I have always been a voracious reader. When I was about ten or eleven, I won a class competition in reading the most pages in a set amount of time, beating my best friend whom I was always in some kind of competition with.
A library bus used to stop in our tiny rural village every two weeks and I would borrow stacks and sit in the cosy nest I had made underneath the stairs and just read and read and read.
I have other memories of laying in bed on a Sunday morning, ignoring my body’s need for food, whilst I kept turning page after page.
My child self was a horse girl through and through and almost all of the books I read from age eight until I was in my late teens were in this genre but over the years my tastes and interests have evolved. However, I have kept reading.
I also got into the habit of buying the books I wanted to read. Which is fine. I don’t mind spending money on books, especially if it will support the author. There is just one small challenge with this though… and that is that the books accumulate over time. And even though I have kept buying more bookshelves over the years I still seem to end up with stacks of books on the floor.
When I moved about three years ago, I notices yet again that I owned mostly books. Followed by a large amount of house plants…! Moving in with another book-lover has meant that we’ve had to compromise or allowing our small living room to turn into a mini library. Not a shabby idea perhaps.
The space constraint has also meant that I have gotten into the habit of using the library again, which is such an amazing service. Libraries makes books widely available and affordable and I count myself very lucky that we have a great one in the small rural town that I currently live in.
Because I love to read, and I love to learn, reading books about weight inclusive approaches, intuitive eating, moving away from dieting, how to heal your relationship with food, body image and any and all other related things, have been a big part of both my personal and professional journey.
So today I want to share with you five of my (many favourites) in this space. I could see this turning into a series because there are several topics within this genre.
Let’s talk about five of my favourite non-diet books that focuses on healing your relationship with food.
(And apologies in advance to anyone who finds these kinds of lists inspiring to*more* book purchases#sorrynotsorry.)
I also want to say that this list is by no means exhaustive and that there are so many new amazing non-diet books coming out all of the time. I will most likely do another round up of these in the future. Another caveat worth mentioning, because this is internet after all is that Mindful Eating have some bits that are not 100% weight inclusive or that tangents on some healthism. So why have I included this one in my list anyway?
Well because I believe in reader discernment and that it is important to not fall into the same black-and-white thinking that keeps us stuck with food. It is also interesting to read work that are written years ago to see how much, or not much at all, thinking and knowledge can evolve over time.
I mention this book here too, because I still believe that there are more good and helpful content it than what is problematic. You may not agree with me on this, and I am ok with that too.
I have listed them in no particular order. If one suggestion calls more to you than another, trust that. Happy reading x
– Intuitive Eating – A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach by Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch. 4th Ed. Published in 2020
This seminal work is, I would think one of the most popular books of entry point when someone is contemplating moving from diets but unsure of where to go next.
The first principle of Intuitive Eating is reject Diet Culture, so there is no qualms about what needs to happen first before anything else can happen.
I first read Intuitive Eating in 2014, then the 3rd Ed, and what I can remember was a feeling of relief as well as a recognition that here was something that I had been feeling for a long time but had not been able to name, until then.
Evelyn and Elyse wrote their initial version back in 1995, when many of the current day advocates were barely born(!). They have done some heavy editing since that early version to remove any and all content that was not entirely weight inclusive and I think this clearly demonstrates how things evolve and the work necessary to keep editing and updating work, as one’s own personal learning and feedback grows.
When I read this book back in 2014 it opened up to a new direction for me professionally and it confirmed a large part of the personal recovery path that I was already on, however I didn’t know any other nutrition professionals that were familiar with this kind of approach. It felt lonely. Thankfully things have changes and the number of weight inclusive, non-diet professionals are growing, even here in Ireland.
What I like about the Intuitive Eating book and this approach is that it is organised in 10 principles. That gives a good framework, as well as some helpful structure to the process of working through it.
That said, you can read through this book from cover to cover but doing the actual work takes time. Weeks, months and even years. And it is not necessarily a linear process either. But, starting by reading the book is indeed a good place to start. There are over 400 published studies to date that shows up on PubMed if you put intuitive eating into the search bar so it is safe to say that it is becoming increasingly more validates by the research field in the almost 30 years since the original book’s inception.
