If I gave you $100 for every time you thought about dieting, would you be rich by now? You might very well be, but whether you'd be healthy, let alone enjoying your food, is another question entirely.
If you have tried diet after diet, then you may already know from experience what I'm about to tell you. Diets don't work. Diets have never worked. Not in the long term, when you look at a person's weight change over a period longer than 5 years.
But don't throw in the towel just yet. What can work is changing your habits. I'm talking about exercise (the average American gets 17 minutes a day when 60 minutes is recommended). I'm talking about managing stress (22 percent of Americans report extreme levels of stress). I'm talking about eating habits, too. But you may be surprised to learn that I'm not talking about eating perfectly. I'm talking about eating normally.
Normal eating involves trusting your body to tell you when it needs nourishment and when it doesn't. Normal eating is listening to those signals. For example, rather than "fighting hunger" (which the diets will tell you to do), ensure that you are properly nourished, and respect a lack of hunger as a sign your body doesn't need food—right now. Normal eating means choosing healthy foods because you care about good nutrition. It even means choosing less healthy foods (so-called "bad foods") because you like them and would like to enjoy them right now.
Why should you bother ditching restrictive diets for normal eating? The answer is simple. It is the only way to regulate your eating patterns without potentially causing yourself harm. Your body wants to talk to you, and it wants you to listen. Biologically, your body will fight calorie restriction by causing you to get so cranky you have to eat.
If you want to ditch that diet, here are a few tips to migrate toward normal eating patterns:
1. Eat within two hours of waking up, even if you don't feel hungry in the morning. Eating breakfast gives you energy, helps you focus on the day's tasks, and can set you up for healthy eating the rest of the day.
2. Wait until you feel hungry to eat. If you don't get hungry at least three times a day, you may need to eat every three to four hours in order to find your hunger cycle. Instead of resisting hunger, welcome it with open arms.
3. Practice eating slowly and without distractions. Most people can finish a meal in five minutes. You need to slow down so you can feel the hunger go away and a comfortable, full feeling set in.
4. Put together a balanced plate of nutritious food. Half of your plate should consist of vegetables and fruit, with one quarter devoted to whole grain or complex carbohydrates like sweet potato or brown rice. Lean protein should make up the remaining quarter of your plate. Make sure you are eating food that you like and tastes good.
5. Put together an unbalanced plate. I'm serious. Anything you like. Just make sure you are hungry and repeat tip No. 3 above. Enjoy each bite. Notice how great it feels to eat normally again.
Trust me, normal eating is better, healthier, and more fun than any diet out there.
Rebecca Scritchfield MA, RD, ACSM Health Fitness Specialist, helps empower people to build healthy lifestyles. A graduate of The Johns Hopkins University, Scritchfield is a Washington, D.C., based registered dietitian and fitness expert who encourages clients to find exercise that feels great, learn to manage stress, and establish lifelong eating skills that balance individual nutrition needs with hunger and pleasure. Visit her blog at: www.rebeccathinks.com.