboard for your health. Your body is your home.” — Amy Pershing, founder of Bodywise

When we look at our health and bodies from this perspective, we can make room for self-compassion, tolerance and patience. Yet American culture focuses the lens on our physical appearance, convincing us that our health is defined by our size or shape. This is a distorted idea of health.

We need to zoom out. We need to widen the lens and look deeper into an evolved definition of health. We can’t assume someone’s health status, abilities or goals based on the size or shape of her body.

“Fit bodies don’t necessarily tell the story of a healthy person, nor do (larger) bodies tell the story of a lazy person,” wrote Erin Brown, an author for Girls Gone Strong, a body-positive health-and-fitness website focused on female empowerment. “You can’t know everything about a person’s behavior or life by simply looking at her body.”

No ideal shape or size

Healthism — a preoccupation with health as a primary achievement of well-being, as first defined by political economist Robert Crawford — emphasizes personal responsibility while ignoring important social determinants of health. In a world steeped in dieting culture and healthism, it can be assumed that many people have already been trying to change their eating habits (maybe for years), and their inability to sustain such changes has resulted in feelings of shame and self-doubt.

Thus, trying to maintain or attain a body that culture portrays as healthy may take us further away from health.

The truth: We’re not all meant to be some “ideal” size or shape. If we all ate exactly the same way and had identical exercise regiments we would still look vastly different from one another.

Body diversity is part of what makes us human.

“The body is our home, our temple. Just as everyone’s literal home looks different so does everyone’s body and that is something to be celebrated and respected,” local yogi Ariel Mann said. “If we can cultivate inner peace and a feeling of home within, then we can take that with us everywhere rather than looking to external sources to feel comfortable, welcome and at home.”

Widen the lens, redefine health

What does an evolved definition of health look like?

Health is mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. It’s about nourishing your whole self, looking through a wider lens from a whole human being perspective, not just your physical body. It encourages us to honor our deepest self and empowers us to see our truth. Health exists on a continuum that varies with time and circumstance for each individual.

And one thing that health doesn’t define? Your self-worth.

Factors that affect our health include: genetics, environment, life experiences, access to health care, socioeconomic status, culture, trauma, illness, age, community, education, social support, sleep, spirituality, stress level, stigma, self-esteem, safety, self-care routine, employment and job security, physical activity, mental health, relationship with food, body and self, individual thoughts, feelings, beliefs, happiness, relationships, connection, sense of purpose … you see where I’m going here.

So how can we honor true health?

One way is to speak our authentic truth, to tell our stories and to express our experiences as a human being. We often struggle to speak openly about what we are really experiencing in our lives and what’s really affecting our health. When we focus on weight, thinking we need to change the size and shape of our body, our lens focuses on food and exercise — a very narrow view.

When we widen the lens we see all the things that impact health.

Perhaps you’ve been through a divorce. Maybe you’ve experienced an illness, injury, death in the family or a traumatic life experience. Yet somehow your body is the problem? We need to reinforce the complexity of the human experience instead of reinforcing health as the pinnacle of success and happiness.

Last month I read an article in The New York Times, “Why Your Cardiologist Should Ask Your About Your Love Life,” in which cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar describes research suggesting diet and exercise alone are not enough to roll back heart disease.

“It is increasingly clear that our hearts are sensitive to our emotional system — to the metaphorical heart, if you will. Doctors like myself are trained to think of the heart as a machine that we can manipulate with the tools of modern medicine,” Jauhar wrote. “Those manipulations, however, must be accompanied by greater attention to the emotional life that the heart, for so many years, was believed to contain.”

But what are we told by experts to do when our health is poor? Exercise more. Eat better.

While certainly these can be healthy strategies, we need to look at our health from a whole human being perspective. It’s time for a paradigm shift for health. Let’s widen the focus of the lens and see ourselves as more than our physical bodies.

You can decide what health means to you. Redefine health.

Like yourself. Be a rebel.

(This article was published in the October 31, 2018 Jackson Hole News and Guide).

