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Stopping the Diet Mentalilty

Perhaps you’ve just gone through a rough patch in your life, or a very busy, stressful time and you’ve been overeating.  Maybe your life, in general, feels like one big rough patch!   You’ve gained some weight and you’re trying to figure out how to lose it.  Often, the quickest way to feel some control over your eating is to go on a diet.   And when you’re feeling out of control with your eating, all you can think about, when you’re not overeating, is gaining back some control.  Intuitively, it seems to make sense to cut back your intake in order to lose weight. 
Many clients I work with have been chronic dieters and even if they’re not currently dieting, they have difficulty giving up the diet mentality.  When I say “diet”,  I’m talking about reduced calorie eating plans.  And when I say “diet mentality” I’m referring to deeply entrenched thoughts and habits related to controlling your food intake and body size.  Did you know that 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. 
The truth is you can stop your overeating and lose the weight you want to lose without going on another diet. Yahoo!  But before I offer you some guidance on how to do just that, let me share with you the many reasons to stop dieting, once and for all, just in case you’re thinking “I’ll try another diet, just this one time to get this extra weight off”:
1)  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. 
2)  Constantly restricting your food intake is sure to lead to a binge, sooner or later.
3)  The body interprets chronic low-calorie dieting as starvation and slows down the metabolism. 
4)  Food restriction triggers intense food cravings and when we go off the diet, our bodies retain more fat for the next famine.
5)  Studies show that yo-yo dieting leads to an increased risk of heart disease and diets lower than 800 calories can lead to gallstones.
6)  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 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, natural foods (mainly foods that are plants, grow on plants or in the ground.)  If you’ve been eating lots of junky processed foods, it may take some time to be satisfied by whole potatoes versus french-fries, or fruit versus candy.  Stick with it and let your body and the way it feels guide you.
3)  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?
4)  Everytime you want to eat when you’re not hungry, or when you’re already full, or if you want to make very 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 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. 
5) 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, 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.”
6)  Replace any negative, disempowering thoughts with positive empowering thoughts.  This is where I see many overeaters get in to trouble.  Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy can be very helpful here for reframing deep-seated, self-defeating thoughts.  More on this in another blog entry.
7) Commit to fill you life with purpose and meaning.  Easier said than done, right?  This may take some time; there is truly no rush.  Time to practice patience. Think about what gives you a sense of purpose or meaning?  Is there something that you are passionate about?  Let your strengths and gifts guide you. 
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 time to resolve your overeating.  The above steps are a good start on the road to ending the diet mentality. 
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