Would you do something if it failed 95% of the time? Millions of us do—we diet. But research shows for most people diets are harmful as they eventually regain the weight and more, says corporate wellness coach Sara Armstrong, RN, at Holland Hospital in Holland, MI.

Sadly, a compulsion with dieting can lead to what some experts call “disordered eating,” or a clinical diagnosis of an “eating disorder.” So how can women achieve health at every age and size when it comes to their dietary habits and body size and weight?

When we talked, Armstrong shared how her hospital’s Health @ Every Size, a compassionate wellness program, is creating people with healthy vital signs, positive body image and good eating habits.

What’s different about Health @ Every Size?
You’re the expert when it comes to you. That may make you uneasy; we’re used to being told what to eat, how much to exercise. Rather, we ask you to eat intuitively, in touch with your body’s natural hunger and satiety cues. It’s a leap for dieters to trust that their body has a mechanism that tells them when they’re hungry or full. It’s been ignored but it exists.

People feel like they’ve failed and you’re turning it back, saying “trust yourself?”
They haven’t failed; the things they’ve been taught have failed them. Diets have failed them. We say, give up the good/bad food paradigm. We encourage them to explore eating when they’re hungry.

We eat without paying attention. One client was home alone and looking forward to cheesecake she had saved. She busied herself cleaning and then was so disappointed when she went to the refrigerator and discovered she had already eaten it—and she didn’t even remember eating it!

If you really love food, sit down and savor it—you’ll notice you won’t eat as much. Those first 3 to 8 bites taste so awesome, and then you realize, “I’m kinda done with this.”

Aren’t people afraid they’ll go overboard?
We’ve had a lot of feedback and appreciation of mindful eating. There are no more forbidden foods. I can take a piece of cake and enjoy it. Before, I would have eaten that privately, furtively and guiltily.

People binge less when they can have what they want; they start making choices that make them feel good.

And you combine this with exercise?
We call it pleasurable movement. We help people remember their bodies were designed to move and that it feels good. Do what you enjoy that will get you moving. One client started walking with her husband after dinner. They put their kids dressed in jammies into strollers. They’re lulled to sleep as she and her husband talk and get a lot of exercise.

So this is not just about weight loss?
This is about self acceptance, body acceptance. Many women hate their bodies. What we call an “eating disorder” in a thin woman we call “such a good dieter” in a fat woman. People who succeed in this are tired of not loving and living happily in their body.

We’ve been tracking success as major changes in biometric measures, including better blood pressure and glucose; improved self-esteem and cholesterol. Our total approach is “do no harm.” It’s a compassionate way to improve health even if a person’s weight never changes.


Carolyn Davis Cockey, MLS, LCCE, is founding editor of Healthy Mom&Baby, Senior Director of Partnerships & Publications at AWHONN, and a Lamaze-certified childbirth educator in Sarasota, FL.

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