CHICAGO (WGN) — What is anti-regime?
It is a practice rooted in self-care, not deprivation, designed to help practitioners disconnect from dietary culture and tune into their bodies. Those who take the wellness approach say they digest food, not mixed messages.
Debbie Heywood is an intuitive food practitioner. She said she has spent the past 50 years battling her weight and her body image.
“It took over my life – a big part of my life,” she said. “I think it took way too much of my time, energy and space and made me sad and unhappy for a very, very long time.”
And now, at 63, Heywood has said she’s done.
“I wasn’t ready to spend the rest of my life like this,” she said.
For the past three years, she’s embraced what’s called intuitive eating. Dietitian and social worker Kate Merkle guides Heywood through the process.
“For a lot of people, it’s like a breath of fresh air,” Merkle said. “It’s really liberating.”
Merkle, who said she once struggled with an eating disorder, discovered the philosophy in college.
“Really, it’s about embracing and accepting your body as it is, but also doing the work of harmonizing. What does he need ? says Merkel.
Merkle now shares the principles of what is also called an anti-diet approach at her firm Nourishment Works on the North Side of Chicago.
“I really live that philosophy,” she said. “It saved my life. … There is so much of a tsunami of diet culture, a huge wave of diet culture in our world.
And many are drowning, weighed down by a constant crash of external and internal messages. Merkle said her clients often repeat the same thought patterns:
- “I need to starve myself to lose weight”
- “Some foods are bad”
- “Lean equals health”
- “I can’t lose weight, so I’m a failure”
- “Being fat is bad”
- “I need a structured diet”
For some, intuitive eating can be a lifesaver.
“It really gives people back their lives,” Merkle said.
The approach is not a license to eat with abandon or to avoid certain foods and limit calories. Rather, it is about connecting with hunger and fullness. merkel said at think of the process as a gauge on a fuel tank.
When we get moody or irritable, Merkle said, food culture “tells us you can ignore it. Just take a diet soda.
Instead, Merkle said, “mild hunger” is a better cue to eat.
“I want to help people get permission to eat when they notice it early,” she said.
From there, she said to tune in across the spectrum.
“We want fullness and satisfaction,” she said, but not too much because that’s when we fight.
“The spiral of shame can happen, ‘I shouldn’t have eaten so much.’ But really, it was a biological response to being so hungry,” Merkle said.
Questions she says she asks herself at every meal:
- What do I want to eat?
- Do I want something hot?
- Do I want to bite into something?
- Do I want a drink this morning?
“And doing that for every meal, so I’m connected to what I’m eating in a way that I know I’m honoring my body,” Heywood said.
Registered Dietitian Yolanda Cartwright helped develop a nutrition program to combat hypertension in the communities she serves on Chicago’s West Side.
“If people don’t buy into this idea of what an ideal body weight is, it’s very unlikely that an intervention designed through a traditional route will work,” she said. “What we do in our work, we try to get away from the approach where things are so strict.”
She added: “We don’t focus on the fat you eat, the calories you eat and the carbs you eat, but we think more broadly about diet – things like limiting processed foods and eating more fruits and vegetables. And when you do these things, do you feel like you have more energy. Do you feel happier?
The Rush University researcher said an intuitive food principle – mindfulness – is a core part of her model.
“Those of us in the nutrition community have known for a very long time that the brain has this miraculous ability to control appetite,” she said.
Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., is a professor of preventive medicine and division chief of nutrition in the department of Northwestern Medicine.
“Feeling good with you and the rules aren’t necessarily one or the other as far as I’m concerned,” she said.
She said the practice of intuitive eating has its benefits if individuals consume nutrient-dense foods, especially those recommended by established dietary guidelines.
“I agree it would be wonderful if people stopped eating when they were full,” she said. “It’s a major contributor to our overweight and obesity problem in this country. … But if those calories are coming from foods that are lacking in those nutrients, lacking in vitamins and minerals and other things that we know they’re associated with a healthier outcome and lower disease risk, so that’s unfortunate.
Heywood said she wasn’t worried.
“I can trust myself and I don’t need anyone to tell me what my body needs, they don’t know me,” Heywood said.
She said she no longer steps on the scale, but she knows her numbers.
“I’m healthy, my labs are good,” she said. “The freedom I feel and the joy I have inside me now is so different from waking up every morning feeling unhappy with myself. Your body, my body is not leading me down the wrong path. If I listen, I’m fine.
Food is not the only factor. Nutritionists say that sleep, stress, physical activity and hydration should all be considered when it comes to overall wellbeing.