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.
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.
It’s been a really long time since I wrote a blog post here and I thought it would be appropriate to come back to blogging by telling you how I became a weight inclusive practitioner and why I practice through a non-diet, weight inclusive lens. If you want to read my personal story how I came to nutrition and decided to study Nutritional Therapy + a bit about my own complicated relationship with food eating on my body, it is here.
A few years into my new career it became quite clear that my passion is less so telling people what they should be eating, but rather helping people find their way back to having an uncomplicated relationship with food, so this means that how I work has evolved and changed over the years.
I learned through my own journey that dieting doesn’t work and that’s giving up the daily ritual weighing myself and handing over my power to the scales to let them dictate how I felt about and in myself allowed me to feel happier. Ditching the scales was the beginning of a journey to much more freedom and joy around food, and it also helped me developing more trust in my body.
Even with this personal experience I still believed that weight loss could be achieved without dieting. Now looking back, I am slightly embarrassed to say that my first set of business cards had the tagline “Lose weight without dieting”… But I suppose we all start our learning somewhere.
What I didn’t understand at the time, and I know that I am not alone in this, is that bodies tend to settle at a place where they feel happy once they are adequately fed, know that there is no more famine and we are at a place when we can meet our basic need of honouring our physical hungers.
The thing is that for some bodies this means they will settle at a place that is outside the “culturally acceptable norm”. This cultural “norm” is highly problematic and also as much a societal construct as anything else, and how we view and treat those bodies that deviate from this “norm” is equally problematic. Because my own body fits reasonably within this culturally accepted size, I realised how much I had been shielded, through my thin privilege, to the oppression, the blatant weight stigma and discrimination that those who don’t fit the culturally acceptable body size is experiencing on an ongoing basis.
Intentional weight loss pursuits does not work. At least not for the vast majority of people, long term. In fact, dieting is incredibly harmful and damaging to our relationship with food and our bodies, and it also harms our metabolism and possibly our physical health. Ongoing restrictions are not conducive to survival. That may be part of the reason why weight gain is typical after a period of dieting.
Research shows that going on a diet is the leading cause of people developing disordered eating and some of these people go on to developing full-blown eating disorders. I was lucky enough that I didn’t end up with a full blown eating disorder, however my eating and my relationship with my body was most certainly messed up for a long time.
Though I don’t feel like my initial foundational training was very weight centric (possibly because of the specific tutors I had), there was definitely some but because I wasn’t that clued in to it, I don’t think I noticed it as much. It was several years after my graduation that I came across the Health At Every Size (HAES) paradigm and taking a non-diet, weight inclusive stance. The idea that ALL bodies deserve respectful care, free from stigma is a given to me. However, I am learning that even the HAES paradigm is leaving some bodies outside the fold, it isn’t a perfect model by all means. However the early creators and fat activists who begun the movement decades ago, have paved the way for the immense work that is still there for us all to continue on today and into the future.
Over the years as I’ve become clear on my personal and professional values, it has become even more apparent that practicing from any other lens than a non-diet, weight inclusive one would be out of alignment with those values. I believe that all bodies (regardless of race, sexual orientation, religious background, size or health status) are inherently worthy and worthy of respect and respectful care. It wouldn’t be ethically to advocate for some behaviours that can be recognised as harmful for one population to be considered “helpful” for another. Furthermore, as someone who primarily work with helping people heal their relationship with food, eating and their bodies, it would be highly unethical of me to promote intentional weight loss, when this is often what has been the very trigger for their challenges.
In the past few years as I took the leap away from weight centric practice towards weight inclusivity I also learned that it is not just about helping my clients break free from the endless cycle of dieting, deprivation and bingeing but this has also opened the door to the much wider understanding of the harmful societal structures that allows for marginalisation, the roots fat phobia has in racism and even further over-arching structures such as the patriarchy and capitalism.
If I am going to be totally honest, these topics were not something that I learned about in nutrition college, but something I have learned (and continue to learn about) from peers, colleagues, books, blogs, podcasts etc.
The layers of complexity is vast and there’s so much nuance. I am far from an expert in this field, and because I don’t have lived experience of living in a marginalised body, I am immensely grateful to be learning from those that do, so that I can continue to learn and do better, in order to minimise any unintended harm + hopefully be part of the collective that chip away at breaking down these oppressive structures, whilst we are continuing to reimagining something new, that is fair and inclusive.
Diet Culture and weight stigma hurts us all, but they are even more harmful to those most marginalised where they can mean the denial of life affirming care. We can do better.