After a summer of barbecues, s’mores, and ice cream, you might be considering a diet to help you slim down. Well-intentioned, often desperate souls begin the hunt for a quick and permanent cure for love handles, bat wings and thunder thighs (real or imagined).
Dieting has become somewhat of a national sport, with 45 to 50 million Americans dieting at any given time, feeding billions of dollars into a fat and happy diet industry. Yet people being overweight or obese remains a national epidemic.
Still, it’s not for lack of trying. You’ve counted your calories, your carbohydrate and fat grams, you’ve measured, you’ve restricted, you’ve allocated, you’ve planned, you’ve gone to bed hungry, you’ve over-exercised, you’ve under-eaten. Yet the bulge isn’t budging. The results are in: Diets don’t work.
So what does work? Evidence-based studies show that mindful, intuitive eating is the secret to achieving and maintaining a healthy, realistic weight. (NEWSFLASH: A realistic weight doesn’t always match a person’s fantasy weight.) Intuitive eaters have rejected the diet mentality. They have made peace with both food and body, and they give themselves unconditional permission to eat.
These eaters also have a high body appreciation, a sense of well-being, improved triglycerides and cholesterol, and a lower risk for disordered eating. They also eat a variety of foods; they trust their bodies, and they have a lower body mass index without internalizing the thin ideal. Intuitive and mindful eating does wonders for the whole person — from the inside out.
If you’ve been entrenched in the diet mentality your whole life, it may take some time to unearth your inner intuitive eater, but it’s worth going the distance. Here are some behavioral changes that you can master one by one as you work on healing your relationship with food. These are eating skills that will last you a lifetime, not just the first two weeks of every January.
1. Start an eating journal
Diet-minded people are so obsessed with what they eat and what they don’t that they rarely stop to ask themselves why they eat. In order to make peace with food, an eater must learn the differences between physical hunger, mouth hunger, and soul hunger. Keep an eating journal for a month and discover why you eat.
2. Honor your hunger
Physical hunger is the healthy and natural way for your body to tell you, “Feed me.” Symptoms include tummy rumblings, headaches, fatigue, irritability, etc. Diets, especially low-calorie and low-carbohydrate diets, often glorify physical hunger. This approach rarely works long term, is terrible for the metabolism and often results in desperate binges by semi-starved dieters. Tune in and learn how your unique body senses hunger and feed it accordingly.
3. Learn to wait
Mouth hunger is the craving you experience for high-sugar, high-fat foods — whether you’re physically hungry or not. Symptoms include increased salivation, preoccupation and distraction, and the like. If you are physically hungry, there are few reasons you shouldn’t let yourself eat the food you crave.
However, what happens when cravings strike in the absence of physical hunger? Don’t be enslaved by instant gratification. Learn to wait. Tell yourself you can have the food when you’re physically hungry, take a walk, take a few big breaths, chew a piece of gum, drink a big glass of water, and dive into a work or school project. You are the master and the cookie can wait.
4. Cope with emotions without using food
Soul hunger is a universal human condition that manifests itself as loneliness, stress, anger, boredom and more. More often than not, overweight and obesity are the ramifications of anesthetizing soul hunger with food.
As you tune in and fill out your eating journal, you’ll begin to discover the trigger emotions that cause you to eat. Once you’re self-aware, rather than numbing your pain via self-sabotage, you’ll have the power to choose positive avenues of self-care: call a loved one, give thanks and pray, go dancing, take a bubble bath, watch YouTube cat videos, exercise, sleep and more.
5. Feel your fullness
Congratulations, you’ve waited till you’re physically hungry, and it’s time for lunch. But remember this — it takes your body 20 minutes to register fullness. Unfortunately, your fork probably works much faster than your digestive system. In order to feel your fullness, you cannot rush through your meal. Slow down, sit down, put your fork down between bites, chew and taste your food thoroughly, take a two-minute break in the middle of your meal, and limit outside distractions.
After a lifetime spent wolfing down your food in front of the television or behind the wheel, this way of eating will seem strange and foreign to you. But it’s an essential part of the journey in achieving and maintaining your natural weight.
Do yourself a favor and resolve never to diet again, and begin the journey of making peace with food. Start an eating journal, honor your hunger, learn to wait, cope with emotions without using food, and feel your fullness. Then you can spend your time and money on noble pursuits that make your life and the world around you a better, more beautiful place.