Check yourself: Fat isn’t a four-letter word

Though we believe fat is bad, it’s not our fault.

“Fat” has been promoted as a dirty word in American culture since World War II, when the diet and fitness industries promoted mass obsession with weight and body shape.

“In the United States, fat is seen as repulsive, ugly, unclean, obscene and above all as something to lose,” wrote Jana Evans Braziel in her book “Bodies Out of Bounds.”

Our culture has indoctrinated us to fear fat if we want to be good, happy and healthy. As a result, those assumptions are accepted as truths.

All weight gain is bad; all weight loss is good.

All thin people are happy; all fat people are unhappy.

All thin people are healthy; all fat people are unhealthy.

As a former exercise professional and “eat this, not that” nutritionist, I, too, believed those misguided statements as truth. It’s the constant narrative that we hear, see and feel every day.

I am asking you to challenge those assumptions. Critically analyze those statements instead of eating up everything we’ve been fed over the generations about bodies and fat. Let’s elevate the way we speak about body fat in our own bodies and other bodies. It matters.

Question fat phobia

First, let’s recognize that we are all affected by weight stigma, regardless of our shape, size, age, gender and more. We may live in fear of getting fat, or we may struggle daily trying to (or believing we need to) rid ourselves of it. It may affect us personally or affect someone we love.

We’re paying dearly for this fear of fat in our country and our community. Consider the following stories from Jackson Hole.

A 55 year-old woman avoids going to her favorite yoga class because she’s embarrassed by her reflection in the mirror. Yoga feeds her spirit, but she can’t bear the pain of seeing her own image.

A divorced man in his 40s spends hours working out at the gym, agonizing over his changing body and trying to reclaim the body he had in his 30s. He feels the pressure to have a ripped, masculine “Jackson” body.

A teenage girl feels ashamed at the doctor’s office after being weighed and told to lose weight. It was assumed that she didn’t workout and eat healthy, when, in fact, she did.

A mom feels embarrassed by her post-baby body. She won’t take her kids to the rec center because she’d have to wear a swimsuit.

A woman in her 30s struggles with an eating disorder and is complimented for her thin body. The compliments reinforce her belief that thin is ideal and healthy and that fat is “bad.”

You get the picture. We dread trying on clothes. We isolate ourselves by declining invitations to places where we can’t control the food. We buy the Skinny Buddha tea, hopeful. We casually bash our jiggly arms in daily conversations with our friends. We bake cookies for our kids, but we won’t have any, or at best, “just one.”

These are our stories, our experiences living in a body in Jackson and in our country. It’s time for us to make an investment in changing how we speak about our own and other bodies so we can tell new stories, because it’s costing us.

Fearing fat comes at a cost

Fat phobia is keeping us from living our lives fully.

Our culture’s fear and hatred of fat holds us hostage, trapping us with hyperfocused food rules and obsessive exercise routines to maintain our bodies. It restricts us, keeps us stuck in a waiting zone to get on with our lives, if or when we change our bodies.

As you read these stories I imagine you felt the loss of precious physical, mental and emotional energy, your own or someone you love’s, deep in your heart.

We will remain stuck in this fat-fear cycle year after year unless we make a radical shift and change how we as a society speak about fat and our bodies.

Let’s begin by banning fat talk. I think we can agree that making negative comments about our own bodies and others’ bodies benefits no one. It keeps us stuck believing there’s a “right way” to have a body. It keeps us from the reality that body diversity is part of the human experience. It keeps us believing the statements that culture has fed us about body size as truths.

When you criticize your own body or judge another body ask yourself, “Who’s benefiting from my insecurities?” The quick answer: the $70 billion diet industry.

On the flip side we must also recognize that comments we believed are positive, such as complimenting someone for weight loss, aren’t always a compliment. They can, in fact, be harmful.

Before you make any comment, check yourself. Pause. Reflect. See your own humanness and see the humans living inside these bodies, not just the bodies.

