I never thought that a magazine rooted in Diet Culture would eventually help me stop dieting and get back to listening to my body.
That magazine was Women’s Health, and while their diet-obsessed pages once kept me trapped in the restrict-binge cycle, an Anti-Diet Culture advertisement forever left an impression on me.
I’d like to share that ad with you today, along with 3 steps you can take to get back to listening to your body. I hope it helps you recover from the restrict-binge cycle and feel normal around food.
If you’re new around here, this is Psycho-Spiritual Wellness: an approach to stop compulsive eating rooted purely in psychological and spirituality.
Let’s get started with a story of that ad…
At the end of this post, there’s also a free ebook on eating psychology that you can download. If you want it now, click here to gain instant access to it!
The Surprising Ad that Taught Me How to Listen to My Body
Before I gave up dieting and stopped binge eating, I was a chronic dieter.
I used to obsess over the 1,400 calorie “Flat Belly Day” spreads in Women’s Health, which only perpetuated my strict daytime eating followed by binge eating at night.
One day, I came across an advertisement that forever shaped my idea of what it means to listen to your body. The ad had a picture of a girl drinking (what looked like) a smoothie, and it read:
“Eat when you’re hungry, eat exactly what appeals to you, and stop when you’re full. If you do this, then you’re guaranteed not to have any weight problems.”
It then listed what she had for lunch: half a Caesar salad, half a sandwich, and a berry smoothie. Nothing crazy.
And for some reason, that ad hit me so hard! It made perfect sense, but I couldn’t accept it at the time.
I was convinced that in order to lose weight, I had to count calories, know what all the “good foods” are, and exert maximum willpower at all times.
But I was wrong. I was brainwashed by Diet Culture.
Although I wasn’t ready to stop dieting yet (because I didn’t know the psychological reasons for overeating at the time), the message lingered forever:
Your body already has all the wisdom it needs to be its natural weight. You just need to stop listening to your mind and honor your body instead.
So let’s break down each part of this ad into actionable advice for getting back to normal eating behavior — which I would describe as a relaxed, non-obsessive, shame-free way of eating.
Step 1: Eat when you’re hungry
Quick tip: Stop intermittent fasting; stop insisting that you “have” to have breakfast; stop stop stop with any rules around hunger
Hunger is tricky. Many of my clients confess that they don’t even know when they’re hungry anymore.
This is normal, in my opinion. After years upon years of denying our hunger through dieting, I think it’s only normal for your body to detach from hunger!
So the first step is to stop dieting and stop denying your hunger. If it’s 9pm and you’re hungry, eat. If it’s 7am and you’re not hungry, don’t eat.
Don’t attempt to fit your eating into a bento box. Human bodies are not machines. They’re living, breathing organisms that fluctuate.
Expect your hunger to fluctuate too.
Step 2: Eat exactly what appeals to you
Quick tip: Be willing to eat foods you once labeled as “bad” — even if they’re unhealthy, things will balance out
Back when I desperately counted calories (and felt like I wasn’t “trying hard enough” if I wasn’t), I used to eat those awful 100-calorie packs of cookies. I figured they would help satisfy my sweet tooth while keeping my calorie count low.
This was a joke, though, because I would always end up binge eating at night and eating far more calories than if I just had a regular-sized cookie when I wanted it.
This is why we need permission to have whatever foods our body is asking for. And I know it’s scary. Giving up dieting is a decision surrounded by fear for most people.
We might be terrified that we’d end up eating cookies and burgers all day, but your body is smart. Chances are, you won’t really want junk food on most days.
But the important part is that, on the days where you really do just want a cheeseburger — and that would just really do it for you — it’s important to let yourself have it.
And best of all, you’ll end up eating less overall, because the restriction won’t trigger night eating!
Step 3: Stop when you’re full
Quick tip: This is usually the hard part, and the Stop, Drop & Feel method to stop binge eating helps with this — a lot
Whenever there’s a desire to eat when you’re not hungry, there’a an uncomfortable feeling that needs your attention.
