How do you choose the right “diet”?
Vegan. Paleo. Lacto-ovo vegetarian. Atkins. Tracy Anderson. CSIRO. Dukan. Tony Ferguson. Liver Cleansing. Lemon detox.
I could go on.
There are a kabillion* diets in the world and even more books, articles and opinions on them. And have you ever noticed the following common theme that goes along with anyone who creates a diet plan?
- “I spent years trying to follow other diets and failed miserably”
- “I have now found the missing link / best path / only way to true health and nutrition”
- “My diet plan is sacrosanct and if you don’t get results from following my plan then YOU are doing something wrong!”
There is a fundamental flaw in this message that sadly sets many people up for failure. The reason why someone has “success”** on a diet is because they have found the one that works for them. If other people have “success”, it’s because that diet is also the one that works for them. If people “fail”, it is because it is NOT the diet that works for them.
The good news is that if you’ve spent years “failing” on diets (like I totally have), it means that there is still a way of eating that will work for you. And finding it just requires some inner reflection.
Forget diets, remember what feels right
I recall a conversation I had with a co-worker who once asked me what diet I followed in order to lose the weight that I had.
She told me she often became frustrated because she tried to eat like her fiancé but often ended up feeling sick. She was now desperately trying to find validation by reading multiple books on nutrition, trying to find the “golden goose” of diets.
I told her, “I don’t diet or follow any plan. I choose the foods and eating times that feel right for me”. She wholeheartedly agreed this was what she wanted to do but was worried that she was wrong. She knew exactly what she needed to eat and when, but she just didn’t trust herself.
Here’s where mindful eating has really helped me, and could help you
- It helps you connect to your inner wisdom around the foods that bring you joy
- It teaches you to trust your judgement – which helps in many facets of life
- You don’t have to count calories, or follow strict / ridiculous guidelines, so you’re free to choose
- You don’t have to be terrified of any type of food – in the 50s it was protein, in the 90s it was fat, and these days it’s carbs – so you can welcome diversity back into your diet
The mindful eating method
- Know the difference between true hunger & emotional hunger
When I experience hunger, I don’t get a my-stomach-is-consuming-itself pain. I get the feeling that my batteries are running out. Like the poor little Energizer bunny that had a substitute brand battery. I get spacey and lethargic and one friend described it as “watching the lights in your eyes go out”. Tragically poetic, no?
Emotional hunger feels like a drive, like a desperation, like a fluttering bird trapped in my chest.
Once you know the difference you can take the right steps towards fulfilling your true needs. If you’re hungry eat. If you’re emotional, heal that pain in some other way.
- Eat when you’re hungry
This is also an excellent example of what happens when we get too hungry. Hormones literally rage out of control, so eat when you’re moderately hungry and not famished and you’ll be in a better place to make the right food choice for you.
- Eat until you’re satisfied
This is the flipside of eating for hunger. You need to know what satiety feels like. If you need to unbutton your jeans, you’ve gone too far. True satiety should have a calming effect on hunger. Just like Goldilocks, the amount of porridge you eat should feel “just right”.
If you have a complex about wasting food because your parents wouldn’t let you leave the table until your plate was clean while guilt-tripping you about starving children in Africa – you’re not alone. But overeating isn’t going to help anyone, least of all starving children. If you have made your own dinner and feel satisfied but your plate isn’t clean, rejoice – you now have delicious leftovers for lunch tomorrow. If you’re at a restaurant, and you’re half way through the whopping portion they have given you when you reach fullness, ask for a doggy bag. Most restaurants will oblige. If not, leave the food, chalk it up to experience and remember to order a different meal or split it with a friend next time.
- Relax and focus on your food
Overeating is almost synonymous if you’re focused on another task (eg watching TV). It’s far easier to tap into hunger and satiety messages when you’re relaxed and focused on enjoying your meal. Try taking a deep breath before you eat and spend a few moments in silent gratitude for the fact you live in a time and place where food is abundant, gathered with ease and you have the privilege of choice.
Smell your food. Your sense of smell has a direct influence on your tastebuds and has a massive impact on the flavour of your food (which is why when you have a cold, everything tastes like cardboard). Savour each mouthful. As you eat, describe in your head (talking with your mouth full is uncouth) the textures and tastes you’re sensing with each bite.
Mindful eating takes practice and if you can do any of the small steps above when you eat, celebrate the success. Give yourself a mental pat on the back. Or a for real pat on the back. Remember, in each moment, we have a choice.
*kabillion – it’s a measurement, I swear
** success – the goal of the diet plan, which is usually to lose weight