Intuitive eating, obesity, HAES, fat activism, and how to lose weight

I have been reading far too many forums on the internet as of recently, so now I am going to kind of respond to all of it, delivering some hard truths, from nutritionist’s perspective. Don’t blame me – blame the science.

This post might also be helpful for people who do not need to lose weight, but wish to pursue healthier lifestyle, and feel lost in all the dietary static of bullshit information circling around the internet. In this post I will provide everything you need to know.

If you are overweight, intuitive eating is not for you. Not yet. Not in the way that is portrayed by HAES (Health At Every Size) and fat activists. If they tell you you should just eat everything as you desire, and call it intuitive, they are giving you bad advice that will result in you putting on even more weight. Until you go through the steps I will mention in this post, you will not be able to truly eat intuitively in a way that will benefit your health.

They do not want you to lose weight. They want you to be as miserable as they are. They would hate you to succeed.

I am sorry to tell you that fat activists usually do not have your best interest at heart. In most cases they want to make you join their cult, to enable them, and validate them. They refuse to see the truth about human health, nutrition, and the fact that overeating did contribute to their weight gain, and potential disability. They refuse to acknowledge that they are in fact in power to change their lives for the better, because it requires effort and discipline. If you decide to lose weight, and worse – if you succeed, they will turn on you and often bully. Just like any other cult, they are not the only group with that tendency.

You’ll find it just anywhere where people are in power to improve their lives anyhow. You’ll find a lot of them giving up, and putting their fate in hands on other people, religion or pure luck. Similarly when someone has a bad back from childhood. With exercise and therapy this can be reversed. But some people choose to instead live a sitting lifestyle and not to put effort into their health, declaring ‘this is just how it always was‘, ‘this is just my bad luck‘, ‘this is genetics‘. People just are like that, they prefer to go to the doctor and receive a pill, a quick fix, instead of putting effort in bettering their health when possible.

At first when you hear that nothing works to fix it, you are completely out of control of your body, weight is pre-determined and cannot be changed permanently, that you are free of any responsibility for it, you might feel relieved and justified to let yourself go further. But the relief will last only so long, and your quality of life will inevitably decline, and you will find yourself in way worse position, much harder to fix.

I hope it makes you feel better, that for normal and thin people the case is the same, and while not being overweight certainly drops the chances of becoming ill and disabled, if they are not disciplined and eating healthy they will also be suffering from poor health at the end. Please do not think you are alone in this. We all struggle with the culture of overconsumption and we were all brainwashed by the marketing of giant companies, that an entire box of ice cream is an acceptable pick-me-up snack.

To sum up the science:

