Ok. So you’ve stopped dieting. But you’re still a size 16. How can this possibly be a good thing? Get back on that diet and get yourself down to a size 10, fatty……..
I’m slightly ashamed to admit that in my not so positive moments (which thankfully occur far less frequently these days), this is what I imagine a lot of people think when I tell them that I am a diet-ditching health coach!
So in a bid to silence my (inner?) critics, I thought it was worth putting pen to paper in a bid to explain my current relationship with food.
Eating for nutrition (not weight loss).
Let’s get straight to the nub of it. When it comes to food, my end goal has been transformed. I now realise that it is far more important to eat in a way that nourishes my body, than it is to eat in a way that merely shrinks it. Oh and it’s also really, REALLY important to me that that nourishment happens to come in a really delicious form!
We all know that in order to improve our diet, the best (and most simple) thing we can do is to eat more fresh fruit and veg and to drink more water. I’m obviously not discounting or excluding other food groups here, but in my honest opinion, if you concentrate on adding in extra veg and water, you’re off to a winning start and the rest is all down to how adventurous and creative you are. So there’s no longer any calorie counting or carb dodging involved with my daily meals. In order to satisfy me now, the food I eat just needs to bring me nourishment and joy.
Crowding out not cutting out
When I was dieting, all of my energy and focus used to be trained on restriction and deprivation. Only eating things on the green list; sticking to my daily allowance of X; saving my allowance to enable a weekend “blow out”. How bloody depressing!
Rather than focussing on the things that I’m cutting out, I now search for ways of adding more in, which feels so damn liberating! Just how many different veggies can I cram into my delicious curry? What protein can I add to my breakfast to make sure I stay full until lunch? I know that it’s sometimes an over used word these days, but abundance is definitely where it’s at!!
The strange concept of treating yourself
For most of my life, “treating myself” meant filling up (some might call it bingeing) on as much high fat, high salt, high sugar food as I could cram in to my mouth in one sitting. This ludicrous practice was a kick back to the restriction that I would place on myself while following the latest strict diet and thank God I’m now able to see just how ridiculous and damaging this was.
These days I look to treat my body with food that I know is going to taste amazing and make me feel great both physically and mentally, rather than leaving me feeling sick, bloated and guilt-ridden. A massive salad with spiced roasted chickpeas and a gorgeous homemade dressing? Sounds great. Sourdough toast topped with avocado, tomatoes and chilli? Yes please! An exotic fruit salad with a helping of greek yogurt? Ship it in!! I know full well that if I eat foods like this, not only will I thoroughly enjoy myself while I’m eating them, I’ll also feel satisfied and fantastic once the meal is over. No more food hangovers or beating myself up for days on end over my perceived lack of willpower.
And I’m not saying that I never eat high fat, high salt, high sugar food any more. I do! I still eat takeaways and chocolate bars, I just no longer see them as a treat. And believe me, that mental shift makes a world of difference and means that I don’t crave them half as often; which brings me on to the next point……..
Allowing yourself freedom to “cheat”
I have such vivid memories of me and my best friend spending the best part of a week planning the no-holds-barred food fest that we were going to indulge in following our Slimming World weigh in. I actually used to fantasise about it!! Which takeaway would it be? What selection of chocolate bars would I scoff before and after said takeaway? We called it our cheat meal, even though what I managed to consume in that one sitting would have contained waaaaay more food than would usually be considered just one meal. I would eat until I felt sick. Not because I was hungry, but because I knew that if I wasted this one window of opportunity then I’d have to wait a whole week before I was able to taste such freedom again!
But guess what? If you aren’t following a diet then you have no rules to stick to and therefore no reason to cheat. If you want to eat the chocolate bar, then eat the chocolate bar. Any time you want. But I’ll bet that you’ll find that if you know you’re “allowed” it, you won’t crave it half as much. It’s just like children – as soon as you tell them they can’t have something, they’ll argue that it’s the one thing they want most in the whole wide world – right?! Well adults work in the same way. Tell us not to think about a pink elephant and we’ll immediately start thinking about that pink elephant and nothing else. It’s the same with food! Remove the restrictions and the cravings will ease off……… Crazy huh?!
Listening to hunger cues (not eating for the sake of it)
Ok, so I know that this phrase is bandied about willy nilly but now I really do try hard “listen to my body” when it comes to the food that I put in it!
When we diet, we inadvertently train ourselves to run rough-shod over the cues that our body gives us. Rather than recognising when we are hungry (or full) and acting on it, we force ourselves to wait until it’s the “right time” to eat. And likewise, instead of tuning in and really thinking carefully about which food our body is really craving next, we are trained to stick to the meal plan that we’ve oh-so-carefully mapped out, sometimes days in advance. How can I possibly know what dinner I’m going to want on Wednesday evening if I’m planning it at Saturday breakfast time? It’s bonkers and I want my meal planning to be as flexible as my appetite.
I know this may sound like a meal planning/shopping nightmare, but I find that the best way to manage it is to keep cupboards stocked up with the basics that I come back to time and time again. Then I just need to do a weekly shop for fresh produce and any key ingredients for new recipes (or old favourites) that I’ve got my eye on for some point during that week, but other than that, I try to go with the flow as much as possible.
The upshot is that food no longer controls me the way it used to when I was locked in dieting hell, and the sense of freedom I get from that is truly amazing. But here’s the caveat: none of these practices have just snapped into place at the click of my fingers. I’ve wholeheartedly thrown myself into this way of eating over the last few years, and reaching this point has involved a lot of studying, trial and error and introspection.
Added to which I know that the “journey” isn’t yet over and probably never will be. I don’t have it all perfectly sussed all of the time. I’m not sure anyone does. Life is all about the ebbs and flows and there are still occasions when I feel myself getting lost and reverting to old patterns of thinking and eating. But nowadays, instead of hitting the panic button and searching desperately for the latest quick fix, I take some time to figure out why I might be feeling that way and then focus my attention on fixing the problem, rather than just covering it up with the false promises that the diet industry are so keen to feed me!
If you’d like to find out more about any of the points I’ve covered above, why not contact me? Feel free to join my Facebook group (it’s a closed group so only others within the group can read what you write) or drop me an email so we can arrange a chat – I’d love to find out how I could help you.