the HAES files: create your own masterpiece

by Health At Every Size® Blog

by Michelle May, MD

In my last post, Work of Art or Paint-by-Number, I told you about a dangerous “meme” or idea gene. This meme is the belief that restriction is healthy. In this post you’ll see how you can tell if you have the meme and I’ll share some ideas for ways to rid yourself of the meme if you have it.

Have you been affected by the meme?

 Remember, this meme is so common and insidious that most people don’t even realize they have it. To see if you might have this meme too, take a look at each of the following statements and ask yourself if it is true for you some or most of the time. (To see if you might be a perpetuating this meme, ask yourself if you are intentionally or inadvertently teaching others these things.)

 _______  I use labels to decide whether I can eat a particular food.

_______  I weigh, measure, or count just about everything I eat.

_______  I usually pass up foods that are high in certain ingredients, like fat or carbs.

_______  I avoid certain places or situations where there will be a lot of “unhealthy” food.

_______  I sometimes just give in and eat “bad” foods but then make up for it by exercising more.

_______  I answered yes to one or more of the above and I’m proud of my self-control.

_______  I answered no to all the questions but I admire people that do and I believe that if I just had more willpower I’d be able to control my weight better.

_______  I feel guilty when I eat certain foods.

_______  I feel bad about myself when I eat foods I believe I shouldn’t.

 How to Get Rid of the Meme

 Take a close look at the “picture of health” you’re painting. Is it constrained by rigid lines and someone else’s choice of colors? Or does it express your individuality, your preferences, and your lifestyle? Choose now how you want to create your work of art.

 If you want to rid yourself of the “restrictive is healthy” meme, here are some specific steps you can take.

  1.  Expose the meme. Filter everything you read, hear and say by asking, “Is this restrictive in nature?” (You might be surprised when you start to notice just how pervasive it really is!) 
  2. Begin to monitor your thoughts. When you notice restrictive thoughts, gently replace them with thoughts that respect your current size(This meme is sneaky so it may be helpful to journal so you capture the real essence of your beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and choices.)  
  3. Find support. Remember, the meme may have you convinced that you are incapable of eating and exercising without rigid rules. Find role models, health care providers, and non-restrictive messages that don’t propagate the meme. Check out the Association for Size Diversity and Health.
  4. Use nutrition information as a tool not a weapon. All foods fit into a healthy diet. 
  5. Make the healthiest choice you can without feeling deprived. The keys are balance, variety, and moderation. 
  6. Let go of the belief that you need to eat perfectly. That is the meme talking. Accept that you’ll sometimes regret certain choices you make—that is part of a healthy lifestyle. When you don’t get caught up in guilt and shame, you’re able to learn from your experiences. 
  7. Repeat often: It’s just food and I can trust and nourish myself without restriction and Physical activity is not punishment for eating
  8. Discover joy in creating your own masterpiece!

5 Responses to “the HAES files: create your own masterpiece”

  1. Although the survey is or might be useful in discovering who is behaving in a way about food that is not life-enhancing I think the survey is misleading in what it might seem to reveal. For instance, I use labels to decide whether I can eat a particular food, I usually pass up foods that are high in certain ingredients, like fat or carbs, I avoid certain places or situations where there will be a lot of “unhealthy” food and I answered yes to one or more of the above and I’m proud of my self-control — but none of this behavior has to do with dieting or an eating disorder. I am lactose intolerant, I am gluten intolerant, and I am allergic to many many many foods including the entire deadly nightshade family, foods in the same family as latex, pit fruits, MSG in any form which includes autolyzed yeast and hydrolyzed anything, etc. I do have to restrict my eating to keep from lots of serious pain and sickness. I have to read labels. And I have to avoid places where I can’t make a choice of a meal that will nourish me and not make me sick. So I suggest you rewrite your survey to make sure that people with legitimate food restrictions can take it without being at best annoyed and at worst outraged. I certainly agree that demonizing certain foods because of craziness about fatness is important to reconsider — but a person can be limited in the ways I am and ALSO be needing to recover from ED mishigas.

  2. Great post!

    But fat and carbs are not ingredients. They are two of the three macronutrients that food is made of, but “ingredients” are things like butter and flour. I often avoid things with ingredients that I don’t like or don’t feel like at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I’m restricting – it means I’m sensible and paying attention to my body.

  3. I like the core idea you’re going for here – that restriction and guilt are not healthy, but I feel like some of the tactics for expressing it are too broad. The examples of using labels to decide what to eat or avoiding places with “unhealthy” (which I tend to define as “will make me feel low-energy/sick/tired”) food can also fit into a nourishing, loving approach to food.

  4. I agree with the previous commenters. I avoid alcohol, processed carbs, potato, meat and fish because they trigger my allergies, IBS and/or hypoglycaemia. That isn’t the “restriction is healthy” meme, it’s paying attention to how my body responds to food, which HAES is supposed to encourage. It was only when I quit dieting and began to seriously practise intuitive eating that I was even able to recognise which foods were triggering these conditions. The key is not whether someone is restricting, but the motivation for restriction and whether the specific restrictions are one-size-fits-all or tailored to the individual’s self-experience.


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