  1. Calories in, calories out (CICO) is the only way of weight control. No matter if you are on a vegan diet, or keto, or no diet at all but you get plenty of physical activity, or you diet but you never exercise, it always comes down to the calorie balance.
  2. Your body does not go into ‘starvation mode‘ when you are on calorie deficit. This has been debunked. Otherwise we would see all the concentration camp victims overweight, while all of them inevitably end up extremely underweight due to starvation.
  3. If you put on weight when you diet, that means your diet is not sustainable and you end up binging, giving too many calories in the balance. This is also the case when you consider cheat days. On cheat days you eat up all the calories you saved by restriction, and often eat even more than that. You may also just be bloated from change of diet, in which case you need to give the microbe in your guts some time to adjust.
  4. Macro balancing is key to good health. Eating too much fat, even if you are on a healthy diet, will inevitably end up in excess fat in your blood, which increases the risk of cardiovascular illness. Also, you need the protein to build tissues in your body. You also need sufficient carbs to fuel your body, especially the brain.
  5. Therefore, keto diet is ineffective in the way that sure, it might help you lose weight at first, but in the long run it leads to cardiovascular illness, and may destroy your kidneys. The body will create the carbs it needs from all the protein and fat anyways, but the process is extremely inefficient, and you are putting unnecessary stress on your body.
  6. Whole foods, plant-based diet is the healthiest diet there is, in the way that it prevents or reverses all the diet-related illness that plagues our society, and that are the top causes of premature death worldwide. Worth mentioning, if you are looking for a specific diet to pursue.
  7. Raw diet is not sufficient, either vegan or omnivore. In theory you might calculate all the microelements to be sustainable, but majority of it will not absorb properly. There is no need to ingest only raw food, lots of foods get healthier for us after heating them up (like tomatoes). Eating raw eggs and meat might also kill you.
  8. Any popular diet – just no. And I cannot stress it enough: no.
  9. Cleanses and detoxes are bullshit. You have a liver and kidneys to detoxify your body. You just need to not ingest junk food, and if you do, no ‘cleanse’ or ‘detox’ will help you. Your body will just metabolize it, cleanse itself, and then you can move on. Also please do not get enemas if not medically justified. You will only harm your natural gut flora that already might be suffering after junk food-rich diet.
  10. Gut flora is the key to health in many aspects, all you need to do to take care of gut flora is to eat leafy greens, seeds, beans, lentils, and limit highly-processed foods like pastries.
  11. Being overweight always leads to bigger chance of falling ill. Even if you exercise, being active does not cancel the negative impact of extra weight. Rare exceptions are some sumo fighters, but we are not sumo fighters.
  12. BMI is very outdated when it comes to predicting health impact of body size. The most accurate method so far is the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). Wider belly → bigger problems. This is also why some slightly overweight people who have thin waists do not suffer so often from the consequences of extra weight, and why some people who seem thin but only have the belly do suffer often from obesity consequences. If you have the misfortune of having an apple body type, you need to be extra careful in weight control.
  13. No short-term diet is ultimately effective, and should be only considered in special cases, such as for professional athletes. The only way to longevity, healthy body size, and health overall is to adapt the entire lifestyle forever. I know this sucks to hear, and it’s unfair that we cannot eat a bucket of ice cream every day and stay healthy and thin, but unfortunately this is the case, and the sooner we accept it, the sooner we can take control over our lives, and be healthy.
  14. Being thin does not mean being healthy. You can be thin and have all your arteries clogged up. Do not think that you are safe from everything just because you’re thin, and do not judge the overweight people as if you were holier than thou, everybody struggles to some extent with keeping healthy habits, and ditching the bad ones.
  15. There is no such thing as ‘natural diet‘, not every natural thing is healthy for us, and not all artificial things are harmful.
  16. Casual reminder that everybody should supplement vitamin B12, regardless of their diet. Meat is not the direct source of it – it’s microbe of animal’s gut, where the greens containing inactive form of B12 is turned into an active form. Our ancestors used to ingest B12 from dirty food collected from the ground, as B12 came there from animal feces and bacteria in the soil. We do not lack B12 because of going vegan, we lack it collectively because we started to be clean. Therefore, stop mocking vegans and just take your vitamins.
  17. In our climate (I live in Europe) everybody should also take D3 (2000 – 4000 UI / day is usually enough, get tested and consult with your doctor), as we do not get enough sunlight. If you’re tanned, you are also reducing your skin’s ability to synthesize D3, so burning yourself on the sun during summer is also ineffective. Another example of how the lines such as ‘if you need to take vitamins that means your diet is unnatural, and therefore bad‘ is just wrong. That would mean living in Europe is unnatural and wrong, since we need to supply the vitamin.
  18. Intuitive eating only makes sense if you are educated about nutrition, recognize the difference between hunger and craving, and are able to listen to your mind – do you want the food because you’re bored or anxious, or because you are genuinely hungry and this is eating time. It also doesn’t work with weight loss that much, because you need to ensure that your CICO balance is negative, and you intake less energy that you burn.

