Instead of dieting, try a different approach to wellbeing this new year

With the new year comes an onslaught of advice on how to atone for our eating during the holidays and “get back on track”. But what if I told you that the way we “get back on track” can actually create and perpetuate a cycle of overeating and undereating? The very things we are encouraged to do to be healthier (which usually means lose weight or eat fewer calories) leads us straight towards bouncing between being too strict with food and reactionary “over” eating.

Tired of swinging between eating well and binging?

If you are tired of feeling like you are swinging back and forth between “good” and “bad” eating, if you feel you aren’t “adulting” well because you aren’t gorging on vegetables all the time, then you are NOT alone. The good news? There is ANOTHER way to eat and live. One that does not force you to count every calorie, watch every bite, worry over every meal. It is empowering and health improving and will help you get out of this diet-binge eating cycle.

Some people call it intuitive eating, others prefer the terms mindful or attuned eating (technically, these are similar but not exactly the same). No matter what you call it, using our hunger and fullness to help guide eating while reducing guilt about food and eschewing diet culture is the most helpful thing for our mental and physical health.

Step one: have lots of fun NOT dieting

One way to embrace these approaches to food and eating in the new year, is to NOT embark on another diet or “lifestyle” plan that cuts foods out or has any other eating rules. When we cut foods out, label foods as good and bad, we ultimately feel guilty when we (inevitably) eat them. Guilt is very impactful on our portions and does nothing to actually help us eat well. Guilt leads to not really tasting our food or feeling satisfied with it, we get less enjoyment from it and often eat quickly. All the things we usually try to avoid when trying to eat better.

Step two: there’s so much we can do to feel more calm around food

If you are panicking about what you ate over the holidays, take a deep breath. Literally. Unclentch your jaw, relax your shoulders, remove your tongue from from the roof of your mouth and breath. A few days or even a few weeks of eating differently will not effect your overall health. I know we’ve been bombarded with messages (for years) about how we should fear food, but science does not back up this fear mongering. Feeling hot shame roll over your body is not helpful nor healthy. If you feel your overeating or food habits are not normal, reach out to a non diet dietitan to try to figure out the why. You may feel like you are broken or weird or that your appetite is out of control, but I guarantee that your relationship with that food can change and heal. It’s not your fault and it’s not the foods fault. It usually stems from our relationship with the food and our relationship with our body/size. These things can be healed to have a more calm relationship with both.

Step three: it’s just you and … food

If you are set on making food changes to your routine in the new year, consider adding things, not taking things away. Nutrients that support health, like fiber, fruits and vegetables, omega 3s and unsaturated fats, could be included. This additive mindset is less likely to spark guilt and flip flopping between eating too little of something only to swing in the opposite direction.

Certainly, I would suggest you get in touch with a HAES (c) dietitian to talk through any food changes you want to make to untangle any diet culture messages that may be influencing your desire to change. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to live a healthier lifestyle. BUT, if our goals to change are base in unrealistic ideas or just plain lies we’ve been fed (some lies are: sugar kills, BMI accurately predicts our health, we have to fear our appetite, etc) then we will launch ourselves into the diet-binge eating cycle quickly.

Food rules will always be broken & willpower has nothing to do with it

I get it- having set rules to what to eat and what not to eat can feel comforting and safe. But eventually, we break a food rule (it is inevitable) which quickly will spin any human into a rollercoaster of trying to get back on track (ahem, undereat) and the body pulling us towards eating enough.

There are many ways to feel more normal around food and better in your body. Dieting does neither for us in the long run. Why not try a different approach that is more likely to succeed and help keep you healthy in the long run?

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