– Body of Truth by Harriet Brown. Published 2015
As far as I can remember this book was recommended to me from the professional non-diet community. The tagline to this book is “How Science, History and Culture drive our Obsession with Weight and What We Can Do About It.”
Harriet shares her own journey of yo-yo dieting and healing from weight obsession to a place of body acceptance. Her background is in journalism and her writing is really accessible. The book weaves personal stories, both her own and others’, with exploration of the science around weight and health.
If you are someone who really enjoys this type of writing and story telling, rather than having it all lined the facts lined up with bullet points and advice, then this book is for you.
It is not so much about sharing ideas of what you can do instead of dieting but rather taking you on a journey of exploration of why you feel compelled or pulled to do it, and reflections about how things might be different if you don’t.
Harriet Brown invites us to “ Think beyond the messages we are getting a thousand times a day. To question the conventional wisdom. You may wind up making the same exact choices in your life as you do now, but at the very least you’ll be making those choices more consciously. Or you may wind up with an entirely different point of view, one that could help set you free from the painful and punishing rules we’ve been living by for so long.”
– A Shadow of A Diet by Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel. Published 2014, 2nd Ed.
This book is written for professionals who work with clients who are struggling with binge eating and emotional eating. If you are someone who fits this description, I cannot recommend this book enough! It is detailed, written from a weight inclusive, non-diet lens and contains both different concepts such as attuned eating as well as a host of case studies to illustrate the dynamics which are present when it comes to binge eating and emotional eating.
Again, this was a book that was recommended to me through my professional network and it has been an incredibly valuable learning resource since I read it initially in 2017.
Judith Matz is a wealth of knowledge and has been working in the field of eating disorders since the mid 1980s. What makes this book so incredible, in my eyes, is that it does a beautiful job of explaining all the challenges, as well as all the nuances when working with healing binge eating and emotional eating from a truly weight inclusive, non-diet approach. Something that still feels rare when a lot of people who are struggling with this both actively seek out diets and therapists / nutrition professionals / health care professionals either suggests that they should lose weight or believe that losing weight will result in better body image and greater self-esteem, not recognising that dieting doesn’t work for the majority of people long-term or that dieting and restriction is a big part of what is driving the binge eating behaviour…!
If you are not someone who works with clients on their relationship with food, but rather looking at a resource so support your own relationship with food, then Judith’s other book The Diet Survivor’s Handbook might be a better fit.
– Reclaiming Body Trust – A Path To Healing and Liberation by Hilary Kinavey & Dana Sturtevant. Published 2022.
This is one of the more recent books that I have added to my collection. Having been a big fan of Hilary and Dana’s work for years, buying this book was a must when it came out last year was a must.
Their work was some of the first place where I came across the intersection of the intersection of eating issues with wider systems of oppression such as racism, poverty, gender non conformity and weigh discrimination. The have been talking about these topics and intersections for a long time and I for one, am immensely grateful that they have put their knowledge and learning in a book.
This book is about both our personal experience and healing of disordered eating, as well as exploring and educating on the wider systems and influences at play. Hilary and Dana shows us all the external influences and injustices that impacts our relationship with food, eating and our bodies. Many factors that are outside our individual control. However they are also giving us tools, practices and questions to reflect on moving forward so that we can reclaim our sovereignty but more than that, hope and insights to how we can collectively work towards dismantling the oppressive social structures and work towards body liberation for ALL bodies.
It is a powerful read, though it can be challenging too, if you are new to non-diet approaches. There are as much to learn as there is to unlearn here.
– Mindful Eating – A Guide to Rediscover A Healthy and Joyful Relationship With Food by Jan Chozen Bays, Published 2017. Revised edition.
There is so much I love about this book. Jan Chozen Bays is an MD who is also a Buddhist practitioner and this book is rooted in mindfulness meditation and the spirit of mindfulness. The part I particularly love is her deep dive into what she calls the Nine Hungers. In this part of the book she explores the many facets of hunger, both physical and the more emotional types of hunger like heart hunger. Recognising hungers that can be satisfied with foods, as well as hungers that we may try and rectify with food but that are also about yearnings for deeper emotional and spiritual needs, is powerful work.
