The Real Reason Diets Don’t Work
How many times have you been down this devastating path…
In a state of absolute panic you find a new diet—the latest fad in a magazine, a juice cleanse your co-worker swears by, your neighbor’s go-to diet, whatever—and you think to yourself…
“OK, if I’m really determined, this time I’ll finally be able to do this! This time I’ll really buckle down, this time I’ll have a lot more willpower, and this time I’ll get it right. I just have to be stronger… and better… and more disciplined… this time.”
And full of gusto and determination (and a whole lot of self-loathing) you begin the diet. You start out strong. You eat the bland and boring foods (I’m so sick of steamed veggies)… you deprive yourself of your favorites (all I can think about is brownies and pasta)… and you force yourself to do exercises you despise (I hate, hate, hate this treadmill).
Sure, you lose some weight. But you’re full of fear. And you’re miserable and you’re exhausted.
Inevitably, your willpower fades. You crash, your eating spins out of control, and the weight creeps back on. Defeated and depressed you pretend like it’s no big deal, but deep down you have a sinking feeling that something is horribly, horribly wrong with you.
Hear this: YOU are not broken.
The billion-dollar diet industry, on the other hand, most definitely is!
Here’s the real reason diets don’t work…
Diets don’t help you understand WHY you overeat in the first place, so they don’t get to the root of the issue. Diets also don’t show you HOW to eat, or teach you how to form a healthy relationship with food and your body.
And without those critical (and I mean CRITICAL) missing pieces of the weight-loss puzzle, you’re going to struggle. The allure of dieting is everywhere, but diets—most of which only focus on WHAT to eat—not only create an obsessive relationship with food and throw your metabolism out of whack, they also set you up for failure and frustration.
Emotional eating expert Geenen Roth says…
“For every diet, there is an equal and opposite binge.”
So true, right?
Please let go of the idea that there is a perfect diet or cleanse that will finally solve your weight problems. Realize that the answer lies within you. You have the power to transform your relationship with food, your hunger, and yourself.
Here’s how to lose weight without dieting in 4 (simple-ish) steps…
Step 1: Modify Your Mindset
Don’t start by changing what you eat; start by changing how you think. Do the mental work first.
First things first: Stop criticizing yourself…
Accept and love yourself exactly as you are, extra weight and all. You’re not giving up, you’re empowering yourself to feel good now, so that you can take positive actions towards your goals with confidence. Start now (yes, right now!) by forgiving yourself for the past. You did the best you could with the weight loss resources you had at that time, period. Release the past and begin again. (Learn more here.)
Next, start asking the hard questions…
What is the downside of losing the weight? For example, are you using weight as an excuse for failure? (“Because of my weight, I can’t be successful, I can’t get a boyfriend, I can’t be happy, etc. etc.”) Or does the weight make you feel safe or protected in some way? Are you terrified of being abused, abandoned or rejected once you’re thin? Once you understand your fears, you can gently work your way through them, and this will give you the psychological green light you need to lose the weight, for good. (Read an excellent article on this here.)
Finally, shift your shadow beliefs…
We all have a set of memorized behaviors, emotional reactions, beliefs, and attitudes that run behind the scenes. This subconscious program determines how we live and make decisions on a moment-to-moment basis. And when you have limiting beliefs that don’t support your health goals, you end up constantly sabotaging yourself. Shift your beliefs and you’ll fast track your success. (Find out how here.)
Step 2: Eat Only Foods You Love
If you’re thinking…
“Hold up, Heather. I LOVE French fries, chocolate, burgers, and pasta. How can I possibly eat those foods and still lose weight!?”
Here’s the thing: You do not have to give up the foods you love to lose weight.
Try to stop seeing foods as “good” or “bad.” If you eat only when you’re physically hungry (see Step 4) and stop before you’re uncomfortably full (see Step 3), you can eat anything (yes, anything) you want… and still lose weight.
