I bet you didn’t know that May 6th was International No Diet Day. Well it was, and its a day dedicated to raising awareness regarding the dangers of dieting and to celebrate body acceptance and body shape diversity.
Despite the entrenchment of the diet mentality in our culture, research demonstrates that diets don’t work. Ninety-eight percent of all dieters regain their weight within five years and ninety-five percent within two years. And Harvard medical School studies have shown that constantly losing and gaining weight is more hazardous to health than remaining overweight.
By now, most of us know that restrictive dieting doesn’t lead to permanent weight loss; rather, it tends to fuel self-criticism and guilt, lower self-esteem and leave us vulnerable to a negative body image, disordered eating and eating disorders. But for many of us, it’s difficult to break the diet mentality.
When I say “diet mentality” I’m referring to deeply entrenched thoughts and habits related to controlling your food intake and body size. And just in case you’re thinking “I’ll just try another diet, this one time, to jump start cleaner eating and get some extra weight off before summer”, let me share with you some of the reasons to stop dieting once and for all:
First and foremost, dieting fails to encourage us to trust the wisdom of our wonderful, phenomenal bodies. By artificially limiting our intake, going “hungry” or eating only select foods, we ignore our most basic body signals: hunger, cravings and fullness.
Constantly restricting your food intake is sure to lead to a binge, sooner or later.
The body interprets chronic low-calorie dieting as starvation and slows down the metabolism, which means weight plateaus and a harder time losing weight.
Food restriction triggers intense food cravings and when we go off the diet, our bodies retain more fat for the next famine.
Studies show that yo-yo dieting leads to an increased risk of heart disease and diets lower than 800 calories can lead to gallstones.
Chronic dieting can throw off our appetite stimulating and braking hormones leading to an out of balance appetite.
Hopefully, the above information isn’t new to you but even if it is, it’s time to give up dieting once and for all.
Some simple steps you can take to begin to address your overeating today, without going on another diet, include:
1) Eat only when you feel true physical hunger–you know, that empty, gurgly, feeling in your stomach or light feeling in your head.
2) Pay attention to your cravings; your body will tell you what it needs. This doesn’t mean eat junk food or candy because you’re craving sugar and fat–try to satisfy your cravings by selecting whole, unprocessed foods, like fruits, veggies, lentils, beans, nuts and seeds. If you’ve been eating lots of processed foods, it may take some time to be satisfied by whole potatoes versus french-fries, or fruit versus candy. Try making these wholesome substitutions at least some of the time. Your palate will begin to change and it will be easier to release foods that no longer serve your body.
3) Stop labeling foods as “good” or “bad;” just notice when you eat something that temporarily meets your emotional needs but doesn’t serve your body well and see if you can make a different choice during the next re-fueling session.
4) Stop eating before you are full. Listen to the levels of fullness you feel–can you feel the first sensations of fullness, long before you feel louder, more uncomfortable fullness sensations? Can you stop eating somewhere in between? Remind yourself that you get to eat again when you feel true physical hunger.
5) Every time you want to eat when you’re not hungry, or when you’re already full, or if you want to make unhealthy, comfort food selections, ask yourself:
What am I feeling in this moment? Can you stay with these feelings?
What am I truly longing for, other than food?
Most likely, you’re looking for comfort, soothing, distraction, pleasure or excitement. Maybe you’re lonely and desire nourishing companionship. Perhaps you’re bored and need some stimulation. Food can be incredibly comforting and even exciting, but you don’t need me to tell you that it doesn’t solve any of your deeper emotional needs or issues or help build self-care skills.
6) Commit to finding alternative means of coping with triggering emotional states and unmet needs. Ask for support or a hug, write in your journal, take some time to grieve losses and disappointments, plan more time for rest and relaxation, join a support or social group, look for volunteer opportunities, get started on revising that resume, etc. You’ll have to get creative here and try on some new behaviors. By not eating during these times, you will reinforce the message “I can take care of myself; I can give myself the support I need.”
7) Replace any negative, self-defeating thoughts with positive empowering thoughts. It’s easier to refrain from emotional eating when we’re feeling better about ourselves.
8) Practice gratitude–before you get out of bed every morning, say Thank You for all the wonderful people, conditions and things in your life; even better, say your list out loud and really connect to what you’re saying. The practice of gratitude allows you to open your heart and connect in a meaningful way to all the blessings currently showing up in your life. Feeling better about yourself and your life helps you make better food choices throughout the day.
As you practice the above steps, be gentle with yourself. Remember, it’s practice, not perfection. You deserve lots of compassion, love and forgiveness on this challenging, yet enlightening journey. You didn’t become an overeater overnight, and it will take some time to resolve your overeating. The above steps are a good start on the road to ending the diet mentality.
Posted by Julie M Simon, MA, MBA, MFT, psychotherapist and life coach, certified personal trainer, founder and director of The 12 Week Emotional Eating Recovery Program and author of The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual and When Food Is Comfort. If you have a question or topic you’d like to see addressed in this blog, go to https://overeatingrecovery.com.
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