Eating carrot sticks and committing hours to the gym is a sure fire way to lose weight. But if it were simple we’d all be gracing the fashion runways—or at the very least not be on the endless pursuit of a beach body. Hence the rat wheel of fad diets, which simply don’t work. “No form of dieting is going to work for losing weight and keeping it off,” said Bonnie R. Giller, a West Hempstead dietitian and founder of Freedom to Eat Forever, an intuitive eating guide.
Giller is a proponent of intuitive eating, a concept based on satisfying physiological hunger. Nothing is off-limits, but identifying true hunger is essential. Sounds straight forward, but the emotional component of becoming an intuitive eater is difficult for many to master. Giller’s five steps will teach you to trust your gut to achieve a healthy weight and body image. Consider this an invitation to step off the dieting roller coaster once and for all.
Step One: Reject Diet Mentality
The first step is a shift in mindset—banish so-called “food rules.” It might seem easier to follow a set of rules or pre-planned menus, but bear in the mind the aforementioned advice: diets don’t work long-term. “By allowing an outside influence to determine what you should eat, when you should eat and how you should eat, you didn’t allow your internal signals to guide your eating,” said Giller, who has more than 29 years of experience in medical nutrition therapy and counseling. “You were born with the ability to know when you are hungry and when you are satisfied.” Get out of the dieters’ mindset by granting yourself unconditional permission to eat when you are hungry and what food you desire. “Start by making a list of all your diet rules that you created for yourself over the years. Only then, when you know what those rules are, can you begin to knock each off the list one by one and begin to really believe that diets just don’t work.”
Step Two: Prioritize Self Care
Intuitive eaters are genuinely connected to their body’s needs—even beyond matters where food is concerned. It is difficult to be an intuitive eater when basic care (getting enough sleep and taking leisure time) isn’t being met. Focusing on a well-rounded approach to wellness makes obtaining all health goals—including weight loss—obtainable in the long haul. Hone in on nurturing body and spirit. “Start to say ‘no’ when you are repeatedly asked to do favors for others when you know that it will mean not doing something you need to do for yourself,” Giller recommended. This is easier said than done, but it’s a skill worth mastering. Baby steps, she suggested. “Simply say, ‘I can’t do that now, but I can help you out tomorrow.’” Growing a strong support system can play a vital role in this process. Build a support network to help guide this phase of the journey and write down your needs to put this step into action.
Step Three: Hone in on Hunger
Who hasn’t fallen victim to snacking while bored, or sad or because it’s 3pm and the donut in the break room is beckoning? This isn’t to say a donut is completely out of the question, in fact the question actually is: Are you really hungry for the donut?
“You were born with the natural instinct to know when you are hungry and need to eat and when you are satisfied enough to stop eating. However, you have gotten so used to ignoring your hunger signals that you are no longer able to identify them.” In many cases, Giller’s clients only recognize hunger when they are ravenous, often leading to overeating or binge eating. The trick is to listen for hunger. It can manifest itself by way of a growling stomach, feeling lightheaded or having difficulty concentrating. Before biting in, take a moment. If you are truly hungry, eat. If you are not, don’t. Simply monitoring how you feel when you eat is a good first step.
Step Four: Rewrite the Script
Discerning gut intuition with racing (sometimes obsessive) thoughts is another tricky step that often leads dieters astray. “Do you ever say to yourself, ‘I was bad today, I shouldn’t have had that chocolate cake?’ Or, ‘I started my day out good and then it went downhill?’” Giller asked. “These are destructive diet voices that keep you on the diet roller coaster.” Send negative thoughts packing. Instead, learn to replace these notions with friendly words of encouragement.
Be diligent about being your own cheerleader. Make note of these destructive voices and turn negative self-talk into positive self-talk. Having a donut isn’t an invite to a pity party—write down the negative thoughts and revise. “This is the step that will ultimately help you give yourself unconditional permission to eat when you are hungry the foods you desire and make peace with food.” This step is about solidifying trust and respect for your body—no matter its size or shape. Weight loss is the secondary goal.
Step Five: Get Real
Only once the diet mentality has been banished can the last phase be secured. Labeling nutrition as the last step of intuitive eating may seem, well, counter-intuitive. But it makes the most sense. “If we begin talking about nutrition and what you should eat, we are back to setting food and diet rules. Even the most sound nutrition recommendations become diet rules that will eventually be broken if you are listening with a dieter’s mindset.” Of course, proper nutrition education is an essential ingredient. Start by making a list of all the nutrition and exercise guidelines that you want to know more about. This could mean a variety of meal options: eating green, going organic or choosing whole foods. Then do the research to see which elements you’d like to incorporate into a well-rounded eating plan. Beware: there are a lot of misconceptions, be sure to use a reputable source when gathering information. Armed with a healthy mindset and nutritional know-how, you can kiss dieting goodbye forever.