But you’ll reach your goal weight a lot faster, and you’ll feel a heck of a lot better, if you nourish yourself with whole and delicious REAL foods more often than not. Here’s what I do…
Most of the time (maybe about 80% or so) I eat nutrient dense and clean foods I love (I shop at farmers’ markets, I drink green smoothies, I cook scrumptious Skinnytaste recipes, and I search out healthy foods everywhere I go, like this yummy smoothie in Bali). And the rest of the time, well, I eat whatever I want.
I travel a ton, so this means I can eat croissants in Geneva, creamy pasta dishes and panini in Florence, and artisan cheese and oysters when I’m home in San Francisco.
I also incorporate movement into my daily life, I eat mindfully, and I stay in tune with my body…
Step 3: Tune Into Your Body
Remember when you were a kid and you instinctively knew when and how much to eat? It’s 100% possible for you to find that kind of freedom with food again.
Your (perfect and beautifully designed) body instinctively knows exactly what it needs to thrive and naturally reach its ideal weight—you just have listen to it.
Think of your hunger as a scale…
Once you reach a 1, 2, or 3 on the scale (the Danger Zone), you’ll trigger your primal drive to overeat. And then you can kiss moderation, mindfulness, and conscious eating (not to mention weight loss) goodbye. And H-ANGRY is never pretty!
As often as possible, eat in the Fuel Zone. Start eating at around a 4 or 5. Eat mindfully (click here for some easy tips), and stop when you get to a 6 or 7. Also, eat only foods you love (see step 2 above), and, as often as possible, eat REAL food, not food-like products that your body can’t process or identify.
Honoring your hunger and respecting your fullness will help you build trust with yourself and food. And it will help you reconnect with your body’s natural cues which, I’m guessing, have become pretty blurry from years of controlling and binging.
A balanced meal plan (you can download my free Skinnytaste meal plan here) can help you get a feel for portions and nutrient combos while you start tuning in. But remember, your body knows better than any expert (including me!) how much to eat, when to eat, and when it’s time to stop eating.
Step 4: Deal With Your Emotions Directly
If you find yourself heading (OK, sometimes running) for the fridge when you’re at a 7 or above on the Hunger Scale, most likely you’re using food for emotional relief—to comfort, to reduce anxiety, or to reward. And it’s no wonder…
Eating is a seductive distraction that immediately soothes negative feelings. And certain foods (sugar and carbs, I’m looking at you!) trigger a release of feel-good chemicals in the brain.
But, as you know, the relief found in food is temporary. In fact, it lasts all of five seconds—then you go back to feeling sad or stressed… and now you also feel guilty, stuffed, and disgusted.
There’s a big difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger…
Feeding your feelings is just a habit, and you can absolutely and positively break it (truly!).
Try this: Use the 3 R’s (thank you, Gabrielle Bernstein!) to face your feelings head-on and to gain a new (and much better) perspective. I use the 3 R’s all the time; it takes less than 5 minutes…
Recognize: Before you dive into that bag of chips or box of cookies, take a moment and make yourself acutely aware of your underlying feelings. Do you feel insecure, sadness, anxiety, boredom, or loneliness? Maybe it’s excitement or happiness? Recognizing your trigger emotions will help you prepare to handle them in healthier ways (that’s why I call 7-10 on the Hunger Scale the Discover Zone).
Record: Next dig into the feelings. Write out exactly what you are feeling (and why), or what you are trying NOT to feel (and why).
Release: Now take a deep breath and allow yourself to actually feel the feelings that come up. For ninety seconds (set a timer) just sit with the feelings. Honor and allow the feelings and let them pass through you. Then exhale and release the feelings—in your mind you can say, ”I choose love and release fear. I welcome a shift in perception.”
Then do something else… something indulgent (take a relaxing bubble bath, read a trash magazine, watch a favorite movie, etc.).
The more you repeat the 3 R’s, turn criticism into curiosity, and allow yourself to actually FEEL your emotions, the easier it will be to deal with them, without food.
So what do ya think? Are you ready to ditch dieting, forever? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. And please let me know if you have any questions, I’m here to help.