The assumptions that society has led us to believe are not blanket truths. Question them because the belief that fat is a four-letter word, “repulsive, ugly, unclean, obscene and above all as something to lose,” is keeping us from living fully in this one beautiful life.

“What if you wake up some day, and you’re 65 or 75, and you never got your memoir written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy,” Anne Lamott wrote. “It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”

Let’s not end up here. Live fully today.

Like yourself. Be a rebel.

(This article was published in the November 28, 2018 Jackson Hole News and Guide).

Dear diet — it’s not me, it’s you, so goodbye

Dear Diet Culture,

Things just aren’t working out between us.

You make me feel ashamed when I’ve eaten a “bad” food. You make me feel dirty if I haven’t eaten “clean.” You’ve taken away my personal autonomy to choose what to eat and enjoy eating.

I will no longer allow you to judge my self-worth by my food choices or my body size or shape. You’ve kept me from having the relationship that I truly I desire — peace with food and my body.

While I used to feel guilty for cheating on you, I’ve learned that there’s no cheating when it comes to food. I did not marry kale and go behind its back to rendezvous with chocolate chip cookies.

My self-trust and ability to sense true biological hunger and fullness has eroded. Your restriction and deprivation intensify my cravings and make me feel like I am overeating or a failure when I inevitably desire half-in-half in my morning coffee.

You’ve made me a slave to the scale and its number, deciding for me whether I am going to have a good or bad day. You’ve made me feel dissatisfied with my body unless it fits culture’s “ideal.” And I am angry with you for judging me by my body size and shape assuming that I don’t take care of myself.

I will no longer socially isolate myself in order to control my food more easily. You’ve made me preoccupied with food, especially those dang carbohydrates. I’m breaking up with you because I don’t believe that bread is inherently bad. Especially if it’s a slice of crispy, warm Persephone Bakery bread.

You’ve promised me a better life with a new and improved body, but I know that this awesome life is happening now, not if or when.

I know that you will try to seduce me into staying in this relationship by enticing me with the latest, greatest eating plan in the New Year. I know there’s a better way for me to take care of my health and make peace with food and my body.

You’re just not right for me. I am so over you.

Yet I’ll be honest. I am afraid to break up with you.

I am fearful that without you I won’t know how to control my food and my body. If diets worked, the one I started with you last January would have done the trick and I wouldn’t be thinking about the next one.

And you don’t fool me. I know that “diets” are out. In order to stay hip and relevant and market to the next wave of dieters, you, the $70-billion diet industry, have ditched the word diet and hijacked the words “wellness,” “health” and “clean eating” to focus my attention away from the negative press that diets don’t work. But the strategies remain the same — restrictive eating with short-lived results. You seduce me with quick fixes, 30-day plans, 10-day detoxes, promising it will be different this time, because it’s not a diet.

You’ve lured me into pseudo-dieting, unconscious dieting. I might not be on a eating plan but I’m still stuck in dieting mentality. I limit my carbohydrate grams. I am obsessed with eating only foods that are healthy, also known as orthorexia. I have rules about when I should eat. I pay penance for eating “bad” foods by doing extra exercise. I sometimes put on a “false food face” in public by skipping the dessert at dinner to then go home and eat my sweets in privacy, feeling guilty when I eat nutritionally deficient foods.

No matter what you call it, a diet is still a diet if you “eat sparingly or according to prescribed rules,” at least according to Merriam-Webster. The language may have changed but the diet remains.

Diet Culture, you’re the problem. It’s not me. Nor is my body the problem.

In 2019 I’m starting a new relationship. I will nourish not only my physical health, but also the health of my mind and spirit. Because what’s health if it doesn’t take into consideration stress levels and my mental health?

And nope, Diet Culture, you will no longer dictate my ideal body shape.

My ideal body shape is whatever shape my body is when I am nourishing it without restriction and participating in movement without obligation.

Diet Culture, we’re breaking up. It’s not me. It’s you.

No longer yours,

Radical Acceptance

(This article was published in the December 27, 2018 Jackson Hole News and Guide).