Recently, I have been thinking about the best way to get healthy and slim. Is following a prescriptive eating plan or the latest fad diet the way to go? Or could the secret be simply eating whatever you want, whenever you want? Sounds too good to be true right?
This all started when I watched a documentary called “The Men Who Made us Fat”. It is a fascinating three-part series, with the first episode focusing on diets. The point of the program was that ‘diets’ don’t work! Time and time again the statistics show that people who follow diets do not keep the weight off long term. Actually, it’s this very fact that has made the diet industry so successful; if diets worked, people would not need to keep coming back and paying more money to try and loose the weight! By then end of the program I started to feel a bit disheartened though. If diets are not the answer then what is?
This got me thinking about the times in my life when I have dieted and the times when I have been slim and felt happy with my weight and I realized that the two were related, but not in the way you would expect! When I have been my slimmest, it has happened almost by accident, and yet whenever I have been really trying to ‘diet’ I usually ended up losing some weight, only to put a load more back on again. It seems that the more I actively tried to loose weight, the less likely it was that this would happen. A quick Google search shows I’m not imagining this, research has shown that the most effective way to lose weight may actually be not to try!
And that is how I stumbled upon the theory of intuitive eating. The idea is simple; eat what you want, when you want and in whatever quantities you want and your body will take care of the rest. No more counting calories or restricting carbs, no more ‘bad’ foods or binge related guilt trips. What a novel idea! But how can it be healthy? Won’t this just lead to endless junk food binges and inevitable weight gain? Actually, I don’t think it will. The theory is your body knows what is good for it and will naturally want you to eat nourishing foods.
And really, that doesn’t seem that hard to believe. I like healthy food. It tastes nice, and makes me feel good. I don’t think its too much of a stretch to imagine that if we all listened to out bodies, and I mean really listened, most of us would find we actually prefer eating well and not living off junk food and sugary treats. A couple of years back I spent Christmas with a relative. This person was a fantastic cook, and really took her hosting duties seriously! She laid on a impressive schedule of indulgence, with homecooked treats dished up on an almost hourly basis! But as lovely as the food was, after a couple of days I was craving a salad! I felt bloated, and lethargic and just wanted to eat fresh, light green things.
Intuitive eating is the very antithesis of ‘diets’ but that is precisely why it may be the secret to staying healthy and slim. I don’t know about you but as soon as something is off limits, I just want it more. This is part of the reason why diets inevitably fail. After a week or two of sticking to something religiously, my self control fades and before I know it I’m knee-deep in custard tarts! But what if nothing is off limits? This all reminds me of a little boy I once met at a festival. I was standing in the queue to get some food behind him and his parents and I could overhear his mother saying to him, “are you sure you wouldn’t prefer sweeties for dinner?”. His parents must have seen the look on my face because they started to talking to me and explained that they always offered sweets and chocolate to their son. Nothing was off limits, he could have them whenever he wanted. But the thing was, when sweeties stopped being a treat, they lost their appeal; left to make his own decisions the little boy would choose a proper meal over sugary treats. Maybe if I allowed myself complete freedom to choose my food, the custard tarts would suddenly seem less appealing? And even if I did fancy the odd sugary treat, maybe it would be just that; the odd treat and not an all out “oh well I’ve ruined my diet now” binge?
The same concept could apply to exercise as well. Years ago a read an interview in a newspaper with a person who’s name I have long forgot. This person say that every time someone forces themselves to continue reading a book they are not enjoying it just reinforces the idea that reading is a chore rather than a pleasure. Couldn’t the same be said for working out? Every time you make yourself do an exercise you don’t enjoy are you just reinforcing the idea that exercise is something to be suffered through for the sake of results, rather than something to be enjoyed in its own right?
One thing is for sure, after a lifetime of prescriptive eating and labeling foods as “good” or “bad” giving myself true freedom to eat whatever I want without guilt or regret is probably going to be far more difficult than it sounds. But I’m going to give it go. I’m also going to stop guilt-tripping myself about missed workouts and instead focus on doing the things I enjoy if and when I feel like doing them. If this means I occasionally miss a weights session for an extra hour in bed when I’m feeling tired, then so be it! I’m going to try to stop trying to lose weight and see what happens