All posts by Isabel Foxen Duke

How to do “health” without dieting

“How do I make ‘healthy’ choices without falling back into diet-mentality?” 

This is a big question (which I cover at length in my coaching programs), but here are some key conceptsto consider when addressing this important question, as well as some of my most popular blog posts on this topic:

#1 – CHECK YOUR MOTIVATIONS

The most common reason that attempts at ‘health’ fall apart, is that people confuse—or commingle—their desire for healthwith their desire for thinness

Making ‘healthful’ choices for the sake of actual health(e.g. balanced blood sugar, increased energy, improved digestion, etc.) is a very different biological and psychological process than making ‘healthful’ choices for the purpose of weight control (a.k.a. dieting).

Confusing these two motivations—or letting hopes of thinness interfere with your health decisions—is one of the most common causes of rebound, obsessive thoughts, binge-eating, and/or “falling off the wagon.”

More on this here.

#2 – “HEALTH” must include “MENTAL HEALTH”

Diet culture trains us to focus on food choices as the predominant determinant of health…when in reality, food choices are only a sliver of the pie.It is widely evidenced that stress, stigma, and our emotional world play an enormous role in our physical health outcomes…not to mention our general happiness, which in my opinion, is the whole point of pursuing health, to begin with.

If your pursuit of health is making you stressed out or unhappy, it’s time to seriously reconsider your definition of health—to one that includes *mental health* and quality of life.Our pursuit of health should support our happiness and well-being, not compromise it. This may mean having a cupcake for no reason sometimes, and it will definitely mean learning to let go “imperfect” health choices when (not if) they occur.

More on this here.

#3 – HEALTH IS NOT A MORAL ISSUE

Even if you are approaching health from a *truly* weight-neutral lens (which is unlikely…I have yet to meet a client who wasn’t struggling with some form of fatphobia), you may still fall into “on-and-off-the-wagon” thinking if you feel emotionally attachedto performing health “correctly.”

In other words, if you feel anxious or badly about yourself when you make “unhealthful” choices…be prepared to feel stressed out around food frequently…and possibly rebound as a result. 

More on this here & here.

#4 – HEALTH IS A SPECTRUM, NOT A BINARY

Approaching “health” as a binary—
that is,

a thing we can achieve or failat,
a thing that is black or white,
a wagon we can fall on or off of,

is not a useful or realistic paradigm. 

It’s more accurate to understand health as something that’s constantly moving and changing on a spectrum basis—a continuous gray area that we’re swimming around in all the time.

Learning to live comfortably “in the gray” is critical for both sanity and sustainability. 

More on this here.

#5 – DOING “HEALTHY” THINGS IS EASIER THAN NOT DOING “UNHEALTHY” THINGS. 

If you’re in early recovery from what I like to call “post-diet-stress,” restriction for any reason (including weight-neutral ‘health’) may not be entirely realistic for you right now. And that’s okay—you have to meet yourself where you are. 

That being said, there are so many ways to improve health (including food-related conditions, like diabetes) that have *nothing* to do with restriction.For instance, moving your body, getting lots of fiber/protein, eating regular meals, etc., are all things you can ADDinto your life to help manage blood sugar, for instance, without actively restricting anything. 

This may sound simplistic, but I feel compelled to point it out since so many recovering dieters immediately leap to what they should “take out” when pursuing health—as if restriction were the *only* way to improve health markers.

The adage,“health isn’t all about avoiding things that make us feel bad—it’s also about adding in things that make us feel good,” is especially important for those recovering from “post-diet stress,” who may not be able to handle restriction (even for ‘health’ purposes)all that well.

Was this post helpful? For more insights on having a “normal,” non-crazy-making relationship with food, check out my free video training series here

Why people keep dieting despite logic or rationality

“When I’m thin, people will take me seriously at work, look up to me, and I’ll get promoted.

“When I’m thin, everyone will think I’m cool and attractive and want to be my friend.”

“When I’m thin, everyone will want to date me, and I’ll finally find the person I’m ‘supposed’ to be with (and I’ll never have to worry about losing them).”

“When I’m thin, I’ll never feel lonely, rejected, or scared about my future—because I’ll have the friends, the family and the white picket fence.”

The fantasy that we can diet our way into safety, love, power, and acceptance—and diet our way out of judgment, powerlessness, oppression or rejectionunderlies almost all body-image or “food issues” to some degree or another, and makes dieting the true compulsion so difficult to give up.

No one tries to control their weight in a vacuum—we only try to control our weight…in an attempt to control something else entirely.

The problem is…the fantasy never meets the reality…

Most diets become binges, rebound weight gain, weight cycling, etc.; and those who are “successful” at weight suppression often suffer even more brutal physical and psychological damages on account of long-term deprivation.

