How to Ditch Your Diet

This is a guest post by Liz Higgins, MHSc, dietetic intern. Thanks Liz!

As a former dancer, Liz is no stranger to the world of dieting and food restriction. She always felt pressure to maintain her physique, which led her down the scary path of yo-yo dieting and calorie counting. Like Liz, many men and women face similar challenges, and may turn to dieting in order to lose or manage weight.

Unfortunately, all diets are designed to fail. Research suggests that there is little to no lasting benefits of traditional dieting approaches (here). And, up to 66% of dieters end up gaining back more weight than they had originally lost. Talk about wasted and disheartening effort.

Have you ever met anyone on a diet who was happy? Didn’t think so. Diets that restrict food (low carbohydrate, low calorie, fat free, sugar free… the list goes on) can leave us deprived and craving these foods even more. Now, there are definitely certain foods that we should enjoy in moderation… but eliminating treats completely? That does not work for most people.

Not only is dieting ineffective for losing or maintaining weight, it takes a great deal of self-control to restrict your eating for the long-term. And eventually, we’re going give in to our food cravings, which can make us feel even worse. There’s even evidence to suggest that dieting is related to having lower self-esteem and a more negative body image (here).

When Liz was dancing, she was so focused on what, and how much she ate. Food became mere sustenance, so much so that she completely forgot to enjoy the process of eating. And no matter which diet she followed, she never felt satisfied with her appearance. For Liz, mindful eating was the chance for her reconnect with food, and find peace knowing that she’d never have to count calories again.

The underlying principle of mindful eating is that your body knows when you need to be nourished. More than that, you intrinsically know what type of food and how much food you need, too. It’s about honouring, trusting, and nourishing your body, instead of depriving it. The more we fine-tune our ability to listen to our internal hunger cues (see our first post: Are You Really Hungry?), the closer we get to eating mindfully. One of the best ways to learn to eat mindfully is to concentrate on eating whole foods, especially plant-based foods, which are full of fibre.

What are the three main features of mindful eating?
1. Eating because you’re hungry
2. Listening to your own hunger and fullness cues
3. Now that you have learned to listen to your hunger and fullness cues, you can give yourself the freedom to eat when you want, how much you want, and whatever you want

Are you ready to tap into your own mindful eating abilities? The Mindful Eating Cycle, created by Michelle May, MD, is a wonderful tool to help you get started. This six-stage cycle (here) prompts us to reflect on why, when, what, how, how much, and where we eat. We’ve adapted Dr. May’s cycle into the following 7 questions:

  • Why do I eat (are you hungry, bored, stressed, happy, sad, glad)?
  • What do I eat (what are your food likes, dislikes, cravings, things you’d like to try)?
  • When do I eat (when does food fit into your day- time, place, and situation)?
  • How do I eat (do you eat on the run, with family, by yourself, or in front of the TV)?
  • How much do I eat (are you still hungry or full after you eat)?
  • Where do I put my energy (your hobbies, activities, and goals)?
  • Who is affected by what I eat (friends, family, animals, the planet)?

To make the process easy for you, we’ve designed a free Mindful Eating Journal (PDF coming soon!) for you to use. This journal is meant to help you identify your own food triggers. After a while, you’ll begin to see patterns in your own eating habits. And as you get more familiar with the mindful eating cycle, you’ll start to unconsciously check-in with yourself before, during, and after you eat.

As a starting point, we recommend you print off seven copies of our Mindful Eating Journal. Keep the journal with you, and take time after eating to fill it out. It’s okay if you forget some things. This journal isn’t meant for you to keep track of each and every thing you eat, but to help you develop an awareness of your own eating patterns and behaviours.

The journey to mindful eating can be challenging. It involves completely redefining our relationship with food. Ditching your diet is the first step. Instead, we learn to focus on our thoughts and feelings about food, and in doing so, harness an appreciation for the food we eat.

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
-Virginia Woolf