As we come out of the holidays and start the New Year, many people resolve to change their eating habits. Because of this popular trend, I see many pop-up ads on my computer with optimistic promises like, ”Lose Your Belly Fat”, “Celebrity Secrets To Hot Bodies”, “Why Wheat (or fill in the blank with any food) is Not Your Friend”.
While I have no opinion on your friendship with wheat (and PLEASE do not use this forum to discuss why wheat should or should not be removed from one’s diet), I agree there are many things that are “not friends” to those who want to alter their eating habits. If you are one of the many who are looking to make permanent changes in your diet, here are some nasty enemies to watch for while trying to navigate this difficult road.
1. Fatigue and Stress
When we are more tired and stressed out, we tend to eat more. Our brains make sure of it by the chemicals that are released during both of these states. Food becomes an effective way to reward and relax ourselves under stress. Food also provides stimulation when tired. And so instead of getting the rest you need to decrease stress and feel energized, many people tend to mask the underlying issues with food. If you can’t change your sleep or stress, please know that shifting your eating is going to be all the more difficult.
When we deprive ourselves of foods that we love, we are more susceptible to bingeing and overeating. If you want to make long-term shifts in your patterns of eating, I strongly recommend you decrease portion sizes and eat all foods in moderation. Do NOT deprive yourself of foods you enjoy. Believe it or not, eating all foods in moderation is way more difficult to carry out than any other type of eating plan. And keep in mind that, research shows that deprivation of food leads to eventual bounce back binging and weight gain.
There is NO WAY to hate your body into the body you love. If this approach worked even a little bit, no one would need weight loss help—we would already be self-hating our way to thinness. Berating yourself for indulging in certain foods leaves you in a twisted bind. If you don’t have the food, you feel deprived and resentful (see above) and if you do have (or binge on) the food, you hate yourself. Finding a happy medium in all of this is of utmost importance. Balance does NOT include body hate or self-flagellation when you make mistakes.
We’ve become a society with great disdain for slow change over time and long-term payoffs (just look at those pop-up ads!). And when it comes to food and our bodies, we want change and we want it NOW. Unless we can rework this approach and attitude, lasting change in our eating patterns is not likely. Remember it took you a long time to develop these patterns, so it will take some time to undo them. No shortcuts! If we want the changes to last, the shifts in our eating have to happen gradually. Changing takes practice and time.
This enemy is best friends with Impatience and Self-Criticism. Many people have in their minds that in order to change eating patterns, they must maintain a strict meal plan. Usually this is unrealistic. Those who adopt black and white attitudes of success and failure are often the same people who think losing 1-2 lbs. per week is not enough. Friends, I know you are overachievers and like to work hard and get quick, excellent results. But when it comes to your relationship with food and your body, you have to let these attitudes go. This process is not elegant and it’s not perfect. It takes tons of grit and messing up and compassion. The sooner you can integrate an appreciation for an imperfect process into your eating patterns, the sooner you can make some progress.
The road to change is a difficult one. In a culture where food has come to mean so much more than nutrition, change requires a multi-layered effort. As you navigate this complex process and begin to identify what works and doesn’t work for you, keep the above enemies in mind. As you watch for and avoid them, I suspect you will find your journey a bit more manageable.