“I have tried everything and cannot lose weight!”

How often have you heard this from friends or said it yourself? How often are people 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 restriction. 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 two 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. Google the word diet and it doesn’t come up with the definition, but a vast array of popular diets to lose weight. Our society has become so weight conscious, but most dieters are like hamsters spinning their wheels. It feels like they are working, but don’t get 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 principles of Intuitive Eating because it helps 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 help us to maintain progress we gain 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 can begin to look at exercise, not as the enemy, but as an outlet for stress and something that makes your body feel good.

Food – we love it and we hate it, a twisted relationship for sure. How do we begin to unwind this conflict so that we appreciate food, relax around consumption and awaken our capacity to be truly nourished by what we eat?

Start by getting simple – just eat. Period! No multi-tasking. Don’t read. Don’t watch TV. Don’t text or answer the phone. Don’t write or review your to do list. Just eat. Focus solely (souly!) on the meal. If you slow down and get simple, food becomes a multi-sensory experience. When you free yourself of the myriad distractions, you begin to unravel the ways in which you are resisting being and move more openly and genuinely toward being fully embodied.

The next time you sit down to a meal:

  • Take 4 long, slow deep breaths to bring yourself into this exact moment
  • Look and appreciate
  • Smell and be present
  • Taste and enjoy
  • Chew and be grateful
  • Pause between mouthfuls and unwind any tension in your thoughts, relax your neck and shoulders
  • Soften your belly. Let it hang – you heard me, let it all hang out! Let it be – soft, open, spacious belly
  • Do you feel nourished? Slow the whole process down enough to be in that  inquiry
  • Take another set of long, slow deep breaths and smile

Getting simple and being attentive while eating is a way of encouraging a more meaningful relationship to food and to your body - from one of unconscious distraction to full-on engagement and receptivity to the bounty of this life.

To Your Body,

Carol