For me this is the more profound part of Mindful Eating, which is more that just eating slowly and chewing diligently. She does talk about these elements too, towards the end of the book and it is here, where some of the practices feels a little more “diet-y” to me, and where you might have proceed with caution depending where you currently find yourself on your journey with a more peaceful relationship with food, eating and your body.
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I hope that this list will prove helpful on your journey of learning, unlearning, repairing and healing. This is only a small selection of some of my favourite non-diet books. There are new ones being published all the time, which is truly amazing. Though I am guessing for every non-diet, weight inclusive book on creating a better relationship with food there are probably ten others who will promise the world and his mother through the “weight loss diet that *will* work”. Only none of them really do, long-term.
Over the past 5 years or so I have been learning a lot from colleagues, teacher and people with lived experiences, who are doing incredibly courageous advocacy for the right to health, respect and care of people in bigger bodies and otherwise marginalised bodies.
It shouldn’t have to be seen as brave work, but advocacy and activism, especially when done by people who are marginalised is brave because of the pushbacks and often threats of violence to that person.
My own Thin Privilege has protected me in many ways from this harm and it was not until I learned from people with lived experience that for example, when you present at the Dr Surgery with any type of condition that as a person in a bigger body, you will most likely be served with unsolicited weight loss advice. That is how weight bias in medicine works.
Maybe you have had this experience and it has left you feeling full of shame, or perhaps you had no idea, like I did, that this is a all too common experience for folx.
It wasn’t until I stated to learn about the systemic oppression that happens to bodies, who are outside the societal norm, that I began to understand that body image and how we feel about our own reflection isn’t just an individual issue. It has much deeper roots than that.
Yes it is important to become aware of how we speak, think and judge our own bodies, but we also need to wake up to how we, and society at large speak, think and judge other people’s bodies.
We need to realise the internalised fat phobia and anti-fat bias that we have been steeped in through society’s influences. You might have gotten it directly from you caregivers, but even if you didn’t pick it up at home, the message that thin is best is really everywhere.
The thing about internalised fat phobia / anti-fat bias is that it seeps into everyone. No matter what body size you are, chances are that you are carrying some of it, and until we dismantle weight stigma and weight discrimination, it hurts everyone. But it doesn’t hurt everyone in equal measures.
I am really no expert in talking about weight oppression so I am going to link to a group of excellent people whom I have learned from and that I am continuing to learn from at the bottom of this post.
I live in a straight sized body and the one thing that I have been, and that flares up every so often is my own internalised BS.
I also witness in my clients that the internalised fat phobia / anti-fat bias does not depend on body size. Which is why trying to make our bodies smaller will really not make it go away. It might give some relief temporarily but since dieting doesn’t work for 95% of the people who try them and is the leading cause of developing an eating disorder then it really isn’t the way to go, is it?
If you want to heal your relationship with food, eating and your body letting go of intentional weight pursuits, aka dieting is a necessity.
A few years ago when reflecting on my own relationship with food and eating, and the journey I have been on, I discovered a triggering comment on the size of my body (which in fairness at the time was still well within what society is considering “normal” & “healthy”), which lead me to start my first diet and subsequently struggling with over a decade of disordered eating.
From then on, I was at war with my body.
Denying my body its needs in form of food, rest, play and connection.
I can realise now, with my adult eyes and knowledge, decades later, that what I was most likely looking for was a sense of safety and belonging. A desire to fit in.
And in my desperate desire to fit in and belong, I abandoned myself. I disconnected me from my body, without understanding that my body is also me. It is my home for this lifetime and it is the vessel from which I experience life.
How can we feel safe, grounded and anchored into ourselves if we are simultaneously trying to force our bodies into some societal norms of what bodies “should look like”? Always trying to fix them and make them conform, so that we are acceptable, even palatable and thus fit in.
The desire and external pressure to do so is what is known as Diet Culture. It is very insidious and we are being bombarded from all angels with the message that we are not good enough as we are.
