With cleanses and 30-day weight loss plans being sold left and right, it's no wonder dieting has become the new normal. We are almost identified by which one we follow. I'm paleo. I'm low-carb. I'm IIFYM.
The truth is that we don't actually know how to lose weight. As much as MyFitnessPal will try to convince you that losing weight is as simple as burning more calories than you consume, this myth has been formally debunked since 2010. The Journal of the American Medical Association released a paper explaining the intricacies of the metabolism. Simply put, losing weight slows your metabolism. This begins to explain why in this UCLA study of dieters, 83 percent of the subjects regained all their lost weight and more after just two years.
For how much money goes into the diet industry, we know very little about how to actually lose weight. Additionally, diets have been shown to deteriorate the metabolic system over time. The process of losing and regaining weight at any point on the scale can be almost as harmful as being overweight in the first place. So if dieting doesn't work and it can harm our health, how do we eat "normally"?
First, let me be clear about what is not "normal." Although it might be the norm, compulsive, emotional and restrictive eating can be harmful to both mental and physical health. These involve eating mindlessly and without attention to hunger or fullness, using food as a panacea for emotions and restricting foods to meet specific requirements like fat-free, low-carb, etc. Obviously restricting is okay when it comes to allergies, but on the whole, banning foods from your diet is harmful.
Why? Because the human brain wants what it can't have, and the essence of normal eating comes down to trusting your body. Once you start to build trust with your body, respect will follow. Building a good relationship with food takes time especially when we've been trained to act otherwise. There is a smattering of theories on intuitive or normal eating, but all agree on the following "rules" for normal eating.
Being rooted in body respect, the four major pieces of normal eating are eating when you're hungry, choosing foods that satisfy you, listening to your body and stopping eating when you're full. Although the mention of rules makes this seem awfully similar to traditional diets, the point is that it's a process. You can't eat a box of PopTarts the night before you want to start your diet. It's a constant process with no start and no end date, and no matter where you are in the process, you're heading in the right direction.
The first rule is surprisingly difficult for most of us. We are not used to eating when we're hungry. We've been trained to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at certain times regardless of whether or not we're actually hungry. The key is to start paying attention to your body's cues and eating when you're hungry while not waiting until you're starving. Actually, food tastes better at this stage. Check out this scale to give you a better idea of what the cues might look like with your body. The point is to respect your body's needs. That isn't to say you should only eat when hungry.
You should also eat when you have a craving. The body is amazing and can actually pinpoint certain macronutrients and micronutrients that it needs at a certain point in time. A craving is not something that comes when you're bored or attempting to fill an emotional void. Tuning into this takes time, and requires you to also be aware of your hunger levels at the same time. How much food will it take to satisfy that craving? Take your time, be mindful and listen to your body's signals.
The second rule is about deciding what to eat. The first step is to get the "food police" out of your head. There is no such thing as a "good" food, "bad" food, "superfood," unhealthy food or "fatty" food. It's the value we put in food. You are the only person who knows how you should eat. You know what foods make your stomach hurt and which foods leave you bursting with energy for the day. It comes down to trusting yourself and choosing foods that you believe will satisfy you.
Third, we must listen to our bodies. Normal eaters check in with their body regularly to assess hunger and fullness and to enjoy their activities throughout the day including eating. Things like scarfing down food, shaming or feeling guilty for eating and eating to reduce stress are not habits of normal eaters. It really comes down to developing that relationship with your body and trusting it. No one can build this trust for you or tell you what to do. Not TV ads, your personal trainer, your friends and certainly not your mom.
Finally, normal eaters stop eating when they're full. Many of us also fail to determine when we're actually full. One of my favorite lines is, "the meal's not over when I'm full, it's over when I hate myself." That is not normal eating. It's okay to leave food on the plate, to ask for food to-go and to say no to seconds. It's also okay to ask for more, order a side dish and eat multiple "servings" of something. The point is that only you can find that sweet spot, so allow yourself to experiment underdo-ing it and overdo-ing it until you know what your fullness feels like.
There are a ton of resources out there on intuitive and normal eating, and it's vital considering how outnumbered they are by fad diets, cleanses and "fixes." Life doesn't have to look like that. It's totally possible to connect with your body and trust yourself to make the best decisions for you. You will undoubtedly mess up, and that's okay. It's a process, and it's not pretty. However, cultivating your relationship with food will empower you in all aspects of wellness and will help you find what nourishes you.It's difficult, but having control of this is fundamental to normal eating. Know what foods you like, what you don't like, what you can settle for if nothing else is available and so forth. Every person is different, but on the whole, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains provide plentiful nutrition to keep the body functioning effortlessly. Find which ones you like. I don't really like kale, so guess what? I'm not going to eat kale, but I do love spinach. It's about finding what works for you.