Podcast Episode 62 Transcript – Maintaining A Good Relationship With Food When Dieting

Leah Higl (00:09):

Welcome to the Ideal Nutrition Podcast. I’m Leah Higl and I’m here with my cohost, Aidan Muir. Today we will be discussing how to maintain a good relationship with food when dieting. Dieting is a contact sport. It’s not inherently bad but it does come with risks. For those who are already dealing with or have a history of disordered eating or a poor relationship with food, it is like playing a contact sport with having some kind of underlying injury in that it’s probably more risky for those people than it is for people that have an amazing relationship with food already. To get us started, my first tip would be if you don’t already have a decent relationship with food potentially dieting is not right for you now. Maybe you should spend a little bit of time just working on your general relationship with food before you dive in to dieting. But for those who have a pretty good relationship with food and that do want to diet, we will go through a few tips to just basically safeguard your relationship with food and just make sure you’re able to maintain that throughout the process.

Aidan Muir (01:20):

We’re going to try and go back and forth on some of these. The first one I’ve got is something I’m a pretty big believer in, but not having strict rules and I add the caveat around that being like you can have guidelines, you can have things you do more or less frequently. An example of a strict rule would be something like not having added sugar ever for this phase or whatever. I always think it’s pretty easy to unpack something like that being like how many people do you know who don’t have added sugar ever and have a good relationship with food? I don’t know. It’s just so rare to see something like that so it’s already like, “Well, that’s kind of setting things up to fail to a certain degree to start off.” A lot of strict rules will do that, but I also like the idea of guidelines, for example eating a decent amount of protein with most meals, having vegetables with both lunch and dinner, maybe having some snacks that you consistently have. Having little things like that but also being open to not doing that every single time as well.

Leah Higl (02:14):

Yeah. If it doesn’t fit with your day maybe you just don’t do it.

Leah Higl (02:18):

Number two is do not try to do more aggressive approaches for extended periods of time. We’re definitely not anti-aggressive dieting for everyone, I think it definitely has its place in some contexts, but I think it’s pretty rare you get to a point where you have someone that can do that for a really long period time and not have any impact on their relationship with food. At any time that you’re doing something really aggressive for a really long time, that is going to mess with your relationship with food. It just is, so ideally if your relationship with food is important to you, probably wouldn’t do that.

Aidan Muir (02:56):

Yeah. 100%. I’m a very big believer in if you’re doing that, only do it for a short-ish phase, have a kind of defined end time and an exit kind of strategy from that as well.

Aidan Muir (03:08):

Then on that kind of theme, a lot of people talk about slow and sustainable approaches but I also do not like the idea of dieting indefinitely just in general. I saw somebody else make the statement, “Fat loss is a phase not a lifestyle.”

Aidan Muir (03:26):

I think it makes a lot of sense. It’s like from a relationship with food perspective, when you’re in a fat loss phase, even if it’s relatively slow and sustainable you still have to think about food a little bit differently because you’re still trying to restrict a little bit under what your calorie needs are for maintenance. Even if that is slower or whatever or less restrictive, there’s still some level of restriction involved in it and you probably don’t want to do that forever.

Leah Higl (03:49):

Yeah. I think having a timeline or just structured diet breaks and maintenance can really go along with just kind of having periods of time with more food freedom rather than having three years where you’re just dieting the entire time because that is going to warp your perception of food.

Leah Higl (04:07):

Number four, avoid viewing foods as good versus bad. There’s definitely foods that are going to be more conducive to your goals and foods that are going to be less conducive to your goals. That’s a given, but kind of putting things in a, “Oh, that’s a good food, I can have that. Or that’s a bad food, I can’t have that,” is really, again, going to warp your perception with food. It doesn’t really add anything to your dieting approach. I think flexibility is really quite important in terms of dieting success sometimes, but also just maintaining your good relationship with food throughout a dieting process. I would just avoid having that good versus bad foods approach and more just going, “Well, most of my diet’s probably going to mostly wholefoods but nothing’s off the table completely.”

Aidan Muir (04:53):

Makes it so much easier too, and then also just more enjoyable. It gives you the opportunity to eat food that you like just because you like it at times as well.

Leah Higl (05:02):

Yeah, and you kind of need that every now and then no matter what your goals are.

Aidan Muir (05:05):

Yeah. Yeah. Another one that I… I think a lot about this one, but don’t count calories forever. I’m pro-calorie tracking at times, I personally have had great experiences with it, have had a lot of clients have good experiences with it, but I’m a massive believer in not doing it forever. I don’t think anybody should do it forever. There’s some cases, like bodybuilders, who might do it year round and stuff like that, but outside of the world of bodybuilding I don’t really see… Even elite athletes and stuff like that, it’s rare to see somebody track calories year round. But something that I think is useful is you can do it for days as well. A question that, once again, I pose to a lot of people is, “Do you know many people who track calories year round and have a good relationship with food?” It’s pretty rare.

