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Ditching the Diet Mentality

Did you know that dieting is ineffective at best and counterproductive at worse, with up to two-thirds of dieters regaining more weight than they lose (Mann et al. 2007)? Isn’t there a better way to eat healthfully?

One option is intuitive eating, which forgoes dieting and focuses on driving long-term improvements in your relationship with food. “Intuitive eating is the ability to read, interpret and follow your internal cues regarding the right amount of food for your body,” says Krista Scott-Dixon, PhD, curriculum director at Precision Nutrition.

Kelsey N. Graham, MEd, CHES, assistant professor of exercise science at San Diego Mesa College and director of its personal trainer certificate program, explains how to use intuitive eating strategies to build healthier eating habits that last.

Get Rid of the Diet Outlook

“Despite what the aggressive and oftentimes misleading diet marketing would have you believe, food restriction doesn’t work for most people long term,” says Victoria Jarzabkowski, MS, RDN, a Was­hington, D.C., area dietitian.

Action Plan. There is no end point when embarking on a diet, Jarzabkowski says. Whatever you do to lose weight, whether it’s counting carbs or juicing your food, that behavior must be maintained, and usually amplified, to keep weight off. “Weight regain and yo-yo dieting are associated with loss of muscle tissue and an increase in visceral fat, which adversely affects our health and metabolism,” Jarzabkowski explains.

Make Peace With Food

When we tell ourselves we “can’t” or “shouldn’t” have a particular food, it often backfires with feelings of deprivation, uncontrollable cravings and bingeing episodes. Restricting specific foods often leads to overconsumption when those foods become available (Mathes et al. 2009).

Action Plan. “Give yourself permission,” says Scott-Dixon. “Explicitly state that no foods are off-limits or bad.” She recommends taking an exploratory approach. Ask yourself, “What happens when I eat this food?” or “What do I notice feeling before? After?”

“Many people wonder, ‘Won’t I gain weight if I allow myself to eat whatever I want?’” Jarzabkowski says. “The short answer is, ‘Probably not.’ That’s the funny thing about forbidden foods—once they’re fair game, eating them becomes innocuous, and consumption typically goes down.”

Focus on Satisfaction

“Many people aren’t used to having pleasant eating experiences,” says Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, co-author of Intuitive Eating with Elyse Resch, MS, RDN. “When you eat foods that satisfy you, it takes much less to feel you’ve had enough. When you focus on satisfaction, you find that it isn’t truly satisfying to overeat.”

Action Plan. In Intuitive Eating, Tribole and Resch describe the three S’s of satisfaction: slow, savor and sensual. By slowing down and savoring, you can notice the enjoyable qualities of food and recognize when you’re comfortably satiated. Focusing on the sensual experience of eating—tastes, textures, temperatures, smells and the filling capacity of food—can allow you to enjoy what you’re eating and help you feel satisfied with less.

Cope With Emotions Without Using Food

From meals at family holiday gatherings to celebration dinners with friends to a bowl of rocky-road ice cream after a stressful day, food has meaning far beyond its nutritional value. Because we give food such significance, we often eat to manage emotion, and emotional eating is highly related to binge eating and weight issues (Sevincer & Konuk 2013).

Action Plan. Rather than beating yourself up over this coping strategy, use it as a learning opportunity. “When you struggle with emotional eating, notice all thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, relationships, and environmental contexts and cues that arise,” Scott-Dixon says. She also advises fostering self-care, which can include meditation, walking, taking a bath, connecting with friends or any other activity you find comforting. These habits can help you learn to recognize and soothe emotions without turning to food for comfort.

For more information on intuitive eating, visit intuitiveeating.com.

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