|The Non-Diet Approach|
|Honor Your Hunger|
|Make Peace With Food|
|Pay Attention to Fullness|
|The Difference Between Physical and Emotional Hunger|
|You Are Not Alone|
Developing a healthy relationship with food and your body leads to physical and mental well-being. Although millions of people turn to diets and weight loss products in hopes of improving their health, the reality is that diets don’t work. Ninety-five to ninety-eight percent of people who diet will gain back the pounds, often ending up at a higher weight than where they started. Also, people who diet have a greater risk of developing an eating disorder. Yo – yo dieting – also known as weight cycling – leads to greater risks for disease, depression and low self-esteem.
Social workers and other professionals are helping people learn how to break the diet/binge cycle and build a normal relationship with food. This method, known as Intuitive or Attuned Eating, teaches people how to be in charge of their eating by responding to physical cues for hunger and satiation. Here are some of the main ideas:
Research proves over and over that diets do not work over the long-term. We say that “you haven’t failed your diet; your diet has failed you.” Step off the diet roller coaster and learn a new way of feeding yourself.
Physical hunger is your body’s natural way of letting you know that it is time to eat. If you ignore it and get too hungry, you are at high risk of overeating. Practice waiting for a physical sign of hunger – often a gnawing feeling in your stomach – as your cue to eat. If you have dieted over many years, it may take some time to relearn what hunger feels like.
Most dieters categorize foods as “good” and “bad.” As a result, you may eat some foods because you “should” and avoid other foods because you “shouldn’t.” For most people, this results in a sense of deprivation that leads to overeating. When you crave a certain food but don’t get it, chances are you will not feel satisfied. Instead, provide yourself with a wide variety of foods and choose what will best satisfy your hunger.
As you learn to eat when you are physically hungry and eat exactly what you are hungry for, the next step is to stop when you are full. Remind yourself that once you stop, you can eat again when you become hungry – whether it is in 30 minutes or three hours. Also, remember that if there was no signal of physical hunger when you started eating, there will not be a signal to stop. Do your best to tune in to your fullness and think about how you want your stomach to feel.
Learn the difference between physical and emotional hunger: As you become more attuned to your body, you may notice there are times you eat that have nothing to do with physical hunger. Many people turn to food as a way of helping themselves when feelings become too uncomfortable to manage. Be compassionate about your need to turn to food to get through difficult times. You may find that you can develop new ways to deal with your feelings, such as talking to a friend or journaling, or you may find it helpful to talk with a social worker about these issues. As you work on ending overeating, the goal is to say to yourself, “I’m reaching for food and I’m not hungry. I wonder what I would think or feel if I didn’t eat right now.”
The intense focus in our culture on thinness leads people to feel shame about their bodies and their eating. When you yell at yourself about your weight and food, you end up feeling anxious and/or depressed – which then puts you at even greater risk of overeating as you try to calm yourself. Instead, develop a compassionate voice that can say,”I’m reaching for food and I’m not hungry. I look forward to the day when I no longer need to do that. I will continue to be aware of my hunger and fullness.” Or, “People really do come in all shapes and sizes. I deserve to take good care of myself and feel good about myself no matter what my weight is.”
Fitness helps just about everything! It can improve blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes. It can reduce the risk of osteoporosis and relieve a variety of aches and pains. It can increase energy, lead to mental well-being and even extend your life. All of these benefits take place regardless of whether any weight is lost. If you haven’t moved your body in a long time, start out slow, such as by walking for a few minutes every day.
Every day, people like you are letting go of the diet mentality and developing a healthy relationship with food and their bodies. Some people do it by reading books that teach this approach while others seek out individual or group support. Whatever you choose, remember that there is a way out of the diet/binge cycle. Imagine the freedom!
Judith Matz, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Director of the Chicago Center for Overcoming Overeating, Inc. and the co-author of two books on the topics of eating and weight issues: The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care (Sourcebooks, 2006) Beyond a Shadow of a Diet: The Therapist Guide to Treating Compulsive Eating (Brunner/Routledge, 2004).