{Deb Burgard; love this picture!}

There’s a common myth in our society that if we don’t diet, we’ll pillage our pantries and eat everything in sight.

We’re taught that dieting is a must. That it’s the only way to truly be healthy. That it’s vital in order to keep ourselves in line. That we’ll become good girls and boys who eat good things.

We’re taught that food rules are important, and even mandatory. We need them. If we don’t have them, then we’re rolling the dice with our health, appearance and even happiness.

Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth. But it’s a myth that’s everywhere — on TV, on magazine covers and even in our own homes. And it’s a myth that keeps many of us stuck in the inevitable cycle of yo-yo dieting, a cycle that’s truly unhealthy.

That’s why I’m beyond thrilled to introduce you to the wise and wonderful Deb Burgard, PhD, a psychologist specializing in eating and body image concerns across the weight spectrum, and one of the founders of the Health at Every Size(r) model.

Below, she reveals the truth behind this pervasive and insidious myth, along with what it means to eat intuitively.

Tomorrow Burgard talks about the consequences of dieting and how people can finally stop dieting.

You can learn more about Burgard at her website, and read her thought-provoking, powerful posts at the Health At Every Size blog.

Q: It’s a common myth that ditching dieting means you’ll eat everything in sight or gorge yourself on junk food, and I think it also gets associated with Health At Every Size and intuitive eating. Why do you think this misunderstanding exists? Where does it come from?

A: I think it comes from the fact that we have forgotten how we ate when we were born, with no policing, no training, no weight worries.  If you have ever seen an infant, it becomes pretty apparent that they know when they are hungry and they know when they are full.

But by the time we are fully indoctrinated, girls especially are convinced that their bodies are untrustworthy adversaries in the project of choosing how to eat.  We are trained to think that our conscious minds and will are the only defenses against raging appetites that are always about to veer out of control, especially in our “obesogenic environment.”

So the only two possibilities in that model are restricting or binging.  Because restricting and binging are so often two sides of the same process, we seem to confirm this fear that if we are not restricting, we are binging, because we oscillate from one to the other.

Many people are trapped in the restrict/binge vicious cycle, and they feel like seeing themselves “out of control” in a binge confirms that this is what happens when they are not restricting.

It never even occurs to them that every moment they spend restricting is putting energy into the eventual binge reaction.

When people make baby steps toward stopping dieting, the energy they have put into restricting often does result in a sort of free-for-all initially – that part of you that has been deprived is saying, “REALLY? I get to eat THIS? What about THIS?”

One person I worked with said that at first she was eating “Whatever I Want,” and only later, “what I want.”  The energy in her history of restricting had to wind down and after that she felt a lot calmer.

We fail to remember that there was a time before we restricted, when there was no worry about binging.

The HAES(r) model is a paradigm shift, and as such it transcends the two unhappy states of restricting and binging, returning to the normal process we were born with.

But if you are stuck believing that the traditional model is the ONLY model, when someone says, stop restricting, all you can hear is “that must mean binging!  Oh NO!”

You’ve totally forgotten that your body hates being uncomfortable – uncomfortably empty, yes, but also uncomfortably full.  It’s your most valued partner in making very middle-of-the-road eating decisions.

We are so unable to trust our bodies after all the brainwashing that our appetites are dangerous.  As an example, Brian Wansink has some great research about how external influences that we are not aware of can influence our eating, but he is curiously disinterested in using people who are connected with their body cues as participants in his research.

He shows that when you rig a soup bowl to keep filling up, people eat more soup – or if you eat off a bigger plate, you eat more food.

But I don’t think it would matter to a baby whether their soup bowl kept refilling, or whether the plate they ate off of was big or small.  Babies only pay attention to their body comfort. If you make a food colorful, they might play with more, but they won’t eat more of it than they can hold.

Q: What does it mean to eat intuitively without dieting?

A: I like Ellyn Satter’s definition of “normal eating,” because of the line that says, “normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes with eating.”

The source of non-intuitive eating is not trusting your body.  And when you weight cycle, you reinforce the illusion that your body is working against you.

I think the main characteristic about intuitive eaters is that they are using their body’s cues in a really unself-conscious way, the way most of us do, with, say, the need to pee.

If we had a culture that was as whacked-out about peeing as it is about eating, I am sure we would have “peeing disorders” and “peeing disorder treatment programs” and so on.

But we don’t show our “self-control” in this culture by only peeing between the hours of 6 and 7pm, even though it is just as ridiculous to show our self-control by having a government-approved BMI.

If we expected people to come in a range of weights, the way we expect them to come in a range of heights, and if we understood that you don’t have to eat way more to turn out heavier, just like you don’t have to eat more to turn out taller, maybe we would focus on just feeding ourselves rather than making eating into a project to change our weights.

Stay tuned tomorrow for part two!