Growing up, I spent way too much time focusing on dieting and calories. It began when I was ten, when a diet-obsessed aunt convinced me to try a “grapes-only” regime she’d read about in a magazine. We only ate grapes—that was the diet. We only lasted a few hours, thank goodness.
But my new negative focus with respect to food, body fat, and body image stuck. When I started university, after a rather unkind “friend” told me that I was fat and needed to focus on losing weight (I weighed 125 pounds, and am 5’7” tall!). That tipped me over into obsession; I started counting every calorie, and developed a phobia about fat content in foods. I would pick sunflower seeds out of whole grain bread when I ordered a sandwich at work, it was awful and so stressful. And so unnecessary.
Luckily, another friend recognized what was going on, and sent me to a dietitian that their sister had been seeing for similar issues. She told me that the way I was eating (and how I was also compulsively exercising) was actually shutting down my metabolism. She challenged me to live by the following magic words: “Eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full.” She made me a bet that not only would I not gain weight, but I’d have more energy and feel great. She was right. I’ve lived by that rule, generally, ever since, and my weight hasn’t gone up and down more than a few pounds in all the years since I heard those words. Because of her, I also decided to become a dietitian, and got a degree in dietetics before going on to med school.
Here are five of the tips I’ve found most helpful, both in my own life and in helping coaching clients and medical patients lose weight:
1) Eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full.
The first step in this is to start asking yourself this, when you begin to crave food: Am I really hungry? You’ll probably discover that, more often than not, you’re eating for emotional reasons—because you’re bored, or tired, or angry, or sad, or lonely, for example. Or, in my case quite frequently, it can simply be a form of procrastination, ugh. Snacking or overeating doesn’t truly help the emotion, because though it feels good in the moment, it actually leaves you feeling worse about yourself afterwards (whether you’ve stuffed your feelings, or used eating to put off doing something more productive that you need to do). Learn to recognize the difference between true hunger and emotional eating, and you may never have to “diet” again.
Things aren’t always so simple, of course. I was very lucky that my yo-yo diet habit was stopped when I was young, as my metabolism, adipose cells and stomach receptors didn’t have a chance to get seriously out of whack. It isn’t always as simple as just eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you are full, but for most people that’s a great starting point. So many of us are out of touch with the satiety and hunger signals produced by our bodies, and it can do wonders to get reconnected with these very important messages.
2) Don’t deprive yourself, or think of it as deprivation.
I guarantee that you can learn to find tasty food choices that serve your body that you will enjoy and look forward to. Make positive changes slowly if it helps you, and focus on finding healthy food alternatives that you really like. Make that your focus, instead of focusing what you can’t eat. If you don’t like “eating healthy”, you won’t last very long. The whole point is to build healthy practices around food that you can happily enjoy for a lifetime.
3) Forget about the “diet” word.
If you’d like to lose weight or create healthier food habits, you will do that through a variety of healthy food choices. Sometimes, you might need a little help—some of my friends subscribe to a meal-delivery service that provides a variety of gourmet yummy meals that are designed to meet a certain calorie level. You can’t do that forever, but it can help introduce you to new healthier food options and get a sense of proper portion sizes and so on.
I’ve also had some of my clients follow popular low-cost, well-balanced, reasonable and realistic healthy eating programs that are designed to help you lose weight (emphasis on reasonable and realistic). I think that’s great, and I’ve seen it work. Sometimes all you need is some community, accountability and good quality information to get you going. Ideally, you don’t want it to feel like a diet, but rather like a wonderful new way of eating that’s not too difficult to do daily.
Again, the key to maintaining a healthy weight is finding healthy foods, and food habits, that you enjoy. Living healthy is a way of life—an enjoyable way of life, not about extreme sacrifice and weird tricks or techniques or fads.
4) Love and value yourself, no matter what size you are.
Who you are, as represented by the way you live as you walk through this world, is much more important than your body size, no matter what society might tell you. If you’re a good, kind, honest person who seeks to love others and live with integrity, I’m sure the people in your life value you very highly. You should, too. If you feel better about yourself, it will be easier to make choices that honor your body and nourish you. And you won’t beat yourself up when you slip and make a less-than-great choice now and then.
5) Take time to enjoy your food.
Eat consciously. Eat at a table, not in front of the television (you’ll find you put way less into your mouth, mindless eating is a recipe for disaster). Find healthy foods that you love and deliberately savor them as you eat. Take time to appreciate the tastes, the colors, the wonderful aromas. I love unpacking my bounty from a trip to the farmer’s market, there are few things more gorgeous to me than a marvelous array of fresh multi-coloured fruits and vegetables.
Focus on what’s good about you, your life, and your food. We are so blessed in our society to have access to a wide variety of healthy food choices. Eat lots of whole fresh foods, play with new recipes and lose the processed stuff, you will be so glad you did. Once you come over to the healthy side and live here for a while, you’ll feel so good that you won’t ever want to go back.
Susan Biali, M.D. is a medical doctor, wellness expert, life and health coach, professional speaker, and flamenco dancer. She has been featured as an expert on the Today Show, as well as other major media outlets, and is available for keynote presentations, workshops/retreats, and private life coaching.
Copyright Dr. Susan Biali 2017