Diets don’t work. They are especially toxic for your relationship with food and your body. So what is left to do if you want to improve your eating or manage your weight? Try these tips to avoid falling back on dieting this spring:
1. Reconnect with your hunger levels: everyone already has a way to “regulate” their eating and it has nothing to do with other people’s diet advice. Listening to your very own hunger signals is the first step to reconnecting with your body’s needs. No diet book, diet guru or meal plan will ever know how much or what you need to eat at any particular moment. Only you know what you want to eat, how much of it you need to feel satisfied and if you are truly hungry. It can seem scary at first especially if you have not relied on your own hunger cues in a long time, but chances are you will eat less if you follow your true hunger than if you ignore it. For most people who claim they are never hungry or feel fullness, chances are they have stopped listening to the cues long ago but the good news is that anyone can reconnect with these signals. This does take time and practice to get it right, but its worth the work! Read more about hunger levels and how to reconnect with them here.
2. Recognize when you are eating without being hungry: hearing your hunger (and fullness) cues is important for pointing when you are eating without hunger. Most people have eaten without feeling hungry at least once in their life. However, when this happens often it can lead to unhappiness and not actually fix the problems or emotions that are occurring. If you are not hungry, eating food does not help to relieve any sadness or loneliness or anxiety you may be experiencing. Negative emotions and situations cannot be helped with food and most people feel even worse after comforting themselves with food (especially true with people who are not intuitive eaters). First step is to acknowledge when you are eating without being hungry. After that, you can decide if you want to eat anyway, distract yourself from the craving or deal with the emotions that may be influencing you to eat.
3. Start peeling off those food labels (“good” food or “bad”): the more a food is forbidden, the more it is tempting to eat. Labeling foods as bad often does not lead to eating less of it. In fact, it often leads to binges if they are after avoided for a long time and if they are some of your favourite foods. Whats the point of avoiding, say ice cream, if you are going to binge on a pint of it at the end of the month. Just like in life, foods and nutrition are rarely just black and white. There is a lot of gray area- which can be harder to navigate than good vs bad. Again, the payoff of learning to live in a world of grays is worth the hard work. Taking the labels of foods can be scary and difficult. Some people are worried they may binge or over eat if foods are no longer off limits. However, with time the “I want what I can’t have” does wear off. Often these forbidden foods taste better with a “bad” label and when that label is removed, they aren’t as tasty or tempting.
4. Include all foods into your diet. This tip goes hand in hand with #3. This may mean re-introducing forbidden foods- especially if you find yourself binging on them. At first you may feel vulnerable and tempted to overindulge on these foods. However the more you practice enjoying these foods without guilt the easier it will become to eat them in moderation. When the foods become less forbidden, the need or desire to eat more than we want to, slowly goes away. Trust me- everyone thinks that this is impossible- but it will happen if you give it a chance. If you binge eat on a regular basis, you may want to enlist the help of a dietitian who specializes in eating disorders to help you with this step.
5. Write down exactly what changes you want to make. Most people know what they want to change, it’s finding the way to make those changes that is the hard part. You don’t need to be told to eat more fruit and veg or go to bed earlier but finding ways to carry out these changes takes effort. Focusing on actual things to change rather than “wanting to lose weight” gives you something tangible to do. Goals or changes you want to make should be action based- and wanting to lose weight or improve your relationship with food is not an action. What are you going to do to make these desires come true? Eat one fruit every day? Record your 10pm show so you can get to bed earlier? Try tracking the actions you want to take in order to remind yourself of your progress and successes.