Aidan Muir (05:51):

I personally can’t name any. I’m sure that there could be some who exist, but it’s so rare and it’s a bit of a sign that it’s like if a good relationship with food is part of your goal, you probably also don’t want to be trying to track calories all year round forever.

Leah Higl (06:06):

Especially if it makes you anxious to not be tracking calories. That’s definitely a bit of a red flag that you might need to pull away and have a bit more of a focus on [inaudible 00:06:15] relationship.

Aidan Muir (06:16):

Yeah. I often get clients who have tracked calories for a while who [inaudible 00:06:19] and they’re like, “But how do I know what’s in food when I’m not tracking?”

Aidan Muir (06:24):

It’s like, “Well, you don’t need to know the calories all the time.”

Aidan Muir (06:27):

People have lived great lives without knowing as well and, as you said, if it makes you anxious it’s like, well, that’s not part of a good relationship with food. A good relationship with food doesn’t involve being anxious about eating food that you don’t know the calories in.

Leah Higl (06:41):

Totally. 100%. Number six is pay some level of attention to your hunger and fullness cues. This is just important just from the fact that if you want to get back to a point where you are eating more intuitively, that is going to be based more so on your hunger and fullness cues so if you just completely ignore them and become completely detached from your hunger and fullness cues when dieting… Well, you’re probably going to have a bit of a hard time going back to a place where you are intuitively eating and kind of just using those hunger and fullness cues as a way to guide you in that. I just kind of… I think when you’re really, really hungry in a diet sometimes it is best to just have something to eat instead of completely ignoring it, especially if you’ve gotten to point in your diet where it’s driving you insane, when it’s really, really, really uncomfortable or maybe you do things like, “Oh, I’m going to take a diet break because I know that’s going to help bring my hunger cues down.” You’re not going to completely continue to ignore them.

Aidan Muir (07:47):

Yeah. That’s a really long topic as well because it’s like if you have no timelines and you don’t have to be a certain weight at a certain date or anything like that, you have the luxury of being able to do this and if you get to the point that you’re so lean or whatever that you’re just going to feel that level of hunger all the time anyway-where it’s like, well, that’s, once again, not part of a good relationship with food anyway. Yeah. Complex topic but you need to pay some level of attention to it.

Leah Higl (08:14):

Yeah. I guess you could even bring in to make it more complex by accident, but bring in to the menstrual cycle in terms of some parts of your cycle you’re going to feel a bit hungrier, maybe it makes sense to have a little bit more food when you’re a bit hungrier. So yeah, it is important.

Aidan Muir (08:26):

Yeah. Yeah, that’s why I like the wording “some level of attention” because there are times you have to be hungry in some way.

Leah Higl (08:31):

I mean, you’re going to have to push through some level of hunger to diet, it’s just having… I guess even just knowing that sliding scale, what’s a comfortable level of hunger and what’s not so good.

Aidan Muir (08:40):

Yeah. Yeah. Another one is don’t strive for perfection. Obviously you still want to do enough consistently to keep moving towards your goals but you don’t need perfection. I feel like every single saying you hear a lot of people being like, “Oh, well, you’re not going to make it towards your goals if you try and do all of these things.” But it’s like, keeping the caveat of you’ve got to do enough to work consistently towards your goals, but you don’t need to be perfect because even perfection is just a complex topic in itself. Everyone talks about how nutrition is complex and there’s contradictory advice and everything that like. It’s like everybody’s view of perfection is different anyway, everyone’s view of healthy eating is different anyway, but if you’re just doing enough to make good progress you reach your goals but you don’t have this whole thing where you feel like you failed every time you’re not perfect.

Leah Higl (09:34):

Yeah. Another one would be play around with meal timings to find out what works best for you. I feel like a lot of people just assume that what they’re currently doing or a certain way of timing their meals and different portions of food at different times is just what works without having really tried anything else. If you’re dieting and you’re really struggling with it, you might benefit a lot from just questioning the status quo in terms of what you usually do and just trying other things and seeing if other things work better for you and make that experience a little bit easier, which could then go on to be conducive to harboring that good relationship with food.

