When Lyndi Cohen was five years old enjoying her ballet lessons, she realised she was bigger than the other kids.
“I was wearing a pink leotard and looking at myself in the mirror and I could just see that my body was different from the other girls,” she told The AJN. “They were quite straight up and down. And my thighs touched, and my tummy looked different. And I already knew at that point, that being thinner was better.
By the age of 11, she was seeing her first nutritionist and was put on a “healthy eating plan”, which Cohen says was essentially a diet. It was the beginning of what she now recognises as a disordered relationship with food.
“That began the next decade of a really turbulent relationship with food and my body, where if I didn’t eat, or if I ate really well, I had a good day. And if I messed up and ate more than I had planned, I would lie in bed at night feeling guilty and berate myself. It’s like my mood was dictated by what I weighed,” she recalled.
What followed was a continual spiral into more extreme measures of trying to control her weight. The irony was that the more she tried to lose, the more weight she gained.
Eventually, she decided to stop dieting all together and reframe her understanding of food.
Now, she has made it her mission to help others do the same, describing herself as a dietitian, TV nutritionist and author who stands up against diet nonsense.
Her new book, Your Weight is not the Problem, emphasises a much kinder approach for healthy habits, that, more importantly, stick.
“Dieting is everywhere,” she noted. “There’s so many socially acceptable things we say like, ‘oh, I shouldn’t have eaten that’ or ‘I’m going to have to go to the gym this weekend to make up for what I just ate.’ Or even things like ‘you have to finish everything on your plate’. [This is] diet culture.”
It was through studying nutrition that she realised food is so much more than the calories we eat, becoming deeply focused on the psychology of eating and how people’s relationship with food and body image impacts what we eat and why we eat it.
With her books, website and podcast, Cohen hopes she can help others in understanding that being healthy doesn’t always mean sacrificing your life.
“The quote I love is that it’s not worth giving up 95 per cent of your life to weigh five per cent less,” she said.
And Your Weight is not the Problem has already been embraced by some big names, with Turia Pitt saying, “I want to press this book into the hands of every woman. It’s a forthright and liberating ‘f you’ to diet mentality and perfectionism.”
For Cohen, and as she describes in the book, life should be about intuitive eating – eating when you’re hungry, rather than when you think you should be eating.
“It’s not a trend. It’s what we want to be teaching our kids,” she said. “I have a whole chapter on this in my book. I feel like we’ve been passing down disordered thinking around food from generation to generation. And I feel like for our generation, we’re deciding that it stops with us. The way we teach our kids is going to be different. We’re going to teach them how to have internal regulation of what they eat, so that when we’re not there as parents to watch and moderate them, they already have that inbuilt system, that we’ve taught them how to listen to.”
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Cohen hopes that this helps parents and even young children understand how to have a better relationship around food, energy and overall life.
“Very rarely do I come across someone who has a perfectly healthy relationship with food,” she admitted. “There’s some research that has been done that found 80 per cent of women have some form of disordered eating, or a shaky relationship with their body. It’s become the norm, to think of food as good or bad, or forbidden, and to have a myriad of food rules controlling what we eat.”
It’s especially true when it comes to Jewish culture.
“There is a certain relationship between Jews and food. We celebrate with food, it’s such a core part of our identity in our culture,” Cohen noted. “And at the same time, there’s the simultaneous pressure to look a certain way. And what this creates is a real tug of war between being told we must eat, but don’t eat too much, especially for women.”
It’s this attitude that Cohen is trying to change with her book and her podcast, which she said gives her another avenue of connecting with people.
“It’s quite powerful,” she said. “If someone’s downloading a podcast episode, it’s half an hour. It’s a commitment to learning about a topic and an idea.”
And through all the mediums, Cohen explains that ultimately, she wants to create something for her younger self.
“I used to think there was something wrong with me, that there was something wrong with my willpower and my sense of self-control. And if I could just try harder or eat less, I’d finally be able to get on top of it all,” she recalled. “And what I realised is that most of us are struggling with what we eat and trying to control our weight. And it’s not an ‘us’ problem. This is something much greater than us; the very way we’ve been taught to think about food is wrong. And it’s making healthy eating so much harder than it needs to be.
“I just think back to 15-year-old me or 11-year-old me, to five-year-old me and think oh, my goodness, how much heartache I could have saved myself.”
Your Weight is not the Problem is published by Murdoch Books, $32.99 rrp. Keep up with Cohen on her website, lyndicohen.com or on Instagram @nude_nutritionist