So you finished your six-month reset. a.) CONGRATS!!! You are freaking awesome and I am so happy for you. b.) What’s next?
Well…it’s time to move into Phase 2, aka the rest of your life. It’s time to live your life without an eating plan. How freeing! But also: terrifying.
That’s what so seductive about dieting: Diets give us a script to follow. Even if we don’t particularly like the role we’re playing (anxious, preoccupied, irritable — is that really who I am?) there’s a strange comfort in having a sense of structure. Diets offer a pretense of control and the promise of something new just around the corner: “Everything will be different when my body is different.”
But by now you know that there is no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. Just. More. Diets.
So…now what?? Keep doing the stuff you’ve always done — just without the guilt and shame that has been weighing you down all these years.
Go to work. Visit your friends. Plan a trip. Laugh a lot. Tackle your to-do list. Play with your kids. Take on more, or try to simplify. Set goals outside of your body. Do what feels right. Eat when you get hungry. Stop when you get full.
Over the last six months you’ve learned how to trust and accept your body, you’ve let your hunger hormones reset, and you’ve broken free from the binge-restrict-binge-restrict cycle with intuitive eating. And Phase 2 is all about helping these new skills stick forever and ever as you move beyond your dieting days.
I think of intuitive eating as a bridge you build above the nonsense and the noise of diet culture. You can still see and hear the raging waters below, but you know that you are safe and sound high above it all. Your intuitive eating bridge is solid and secure — it’s not a tightrope, don’t worry! — but it’s still smart to have some guardrails in place juuuust in case, to keep you from plunging back into the world of food and body obsession.
These are my guardrails, and I hope they will help you too. Here are six things to do during the next six months, and the next six after that, and the next six after that:
1. Check in with yourself. Often. The intuitive eater’s secret weapon is the gentle check-in. “Am I hungry? Do I want seconds? Do I want thirds?” etc etc etc. That may seem sort of obsessive, but with practice it establishes a habit of mindfulness and introduces neutral thought patterns around food. There’s no right or wrong answer to a check-in — it’s just about establishing a kind, non-judgmental dialogue with yourself. The gold standard to work toward is “Observe, don’t judge.” The check-in will serve you throughout every area of your life, from food-related matters to existential ones (“Do I like where I am? Do I like where I’m going?”), which will help you feel like the driver, not a passenger, in your life.
2. Know thyself. The qualities that made you vulnerable to diet culture in the first place might stay with you after recovery, so it’s important to know yourself well enough to recognize them. I wrote about some of mine here and here, and I’m still discovering new ones. Be on the lookout for moments where you feel your heart start racing in food, exercise or body-related situations — that’s a telltale sign of an emotional or physiological trigger. Then use your gentle check-in skills to ask yourself, “Hey…you doing okay? What are you feeling?”
3. Beware restriction of any kind. Like joining your colleagues on a cleanse to “kick start” healthy living — careful, sailor!! That’s a great way to kick start a binge eating backslide. Remember that binge eating is largely physiological, and your body has no clue why you would undereat on purpose. I also really can’t endorse pursuing weight loss, especially this early in your recovery — just the IDEA of weight loss impedes body acceptance. But if for whatever reason you feel you must, I would highly recommend working with a body-positive intuitive eating nutritionist for personalized guidance.
4. Decide what healthy means to you. I know that sounds odd, but if you ask ten nutritionists what healthy means, you’d probably get ten answers. It’s no wonder we’re all so confused about the word “healthy”! When you’re confused, you’re vulnerable, and that’s where “health and wellness” companies swoop in and position themselves as a clear, shining truth in a complicated world. The uncomfortable reality is that our understanding of nutrition is fuzzy. And that’s okay! Part of exiting the diet trap is rejecting the right vs. wrong mindset, getting comfortable with fuzzy, and taking nutrition fads with a grain of salt. For example: the weirdly dramatic debate happening right now over whether coconut oil is “healthy” or not. As this recent New York Magazine piece by Susie Neilson puts it:
Stop obsessively following the diet industry! Worrying too much about anything — including the nutrients you’re consuming — could raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which over time can raise your risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and even hair loss. The hysteric cycle of nutrition-related content is at least as unhealthy as the things it’s shrieking about, so…get off the media hamster wheel, pay attention to your doctor, and listen to your body.
5. Watch your language. Words matter so much in sustainable recovery. I’ve written a lot about the power of changing your self-talk as well as identifying diet-loaded food phrases, such as “on track,” “everything in moderation,” and “slipping up.” Moralizing body-related words like fat and skinny is another crucial example. Using skinny as a compliment and fat as an insult perpetuates diet culture and sabotages your own journey to body neutrality. As I worked on this habit myself, I tried to equate fat and skinny to words like short and tall. I would never judge a person’s health, choices, or moral character just based on their height!
6. Listen to your intuition. The #1 most amazing thing about moving from rules-based living to intuition-led living is that it grows with you. Bodies change, appetites change, nutritional needs change. What serves you today might not serve you tomorrow, and what served you ten years ago might not serve you ten years from now. If you’re hungrier, eat more; if you’re less hungry, eat less. If your body feels stiff, try stretching more. If your body feels fatigued, try exercising less. Etc etc etc. Beyond the din of diet culture, your body is whispering to let you know what you need. It always has, and it always will.
Did I miss anything you’ve been wondering about? I love your insights and questions, so leave a comment and let me know what’s on your mind!