Somehow our bodies are not trustworthy. They are unruly and need to be controlled, often at all costs. Regardless of what body size our bodies actually are, this message all too often becomes internalised and we decide to do something about it. I.e. diet.
*It is also worth noting here, that this message of “not good enough” and body conformity conveniently commodifies our bodies in new ways, so that we can be sold “fixes”, to our internal struggles. Which means someone is making a lot of money of our body insecurities. Convenient huh?! And I doubt that is by accident. This is how capitalism works. (A topic for another day).
Diets, by design are restrictive. Often it is about cutting calories, or portion sizes. Or food groups. With the intention of trying to control the size of our body. Sometimes it is even disguised as something we do in the name of health. But as long as you are following a plan, set by someone else that has a bunch of food rules and is aimed at helping you lose weight, it is a diet.
Here’s the thing; How can we move beyond surviving into thriving if we are not honouring our physical needs in the first place?
Is it really possible to establish a sense of belonging, if we are always trying to make ourselves and our bodies into something they are not?
I doubt it.
Each time you are denying your body’s cry for food, you are essentially telling yourself in real time that you are not worthy of love and care. It’s oppressive and abusive. (And just to be clear I am not talking about situations of food insecurity or specific feeding challenges here. I am talking about dieting and restrictive eating).
In order to (re)build body trust, which is a two way connection between you and your body, you need to consistently over time meet that physical hunger with food. Over and over and over again. This is how the repair will happen and trust will build.
But you still really want to lose some weight? I get it. It is ok to want it. We all live in Diet Culture land.
As discussed previously, weight stigma is real. It does make it easier to live in a body that is not discriminated against. Yet actively pursuing weight loss is such a futile, life sucking pursuit, which it turns out is also a pretty good predictor of weight gain, over time(insert research resource).
So how can you move forward?
I believe it is important to acknowledge the internal voices of fat shaming, examine and understand where you learnt these, and if/how they might still be trying to keep you safe in some way.
Ask yourself, “Whose voice is that?”.
If you are in a smaller body and experience Thin Privilege, learn about what it is like for someone to live in a body where society feels like it has some right to judge and criticise based on a particular body size. And also spend some (potentially uncomfortable) time to examine your own thoughts, believes and biases about people in bigger bodies.
Pay attention to the words you use when you speak about your own body or other bodies, because as we know words hold tremendous power.
Shame never helps or heals. Kindness does.
May we together create a compassionate space where ALL bodies are welcome to heal, worthy of care and to be blessed with health.
May we let go of the oppression perpetuated by Diet Culture through actively pursuing weight loss.
May you recognise your worth as a human being, just as you are.
Some great people to follow and learn from when it comes to body liberation:
If you are new to the concept of Intuitive Eating, and haven’t read the actual book but just been picking up bite size pieces from Social Media, your idea of intuitive eating might be something like “Eat all you want, whenever you want”. Or “Eat only when hungry and stop when you are satisfied / comfortably full.”
There are truths to these ideas but it isn’t the whole truth and there are much more nuance to this way of coming back to attunment with our bodies when it comes to food and eating.
Yes we want to get to a place where we can honour our physical hunger, instead of denying it. And it is lovely to be able to stop eating when you feel comfortably full and deliciously satisfied. But in order to get there, you most likely need to do a few things first.
There are also times when waiting to eat until you are physically hungry is impractical and for some people the hunger cues are less accessible than for others. However this doesn’t mean that your body doesn’t need food. It means that you need some reliable structure to make sure that you feed yourself despite the absence of cues and signals.
Often when trying to recover from an eating disorder eating tends to be either chaotic or restrictive (and often both!) and in order to get to a place of “intuitive eating”, where we are attuned to our bodies’ signals of hunger and fullness we tend to need some structure so that we can make sure that the needs of eating regularly and eating adequately are met.
What does structured eating look like?
Having some structure to your eating includes planning and shopping for food. Because it so much easier to honour our hunger when we have food available and can make an easy meal or snack.
Planning can include making a weekly menu and buying the ingredients required for those meals.
