It’s not only the time of year that people make New Year’s resolutions; it’s also the time of year we get to read about whether or not it’s a reasonable venture to make those resolutions.
I spend much of my professional time helping people unravel why their resolutions (at least those pertaining to eating better or weight loss) didn’t pan out like they had hoped.
Really, they are my resolutions for you.
Resolution 1: Respect Your Body
No matter what the diet du jour trend is, your body has the same mission it always had: to keep you alive. Because your body doesn’t know the difference between a willful shortage of food (AKA a diet) and a crop failure, it will pull out all the stops to fight you on this one. Do you feel extra hungry when you go on a diet? That’s your body amping up the signals to get you to eat. Do extra-“bad” foods catch your attention when you are trying to lose weight? That’s your body making energy-rich food (sugar and fat) extra desirable so you will give yourself some energy.
In short, your body wants to eat. It is endlessly exasperated by your refusal to nourish it. When you deprive yourself of food, your body pushes you to eat more. This sets up overeating, triggered by your body’s attempts to keep you nourished.
If this sounds like bad news to you, it’s only because you are coming at your body from a place of control. Instead, resolve to listen to your body. Rather than following rules telling you when and how much to eat, let your body be your guide. This doesn’t only apply for when to start eating; it also applies to stopping. When you tune in to your natural hunger, you will be able to stop eating when your tummy lets you know – not when your plate is empty.
Resolution 2: Love Your Food
Please stop eating special diet food unless you have diabetes or another medical condition that requires it. Artificial sweeteners and fat substitutes just taste bitter, like the failed resolutions of yore. When you eat around what you are really hungry for, you often end up eating more food than if you had just eaten what you wanted in the first place. If you really want dessert but turn it down because there are other people at the table… Well, let’s just say that four boxes of Ding Dongs on the drive home do not provide the same amount of delicious satisfaction that one slice of high-quality chocolate cake would have. And you may have even stopped before finishing the whole slice (see Resolution 1, above).
Also on the topic of food-loving, please do away with the dichotomies of good and bad when you are talking about food. Unless your food threatens to blackmail you on Facebook, the constructs of “good” and “bad” don’t really make sense. If anything, categorizing some food as allowed and some as disallowed may very well set you up to overeat. Let’s face it, many of the foods on your “bad” list are there not because you don’t like them. Rather, they are seen as fattening, or somehow having an undesirable outcome for you. The problem is that when things are forbidden, they become more desirable. This often turns into a game of “What the Hell?” In other words, when you eat some of a food that you have on your naughty list, you say to yourself, “What the hell, I might as well eat it all now, and start fresh tomorrow.” You know how that usually turns out.
Paradoxically, one of the best ways to avoid overeating – especially of a favorite (but naughty!) food – is to enjoy it. Enjoying a food may have very little correlation to the amount of it that is eaten. When you snarf down a pint of ice cream while your husband takes out the trash, there is no way you are enjoying it. But truly legalizing a food allows you to really enjoy it without guilt. The end result is that, combined with Resolution 1, you can eat any food without it taking control of you.
Resolution 3: Adore Your Life
How much of your day is spent thinking about the size of your body, how much time you have to spend at the gym to compensate for what you ate for dinner, how many calories you ate, etc? For so many of the women I talk to, it’s a significant chunk of their day.
Aren’t there better ways to spend your time and energy? Stop for a moment and imagine what you could accomplish if your psyche were freed up from the tyranny of a diet mindset. It’s pretty exciting.
Or maybe it’s scary, and that’s part of why you overeat.
Life and eating are intertwined. When you are caught up in a diet mindset, it pulls you out of being present in your life as you obsess about everything you eat. (And frankly, weight loss talk is pretty boring.) When you are not fully present in your life, you are likely to eat emotionally. When you learn to address your own emotional needs, emotional eating diminishes. And when you step out of a dieting lifestyle, then there’s room for your real life.