We’re finally saying “see ya later” to diet culture, and healthier approaches to weight loss are stepping into the scene. These days, finding food freedom is encouraged – but that might sound like there’s no plan at all.
What food freedom really means is focusing on eating nutritious foods that fuel your wellness goals without restricting yourself for the sake of “weight loss at all costs.” It also means letting go of the guilt or shame that comes with indulging in less healthy choices from time to time.
While the shift toward food freedom is a positive thing, finding the balance between weight loss goals and food freedom can be confusing. I know this because I’ve been there, myself.
Hi, I’m Jamie and I’ve been a Registered Dietitian for over 8 years. In that time I’ve worked with hundreds of women who all have one thing in common – feeling defeated after another diet leads them right back to square one. But, the good news is this trend doesn’t have to continue.
So: let’s talk about what food freedom is and how you might just be able to tackle that AND your weight loss goal.
My story might be like yours
When I was younger I struggled with my weight constantly fluctuating. I felt super uncomfortable in my body, and I had zero self-control around food. Strict diets and obsessing over weight loss only made things worse. I wasn’t finding a solution; I desperately wanted to.
What finally worked for me – and what works for SO many of my clients – is finding a balance between food freedom and my weight loss goals.
Let’s talk about some practical ways you can find yours.
Your mind is a powerful tool
I’m not here to convince you to ditch your weight loss goals, but rather to open your eyes to the reality of weight loss and help you find a better way to approach it.
The first thing you have to look at is your mindset around dieting and weight loss. When you think about food, are your thoughts focused on “I can’t eat X because it’s unhealthy?” Or do you dwell on that cookie you ate earlier and just can’t seem to shake the guilt?
When we tell ourselves a food is “bad” and can never be eaten, studies have shown negative mental effects often come with a restrictive diet mentality.
It’s time to change your mindset from “I can’t have that” to “I enjoy eating this because it gives my body nutrients and helps support my body finding its healthiest weight.”
You can start by building some healthy habits.
Create healthy habits
Creating healthier habits is a big step to discovering your healthiest weight – aka your “set-point weight.” It takes some trial and error to make them stick, but with these three attributes, your habits will propel you towards your goal of food freedom and your weight goals. The three attributes are to be:
Think of a time you were frantically running around your house, hunting for your missing car keys. You were probably thinking, “I don’t understand, I always put them right here. Where are they?!”
If you expect your keys to be on the same hook every morning it’s probably because you consistently put them in the same place. Without consistency, it’s easy to get confused.
This is similar to how our bodies handle finding our “set-point weight.”
If you constantly change your eating habits by being overly restrictive with food one day and bingeing the next, your body gets “confused.”
But with consistent, healthy habits in place, your body is pretty good at figuring out its set-point weight – or close to it! (More on what your set-point weight is in just a moment.)
Take a second to think of your favorite hobby. When did you discover it? And why did you stick with it?
You probably liked going to Tuesday Trivia Night a lot better than staying home like you used to. (Or substitute whatever your fun thing is)!
The same thing applies to your health habits – if they’re difficult to maintain, the “results” will be impossible to sustain. Remember, if you want something to stick you have to like your new habits better than the old ones.
Always remember there WILL be days when you eat a “fun” treat you didn’t plan to, or skip the nutritious lunch you packed to go out for a meal with friends.
And that’s OK! You should be able to enjoy your meals without feeling guilty for indulging every so often.
Too much rigidity can actually backfire and cause you to obsess over food restrictions even more.
Relax. And give yourself some wiggle room.
Things to note when considering progress
We tend to focus on the number on the scale above all else, but I don’t actually recommend that.
Your weight doesn’t tell us that much
Your weight on the scale is the total amount that gravity is pulling on your body; it doesn’t tell us how much of your weight is your skeleton, your muscle, the blood pumping around in your veins, or even, exactly how much fat tissue you have in your body.
When we talk about weight loss, what we really mean is “fat loss”. In order to better understand your health journey, you can also occasionally (but not obsessively) check in with body measurements or how clothes are fitting. If your strength training is helping to build muscle, you’re healthier and leaner but that might not actually change what the scale says at all.
Only looking at your weight ignores all other measures of health, including your blood pressure, blood sugar, how you feel, how much you’re sleeping at night, or your stress levels. There are SO many other factors that contribute to your overall health and wellness; please track more than your weight!
