It’s a familiar story – you step on the scale one morning and suddenly the number is higher than you’re comfortable with. You decide it’s time to do something about it. Tomorrow you’ll start that new diet your friend has been encouraging you to try with her.
Everyone goes on diets, right? Diets work, right?
But do they?
You’ve probably tried many diets – maybe even dozens of them. Can you remember the weight you were when you started your first diet? How does that compare to today? There’s a reason for the popular meme, “I wish I weighed what I did when I first thought I needed to diet.”
Most women try diet after diet after diet, only to find that they’ve dieted themselves to their highest weight – ugh. How does that happen?! You’ve probably lost weight on most, if not all, of the diets you’ve tried - maybe even lost a lot of weight. So that means they worked, right? Wrong. Most people gain back all the weight they’ve lost and more within six months of stopping a diet.
Think back to your own history of dieting again – does this pattern sound familiar? Diet – lose weight – gain weight – diet – lose weight – gain weight – repeat. It’s a vicious cycle called “Yo-Yo Dieting” with your weight going up and down and then up even higher.
With each diet you become more frustrated, exhausted and deflated. And with each diet you learn to trust your body, and yourself, less and less around food, so you turn to a diet again, because that’s what you’re told to do by media, by friends, by coworkers, and probably even by your doctor.
What we now know though, is that diets make it worse. While many women diet as an attempt to lose weight or to improve their health, the truth is that diets often cause more problems than you started out with.
Here’s what the research tells us:
- Diets rev up food cravings – This makes you more preoccupied with food. The mere contemplation of going on a diet brings on cravings for forbidden foods.
- Diets put foods in to “good” and “bad” categories – This automatically makes you covet the “bad” foods more.
- Diets create confusion – One diet says carbs are bad. The next says carbs are good and fat is bad. Another says gluten is the food demon to avoid. The list goes on and on, making the confusion endless. And there’s always a new diet cure on the horizon to add to the confusion.
- Diets slow down your metabolism – They do this by putting your body into a starvation state. Each diet you go on teaches your body to maintain itself on fewer and fewer calories, making it harder and harder for your body to find its natural healthy body weight.
- Diets make you feel like you don’t deserve to enjoy eating – And then those feelings of guilt and shame just make you want to eat more, because for a few moments, while you’re eating your favorite ice cream, you’re able to forget that undeserving feeling.
- Diets erode away at your relationship with food – They make food to be the enemy. Have you ever had the thought, “If only I didn’t have to eat my life would be so much easier.”
- Diets increase the risk of eating disorders – Adolescents girls who go on even just one diet significantly increase their risk of developing disordered eating.
- Diets erode trust in yourself – This makes you feel like a failure. The simple process of gaining weight turns into “I’m a failure because I gained weight”.
- Diets actually make you gain more weight – If diets were held to the same standards as medications, they would never be prescribed. Imagine if a doctor told you to take a pill that would lower your blood pressure, but it would probably only work for a few weeks, maybe a few months. Then the pill would actually make your blood pressure higher! Would you take that medication? That’s what diets do – they make it worse in the long run.
That brings us back to one of the original questions - If you think back to when you started your first diet, what would you tell your younger self? Knowing what you know now, how could diets ever be what makes things better? How could diets ever be the real solution? Diets aren't the solution - they're the problem. People don't fail on diets - diets fail people.
Diets are inherently flawed - YOU. ARE. NOT.
Enter Mindful Eating! If you’re like many women, you’re exhausted from dieting and yet worried about eating the wrong thing. Most women are uncomfortable with their bodies, but don’t know what steps to take to feel better about their bodies. Mindful eating offers a way of eating that is healthy for both your body and your mind. It gets you back to trusting your body and the natural signals that it gives you. Starting a mindful eating practice changes your relationship with food, with your body, and may very well change your life.
To start on your own Path To Mindful Eating, first you must give up the diet mentality (more on Giving Up The Diet Mentality in next month’s newsletter). A Path To Mindful Eating starts by moving away from diets. The two cannot go hand-in-hand. Here are a some things you can do to start giving up the diet mentality today:
- Put Away the Scale – The scale only gives you a numerical reflection of your relationship with gravity. It cannot measure your personal worth, growth, generosity, beauty, purpose, strength, courage, compassion, well-being, health, perseverance or love. Stepping away from the scale is a key shift in trusting your body rather than an inanimate object that simply measures gravitational pull. You will not gain 10 pounds overnight – I promise!
- Eat in a Calm Environment - Start by minimizing distractions like reading, watching TV, driving, or using your phone/computer while you eat. Have you ever sat down to eat in front of the TV and then be surprised that the bag of whatever you were eating was completely gone? Eating is not meant to be a multi-tasking activity. Focus on the food in front of you and the conversation around you, if you’re eating with others. This will help you to be present with your own eating experience and to notice your hunger and fullness more easily. If eating without distractions feels like a big challenge for you then start by giving it a try for just one meal or snack a day.
- Give Gratitude – Consider starting a daily gratitude practice. This can easily be done with pen and paper. If the look and feel of a new journal inspires you, then go out and get one. You can start a simple gratitude practice by writing down three things that you’re grateful for each day. If you can, write down three things that you’re grateful about your body each day. Writing down “What’s not wrong with my body today” can be powerful. Think of how your legs are strong enough to move you from place to place, how your arms can hug the ones you love, and how your hands can feel the soft fur your beloved cat or dog. Think of how your heart beats and your lungs breathe and your eyes see all day every day without even giving it a thought. There is so much not wrong with our bodies each and every day, yet we mostly heap criticism on our bodies for not being good enough.
- Start Meditating – A key component of mindfulness and mindful eating is being present to the moments in our day. This is a challenge for us in the super-fast-paced, multi-tasking, social media-using world we live in. If the idea of putting down your phone and meditating seems overwhelming to you, then put that phone to good use and start meditating with a phone App. I love having guided meditations on-the-go. Some favorite meditation Apps of mine, as well as client favorites are Insight Timer, Buddhify, Oak, Calm, Mindworks. Try a few out and find one that works for you.
These may seem like small or insignificant changes (or maybe they seem huge to you!), but they will help to get you started on your own Path To Mindful Eating. Taking the focus off of weight, calories, carbs, points and portion sizes will help lay the foundation for a kinder and gentler relationship with food and your body.