Today is International No Diet Day.
Why are we so obsessed with diets? The research overwhelmingly shows that the hands-down best way to GAIN weight is to go on a diet. Yep, dieting makes you fat. So why do we keep doing it? And what’s the alternative?
Somehow the diet industry has managed to build themselves a product that people will continue to buy even when it doesn’t work. We follow a diet, we lose some weight, we put that weight back on – and we blame ourselves. Even though the science shows that the DIET causes the eventual re-gain of lost kilos – we manage to convince ourselves that it is our fault, not the diet’s. So we try a new one. And when that one doesn’t work, we blame ourselves again, and repeat.
How does this make us feel? Empowered? In control of our health? Healthy and motivated? Able to be our best selves? Kinda the opposite, hey. Guilt, shame and dis-empowerment are common side effects of dieting.
(I talk more about guilt and food over here).
But isn’t there a global obesity epidemic?
There is absolutely a problem in modernised societies with over-supply of high-calorie low nutrient-density foods. We are absolutely fatter than we have ever been, and this is unquestionably making us sicker than ever before in human history. We all know the stats, the facts, the problem.
…What no-one can seem to agree on is the solution.
So what happens when we diet?
Do you know what happens when you diet? Our bodies are extremely clever. If there’s one thing I never stop being amazed at as I treat people and continue my studies, it is that our bodies are phenomenally complex and phenomenally clever. There are more protective mechanisms, built-in redundancies, firewalls and alternate pathways than a high-security NSA data facility.
So when we diet? If you start reducing the food supply, our bodies naturally adapt – it’s what they’re designed to do.
- Neurological changes make you hyper-aware of food. You think about it more, you notice it more, it looks more appealing. This is your brain reminding you that you need to be on the look-out for food, as things appear to be getting scarce.
- Hormonal changes make you feel hungrier and less satisfied when you eat. Again, a reminder that the body has noticed things are less abundant than they were, so you need to eat more. How handy.
- Metabolic changes mean that your clever, clever body shifts into economy mode, garnering more energy from less food and storing some away for when things get even worse. Another fantastic evolutionary adaptation to times of food scarcity. (read more on the research behind these changes here)
So you can see how over time, all of our deprivational and restrictive dietary approaches are doomed to fail – because we are human, because of our biology, because we don’t understand what we are working against.
But…I need to lose weight!
There is another way. (There has to be, right?) Now that we understand what we are up against, we can see that a different approach is needed, and that approach seems to be tied more to how we eat than what we eat.
In our daily lives, we have access to food a lot of the time. We eat at work, on the train, in the car, on 2 hour flights. We eat while we socialise, while we walk our dogs, while we cook, while we watch TV. Some of us eat in the middle of the night. Within this landscape, you can see how easy it might be to eat (way) more than we actually need.
Imagine if we started eating intuitively. What does that even mean?
Imagine that you ate only when you started to feel hungry. Imagine that you took the time to listen to what your body was telling you. That you were fully present when you ate, enjoying each mouthful and responding when your body felt it had enough food. That when you were presented with an opportunity to eat – a morning tea at work, an enticing cake display at your local cafe, that bag of chips at the petrol station… you took the time to check in with your body, to think about whether you actually wanted to eat, whether you would enjoy it, how you would feel afterwards… and then make a decision based on that feedback.
Food is meant to be delicious, eating is meant to be a pleasurable experience. Don’t deprive yourself of that. Instead, make food and eating a mindful, enjoyable part of your life. Do you really enjoy something that you know will make you feel sick, bloated or guilty after eating? It can be a real challenge to shift your mind in this direction, but it is possible, and all you need to do is take one step and see how it feels. The next time you are hungry, check in with what you really feel like eating. The next time you feel like eating something even though you aren’t hungry, check in with how much you will enjoy it, how you will feel afterwards, and whether you really want it now. After all, you can always have it tomorrow.
If we can learn to listen to the wisdom of our bodies, gradual changes will set in. As we become aware of our hunger and fullness cues, and we curate our eating to include foods that make us feel good and exclude or minimise those that don’t, our bodies will naturally move towards a healthier balance. This is a new (but also very, very old) way of thinking about food – and it can be amazingly freeing to let go of the counting, the scales, the rules and the constant vigilance around food, and to tune in to our bodies again.
Have you tried this? Do you think it could work for you? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.
If you’d like to talk to me about how I can help you clinically with weight management and mindful eating, please contact me. For more articles, hints and tips on health eating and healthy living, I would love for you to subscribe to my newsletter via the sign-up form at the bottom of this page.
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