Something interesting happens when you step off the diet train for good and decide to try a non-diet approach, like mindful or intuitive eating. “Normal” eating. Using your body’s hunger signals to determine when to eat. Being a conscious and thoughtful eater.
Before you start, you’re kind of excited to start this new journey and put the painful, up and down diet cycle behind you. No more counting calories. No more “this food group is bad, this one is good”. It sounds so freeing. You envision feeling relaxed around food and no longer spending hours upon hours thinking about what you should eat, how much you ate and what you can do to “undo” what you just ate.
You figure non-dieters have it easy and you can’t wait to be one of them.
But then you start. You take on one non-dieting skill at a time and soon you find your brain talking you out of this new mindful approach and trying to rationalize going back to dieting.
Don’t believe me? Read on – if you’re ever started to go down this path, you will recognize yourself in the following paragraphs!
You start keeping a food journal that is based on what you eat and what you were feeling when you ate.
You begin using a hunger scale to determine how hungry you actually are and how much food you need to eat to feel satisfied (versus full). You start using that hunger scale to notice when you are just a tiny bit hungry versus super hungry.
You begin to use mindful eating at each meal. Taking in your meal not just with your mouth, but also with your other senses. Eating slowly, methodically. Noticing how your food smells. What it looks like. The sounds it makes when your teeth make contact with it (does it crunch? snap? squish?). How it feels on your tongue. Whether you like it or not. How it makes you feel once it’s in your body.
You start to notice ALL THE THINGS. Or at least you are trying to. Your brain is SO FOCUSED on noticing things it never noticed before.
Then you begin noticing how uncomfortable it feels to be paying this much attention to food in a different way. While previously you spent too much time thinking about whether a food was good or bad, would make you fat or thin or if it was high or low calorie, now you are spending a ton of time paying attention to the reaction your body has when you eat (or before you eat) and all the physical details and sensations (so many details and sensations). It’s a ton of effort to keep your mind focused on these things, when before, when you were on the diet train, you used mealtimes as a chance to distract yourself from whatever you didn’t want to deal with. You are starting to think maybe you weren’t spending as much time thinking about food before as you thought you were!
Maybe dieting is easier than this!! Maybe this whole “normal” eating thing is a pain in the butt and you don’t want to do it. You don’t want MORE work around eating. You are doing this because you want it to be LESS work. MORE natural. Why does this feel so unnatural??
Returning to dieting seems like a way out of the discomfort you are feeling now. It will be easy, you think! I’ve done it for so long – I don’t even have to think about it. It will feel like “home”. I was crazy to think that this mindful approach to eating was for me – why the heck would I want to spend so much time thinking about my eating habits?! You feel more uncomfortable and unsettled now, than you ever did in dieting.
The appeal of going back to a “diet” resides in the fact that diets “end”. Every diet we start, has an end in mind. No one goes on a diet thinking they will be on that diet forever! That’s the reason diets fail – because we can’t sustain them forever – but it’s also the strong appeal of them. An ending diet means returning to unrestrained eating! Being able to eat whatever you want, when you want, as a reward for completing the diet and reaching your goal weight (or whatever your goal was). I can totally eat 1200 cardboard tasting calories for 8 weeks if it means looking bangin’ in a swimsuit and being able to eat nachos and ice cream when it’s all over.
A diet is “easy”. Once you learn the ins and outs of the program you choose, it feels like second nature. You can focus on the good foods and avoiding the bad foods. You don’t have to think about how you feel or if you feel hunger. You just know it’s time to eat a 1/2 cup of low fat cottage cheese at 10am and celery sticks with 1 tsp of peanut butter at 3pm. No thinking! It’s easier! You can’t believe you thought dieting was hard!
This backtracking our brains do is totally normal! At the beginning, a more mindful approach to eating, to return to normal eating is incredibly HARD. You haven’t eaten normally or mindfully since you were a child and you have been using food to distract yourself for decades. Bringing your attention to your food and eating is going to make you feel like running for the hills in the beginning. It might feel terrifying, unfamiliar, annoying and like a big fat waste of time. But I promise that if you commit to learning how to do it, wholeheartedly, until it becomes your new normal. . . it won’t feel hard anymore, or at least not all that hard. Being present in a world where we are always refreshing the page to see the newest post is a challenge and will remain so. But you will start to feel the value of being present and the benefits of paying more attention to your eating (benefits like better digestion and less binge eating) and those far outweigh the effort it will take you on a regular basis to eat this way.
Let’s go back to the fact that diets are appealing because they end and then you can eat whatever you want again. This is your brain lying to you. It wants to do what is easier. It doesn’t want to have to work hard at something new. No, really, it is. Under the guise of a diet, “it ends and you can eat what you want again”, only to have to go back on a diet and continue the cycle again. It’s familiar. With mindful, “non-diet” approaches to eating (ones that focus on hunger and being present), you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want. You don’t have to be on a diet and wait for it to end to do that. Mindful approaches to eating give you the freedom in that once you learn what your body is signaling to you and how to eat to satisfaction, you can choose any food you want – because you will stop eating it when you have had enough. “Enough” becomes a lot less when we pay attention to it. Don’t buy into the fallacy that you have to be on a diet that ends to eat what you desire. This is one reason we struggle with food so much to begin with – all these rules about what we can eat and when.
You can eat whatever you want, whenever you are hungry and honestly it will not be potato chips and cookies as often as you think it will be. We only think we’ll go crazy on those things because they are off limits now. You don’t need a diet to end to have that freedom.
Stay the course. Keep working through a non-diet approach until there isn’t so much resistance around doing it. When you find yourself quietly enjoying a meal with all your senses, without the crutch of distractions and notice that you’ve had enough. You’re there. And a diet won’t have the same appeal anymore.
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