If you are overweight, that means at least one of the following reasons have happened:

  1. You experienced trauma, and/or are suffering from mental illness such as depression, or are anxious and stressed.
  2. You did not learn how to cook from your parents, they did not make you explore new tastes and interesting combinations, they did not take you to fancy restaurants, only fast food.
  3. Your parents were overweight, and fed you just like they fed themselves – lots of frozen pre-made food, junk food, cost-effective and time-saving easy choices such as bars, ice-cream, fries, take outs, etc.
  4. Your parents made you eat despite you feeling full.
  5. You have no sense of purpose and a void in your heart, and you fill it with comfort food and comfort activities like watching TV and browsing the internet.
  6. You are bored – you don’t read much, you have no real hobbies besides social media, TV, and other popular entertainment.
  7. You were never forced to attend PE classes, and do sports, so you are used to sedentary lifestyle, and do not like to get physically tired.
  8. Your parents did not teach you the impulse control, and did not provide you with clear discipline and setting up long-term goals instead of submitting to immediate pleasure.
  9. You have very low self-worth and you do not consider yourself worthy of effort.

If you need it for mental comfort, you can blame your situation on your parents, and the society that is addicted to comfort food, and food advertisement of stroke-inducing burgers is all around. But keep in mind that the blame will not fix anything. You need to start looking at yourself, embracing the past, recognizing the reasons that led you to this situation, and then make the necessary changes. Otherwise you will be stuck in the blaming cycle of escapism, and your situation may get way worse.

Nothing is ever fair in life, and bad things happen to us often that are out of our control. But we are in control of what we are going to do about it. Do we want to be the victims, or do we want to take control over what we can.

It’s worth challenging yourself this way. You do not want to become one of those people who post on Reddit about how they tried to ‘ditch the diet culture‘, but ended up overeating so much that they cannot even wipe themselves and assure proper personal hygiene anymore. It’s dehumanizing, and humiliating, but it’s disability on demand. The good news is, you can stop this cycle, if you really want it, and reverse it, becoming healthy and capable.

The key to success is to not take everything all at once, and to properly prioritize. The first step to getting better is not to jump on any fad diet to try to lose weight at all cost. You need to first look at the reasons you are overeating.

Is it boredom? Is it to fill the void? Is it to aid anxiety? Are you depressed? Do you lack purpose? Do you feel stuck and frustrated in life? Do you lack self-worth?

All these things you should explore, and do not fear talking it out with a therapist. A good therapist will guide you and help you find the reasons behind it. Only first healing your mind you will be able to heal your body. It all starts with the mind.

You can also contact a proper nutritionist to create a plan of action, for example if you are lacking cooking skills to follow the diet, a nutritionist will provide you with resources and some practical tips how to separate good information from bad information. You do not need to learn how to deep fry things. But how to prepare a balanced, filling and tasty salad? This is a skill worth pursuing and it’s not as trivial as it sounds.

There are a lot of videos on the internet that may be helpful, such as safe exercise for obese people, or just recipes. I like watching Sanne Vloet’s videos – she’s a Victoria’s Secret model, so she is obviously skinny, but her recipes do look fantastic, flavorful and easy. I would not support eating like her every day 1:1, because sometimes she is more, and sometimes less balanced (for example her ‘detox‘ video I would never recommend to anybody, no matter how big or unhealthy you are), but in general her recipes are great and worth using, and she is a great example of a person that eats full portions of mostly balanced meals, exercises, and remains very thin. Nobody needs to be as thin as she is, since her body is her tool of work in beauty industry, but it’s just to put it into perspective what is realistic. There is no such thing as being ‘naturally skinny‘, so watching what skinny people eat might serve as an inspiration.

But when you start learning about all those things, the macros, the microelements, you will eventually have the knowledge to then not need to calculate everything. This is the true intuition that will take you places. Intuition with food is like intuition with everything else – it’s great, it can give you information you didn’t know you possessed, but it has to be fed a lot of raw, objective data.