Aidan Muir (10:17):

Another one I think is really important is to still try to enjoy food. Firstly just starting off with the obvious being food tastes nice, it’s enjoyable. A lot of social, cultural experiences, everything like that, are based around food for a reason. It’s an important part of our life. I like thinking back to concept of imagine when you were a child and you had ice cream or whatever it is and you just thought about the positive experience and like, “This tastes nice.” You didn’t feel super guilty or anything like that. I think that’s important. That’s the first portion where I’m like, “That’s the important part of what I’m saying.” But the second portion that I often find is interesting anecdotally is a lot of time when I see clients very, very early on in the process they will be so focused on trying to be great and then they’ll talk about how they had Macca’s once or Coke once and then they’ll be like, “And I didn’t even enjoy it. It didn’t even taste good or the Coke was too sweet or the Macca’s tasted…” I don’t know, whatever it is. It’s like those things still taste nice.

Leah Higl (11:15):

Yeah. You’re lying to yourself [inaudible 00:11:17].

Aidan Muir (11:17):

You can still enjoy them, I don’t know. That’s why this part is less important because some people might disagree with me and they’ll be like, “No, Macca’s is disgusting.” It’s like, well, whatever your thing is, it doesn’t matter what it is but it’s like the goal’s not to not enjoy food or not enjoy unhealthy food or whatever. You still want to enjoy food while making progress.

Leah Higl (11:34):

100%. I have this thing with this one specific donut from this one specific donut store and when I’m dieting I still need to include that semi-regularly to just feel like I… I just feel like it’s part of having a good relationship with food [inaudible 00:11:49].

Aidan Muir (11:48):

Yeah. You just don’t want to lose that. Yeah.

Leah Higl (11:50):

I always make a point of like, “I’m going to just really enjoy this and then I’m going to move on with my life and that’s it.” I think that’s pretty important.

Aidan Muir (11:59):

Yeah. Doubling down on that just one more time, it’s just like there’s so many people who… You know how I said fat loss is a phase, not a lifestyle? There is a lot of people who treat it like a lifestyle, they treat it like they’re always in a fat loss phase whether they’re succeeding or not, but year round they’re either trying to lose fat or they’re not succeeding with it but they still want that, and there’s never much time spent just enjoying food and every time they eat something like that they feel guilty whatever it is. It takes away a huge part of life.

Leah Higl (12:29):

Number 10 is relaxed meals and flexibility instead of having cheat meals and cheat days. This is something I personally talk to my clients about in terms of I don’t really like the idea of having cheat meals or cheat days because what’s the point of kind of blowing out completely on one day and possibly undoing a lot of progress that you made earlier in the week? Then also just kind of that terminology, I kind of have some issues with that in that it should just be part of your dieting process to have some level of flexibility and be slightly relaxed in at least some ways if, again, your relationship with food is important to you. For me, it’s that donut. For someone else it might be that one social… It might be date night with their partner and just having that meal where you’re a little bit more relaxed maybe they consume a little bit more calories that day, but they’ve just thoroughly enjoyed that experience and it’s just part of the flexibility of dieting.

Aidan Muir (13:28):

Yeah. Yeah. I definitely agree with that as well. I think obviously semantics about definitions. I don’t really care about the wording, cheat meals or whatever, but I’m like, “You need some level of relaxed eating in there.” Yeah.

Leah Higl (13:39):

Yeah. I feel like the wording doesn’t mean a lot to some people but for other people-

Aidan Muir (13:44):

Yeah. It’s huge because, it can really kind of just subconsciously add this level of guilt into the process.

Aidan Muir (13:51):

Yeah, and that’s exactly right. Yeah. I do agree with that. Then the next one… Actually, I should elaborate why I say that. Why I say that is just because it’s like… I remember early on when I learned about nutrition, I thought cheat meals had some magical benefit. I thought it was [inaudible 00:14:07].

Leah Higl (14:09):

Yeah. Resetting your metabolism.

Aidan Muir (14:10):

One of my first cuts… Probably my first ever cut I had a cheat meal every weekend and things just went great so I was like, “Oh, that’s fine.”

Aidan Muir (14:17):

I know Tyler… I’m pretty sure Tyler does… Tyler works with us. He does cheat meals with some of his clients as well, but it’s obviously you just word it differently. When I did that phase I didn’t call it cheat meal, I called it a refeed meal because I was like refeeding with glycogen and whatever but it’s still the same thing.

Aidan Muir (14:32):

It’s just semantics about what the word is. Yeah.

Leah Higl (14:34):

It is really just semantics, but I guess my experience with cheat meals was that I… When I first started probably in the same age… We were probably doing it at the same time.

Leah Higl (14:44):

That I would restrict really heavily and eat super, super clean and then I’d have my one cheat day or cheat meal and I would make myself so sick and I’d feel so guilty and it was just this gorge. It wasn’t a good experience for me.

