Can’t seem to shake off that weight? You might be eating wrong.
Dieting is a painful, miserable process that most of us have attempted and failed sometime in our lives. The practice is suffering a heavy blow in terms of perceived efficacy; a study in Obesity Journal showed that long-term dieting has little to no lasting effect on keeping weight off, causing the opposite instead. Bummer.
Don’t worry though, we have the next best solution.
A new movement, known as intuitive eating or the no-diet approach, aims to transform the way we view eating. At its heart is simple common sense — eat whatever you want, but only when you feel hungry. It has no rules on what you should consume, when or how. Instead, it aims to change the destructive beliefs we have about food, encouraging people to cultivate a positive mindset about their bodies and eating.
This may sound absolutely ineffective, but intuitive eating has shown promising results. A study in Public Health Nutrition Journal discovered that people who practiced it had lower BMIs and better psychological health, while others have given it credit for helping with weight loss.
Here are three ways to kick start your journey to intuitive eating, the best (and probably easiest) anti-diet for your body and mind.
Mindfulness: Know what’s going into your body
We tend to overestimate our capacity to eat when we are multitasking. Watch television while munching on popcorn, and being fully absorbed in the activity distracts us from discerning if our tummies are full. Unaware, we continue eating until it suddenly dawns on us that our stomachs are already stuffed from overeating.
Intuitive eating advocates using mindfulness to guide the eating process by encouraging eaters to:
Do away with unnecessary noise
Be constantly aware of what they are eating
Check their stomach’s fullness at intervals
This way, every bit of food is documented and eaters are more conscious of knowing when to stop, reducing the chances of overeating.
Non-judgemental eating: A donut is just a donut
Some days, we crave for the glazed goodness of a donut, but stop ourselves because it’s ‘bad’. Or we may cave in to temptation, but the thought of having eaten a donut would trigger instant guilt. Either way, having a donut has become a stressful and depressing experience.
Donuts aside, noticed how we have a tendency to sort foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’?
We are constantly putting labels on foods, which has created unrealistic expectations of what we should or should not eat. If a food is ‘bad’ in our book, we mentally check ourselves and deny the desire. This creates unresolved tension which may lead to destructive eating behaviour.
Intuitive eating advocates non-judgemental eating — this means encouraging eaters to mentally clear their database of labels and call their food as it is.
So, if you see a donut, it isn’t ‘452 kcal’, ‘sugar loaded’, or ‘unhealthy food’. It is just a donut. Being free from labels promotes a happier eating experience and less psychological stress.
Habituation: If you want ice cream, get it
We all have that one dish that we can’t resist taking multiple bites of, which often spells trouble for our weight. Diet programmes constantly emphasise keeping these foods out of sight, claiming the ‘see no evil, eat no evil’ approach will erase any desire for them.
However, not seeing doesn’t mean not thinking. As mentioned, abstaining from the foods that we really want only breeds tension which will have to be addressed, most often in the form of binging.
One component that intuitive eating promotes is the concept of habituation — the method of giving space for your cravings instead of denying it. If tubs of Ben and Jerry’s are your Achilles heel, buy a whole freezer’s worth of them. Or if sweets are your thing, create a dedicated drawer full of your favourites.
Accepting these foods as a part of your identity and having convenient access to them is much more effective in curbing unexpected yearnings. Foods that once seem like ‘forbidden fruit’ have just become another item in the kitchen. Their allure loses shine, reducing the frequency of binges.
In the end, intuitive eating isn’t some overhyped, trendsetting diet program, but a practice that reminds us the main purpose of eating — to resolve hunger. Get back to basics with these three techniques, and make peace with your body, mind and mouth.