Diets don’t work. By now, it’s likely this is not news to you…you’ve heard it before or learned it from your own experience. In fact, if you’re an “average American woman,” you’ve learned it many, many times! Probably no one has told you why, though. Well, there are lots of reasons, but here are a few of the big ones:
1. Humans do not like the word “no”. If you told your inner child right now that you could never have cookies again, that news would likely be met with cookies being the only thing you think about until you lose your mind and give in. It goes against our nature to tell ourselves that this thing we love—this highly addictive thing, by the way—is now in the “no/never, ever” category, especially if the consequences of eating it are not immediate and painful. You can’t trick your mind by calling something “poison,” when it knows a cookie won’t kill you, at least not right away.
2. When you think about reducing your food intake, the innate fear of feeling hungry is triggered. Have you noticed that when you even simply contemplate going on a diet, you find yourself binging? Hunger is a terrible feeling, one that people have and do kill over, literally. Our natural survival instinct makes the feeling of hunger very unpleasant. And it works! Don’t fight nature…if you are hungry, eat (but wisely).
3. Almost all eating is emotional. Most people have no idea how much of their eating is emotional. Technically, a human could survive on a good, plant-based protein shake and maybe some vitamin/mineral supplements, but that is just not fun. We would rather have hearty soup, warm tea, and crunchy popcorn. The reason is not so much because those things are good for us, as some are, but because we associate them with beautiful memories. Remember having tea with our mothers, or that delectable soup grandma used to make, or hot, buttered popcorn with a good movie? Even if we aren’t conscious of these associations, the memories are still there. If you crave happiness or feeling loved, your need is easily redirected to foods that have been tied to this emotion in the past, which often includes candy, cake, and alcohol!
4. Dieting goes against the basic habit model. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has done a lot of research on the issue of habits, coming up with a model of how they are formed. This model, which seems pretty accurate, describes the following:
The Habit: For the sake of this discussion, we’ll use eating/overeating.
Trigger: What causes or brings on the behavior. For eating, it could be difficult emotions, or physical pain, or simply seeing your favorite food on the table in your employer’s break room.
Reward: Release from care, that “warm, fuzzy feeling” or pleasurable oblivion.
For example, a typical trigger might be your boss yelling at you and making you feel bad. You go to your drug of choice—food—to feel better, and for about five minutes you are off in the oblivion of food gratification. Almost instantly, however, you are remorseful about eating that Snickers bar.
If Diets Don’t Work, What Does?
New mindset. We have to change our attitude toward eating healthily, making it a “lifestyle” and not a diet. We must learn to make better choices not so much to lose weight as because this is part of who we are.
Substitution. We also know from AA that expecting to get rid of all triggers is a losing battle. To switch to a healthier behavior, though, we need some level of immediate payoff from the new habit. As far as eating, your best bet is to replace the unhealthy comfort foods with more nutritious options. I tell people to take all the “fun” foods they love, and come up with a healthy alternative, e.g. raisins instead of M&M’s, a fruit bowl rather than ice cream, and baby carrots instead of chips.
Work on your body intuition. Practice listening to your body more, e.g. when it is hungry and what it seems to be craving. When you start paying closer attention, your body will tell you what it does and does not want to be fed.
Be nice to your inner child. Lastly, allow yourself what I call “breaks” from your normal healthy eating routine—let yourself have the donuts you are craving, or treat yourself to a weekly dinner at your favorite restaurant. Think about it…you wouldn’t drive from Los Angeles to New York without a break, so why expect yourself to never enjoy something yummy that you know isn’t good for you, but is fun?
To succeed in eating better, work with your natural ways of doing things instead of against them. Changing and healing involve work, and shifting bad habits is not always easy, but the rewards of increased love and self-respect that come from a healthier lifestyle are worth every ounce of effort you put in.
Jill Thomas CHT
Soul Connect Hypnotherapy