A doctor can have an intuition what might be wrong with a patient, before the test results are there. But the doctor is highly educated and experienced. This is not the same as a regular person having an intuition about what might be wrong with them. Intuition can be compared to intelligence – if you lack the knowledge it renders intelligence nearly useless, it’s just having hunches with accuracy of flipping a coin.

You will not visually know at first how much exactly is 200g of tofu, or 100g of lettuce, what is exactly a one serving. But after few times you measure how much tofu is in the package you buy, half of it, you will eventually start seeing it without thinking, and you will take approximately the necessary amount. Similarly, after preparing your dessert few times and calculating the calories, you will remember how much is it in the portion of your dessert, and you will be able to easily put it in your diet. Only the beginning is tiresome, but it is worth it, and with time it only gets better.

Especially that now we have easily accessible apps for counting calories and macros and even micros. My personal favorite is Cronometer (if you use it in a browser it’s free), but I have also used Lifesum with good results. Lifesum premium offers whole meal plans with shopping lists, so that you don’t need to think about anything, and the plans are very varied, you can choose a vegan week, or program specifically to lose weight, etc.

If you cannot afford a dietitian, or any special programs for calculating your diet, I can recommend the Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen. It’s a list of products that you should be eating daily for maximum health. The application for it is free, but you can also print it out and use on paper.

This makes it easier to plan out your meals – for example you can eat an oatmeal with berries, flaxseed and nuts, for dessert you can have bananas with whipped cream, for dinner you can have a wholegrain pasta with beans, greens, and other vegetable, for lunch you can have a salad with veggies and a wholegrain toast, and for snack you can have veggies with hummus, olive oil, or other addition. And you’re set. Then throw in just some exercise, drink a lot of water, herbal teas, etc., and you have a plan.

Eventually it becomes easier, you learn about the different food groups, and you just remember that you need to throw in some wholegrains, or some beans, that’s how you build up your intuition for true intuitive eating.

Intuitive eating also means you need to start recognizing when you are full, and when you are not. A craving usually lasts for 20 minutes, so if after 20 minutes you are still hungry, you should eat. Also you need to wait those 20 minutes after eating your portion, to find out if you are full, or still hungry.

When you eat nutritious food your body becomes full way faster, because it gets what it needs. If you eat food full of just empty carbs and fats, like McDonald’s, you do not feel full. Trust me, I myself on a bad day can devour two burgers, giant portion of fries with a mayo sauce, a muffin, a milkshake, the fried cheese pieces with cranberry sauce, and still feel like I could push for some more, only physically my body tells me ‘if you eat more I am gonna puke‘, because I cannot fit it all in my stomach. I also eat such foods fast, so the more it does not help in letting the body naturally feel is it still hungry or full already. Also just couple of hours after such McDonald’s binge I am hungry again, even more than before, because my body did not receive any actual nutrients, even thought I have just consumed way over my energy needs. I know if I ate like that for a long time, I would suddenly wake up 20 kilograms heavier in matter of just few months.

Meanwhile when I eat what I make at home, which is 90% whole foods, plant-based, I eat a small portion (the size of a regular stomach) and I feel like I do not want to eat anymore, that I am satisfied, but do not feel heavy and sleepy like after unhealthy foods. Also the entire process of preparing the food makes me less hungry, as I am being more mindful about the eating. If you just buy a takeout and quickly swallow it as you watch TV, you do not let your mind register that it has been properly fed.

Sitting together to a meal with family or other loved ones is a great way to stop these distractions, and really focus on the eating. Ditch the phones, the TV, just let yourself sit there for 15 minutes, it’s not long, and enjoy a nice conversation, look at the food that’s been made, and also make sure to put your portion on the plate, and until you wait 20 minutes for the fullness impulse, do not take seconds.