It can also include batch cooking and having easy accessible freezer meals, frozen vegetables and pantry staples at your disposal so that it is easy to make food that are filling and satisfying even when time and energy is scarce.
Don’t forget how convenient leftovers can be for this also. Make some extra when you are cooking an prepping anyway so that you have food for next day lunch boxes or a meal that just requires reheating!
Structured eating can also include reminders which helps us make sure that our bodies get fed in a timely manner. This is particularly useful if your hunger cues are faint, somewhat unreliable or if you simply struggle to forget how to eat when engrossed in something really interesting, and your attention is elsewhere.
Of course, having food to hand and easy accessible snacks will help when your alarm goes off to tell you that it is time to eat.
Structured eating can help you build body trust and help foster intuitive eating by ensuring regularity and adequacy with food.
What makes structured eating different from following a diet plan?
Well for starters: The fact that YOU decided on the structure and the type of foods that is included.
When you are doing your planning and shopping you chose foods that you like, can prepare and are within your budget.
Instead of following a plan with foods, that you might not even like or don’t have a clue how to cook and prepare.
Sometimes, I help my clients with this in session, where we brainstorm together what the weekly menu plan can look like. This is a collaborative effort. Not me making a plan telling you what you should and shouldn’t eat but instead together figuring out what it is you like eating what is satisfying, within the context of your daily life.
Years of dieting can make this challenging so sometimes having someone else to explore with can help.
With structured eating the difference is that the structure is there to be supportive and flexible. Not rigid like a diet plan. You can’t fail with your own menu plan. If you decide in the moment to go with something different to what you had planned, that is fine. Attuned eating and intuitive eating are all about flexibility.
The final thing that I also want to mention is that part of a more structured eating, which promotes flexibility is that there are times when you need to eat in preparation. Before you are really hungry. What I am talking about here is when you might be leaving the house and know that are most likely to be hungry later but at time when eating or access to food might be inconvenient or not possible.
So you choose to eat earlier because otherwise the risk of becoming hangry is impending.
One of the things that we work with in intuitive eating / mindful eating approaches are knowing when we are hungry, and moving through any barriers to meeting this basic need.
If you have been going from diet, to diet with periods of “being good”, aka restricting and then feeling out of control and bingeing, I am guessing that your eating feels chaotic a lot of the time, but interspersed with times of also feeling in control.
Or maybe it just feel mostly chaotic, all of the time? And just thinking about restricting / dieting sends you straight to the pantry searching for something to eat…
If this is where you are currently finding yourself, please know that you are not alone. This is more common than you might think, but because this situation often is filled with so much shame we don’t tend to talk about it much with others. I certainly never did when I was in the midst of my own struggles.
I used to think in the midst of my own struggles that this was something that only I experienced. Now that I sit on the other side of the table, helping people find their way to a peaceful relationship with food, eating and their bodies I know that this struggle is really common.
Anyhow, so let’s talk about how you CAN reconnect to your own hunger cues and honour them. Because here’s the thing, life gets so much easier when we live in a body and with a brain that is consistently and adequately nourished!
Sometimes when starting out in this journey of reclaiming body trust and trust in ourselves, it feels scary and overwhelming. You might say “I can’t possibly trust my body to tell me what too eat and how much! If I do that, I will never stop eating!!”.
I know that it might feel like that. And one of the main reasons that you can’t stop is because you are restricting (physically, mentally, emotionally or a combination).
Maybe at this point what you are noticing when tuning into your physical hunger signals it that you can only feel them when you are at an extreme, like “hangry”, shaky, pain in stomach, low energy.
Or perhaps you’re not noticing much at all?
That is fine. This is a practice. It means that we must keep asking the question “How hungry am I”? And to keep listening for the answer.
First there might be nothing. And then there might be a whisper, long before you get to the roar (that might be the one that you are familiar with).
Paying attention to hunger and eating in this attuned way, does of course not mean that we ONLY eat when we are hungry. Sometimes that’s not possible and if our hunger cues are a bit all over the place that can leave us stuck in this chaotic place.
The first step is to put some structured eating in place. (Not the same as rigid eating!)
