FAILING AT DIETS? TRY A BETTER WAY TO EAT, NATURALLY AND INTUITIVELY

When something repeatedly fails, you must ask yourself: what is really the problem? Learn why external rules and guidelines may not be the answer.


BY: KYLIE MITCHELL, MPH, RDN, LD

Every year, people make a resolution to lose weight.  

Maybe you’ve made the resolution to, “get back on track,” and cut out all sugar once and for all.  And while you’re at it, may as well throw out gluten too.  But definitely add in kale and hemp seeds.  And perhaps throw in a 2-day juice cleanse to see just how close you can come to passing out.

Then, you stick to your diet for a couple weeks before you find yourself elbow deep in chips & queso.  Once you come up for air, you decide that you’re a failure and you’ll probably say other awful criticisms to yourself about how you screwed up again.  Never does it cross your mind that maybe you aren’t the problem.  

Maybe, just maybe, dieting is the problem.

When you are dieting, your body experiences a short-term starvation.  So when you “fall off the diet bandwagon” and allow yourself to eat again, your body naturally responds to the deprivation and starvation with extreme eating.  

You didn’t fail at dieting because you have zero willpower.

You failed at dieting because you can’t fight your biological drive to eat when you are starving.

It’s easy to get stuck in the cycle when you under-eat and end up overly hungry. That causes you to overeat and likely feel guilty about overeating so you go back to dieting.  Then repeat.

And let’s not stop there when pointing out why dieting doesn’t work.  When dieting and in an underfed state, you become more obsessed with food.  During World War II, a study was conducted where the calorie intake of study participants was restricted to see the effect starvation had on the human body.  

The study found that food became an obsession.  Not only will you deprive yourself of the food you want, you’ll also spend all day thinking about the food you can’t have.

It’s time to reconsider an alternative to dieting, and begin to:

  1. Let go of the misconception that certain foods are good or bad.
  2. Accept that your body has a natural set point weight where it is meant to be.
  3. Normalize eating by eating regularly and encourage your hunger and fullness cues to come back.
  4. Eat according to your natural hunger and fullness cues and cravings.  

This approach has a name: Intuitive Eating.

Where dieting gets it wrong is the feeling of guilt that is invoked for eating the foods you enjoy.  Becoming an intuitive eater means you listen to what your body wants, and allowing for foods to be satisfying and enjoyable.  

Our food choices shouldn’t be based on losing or controlling weight, and doesn’t mean you should always choose the salad over the burger.  Be aware of what you’re craving, then eat just enough to satisfy that craving and feel full. Once you have a healthy relationship with food and are no longer using food to fix your emotions, your body will find it’s natural set point weight and be where it’s

So what are the first steps to becoming an intuitive eater?

1. Mindfulness around food.

This means having an awareness of your hunger and what your body is craving.  If your mind is saying “burger”, but you instead order a salad and leave the restaurant with your mind still saying “burger”, you’ll likely overeat later that day since you didn’t honor your craving.  

Satisfying a craving doesn’t mean overeating.  Satisfying a craving means eating just enough of the food you are craving until you are satisfied.  Eating what you are craving encourages fulfillment and satisfaction, rather than deprivation.

2. Begin to have a curiosity, instead of harsh judgement, of your behaviors around food.

Ask yourself, why do I eat the way I eat?  Do you grab a handful of chocolate when you’re stressed about an upcoming exam? Or perhaps you reach for the jar of peanut butter when you’re procrastinating about finishing a work project? Or maybe you’re just bored and that ice cream is there so you get a spoon.  

The problem with using food to fix our emotions is that food is fleeting.  It fixes how we feel in the short-term, but in the long term ,food doesn’t fix the problem.  The only problem food can fix is hunger.

Becoming better at mindful eating doesn’t happen overnight.  Just like learning a new language, it takes time to master.  The first step to breaking free from the diet mentality is to realize that dieting has a >90% rate of failure.  Why would you invest time in something that has those stats?

Then ask yourself: Has dieting ever worked for me? If the answer is, “no”..

Then it’s time to try something new.

Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: JAKUB KAPUSNAK

Kylie Mitchell, MPH, RDN, LD is a Houston-based Registered Dietitian helping individuals create a healthier relationship with food without restrictions. By promoting positive body image, Kylie is driven to stop disordered eating and help people fall back in love with a healthy relationship with food and their body. Read more from Kylie at immaEATthat.

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