Snacking between meals is also a typical mistake. It’s not that having snacks is bad, but you have to plan them out ahead, and not snack just any time you become bored or anxious, or just a little hungry. If you think that you are unfairly overweight because ‘you do not eat all that much‘, please watch the Secret Eaters show, it is a good eye opener of how if we are not mindful about the eating, we quickly forget about lots of our habits, we just do not register them at all. You might not even realize that you are eating constantly, in form of bars, chocolate, cookies, or even the healthier option – dried fruits and nuts. You might not realize how many calories you may consume with cocktails, or how calorie-dense restaurant food really is. A regular potion of pasta in a restaurant? I assume always it will be around 1500 kcal. They want the food to be comforting, tasty, and addictive, it is full of fat. When you make the desired dish at home it is unlikely you would use so much of it.

If you go to a nutritionist, at least a proper one with legit credentials, they will ask you first to prepare a food diary, usually it’s a 24h food diary from 3 different, non-adjacent days, including two working days and one weekend day. It’s a great exercise that you can do right now, you just need to note down everything that you eat. If you do not know the portion sizes, there is a method of just taking a picture of everything you eat. After a whole day you can see how much you really eat. It’s usually vastly different from what you think. People tend to think they eat super healthy if they eat a salad during the day, and unconsciously ignore snacks like chocolate bars, sugary sodas, a bag of chips, or a takeout for dinner.

One of the common misconceptions is also that healthy food is tasteless and boring. This is just because you weren’t exposed to healthy, quality food as a child.

You can make healthy and low-kcal version of just anything that you like. Burgers, pasta, milkshakes, you can make them healthy, and even better tasting than their fast food versions. I often post on stories what I am cooking on Instagram, so feel free to give me a follow (@fiarhel). If you have any questions you can always message me, I will answer everything to the best of my ability.

I will be also posting some recipes how to make the healthy versions of popular junk foods, that are actually tasty, approved by me and my Love, who is the prime tester of my cooking, and mind you I am a very VERY lazy cook, and I do not own a lot of kitchenware, so all the recipes should be easily replicable, and only limited by local availability of some of the more fancy ingredients I am using on occasion.

To sum up, everything starts in your head. You need to love yourself truly, and accept yourself as you are, to have the power to make the changes. You need to break the cycle, and while your parents had no means to deliver you proper nutrition knowledge and healthy habits, you can be the one that provides it to your children. You may inspire all your loved ones to pursue healthier life, to be there longer for the loved ones, to enjoy life longer, and with good quality.

Please do not think of skinny bodies, the models, all the Instagram bullshit about beauty standards, this is not about looks. This is much more serious, it is all about making you flourish as a person. To feel good, to love yourself, to really treat your body the way you deserve, as the temple that holds your precious soul. To find yourself. To be proud and confident.

Forget also about the toxic communities of HAES, fat activists, etc. Some of them have the hearts in the right place, but they are just as lost and confused as you are, and if you begin this journey you are the one that might inspire them to pursue the change as well, the one that shows them that the change is achievable, that they can take the power over their health and their life.

I do not want to undermine everything that fat activists are doing. I am all pro making everyone feel that they deserve to feel beautiful and sexually attractive, to pursue healthy sex life and not be ashamed of their bodies, I am against bullying of any kind against anyone really, but fat people are included. But unfortunately besides those few rational and helpful voices, there is a lot of static made of self-victimization and hatred around there. Hating thin people won’t get them anywhere, hating the people who managed to lose weight and bullying them also will not get them anywhere. Sitting on your ass and just complaining about taking two plane seats will not take them anywhere as well.

All their angst is really caused by self-hatred, they do not accept themselves, they do feel the need to be valid as victims to free themselves from the responsibility, the responsibility that if they took, they could change their lives for the better. The fear of failure and fear of shame are hell of a drug. They are not quite there yet unfortunately, but it makes them want to keep you away from pursuing the change as well. Do not fall for this trap, as easy as it is.

I do think a lot of has to be changed in the society, the marketing of big companies, the lack of proper public nutrition education for children, so that we could minimize the damage the parents are doing, the easy accessibility of food that brings no nutrition and is only harmful, there is a lot to be upset about, but just sitting there being upset will not change anything.

