Today is international no diet day and a great time to think about a new approach to weight loss and healthy eating. How many diets have you tried in your life time? For me, the first diet I tried was the cabbage soup diet. I was 14 and I was ecstatic to lose 3kg in 5 days. The high was soon replaced by dismay when two days later the scales were once again 3kg heavier. This was all part of years of quite an obsession with weight loss and food. Part of ending this and maintaining weight all came down to ditching the diet mentality and embracing intuitive eating (although I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time). Intuitive eating and a non diet approach is something that really resonates with me, and I’ve spent this year learning more about this in practice.
Albert Einstein said “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Yet that’s what we do when it comes to dieting. To be healthy and lose weight we think we must make drastic changes, all at once. The main focus is on what we eat. This often means banning foods/food groups and following diet rules. For most people banning the foods that they enjoy makes them even more desirable, and after restricting for a period of time, overeating or binging occurs. Then guilt and negative feelings set in, and we’re on the look out for the next diet. It’s a predictable cycle, yet one that can be easy to get stuck on. What we really need to do is change our thinking and behaviours around HOW we eat, not find another diet or repeat the last one.
It’s a confusing nutrition world at the moment, with certain celebrities, bloggers, self appointed gurus and chefs all having a say on what’s healthy and what’s not. Following diets can give you a sense of control, security and belonging, especially when you’re connected to the ever growing online community that surrounds such groups that give out regular advice from their own authorities. But I don’t believe it’s the answer as many find the changes unsustainable long term and fall into the diet cycle of eating.
After a diet fail, what I often hear people say is something along the lines is “Oh yes x diet really worked for me and it was great – I lost lots of weight, but then I lost my willpower and I’ve gained it back.I’m going to start again on Monday and I’m going to be really good this time”. The truth is it’s not the will power. It’s not because you’ve been “bad”. It’s not you. It’s the diet.
The key to getting out? Stop dieting!! Stopping with the rules/regulations about what to eat and what not to eat and getting back to what we were born knowing how to do. We were born with the ability to regulate our hunger and satiety, but it’s something that gets lost for a number of reasons, and many of us need to relearn this.
Sure, nutrition is very important, but we also need to work on our eating intuition to reach and maintain a healthy weight, and more often than not, a healthy food mindset. It’s finding your own balance between good nutrition and eating intuition that will help improve eating habits long term.
Tune into your body and start listening to those hunger and fullness signals. Investigate your non hungry eating. What’s behind it? Boredom? Emotions? Stress? Work to reduce the amount of non hungry eating you do by looking at the underlying issues. Allow yourself to eat the foods you love, in moderation. You’ll be surprised how the power of food is reduced once it’s not banned.
It can take time and practice, but it is possible to be healthy and happy with your body without extreme food rules and exercise regimes. Avoid the quick fix solutions and go to the heart of improving your eating habits by retraining how you think about food, your body and exercise. Get some good nutritional advice from a health professional who can help you focus on intuitive/mindful eating and balancing eating behaviours with nutritional knowledge.
What is a diet/dieting behaviour?
- Cutting out foods we like that provide excellent nutritional value (this is only necessary if there is food allergy/intolerance or specific medical reason)
- Banning foods/food groups, and thinking of food as either good or bad
- All or nothing thinking – ie “on a diet/being good” or “not caring/being bad”
- Excessive exercise without allowing for rest and recovery
- Number on the scales or certain body fat percentage is the main priority
- Spending on pills/potions for fat loss
A non diet approach includes:
- Learning to listen and respond appropriately hunger and fullness signals
- Mindful/intuitive eating
- Learning how to deal with binge foods and normalising eating patterns
- Focusing on health and wellbeing rather than a specific weight goal
- Exercising for enjoyment, health and wellbeing rather than weight being the sole purpose
- Enjoying a variety of foods that nourish you and that you enjoy eating
- All foods are allowed
1. Image from here
2. Image from here