“I have tried everything and cannot lose weight!” How often have you heard this from clients or patients? How often are they contemplating extreme diets or surgery as the last ditch effort? Upon further inspection, how long have they tried to make changes before giving up? A week? A month?
The more restrictive the diet, the faster people quit. Dieting in our society has become a four-letter word. People treat diets like they are being sent to prison. It seems like this is for good reason. Looking at 99% of the diets available, they are full of restrictions. No flour, no sugar, no fat, no calories, no carbs, no meat, all meat, only certain colors, the list goes on and on. All I hear is no, no, no. We start sounding like 2-year-olds.
In its original meaning, a diet simply refers to what we eat. Over time, however, it has morphed into a verb calculating how much we should eat. Search on the Internet for the word “diet” and it doesn’t come up with the definition but rather with a vast array of popular diets for losing weight. Our society has become so weight conscious, but most dieters are like hamsters spinning their wheels. It feels like they are working but are not getting anywhere. At least not for long. Even if someone does lose weight, which is unlikely with some of the diets boasting preposterous claims, they almost inevitably gain it back plus about 10%.
The reason for this is simply that most people start a diet to lose weight but only for a specific amount of time. They are looking to shed some weight before an event, so they can fit in an outfit, so someone will find them attractive, or because the doctor has advised it, etc. It is almost ALWAYS due to something external. They will use the diet until they see a specific number on the scale. They are biding their time until they can go back to their normal eating habits. The same thing happens with exercise.
Research shows that emotions are responsible for 75% of overeating, and overeating is directly responsible for being overweight. When we turn to food, we feel good. From a young age, food is used as a coping skill. Our well-meaning parents often gave us treats to distract us when we were unhappy. What happened as a result is a strong connection with food as a soothing mechanism. So, often when we think about making changes to our eating habits, the thought of letting go of that coping mechanism is scary. By learning to cope with our emotions in more effective ways, we find that it isn’t necessary to use something like food as an escape. Emotions hold less power when we actually deal with them directly. By addressing the emotional eating component, making changes for permanent weight loss becomes easier.
With my clients, I adamantly encourage them not to diet. In my experience, as soon as we use a diet to restrict ourselves, our preoccupation with food is like an oppositional teenager. The more we fight, the more we lose. This is why I like the approach described in a book called Intuitive Eating. These principles help people to make peace with food. Intuitive eating was created by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, two registered dieticians who recognized the emotional component to eating and wrote books about their insights. Intuitive eating along with cognitive behavioral therapy can be tremendously powerful for weight loss because it helps to remove the emotion from food and the irrational beliefs that contribute to emotional eating and low self-esteem.
Instead of looking at a diet as a short-term solution until we can return to familiar behaviors, we need to look at lifestyle changes that make our bodies feel good. Making small changes over time that incrementally build rather than sudden life-altering changes helps us to maintain our progress, which then builds confidence in our ability to keep making changes. Instead of choosing a diet that tells you everything you can’t have, choose a way of living where you can eat anything you want, but learn to moderate. By keying in to hunger and fullness, really enjoying food, and letting go of the emotional attachment to food, you can begin to look at food as fuel (albeit enjoyable fuel) rather than a comforting friend. While diet obviously is a four-letter word, it doesn’t need to be a four-letter curse word. You also can begin to look at exercise not as the enemy but rather as an outlet for stress and something that makes your body feel good.
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