Every diet I’ve ever tried has been successful. Until it wasn’t. Paleo. Vegan. Low-carb. Weight Watchers. South Beach. Mediterranean. Diabetic exchanges. You name it. I’ve tried it.
My weight loss generally maxes out at about 10 pounds before I start to slip in my resolve and throughout my adult life I’ve slowly gained weight. Every year. Except two. These were the two years I stopped dieting and gave mindful eating a try.
My naturopath suggested I stop dieting and read Intuitive Eating, the one book she said had helped her patients lose and keep weight off long term. So, I read it and I stopped dieting and over the course of two years I lost 50 pounds. It didn’t come off quickly and it wasn’t a direct path but I stopped obsessing over food and found peace with my body.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful Eating involves listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues and striving to honor them. When you’re hungry, eat. When you’re full, stop eating. This can be difficult at first because chronic dieters have suppressed these signals for so long. I couldn’t even tell if I was hungry or full, much less what I really wanted to eat.
Another aspect of mindful eating is listening to your food preferences and giving yourself permission to eat the foods you truly enjoy. This also applies to exercise. Find ways to move your body that are appealing and enjoyable to you, not punishment for “bad” food choices or a way to pound your body into submission.
Whenever I’ve panicked and started dieting again and forgotten to listen to my body, the weight has crept back on. So, recently I found myself again fed up with dieting, back to intuitive, mindful eating. And my weight is slowly dropping again. Why do I need to relearn the same lesson over and over again? I’m not a diet expert, so obviously talk to your doctor before you make any changes to your diet or exercise routing and read some of the books listed at the end of this post.
Below are my top five reasons for giving up dieting.
Why You Should Stop Dieting Right Now
1. It Slows Your Metabolism
When you’re on a restrictive diet, your body can go into starvation mode. Your metabolism slows down and your body tries to hold on to every calorie. In Secrets from the Eating Lab, Traci Mann says, “When you aren’t taking in enough calories, your body makes storing those calories as fat the top priority, regardless of the dietary fat content of whatever you ate.”
Because most diets are restrictive, they’re unsustainable. Almost nobody wants to go the rest of her life without eating a piece of bread. So, you finally eat that bread and your body holds onto the calories for dear life, afraid that any moment you’ll be starving it again.
2. It Makes Food a Moral Issue
Food is fuel. Some fuels are better than others but what you choose to eat doesn’t make you good or evil. Why then, when we diet, are we constantly using self-shaming food-moralizing words?
I can’t count the number of times one of my friends or I have been eating a delicious meal or treat and said, “This is so bad. I shouldn’t be eating this. I’ve been so terrible lately.” We call certain foods “cheat” foods. Even food manufacturers label their products as “guilt-free,” indicating that if you eat other foods, you can and SHOULD feel guilty about it.
Shame and guilt should not be associated with eating if you want a healthy relationship with food. When we make food a moral issue, we open the door to dietary disfunction and eating disorders. And our kids watch and listen. Do you want your 4-year-old to feel guilty when she eats a donut at a birthday party?
3. It Suppresses Your Body’s Natural Hunger and Fullness Signals
When you’re following a strict food plan, you don’t listen to your body’s natural hunger and fullness signals. I’m hungry! Too bad. It’s not dinner time yet. Or, it’s past 8:30pm.
On some diets, I’ve been so obsessed with consuming a specific number of vegetables or certain food group exchanges on my “plan” that I’ve eaten well past the point of fullness because the diet required it. My body told me to stop. I wanted to stop. But I listened to the diet, rather than my body which knew exactly what I needed.
This only set me up to continue ignoring my hunger and fullness signals long after I’d given up on the diet and was back to eating bread and cheese for every meal.
4. It Isolates You
Have you ever turned down a dinner or party invitation because you were on a diet and knew you’d be surrounded by too many temptations? I have. And I’ve had friends tell me they couldn’t join me at a restaurant or social gathering because they were on a strict diet and weren’t comfortable being around “off-plan” foods. This makes me sad.
In my life, I don’t ever want voluntary food choices to be a barrier to my relationships with people. And when I feel isolated, I’m less likely to make healthy choices.
5. It Makes Unhealthy Foods Disproportionately Appealing
When I’m counting calories or points, I spend my entire day thinking about calories, points, and food in general. It becomes an obsession. This isn’t just me. I’ve read about studies that show how common this is in Secrets from the Eating Lab, online, and most recently in Scarcity by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir.
On Halloween a few years ago, I was completely off sugar. But I decided I could have just one piece of chocolate as a special treat. However, I couldn’t stop after just one. I had several mini chocolate bars from the trick-or-treat bucket. It just tasted so GOOD. I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to eat it the next day or possibly for the next few months. I ate way more than I wanted to, and way more than actually tasted good. And I felt horrible about myself.
This year I am back to mindful eating. I told myself I was welcome to have chocolate on Halloween if I wanted it, just like I would be allowed to have it on November 1st and 2nd and so on.
I had a couple of pieces. When I put the third piece in my mouth, it tasted incredibly sweet and I realized I didn’t have any interest in eating it. So, I spit it out. And I was done for the night.
When I can’t have chocolate, I want chocolate desperately. When I give myself permission to eat chocolate, it loses its hold over me.
This January consider making a goal to be kind to yourself, listen to you body, and find peace with food. You may not lose dramatic amounts of weight, but you will lose feelings of shame and guilt and you may just learn to love your body, whatever shape or size it’s in.
Secrets From the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again by Traci Man, PH.D.
Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works by Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A., C.E.D.R.D.
Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle by Michelle May, MD
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