Diet is a 4-Letter Word

The psychology of eating

How Do I Improve My Relationship with Food?

What to do when food is enemy #1.

Does any of this sound familiar?

  • You decide to go on a diet and proceed to stuff your face because you know you’ll never be able to eat certain foods again.
  • You’ve been dieting most of your life and your weight is constantly yo-yoing: gain six pounds, lose two pounds, gain four pounds, lose three pounds, gain six pounds…
  • You have horrible cravings and every few days or weeks, think “What the hell” and give into your cravings.
  • Every time you’re "bad," you punish yourself by restricting calories or exercising more to burn off what you ate.

Here’s the deal: the first thing you need to do is stop dieting. I know, I know, but the diet mentality is what is setting you up to crave certain foods and give in to your cravings. By labeling foods as “good” or “bad” and then depriving yourself of the “bad” foods, you are setting yourself up to crave and possibly binge on those foods. And then your weight fluctuates, you feel guilty, and you punish yourself again.

So how can you stop? Here’s what I want you to do. It might seem extreme, but bear with me…

a) Get reacquainted with what it feels like to be hungry and what it feels like to be full. Most of us have long forgotten this and it may take some time to recover. That’s okay. Just be patient. One reason people binge at night is that they are depriving themselves all day longtrying to be “good” by starving themselves. So by the time dinner comes around, they are starving and eat everything in sight. If you tend to overeat at night, you might be under-consuming calories during the day.

b) Enjoy your food. That’s right. No eating in the car on the way to work. No texting while talking on the phone while shoveling down a bite of salad. I’m giving you permission to eat whatever you want when you want it (even those “bad” foods!). You might as well enjoy it; otherwise, what’s the point? Which leads us to our next “rule.” And yes, it bears repeating.

c) Eat whatever you want without feeling guilty.  If you decide that you want that piece of chocolate cake, have it. Just abide by rule #1eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. By allowing yourself to eat whatever you want, you’ll learn to gain control of your cravings. If you aren’t depriving yourself of your favorite foods, then you won’t crave them and then feel the need to binge on them and you’ll be satisfied with less.

d) Get out there and move. Find an activity you love to door maybe several. Don’t force yourself to do step aerobics at the gym if you hate it. You know what I just discovered? Belly dancing. And I love it. It’s just a bunch of women of all shapes and sizes moving their bodies in fun and interesting ways. It doesn’t seem like a workout at all! And that’s the key heredon’t exercise. For most of us exercise isn’t fun, it’s a way to burn calories. But movement, on the other hand, can be quite freeing. So dance like no one’s watching while singing at the top of your lungs. Fun, isn’t it?

e) Stand up for yourself.  The next time somebody asks, “Are you gonna eat that?!” Say, “Why, yes. Would you like a bite?” Don’t let that someone else challenge your own ability to know what your body wants in that moment. No one knows your body better than you do. Respect that. Honor that. And forget about what anyone else thinks.

f) Get in touch with your emotions. When you find yourself reaching for something you used to consider “bad,” go back to rule #1first ask yourself if you are really hungry. Then ask yourself if that is what you really want right now. If the answer to both questions is yes, then dive in. However, if you find that you really aren’t hungry, and then ask yourself what you do want. We get so used to filling emotional voids in our lives with food, oftentimes we never stop to listen to our bodies to find out what they really want. A big part of healing from the diet mentality is learning to become friends with your emotions. If you’re sad, have a good cry. If you’re angry, punch a pillow. But don’t attempt to bury your feelings under a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. It won’t work. It never really has.

Here’s to your healthy, happy relationship with food!

 

Mary E. Pritchard, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Psychology at Boise State University.

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