Eat the goddamn pie


I keep seeing women saying things like “How are you sticking to your diet with all the yummy Christmas foods tempting you?” Or berating themselves for eating a mince pie.


Eat the fucking pie. Just eat it, enjoy it and don’t worry about it.

Maybe you’ll gain some weight over the festive period, but when you get back to normal habits, it’ll go back to normal.

It’s important, spiritually nourishing and goddamn lovely to celebrate and convalesce with family, to bond over food and drinks and not to be some neurotic party pooper lecturing everybody about gluten.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: prioritising diets over family bonding is back to front living and just ridiculous.

And if you don’t have habits that you can get back to after the festivities are over, if you’re on a super restrictive regime that doesn’t allow you to partake in your favourite foods, then you probably want to take a look at that. Because it doesn’t sound like what you’re doing is sustainable.


“Just eat less and move more”

…Also known as the idiot’s solution to obesity.

Do I believe that a negative energy balance isn’t essential to lose weight? No, it obviously is. But to reduce something with a myriad of complex social, environmental, genetic and psychological factors to one simple suggestion is idiotic.

But that wasn’t to be the point of this post.

We are led to believe by the media and those looking to make a quick buck by capitalising on society’s preoccupation with weight that we can, and should, eat as little as 1200 or 1500 calories a day, or even less. And furthermore, that we can, and should, exercise as well.

1200 calories is roughly the figure an adult male IN A COMA requires to keep his basic functions ticking over. Like, y’know, breathing, heart beating, hair growing. This is highly unlikely to be enough for a moving, non-vegetative person.

So it’s unsurprising that most of us are only able to ‘stick’ to these diets for a short time before we get utterly miserable and start eyeing up our children as a potential food source. It’s not lack of willpower, it’s called being ravenous.

But there are further consequences of attempting to create such a big caloric deficit. For women, we need an energy balance of around 40 calories per kg of lean body mass. That’s AFTER exercise. What you need left over for your body to perform its functions, especially those dependent on oestrogen.

If you try to eat this few calories, and exercise as well, you’re likely to be notching up somewhere well south of this. Levels of hormones IGF-1 and T3 decline and menstrual cycles and bone density start to suffer. You want to be thin, but do you want to be injured and ill? Infertile?

There’s a reason that 2000 calories is recommended intake for adult women. It wasn’t just plucked out of the air. And yet we’ve become so warped in our attitudes to food consumption that it seems like a dirty word. I know I would once have considered a day in which I ate this many calories a failure or a binge. Eating the recommended intake may not help you to lose 14lbs in 7 days or anything else ridiculous, but you will be able to ‘stick’ to it, and you won’t wreck your health and your mind.

So don’t just eat less and move more. Eat enough, and move enough.

Intuitive eating? Is that like mindfulness?

Well, sort of. That’s part of it. Taking time to consider what you want to eat, savouring what you are eating and checking in with yourself to ask whether you are satisfied.

But it’s so much more.

It’s abandoning the diet mentality forever. Freeing yourself from ‘shoulds’ about food. Accepting yourself, your body, your desires and tastes without judgment. Understanding that food has no moral value, it isn’t ‘naughty’, ‘cheeky’, ‘indulgent’, ‘sinful’. Refusing chocolate isn’t ‘being good’ and all food is ‘clean’ unless you picked it up off the floor (and even then I would still eat it most of the time).

Intuitive eating is remembering what hunger feels like and what foods you actually like to eat.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Get in touch with your body’s cues and figure out what tastes good. And yet it was a revelation for me.

I’d spent so long governed by ideas of foods being good and bad that I had no idea what I liked any more. I used to make up lies – “pasta gives me stomach ache” – to avoid eating the foods I feared when someone else served them up, and started to believe them myself through sheer repetition.

These days I can casually grab a sandwich from the shop for lunch without freaking out about bread or carbs. Every now and then I notice how little of a deal it is to me now. Major achievement, right? Putting a man on the moon has nothing on me conquering the gluten fear!

But I know there are still people struggling against themselves, crushing themselves with their own set of shoulds and shouldn’ts. And I want to say to you that there’s another way, a way where you can just not think about food and it’s easy, and it’s happy and it’s not as scary as you might think.

If you’re hungry

Eat breakfast, if you’re hungry in the morning. Don’t, if you’re not. It won’t make you thinner or fatter. It won’t boost your metabolism.

Eat little and often, if you get hungry often. Or eat big meals and nothing in between. It won’t slow down your metabolism.

Eat at night, if you’re hungry then. It won’t make you fat any more than eating at any other time of day. Your weight will be determined by your energy balance over weeks and months, not a single day. Your metabolism does not slow down at night.

Eat carbs, to properly fuel your activity. They are not the enemy. They will not make you fat. Your brain runs on carbs.

Eat fat. Even saturated fat. It will regulate your hormones and keep you looking and feeling great. It will not raise your cholesterol. It will not make you fat. It will enable you to absorb vital nutrients.

Eat sugar. It’s not ‘as addictive as cocaine’. It’s not addictive. It’s just a carbohydrate. It has its place in your diet, especially if you are active. It will not give you diabetes, unless you are genetically predisposed to it, in which case you will have to manage all carbohydrates. It will not make you fat.

Eat everything, in moderation. Let hunger guide you, but not rule you. Chill out about food.

Stop seeing exercise as calories burned

Chances are you’ve seen something like this in a magazine. You need to do x number/minutes of [insert exercise] to burn off that chocolate bar/burger/cocktail. The preoccupation with weight loss, even in people of a healthy weight, in today’s world, has led to nutrition and exercise being reduced to a simple sum: calories in vs calories out. And it’s endemic. I hear so many people talking about how many calories they’ve burned on the cross trainer or in spin class (which is probably way off beam in any case, unless they’ve been wearing a heart rate monitor).

Seeing exercise in this way is problematic on a number of levels. First of all, the benefits of exercise extend way beyond how much energy it utilises. Just by doing exercise at all, you’ll be extending your life and improving your health. But if you’re choosing lengthy cardio sessions to burn as many calories as possible, then you’re missing out on the many benefits of resistance training, which, as it happens, will be way more effective in achieving the physique you want in any case.

Of course, cardiovascular exercise has benefits. Improving your aerobic fitness is an important part of keeping healthy, and, yes, it can help you to manage your weight. But unless you’re training for an endurance event, there’s no need to be notching up sessions of more than 30 minutes, or for those sessions to be super-intense. Free up some time to do strength and flexibility training so that you can reap the benefits across the exercise spectrum.

This way of thinking also leads to a distorted view of food and eating. It starts from the premise that calories are the enemy, and if you consume them you must nullify them and bring the balance sheet back to 0. It implies that you either have to earn the right to eat by exercising, or that eating must be punished, or balanced out, by burning off the calories. The fact of the matter is that we actually need food to live, we need calories to live. There’s no need to atone for a snack.

Food and exercise should both be enjoyable, not guilt-ridden and punitive. Reducing exercise to calories burned takes the pleasure out of it and negates to acknowledge its far reaching benefits.