And as human beings, we are wired to avoid these emotions. It’s part of our “seek pleasure, avoid pain” biology.
But if you want to stop binge eating, stop yo-yo dieting, and get back to listening to your body, you need to be willing to be uncomfortable.
One of my best tools to help with this is called the Stop, Drop, & Feel. It’s my #1 tool to stop a binge in its tracks.
Here’s a video on how it works (my most-watched video):
By allowing uncomfortable feelings to coexist with you, the desire to eat when you’re not hungry lessens.
It doesn’t go away, but it takes the compulsion out of your actions, which allows you to stop when you’re full — if that’s what you put your mind to.
Let Your Weight Figure Itself Out
As you work your way towards normal eating behavior — namely, by eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full — you weight will regulate itself.
Stay focused on skill-building (like the Stop, Drop, & Feel) and you’ll be on the straightest path I know towards your natural weight.
And if you want to dig deeper into eating psychology, grab my free 13-page ebook below:
Originally published on July 3, 2016 // Last updated August 9, 2020
Amazing content! I was wondering how you tell the difference between wanting food for emotional reasons and wanting it because you’re hungry? I’ve been dieting so long I don’t know how to tell the difference. Thanks!
Kari Dahlgren says
It’s totally understandable to be confused about hunger after a lot of dieting. Generally speaking, hunger-hunger has a physical sensation behind it. Perhaps a hollow feeling, or grinding feeling. Emotional-hunger always has a feeling behind it. Things get confusing when you’re experiencing both! So I recommend doing the Stop, Drop, and Feel whenever you are confused by hunger. If you do an emotional check in and you’re still hungry, it’s likely hunger-hunger. I hope this helps 🙂
There’s no doubt that the universe ALWAYS provides us with what we need. I literally just typed “The listen to your body diet” into my search engine, not expecting anything to pop up. This has been a feeling I’ve been having for a while now. I’ve done the Vegan thing, I’ve done the calorie counting, the point counting, the cleanses, the juicing, and I am currently on the Auriculotherapy (acupuncture for weight loss) thing. I’ve been emotionally resisting going to my next appointment, and I honestly hate the diet. (It’s most comparable with the Keto diet).
Needless to say, your page, your story, and your purpose is exactly what my body NEEDS! THANK YOU SO much for all your hard work! I can not WAIT to begin this new life changing experience. <3
I really REALLY want to start eating this way. My biggest issue is that my family isn’t always in the mood for what I want to eat so I usually just disregard what I want. So I sometimes I’m not even sure what my body is asking for. Not sure how to over come this issue. I want family to be happy but also my body.
Kari Dahlgren says
Thanks for sharing Meredith. I’m sure there are lots of people reading your comment that feel the same way!!! I hope that you’ll find a middle ground somewhere, where you can eat what your body wants and keep the family happy. Your body is worth the extra effort to make sure YOU are satisfied, not just the rest of the family.
This is what I need. I am 23 and have been dieting since I was 16. I lost 50 pounds at 16 and was very healthy if not very slightly underweight. I gained 20 of those pounds back my senior year and have been stuck there ever since no matter what I do. I struggle to like, let alone love myself. It is all a big mental game with me. I am so tired of dieting. I am sick of being anxious about food and what I’m going to eat and when I’m going to eat it and exactly how much I am going to have. I complain of being always hungry. The hunger never stops. I wonder now if that is my body’s reaction to me being anxious about food. I am hoping that with some mental clarity and focusing on what I absolutely need, my weight will level out like yours did. I’m so scared of gaining weight with this. Any advice on how to overcome my mental blocks would be awesome. INSPIRE ME
Kari Dahlgren says
Hi Autumn, there’s a lot to unpack here. You are very brave for reaching out, and I think the best place for you to start working is the SDF. Hopefully you’re on my newsletter and those help too. Let me know if you have any new questions ????
I feel like you took the words out of my mouth. Im 25 and have been dieting since I was a teen. I’m so preoccupied with food and hungry all the time. I don’t have the answers but would love to talk to you!