How many diets have you done in your lifetime? Be honest… And how much thinner are you now as a result, having kept the weight off? Every year there’s buzz around yet another weight loss ‘breakthrough’, the latest celebrity approved miracle “diet to end all diets”. Whether it’s cutting down drastically on carbs, sugar or fats, going for intermittent fasting or consuming low-calorie meal replacement products, we’re told that a few months down the line, we’ll have achieved our ideal weight and will live thinly ever after…
Except that studies tell us that dieting rarely works in the long term. Sure, we can rapidly lose weight on a diet, but more often than not the pounds creep back again. One 2007 study reported that up to two-thirds of people who’d been on a diet, went on to gain even more weight than they’d initially lost.
What are we to do then if we want to achieve and maintain a healthy weight? If dieting doesn’t work, what does?
1. The real cause of weight gain
On the surface, the cause of weight gain seems simple enough – we pile on the pounds if we consistently eat more calories than we burn through exercise. However, that doesn’t explain why we do it.
Chronic stress has been flagged in many studies as one reason behind overeating. Heightened levels of stress hormones increase our appetite and make us crave sugary and fatty foods in particular. Sleep deprivation and suppressed emotions can likewise lead us to eat more.
According to Eckhart Tolle, overeating is often a response to our ego’s feelings of not having or being enough. As a result, going on a strict diet may temporarily ‘fix’ things, but without solving the underlying causes, we can easily fall into a never-ending cycle of deprivation and binging.
2. What the naturally slim people do
Interestingly, when the Global Healthy Weight Registry interviewed people who’ve always maintained a healthy weight, they discovered that naturally slim people generally eschew ‘dieting’ or depriving themselves. Rather, they’re conscious about what they eat but don’t stress about indulging in the occasional treat. Most of them eat plenty of fruit and veg and favour home-cooked meals over processed food and exercise on a regular basis. Perhaps most importantly though, they tend to be in tune with their body: eating when they feel hungry and being mindful about the inner cues that tell them when to stop. And that can be learned.
3. Intuitive eating
The basis of intuitive eating is trusting our body’s innate intelligence and ability to regulate its weight. The body is an ally that knows how much it needs. And we can learn to listen to its signals by eating more mindfully.
If you feel an emotional urge to binge and find yourself reaching for the biscuits, try these steps:
- Stop and tell yourself that you can have a biscuit in 30 minutes, if you still want it. Then tune into what you’re feeling in the moment. Acknowledge and accept the emotion you’re experiencing. Stay with it without trying to push it away. Observe how much you desire that biscuit 30 minutes later.
- Ask yourself what you really need and want. Perhaps it’s rest? Or support from your loved ones? The biscuit may be just a ‘stand-in’ for something else we long for. Is there a way to meet that need?
Whenever possible, eat your food mindfully (especially when it’s biscuits). Present your food in a way that looks appealing and sit down to eat your meal without distractions (try not to eat while standing or watching the TV). Take a moment to appreciate the meal you’re about to eat and engage all your senses: notice the tastes, the smells and the textures of the food. Being present when we eat makes it easier for us to notice when we’re satisfied – stop as soon as you feel full in the knowledge that there’s always more food available to you should you need it.5