Structured eating is more like a scaffolding whilst you build you attuned eating muscles and your body trust.
Structured eating looks like:
Eating 3 meals a day + 1-2 snacks
Eating every 3-5h and gaps no longer than 6h
Eating a combination of fats / protein / carbohydrates with all of your main meals
Structured eating may need some forward planning too, making sure that you have food at home to cook and prepare meals and snacks. This may include making a menu plan of lunches and dinners (this helps take pressure of decision making when already hungry), having suitable snacks in your handbag / office / car / pantry.
After awhile of structured eating your subtle hunger cues might get a little louder and you are free to experiment with what it feels to meet that need in the moment, and less structure may be needed. However if having certain times and reminder helps you eat enough and regularly, there is nothing wrong with using this for as long or as much as is needed.
Was this helpful? Please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.
Have you ever heard the term “Last Supper Mentality”? I bet that even if you haven’t heard the term before, you have probably engaged in it, at least if you have ever prepared for any kind of diet.
“Last Supper Eating” is the eating that happens *before* intentional attempts of restriction. It can also be seasonal like Easter, when the chocolate bunnies are out in full force and you are gearing up for another diet to start a “get beach ready” diet as soon as Easter is done, which might mean that you end up eating more chocolate than what you had planned or what even feels good, just because in the back of your mind you know that chocolate will be off the menu for the coming weeks. So that means best to get in some extra now!
Like one of my recent Reclaiming Body Trust participants said “you do more damage in that anticipatory eating leading up to the next diet than when you are not restricting”. Revelatory!
Last Supper eating is part of the same Diet-Restrict-Binge cycle where backlash binges usually happens as soon as we finish the diet or when we can no longer keep up the restrictions. The same mechanisms are at play here – restriction. But in this case it is the anticipation of restriction that is driving it.
So how do you move away from “Last Supper Mentality” and this kind of binge eating?
My invitation to you is to explore this: What if restriction is not the answer?
What happens when you sit with this question? What comes up for you? What are you feeling in your body?
Restricting food, food rules, diet plans and any other variation of these often feel like safety. And it is really hard to let go of something that feels, on some level, that it would threaten our survival.
And… at the same time, at some point, we may arrive at a place where the cost of continuing dieting over and over, is simply too high and that it is time to do something different.
But if not Dieting then what?
For me I did arrive at a point where I could not put myself through that restrictive misery One.More.Time. As I stood on the scales for the umpteenth time and expected it to tell me that I deserved to be happy I had a lightbulb moment!
Why did I give so much power to this inanimate object? I didn’t have to wait to be happy until I weighted x kg /lb. It was something that I could give to myself now. Perhaps there where other ways to find happiness that had nothing to do with the scales?
Ever since that day I have been on a quest to find happiness that is not tied to what my body looks like.
Diet Culture keeps telling us that if our bodies just look a certain way, life will be good. And that’s not to say that living in a smaller body might not make life easier due to the privileges that can bring.
However, things that losing weight does guarantee us is this: health, friendships, intimate relationships, happiness, joy, contentment, creativity, freedom.
I get that the idea of giving up dieting can feel scary, especially if your eating feels chaotic right now.
Here’s a suggestion to start with: Take a sheet of paper, fold it down the middle and then write down all the benefits of being on a diet on one side and on the other side write down all of the costs of dieting.
Which list is longer? Are there any benefits that would be still beneficial even if weight loss was not the outcome main outcome? If so, are there ways to reach these that does not hyper focus on altering your body size / weight?
I hope this was helpful to explore letting go of those things that no longer serves you.
Disordered eating, dieting, restriction, and emotional eating is rooted in wisdom and the coping skills that came from it were helpful at one time, but they may no longer serve you now.
Separating the idea that your body must look a certain way to be worthy of care, food, love, belonging might feel new AND radical. That is because it is.
Living in a culture that places certain bodies in a hierarchy over others makes it radical to take up space and letting yourself live fully and unapologetically as you.
It doesn’t mean that a) You are not worthy to do so. You are worthy simply because you exists. And b) this is something that is only possible for others. It is possible for you too.