If you started the year with the resolve to lose weight, then right about now your good intentions are most likely a distant, unwelcome memory.
And good on you! Because diets are bad for you.
But don’t just take my word for it.
“Almost everyone who goes on a weight loss diet puts the weight back on sooner rather than later,” says author of If Not Dieting, Then What? Dr Rick Kausman.
“One-third to two-thirds of people end up heavier than before they started the diet. Weight loss dieting is also the commonest pathway towards developing an eating disorder,” says Dr Kausman who is also a director of the Butterfly Foundation and has 25 years experience running a weight management and eating behaviour clinic.
Instead of embarking on another year of dieting deprivation and inevitable failure Dr Kausman prescribes an alternative solution.
1. Don’t blame yourself for past dieting failures
Diets are marketed as a quick-fix solution not just for losing weight but also for solving all of our life’s problems.
“It’s incredibly seductive and I don’t blame anyone for getting on the diet wagon”, says Dr Kausman. “But you are not to blame for all these years of dieting and failing when it is the process of dieting itself that has failed you.”
“The first thing is to get people to start being a bit more gentle and kind to themselves.”
2. Practice mindful eating
We live in an environment that’s designed to encourage eating, even when we’re not hungry.
Dr Kausman advises people to assess where they are on a ‘hunger-fullness scale’ before and after they’ve eaten to become more aware of what and how much food their body is really hungry for.
The hunger-fullness scale is a zero to 10 scale. Zero is starving, eight is overfull and ten is stuffed full. The ideal for eating is a two, says Dr Kausman.
“Two is nicely hungry. It’s when our physiology is turned on really beautifully for food to be entering into our body and all the hormones and chemicals are working in our favour. Aim to stop at about five which is nicely full and satisfied.”
The other part of mindful eating is becoming aware of why you’re eating when you’re not hungry.
“It might be for difficult life reasons. But even if people do have difficult life issues that are causing them to eat when they are not hungry, we can still work on the less difficult reasons and then people can quite quickly start to feel empowered in an area of their life where they normally feel disempowered.”
3. Eat without guilt
One reason people develop a dysfunctional relationship with food is because it’s often served with lashings of guilt.
This is particularly the case for women, especially if their natural body size and shape is different from the current cultural ideal. To stem the guilt, we often eat more quickly so as to hide our shameful appetites.
“Many of my patients will say that they will wait until their partner is out of the room and then they will gobble food down quickly because they have been made to feel guilty about eating,” says Dr Kausman.
“This isn’t helpful because often they are not even tasting their food. People need to work on not feeling guilty about eating so then they won’t have to gobble it down. They can then enjoy it and then be more aware about when they are full.”
4. Prioritise self-care
Most diet and exercise advice focuses on the physical. When people reach a point of physical exhaustion they are allowed to rest and recuperate. This is not usually the case for emotional exhaustion.
“As a society we have been focusing on the wrong “W”‘, says Dr Kausman. ‘We need to shift the focus from ‘weight’ to ‘wellbeing’.”
“We have a finite amount of emotional energy. If people are pushing themselves too hard they can run out of spare emotional energy. That makes it harder for them to look after themselves in a whole range of ways – including when it comes to eating.”
“Food is the quickest, simplest, easiest way for us to take care of ourselves if we don’t have the time and emotional energy to look after ourselves in other ways.”
5. Any movement is good movement
The biggest fitness trends of the minute share one thing in common: extreme exercises, often in extreme conditions.
This is disempowering argues Dr Kausman.
“The diet model in general is the unhelpful Biggest Loser-style no-pain-no-gain message’, he says. ‘That is wrong, unhelpful and disempowering.”
And no, before you CrossFitters/Tough Mudders/HIIT devotees and Bikram Yogis go ballistic in the comments, this isn’t a personal attack on you.
“If you like to push yourself hard then there is nothing wrong with that”, says Dr Kausman, “But to think that this is the only way we can be fit for life is wrong. Whatever we can do is worthwhile and we need to look for opportunities where we enjoy moving our bodies.”
6. Focusing on positive body image
“Our culture doesn’t support it, but we all come in different shapes and sizes. It is the beauty of human diversity”, says Dr Kausman. “That’s what we are meant to be like.”
A better resolution for the New Year instead of the deprivation of weight loss dieting, according to Dr Kausman, is to become aware of the negative self-talk – and the unrealistic expectations around body shape that are so prevalent in our culture. We need to practice letting go of the negative commentary rather than dwelling on it and believing it.
“It’s a bit scary to give up on the idea of the bikini body but it’s about being brave enough to allow your weight to settle where it is meant to be for you.”
“It’s a trade off but after a long history of dieting failures, most of my patients are prepared to give it a go.”