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  • Writer's pictureSecond Opinion Magazine

Rethinking the Shape of Dieting (or I Will NEVER Go on Another Diet!)

by Anna Martinson, Certified Life Coach and Licensed Massage Therapist

Seven years ago, I promised myself that I would never go on another diet. I was done with the lose/gain cycle, frustrated with the amount of time, money and energy I had put into unsuccessful lasting weight loss. I was done being angry and upset with myself. No more New Year’s Resolutions to lose 20 pounds in 20 days! It was time to rethink the shape of dieting.

If you or someone you know struggles with weight loss and/or emotional eating, see if this pattern is familiar. The Weight Loss Cycle:

  1. Start a prescribed diet plan for guaranteed weight loss.

  2. Experience initial weight loss accompanied by the feelings of success, pride, being in control.

  3. Enthusiasm wanes, weight loss rules harder to follow, start to crave restricted foods.

  4. Regain lost weight.

  5. Feel emotional distress of guilt and shame.

  6. Start a different diet, and repeat.

Here is an important truth: for every diet, there is an equal and opposite binge. Most of us rebel against restriction after a period of time, so it is important to let yourself off the hook! It’s not your fault! The media diet culture has fed us the lie that there is only one body type that is right, good, acceptable. If you don’t have that perfect (nearly impossible) body type, you’re a failure, weak, and unattractive. Not True!

95% of diets fail and yet we try, again and again, each time hoping that “this time dieting will be different!” We just haven’t discovered the “right” diet. We blame ourselves instead of realizing that there are numerous flawed approaches todieting. The diet culture sets unrealistic standards and we chastise ourselves for not meeting those standards. The dieting industry’s survival depends on dieters repeatedly coming back for more. We’ve been taught to trust external “experts” instead of being in-tune with our own bodies and trusting our own wise inner counsel.

People who are overweight often feel shamed by the media, family, friends, doctors and self. Deprivation, fear, shame and guilt never will lead to long-lasting change. Body shaming inherently compels the person to do more of what they’re shamed for.  Long-lasting change can only succeed through loving kindness towards self, curiosity about the underlying issues that lead one to unhealthy eating habits and a willingness to act on your own behalf.

Instead of trying to adhere to diets that encourage various methods of starving, restricting and external control, kinder more gentle approaches to weight and food are available. Intuitive Eatingby Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and Women Food and God  by Geneen Roth emphasize creating a healthy relationship with food by listening to our bodies, eating mindfully, and treating ourselves with kindness and compassion. Geneen’s guidelines for making peace with food and our bodies is my favorite! She emphasizes these loving guidelines:

  1. Eat when you’re hungry– Eat when your body is truly hungry. Nutritional hunger is the only genuine hunger, the other hungers we experience are for something else, i.e. comfort, reward, numbing, distraction, love, peace… to name a few.

  2. Eat sitting down in a calm environment– Be fully aware of the food in front of you and your body sensations. Relax. Take a few deep breaths. Give yourself your own attention, just that much is a way to love yourself.

  3. Eat without distractions– Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, technology, books, intense or anxiety producing conversations. Have you had the experience of eating a meal while distracted then hardly remembering that you had just eaten? When you miss the experience and joy of eating, you’ll often go back for more. Do you eat mindfully or mindlessly?

  4. Eat what your body actually wants– What does your BODY (not your mind) really want? It probably isn’t a donut or chips. Check in periodically with your body to know what it truly wants. That said, allow yourself to have what you love. One piece of it or a handful of chips. Sit down and savor the taste, the smell, the texture of the food you are eating. It may take some time and practice to tune into your body’s messages and sensations, but you are worth the effort! Most of us tend to live in our mind instead of our body.

  5. Stop when you’ve had enough, when you’re satisfied – Stop half way through your meal, breathe, check in to notice your satisfaction level. There’s a difference between satisfaction and fullness. Being tuned into your body’s satiety cues requires presence and awareness. It’s impossible to give yourself your full attention while watching TV or looking at your cell phone.  Also, try to identify any potential unhealthy rules that you may have grown up with as child. For example, some of us grew up with the Clean Plate Club. This well-meaning, yet sometimes harmful rule to prevent the wasting of food, taught children to rely on  external sources (adults, clean plate) instead of internal sensations of fullness and satiety. It taught children to eat, often past fullness, to please others instead of self-regulating their food intake.

  6. Eat with the intention of being in full view of other people – No sneaking food. Instead  allow your precious self to be seen.

  7. Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure!– I’ve attended two of Geneen Roth’s week long Women Food and God retreats in the majestic redwood forests of California. One of my significant take-away from the retreats was learning to be truly present with food. To intentionally eat slowly, savoring each bite, taking in the pleasure while also noticing my fullness level. Eating good food that we love is pleasurable. Enjoy it! When you eat when truly hungry, an apple can be satisfying. When you eat when not hungry, nothing brings true satisfaction and worse, we typically choose carbohydrates or sugary foods.

We know that diets rarely work so what can we do?  Paying attention to the WHY, HOWand WHATof eating can be a positive start.

WHY –We eat for a myriad of reasons other than true hunger; boredom, celebration, stress, coping, tiredness or because it’s there (office food) or because it’s free or on sale. We eat when we are not hungry for important reasons in an attempt to take care of a need(s). When I was young, food was my comfort and a way to tune out and cope in my alcoholic family. For many of us, the WHYs originated in childhood pain, thus the underlying issues need to be uncovered and healed.

HOW –  How do you eat? What eating guidelines do you currently follow? Do you eat with mental and body awareness without distractions?  I love watching my young grandchildren eat. They eat what their body wants, they are fully present with their food and when they have reached satiety, they will push their plate or bowl away with a “Done.”

WHAT – Are you eating foods that give you energy and aliveness, foods you enjoy, foods that support your body’s nutritional needs?  With curiosity, you could notice how you feel after a meal. Tired? Energized? Satisfied? Bloated? Light? What are you feeling thirty minutes after eating?

It has been my experience that we need to rethink the shape of dieting; the WHY of eating when not hungry needs to be addressed first. The Diet Culture has it backwards. They try to make consumers believe that calories in/exercise out is the only solution. 95% of dieters know this isn’t true! Unless the WHY is addressed first, we are doomed to repeated failure. Once the deep work of WHY and HOW have been healed, then we’re ready to move on to the WHAT (specific foods, exercise). It’s a journey of self discovery.

Intuitive Eating and Geneen’s practices re-teach you how to attune to your body’s cues of hunger, dullness and satisfaction. Be lovingly curious. Being aware of the triggers to eat when not hungry is a good start as well. When you want to eat when not truly hungry, ask yourself “What do I REALLY want in this moment? What am I REALLY hungry for?”  You might find the answer is rest, connection, water, movement. Be gentle and oh so kind to yourself and your unique beautiful body.

If you’re curious about the ways the media, culture and biology have shaped the way we view bodies and dieting, I highly recommend Harriet Brown’s book Body of Truth. She addresses the cultural obsession with weight and unpacks current myths about weight and health.

Anna Martinson

Certified Life Coach and Licensed Massage Therapist

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