As consumers we have the ultimate power to change the market (ah, the glorious invisible hand of the free market strikes again), and break free from all the brainwashing and manipulation, with proper education and mindset this can be achieved. Look at veganism, not so long ago it was impossible to easily buy tofu, and a lot of products such as plant-based milks, and now you can go to any store and just pick it up. The market bends to us, if we do not allow ourselves to bend to the market.

I am always there to answer questions, so please come forward, and I hope this has been helpful. Even if the truth is hard to accept at first, eventually you will know this is the right way. The alternative is to do nothing, or get lost in ineffective ways brought to you by pseudo-science, or uneducated strangers on the internet.

Please know, that if you even took just the first step, I am proud of you, and you are doing fantastic.

Stay safe.

One thought on “Intuitive eating, obesity, HAES, fat activism, and how to lose weight

  1. Karola (ohforgottensky)

    I really like you, but this post left me so frustrated I cannot just ignore it and not comment. Which is what I’m doing right now instead of working. I’m not here to complain and say, all’s bull, you’re wrong. You’re a good nutritionist, hand’s down. Not here to argue with that. But still, there’s so much stuff that I cannot agree with.

    You say everything you write here is science and facts, but you don’t really give any sources–that’s one of the biggest issues I’ve got. You mix up some of your opinions as facts and ask everyone just to accept them as they are.

    First thing’s first, fat activism and body positivity movements have done wonders for obese people. I’ve never seen anyone saying that losing weight by itself is a bad thing. Losing weight because you feel miserable with your body and think lesser of yourself is bad. I absolutely love Jameela Jamil’s “I weight” movement simply because it shows how people are more than just their weight and their bodies. It’s so much much easier to get fitter when you don’t hate your own guts, just saying.

    Re: BMI and WHR methods. Most nutritionists don’t claim BMI is completely irrelevant, while it certainly is outdated. It’s often used along with other measurement methods. At the moment, the best tool for checking whether your body weight is correct are the body fat measurement methods, however, they’re not really available to just everyone. This statement is not true: “The most accurate method so far is the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR).” According to my girlfriend, a biologist, WHR is a good anthropological tool, but it’s not always great for assessing correct body mass. It does not take into account the bone structure–for instance, people with super high pelvises and low ribcages. People like that will have a tiny waist-to-hip ratio even if they’re super thin.

    The other thing I want to reference is your reasons for people being obese. You’re simplifying and victim-blaming here quite a bit. You mix up laziness with serious issues like psychiatric disorders. Some of these are the “why’s of privileged, wealthier, more “cultured” (in their minds) people”, as Sonia told me in our convo. For some people, eating clean and healthy is unattainable–not because they don’t want to, but because it’s completely unaffordable. Also, there’s no education re: nutrition at schools, so how are children (and then adults) supposed to know they are not eating healthy.

    To Sonia’s comment, I’d add, your whys are of healthy privileged people with no chronic conditions. Others are plain wrong. Sports is not an option for everyone. Forcing someone to do sports will never work. Hell, had anyone forced me to do sports when I was younger I wouldn’t have ended up healthier–I’d end up needing knee surgery before I turned twenty. But that’s another matter altogether. A chronically ill person may not have enough spoons to do the dishes and clean up their flat, much less to do any sort of exercise. Their chronic condition, and especially their medication, may also result in body weight gain by itself.

    On a personal note, I’ve never been obese in my life, but this post hit me harder than I thought it would cuz I recently gained over 10kg in 4-5 months without really changing much in my diet. Definitely did not make enough changes to warrant such a massive body weight gain in such a short amount of time. It turned out it was all due to the new medication I’d got from my psychiatrist. For someone who struggles with body dysphoria whenever my body changes, this was horribly difficult and took me far too long to discover the cause of my sudden considerable weight gain. Do I still have a “correct” weight? Yes. I was close to being underweight when I started gaining weight, which is why I didn’t really pay much attention to it.

    Liked by 1 person

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