I’m the first to admit I don’t have perfect eating habits. My biggest downfall is snacking in the evening. I start most days with a healthy breakfast, a wonderful lunch and healthy dinner… and then 8 p.m. rolls around.
At that point, the kids are usually in bed and, even if I had an exercise class that evening, I’m usually home by 8 p.m. and settled into my pajamas. Most nights, we then settle down to watch a favourite show, the snacking bug sets in and I want to eat. And eat. And eat.
Sometimes I’m “good” and snack on an apple with a tablespoon of natural peanut butter, or ½ cup of wasabi peas (one of my favourite snacks!). But sometimes, it gets a bit out of control and I’ll have cookies or those exotic vegetable chips you find in the organic food section (and don’t kid yourself – they have just as much salt and fat as regular chips!).
On the weekends, it gets even worse. We’ll head out to brunch with the kids and often I’ll make a big steak dinner too. And there’s always red wine on the weekends, my treat to myself after a long week. The truth is I’m almost embarrassed to spell it out like that.
Should I be feeling so guilty? Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to a woman named Michelle Allison, a student dietitian and blogger who calls herself “The Fat Nutritionist.” She says she stopped dieting years ago and stopped feeling guilty about what she eats. She says she’s 5’5” and weighs 260 pounds, and she’s not trying to lose weight. Instead she advocates something called “normal eating” or “intuitive eating.”
What is intuitive eating? The idea is you get back to basics and listen to your own body and needs. You recognize your hunger and eat enough to satisfy that hunger. Michelle says that is different for every person – we just need to trust our own instincts and stop listening to external messages telling us what to eat and what not to eat.
So I asked her: Do people consider this a license to eat whatever they want? After all, it’s one thing to fill your body with the fruits, veggies and lean protein you need to stay healthy, but what if my body’s telling me I really want those exotic veggie chips? Or – gasp – that McDonald’s?
Her response surprised me. Here’s what she said:
“It’s really interesting, the term ‘license to eat whatever you want.’ I’ve heard that a lot of times… And actually, I believe that people do have license to eat whatever they want and, literally, if that means eating McDonald’s every day, you have license to do that because you’re a grownup and even though it’s not good for your health, that’s your choice. There are no food police. There’s no one that’s going to come and arrest you. Literally, you’re allowed to do whatever you want. The interesting thing, though, is even given that license to eat whatever you want, the ironic thing is that most people will not eat McDonald’s 24/7.”
We also discussed some of the reasons it is so hard to lose weight. She said there were a whole host of factors in the body that determined our weight, and for the most part, our weight is homeostatically regulated. If we’re fat, there’s really not a damn thing we can do about it.
I was with her until that point. I’m not saying our weight isn’t homeostatically regulated – it likely is. From an evolutionary perspective, that’s because our ancestors needed to ensure their weight remained steady in case of famine.
Except our ancestors didn’t have access to fast food, chips, processed chocolate and a whole host of other things. They were hunters/gatherers, and got one heck of a workout every day running from cheetahs and lions and other predators. Even as recently as 100 years ago, we were farmers who laboured on the land every day, spending 12-14 hours essentially working out – again, with no access to fast food.
The problem is our lifestyles today are completely at odds with our biology and our genes. We're fat because we drive around in cars, sit on our rumps at work all day, watch TV all night and eat all that processed food our ancestors never dreamed existed. I’ve struggled with my weight my entire adult life… and if I’m fat, I know darn well it’s because of those exotic veggie chips, that fast food and all those other poor choices I’ve made.
And yes, it is very hard to lose weight — especially given our society and the way we live today — and we should never, ever judge anyone based on their weight or assume they are unhealthy. There are plenty of metabolically healthy, “overweight” people, and everyone’s health status is between them and their doctors. But our genes aren’t the only thing responsible for us gaining weight. We need to take some responsibility for our own actions and what we eat.
That said, Michelle says we shouldn’t feel guilty about what we eat, and I wholeheartedly agree. If you eat something you shouldn’t, just eat it and stop feeling bad about it. I’m not going to feel bad about my eating habits anymore. I’m just going to listen to my body and try and practice moderation. If I want a cookie, I’m going to eat a cookie. But when I’m full, I’m going to stop. And I’m going to keep on eating my big salads full of organic veggies and lean protein, because I know that after I eat one, I feel pretty good.
And staying away from those exotic veggie chips couldn’t hurt!
A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.