Irrespective of weight, we find we’re not able to control the opinions of others…we still struggle in relationships; we still struggle with finances or career choices, or family-life challenges.

As it turns out, you can’t diet your way out of pain or uncertainty.

(God knows you’ve been trying long enough.)

At the end of the day, recovering from “feeling crazy around food” is about learning to face life’s toughest challenges head-on—rather than sit tirelessly in the delusion that you can diet your way out of them.

Best Binge-Eating Recovery PODCASTS

For those of you craving some audio support in your recovery journey, here are some new podcast episodes to check out (RE: binge-eating, emotional eating, Intuitive Eating, etc.)

I’ve broken up my list of favorite episodes by category so you can pick and choose whatever sounds most relevant to you.

#1. “What if I’m not dieting, but still binge-eating?” 

You can listen to me answer this all-too-common question on this podcast episode with Julie Duffy Dillon. This episode is short and sweet, and covers super important core concepts in my work—including,

the difference between “emotional eating” and “binge-eating,”
how diet-mentality destroys our best efforts at binge-eating recovery,
why judging ourselves for emotional eating is a common cause of binge-eating
and ultimately, why the
don’t-binge-eat dietdoesn’t work very well.  

It’s a great episode for new and long-term listeners alike. Here’s the link to check it out.

Also—not exactly new—but if you missed this epic interview I did with Jessi Haggerty a few weeks back, make sure to check it out. We cover my *personal* story recovering from restriction and binge-eating in depth (including major turning points and “aha” moments)—a critical interview for anyone who may have missed it. Here’s the link once more.

#2. As you may know, I think we all need to just calm the fuck down about emotional eating. 

I recently shared my story with Dietitians Unplugged, including why it’s essential that we calm down about emotional eating, what it meant for me to “hit bottom” in my relationship with food, and why it took so long to turn the ship around.

Notable quotes from this interview include things like: “eating food ‘just for fuel,’ is like having sex ‘just for reproduction’….it’s unrealistic and misses the point.” Check out this interview here.

I also discuss these topics in depth with Sarah Vance on the Reclaiming You Podcast AND this amazing episode with On Air with Ella. It’s raining podcasts!

Additionally, I get the most adamant I’ve ever gotten about the critical importance of de-villainizing emotional eating in this podcast episode with Christy Harrison. We talk about everything from how negative emotional eating narratives harm recovery to why spending your life trying to avoid illness may not be a life well spent. This episode definitely covers more advanced topics and uses some more advanced language, so if you’re new—I recommend listening to my earlier episodes with Christy first and then move on to this latest episode thereafter. You can find my first and second interviews with Christy here and here.

#3. Curious about my take on “food addiction?” 

Okay, so this one isn’t new…but one of my favorite interviews I gave this year was with the HOME Podcast about the stark differences between compulsive behaviors with food (and other biological necessities) compared with chemical addictions (like drugs or alcohol). Click here to check it out.

#4. What is “Fatphobia?” Why Size-Acceptance Activism? 

Katie Dalebout was one of the first people to ever interview me on a podcast 4+ years ago. This is a reunion episode for us where we talk about everything from the history of weight-bias, to dealing with food allergies in recovery, and much, much more. Katie’s also a Master Class Alum. Click here to check it out.

On a final note, I know this list is pretty exhaustive—so don’t feel any pressure to listen to every show. Pick one or two topics that resonate with you and enjoy those episodes at whatever pace makes sense for you.

If you’re brand new to these topics—you may also want to browse the following introductory blog posts, that explain core ideas:

  1. How to Stop Binge-Eating
  2. What is Intuitive Eating (IFD Style)

Struggling with Intuitive Eating? FAQs with Evelyn Tribole

Evelyn Tribole is one of the co-authors of the pivotal book, Intuitive Eating, and is a total science and research badass. I recently got a chance to ask her some critical questions about her work, including topics like: 

1. Common pitfalls and challenges that clients may struggle with early on in Intuitive Eating…and how to move past them.

2. The critical importance of shifting our mindset (and diet-mentality) around food, rather than simply approaching Intuitive Eating like it’s the “hunger-and-fullness diet.”

3. We do some serious myth-de-bunking on the divisive topic of “food addiction” (which I also discuss at length in this podcast), and discuss why shifting our perspective on this issue is critical to recovery.

4. We talk about the highly sensitive topic of “gentle nutrition,” and how to approach this concept safely (and sanely) in recovery, with respect for different health situations and scenarios.

5. For the history nerds out there, we’ll also discuss the historical evolution of Intuitive Eating, and how it’s shifted to include principles like Health At Every Size,  Weight Set Point Theory, and the critical need for body-image work and stigma-resistance work in ED and diet-recovery treatment.

Without further ado, I hope you enjoy the track below!

(You can also find more posts about these subjects in my blog at the top of this page).