“Set-point weight” doesn’t always mean the lowest weight
Your set-point weight is the weight at which you feel good both physically and mentally; it doesn’t require restrictive dieting or compulsive exercising to maintain it and you’re not consumed with thoughts of food, tracking, calories, or points.
What is hard for many of us is that we can’t pick our set-point weight. Instead, our set-point weight is kind of like our shoe size; our genetics play a big role in what our adult body looks like.
Working toward your weight loss goals can have many health benefits, but just remember your “set-point weight” might not be reaching the lowest weight of your life.
And for many people, it’s not. It’s better to focus on the health benefits of habit changes rather than a magic target number.
Find your “Why” – beyond weight loss
Why do you want to have healthier habits besides weight loss? Dig deep here and think about what the real reason is.
For example, it might be, “I want to lose weight to run around and play with my kids.” Or, “I want to live a long and active life with my spouse.”
Everyone’s “why” will be a little different and it can be helpful to write it down in detail and revisit it from time to time.
What other ways can weight loss improve your health?
If you’re battling with the last few pounds ask yourself: “What do I actually want here? More energy? More muscle? More confidence?”
Maybe you want to work on your exercise habits to build more muscle and feel stronger versus the specific number on the scale. Or work on body image to improve confidence. Remember that a specific number is unimportant.
Other healthy habits that support your body’s “set-point weight”
There is a lot that goes into cultivating true health and wellness. Here are a few aspects that you can begin to focus on for lasting food freedom and weight loss.
Eating consistent, balanced meals
Eating healthful, balanced meals most of the time is a great way to get closer to your health and wellness goals. But remember, a little flexibility is important here!
Eating consistent, balanced meals that provide what you need nutritionally (and mentally) takes care of the biological need to eat so you feel more in control around food.
And that doesn’t mean always saying “no” to dessert. It means you feel like you can confidently say “yes” or “no” to dessert based on what you truly want.
Avoiding tight food restrictions
If you’re experiencing a lot of weight cycling or struggling with overeating frequently, it’s a red flag that what you’ve been trying to do is too restrictive.
Instead of “I need to stop eating sweets to lose weight,” try, “What habits can I start prioritizing that support my healthiest weight?”
Listening to hunger and fullness cues
This one’s important if you find yourself eating out of boredom. Before you meander to the fridge, pause and ask yourself “Am I really hungry right now, or am I just bored?”
If the answer is boredom, consider:
- Calling a friend
- Cleaning out that messy junk drawer
- Sweeping the house
- Cozying up with a good book
- Drinking a glass of water
- Sipping a cup of hot tea
Moving your body
There are so many ways to exercise! Don’t want to lift weights or run on the treadmill? You don’t have to. Maybe you used to play basketball, or you enjoy swimming, walking through the neighborhood, or even yard work.
Finding any movement that you enjoy can help you achieve a calorie deficit – using more energy than you take in – which promotes weight loss.
If you dread your current exercise routine, or the thought of starting one, consider a new option!
Exercise has many benefits beyond the calorie burn, from reducing stress to helping you get a better night’s sleep. And you know what? Those two things keep your health moving forward too – the habits are all connected!
Have you ever craved sweets when studying for an exam or prepping for a nerve-wracking job interview?
You’re not alone – studies show people tend to crave more high-calorie, high-fat foods when they’re stressed out.
Instead of overeating to handle the stress, consider journaling, going for a walk, meditating, or talking to a friend. These are just a few ideas, but there are many ways to calm your nerves so you can make more intentional choices aligned with your weight loss goals.
Getting enough ZZZs is a bigger deal than you might realize. Studies have shown significantly higher rates of obesity in people who sleep less than 7 hours a night.
When you’re sleep deprived your body craves high-energy, high-calorie foods to keep you going throughout the day. Do your best to limit screen time before bed and keep a regular sleep schedule.
At the end of the day, there are SO many factors that affect weight loss, but the main takeaway is you can achieve your goals without rigid diets!
Need help finding freedom with food while working toward weight loss goals? Get my free guide to learn more about why cravings happen, plan your meal timing better, and use snacking to maintain steady fullness all day! I’m rooting for you!