Aidan Muir (14:59):

Yeah. That’s very different from my experience.

Leah Higl (14:59):

It’s a very different experience. I think it just depends on the person, whether the semantics matter.

Aidan Muir (15:04):

Yeah, yeah. For real. I agree. The next one is to not avoid all social situations where food is present because social eating can be a really important part of life, especially among certain cultures and stuff like that. It’s obviously something that just adds to enjoyment of life and everything like that. We have a lot of good experiences with food involved and everything like that. Oftentimes, particularly when people have strict rules and stuff like that, they feel excluded from these situations either because they start not attending them because they’re like, “I don’t want to ruin my diet or whatever,” or maybe they go to these situations but then they’ll bring their own food or whatever. The second option’s not as bad as the first obviously and it can make sense in a lot of situations and stuff like that, it’s a case by case thing, but if you’re trying to keep a good relationship with food you probably still want to have some of these situations where you’re eating with others and eating what they’re eating and everything like that.

Leah Higl (15:59):

Absolutely. Number 12 is one that is a… You can do it if you feel like it’s going to make a difference for you and I think it does make a difference for a lot of people, but that’s just working with a professional because even if you know exactly what it takes to diet successfully and get from point A to point B, it can sometimes be good to have someone holding you accountable in terms of just taking care of yourself and taking care of your relationship with food. Because for some people I see them do things with their nutrition that wouldn’t exactly be the beacon of a healthy relationship with food, but it just doesn’t occur to them in that moment and then they get to this point where they have a really poor relationship with food but they didn’t see all those things that have led to that. I think working with a professional even if it’s just for the accountability of taking care of yourself can be super helpful.

Aidan Muir (16:52):

For sure. It’s even an outside perspective as well where it’s just like… I’ve heard people say that it’s like you should treat yourself how you’d like to treat somebody else, basically. Particularly with food, sometimes we’ll do things with our own nutrition that we would never want somebody else to do but we’re like, “Oh, because it’s me…” Yeah.

Leah Higl (17:10):

Yeah. Sometimes I find myself saying things about food in private that I’m like, “Oh, I’d never say that to a client. That’s a bit toxic, not a good relationship with food thing to say.” But if you had someone holding you accountable for that stuff, that might be helpful.

Aidan Muir (17:23):

Yeah. The next one is if dieting becomes a source of anxiety in your life, stop. You don’t have to be dieting, you can take breaks and everything like that. Life is long, there are times when you can take a step back from something and then maybe revisit it later or revisit it in a different way, or you could take a step back in a different way where it’s like you were trying for something that was more aggressive and you could go to a less aggressive approach or something like that.

Leah Higl (17:48):

On another note, if it is a long journey that you are taking with dieting it could just be good to just take breaks and maintenance. That could be super helpful and, again, just having those points of a bit more food freedom and just living your life a little bit more normally where food is not the focus and there’s not so much of a focus on doing these very specific things with food, again, super helpful.

Aidan Muir (18:13):

Agreed. The last one I’ve got is… I call it an optional one because it’s like you need to do this one, but I think it’s a concept that’s worth thinking about. It’s to not be tied to any arbitrary approach. We know for weight loss we need a calorie deficit, right? There’s many ways to get there. Some people like intermittent fasting, some people like lower carb diets. There’s a whole bunch of options. I know I just listed two random ones. You could just do a regular small calorie deficit or anything like that. There’s so many options obviously, but you could choose to do one of those options because it fits your lifestyle well or you prefer to do it that way, whatever it is, but you also do not need to be tied to that as in somebody who does intermittent fasting doesn’t have to do it every single day. They could take a day where they don’t fast. Somebody who is on a lower carb diet doesn’t have to do that every single day, they could have a day where they’re on a higher carb diet.

Aidan Muir (19:11):

One of the good things about having knowledge about how and why these things work is it gives you flexibility. The reason why I say it’s optional is because some people do better when they have that kind of thing, that routine of being like, “This is how I always do things and everything like that.” But from a relationship with food perspective, taking a bit of a step away from that and looking at it from a perspective of being like, “Hey, this thing that I do seems to work well for me most of the time but there are probably times where it is quite inconvenient and maybe I want to have a bit more flexibility for certain situations.”

Leah Higl (19:46):

Awesome. I think that sums up our list of the things that you can do to safeguard your relationship with food whilst dieting. Obviously take what you want from this list. You don’t have to take it all on board, but these are things that we think could be helpful. Otherwise, this has been episode 62 of the Ideal Nutrition Podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in.