A common diet scenario:
You’re being good, trying really hard. Avoiding all the ‘bad foods’.
Sugar is calling out to you, but you stay strong. At the end of the week, you’re exhausted. But you’ve done well and stuck to all the rules of your current diet of choice.
It’s time to ‘weigh in’ and you’re expecting a decent reward for your efforts.
You hop on the scales and… it’s the same.
“All that effort and it’s not even bloody done anything?! F*** it, it’s not even working, why bother!”
Cue, sugar binge.
20 minutes later, feeling a bit sick and staring at the leftovers of the demolition that just took place… you decide you’ve blown it.
That mean girl in your head starts calling you names. She tells you you’re stuck like this. Addicted to sugar. Powerless to change. (None of this is true – you don’t need to be stuck, you’re not addicted and you have all the power you’ll ever need.)
You think you’ve ruined it. You think the problem is you.
But it’s not.
Diets don’t work
There’s nothing wrong with you.
You are not addicted or broken.
You’re simply using a tool – restrictive dieting – that for the vast majority of women, does not work for long-term success.
Side note – there is some evidence now that low-calorie restrictive diets can work for long term success, if they come with a lot of support to help with making that transition once the diet finishes. Or if you are prepared to stick with them for good. If you don’t have the support structure, or you don’t want to do it for good, then I’d highly recommend the slower sustainable approach right from the start.
Diet’s ‘work’ by restricting your calorie intake in some form – usually by demonising certain foods or food groups and reducing or cutting them out.
But for many women, that restriction only works for so long. Then it becomes unsustainable (because #life) and you end up breaking ‘the rules’. Cue rebound overeating… weight goes back up again… return to square one.
That’s not your fault. It’s your brain and body’s natural response.
Tell yourself you can’t have something, and you want it more. Restrict your food intake too much, and you’ll experience overwhelming urges to eat.
We can change that.
You can eat your favourite foods and still lose weight.
In super simple terms, there are two areas we’ll focus on in the rest of this article that will make a huge difference. One physical and practical. One more emotional and psychological.
1. Set up habits, routines and an environment that encourages success
This would include making a food plan, so you are choosing the best of what you love and fitting it into an otherwise healthy well-balanced week. It also means keeping healthy choices readily available and less-healthy options harder to find. More on this later.
2. Start getting back in tune with your body’s hunger, fullness and emotional signals
This includes getting in tune with true feelings of physical hunger, and slowing down eating enough to calmly recognise fullness. It also means identifying emotional triggers, creating coping strategies, and making time for self-care (including those ever-difficult basics of sleep and drinking water).
Are you physically or emotionally hungry?
Physical hunger cues tend to be:
- slow to come on
- open to different options
- felt as a gentle rumbling in your stomach
Cravings and emotional hunger tend to be:
- fast to come on
- focused on specific foods
- can be felt in different parts of the body and as general anxiety
When you experience feelings of hunger or cravings, allow yourself a few minutes. Remember nothing is off limits. Are you physically hungry? If so, tune in to your body and decide what would feel good to eat (both during the experience and after).
If it’s a craving or emotional hunger, have a drink of water and write down ways you could solve the problem. If it’s out of your control, do what you can control – make yourself a cuppa, go for a walk, observe the feeling without acting on it. Be super kind to yourself.
Remind yourself you’ll feel worse if you eat when you’re not hungry. Calmly let it be. Tell yourself it’s ok, and if you still want something in 15 minutes, you can have it then. Sit calmly or go do something for that time and chances are the craving will have subsided.
Practical tips for regaining control and enjoying what you eat
Below are a host of ideas and tips to help you make life easier, build the practice of mindful eating, and find what works for you.
The tips are broken down into sections for before, during and after your eating experience. All can be helpful, but don’t feel you need to implement them all at once. Pick one or two, focus on those first, and gradually add more as you go.
Setting up your environment for success
- Remove restriction and give yourself permission to eat any foods. This reduces the power it may feel that they have over you. Remember you’re planning and choosing healthy options most of the time because you want to feel at your best, but everything is allowed and ok.
- Set up your home environment for success by stocking it with plenty of healthy options, making sure there’s always something quick and easy to make or grab.
- Keep the foods that you really struggle not to overeat out of the house to start off with to make things easier (remembering they’re not banned, so you can go out and buy an individual serving of whatever you fancy if you really want to do so).
- Got foods that you really like but sometimes overeat? Keep those tempting foods in small portions to start with and store them out of sight. Top shelf of the cupboard, hidden behind healthier options is a great place to start. If you want it, you can have it, but it’s not staring you in the face.
- Plan your week so you have healthy choices available at all times. It’s good to have freedom, but not to end up eating something you wish you hadn’t just because you had no other options. Planning ahead makes life a lot easier and results a lot quicker.
- A few time-saving food ideas – batch cook meals, get frozen fruit and veg, boil eggs for an easy snack, have a “go-to” back up healthy meal with the ingredients always in stock (chicken fajitas or poached eggs on toast with stir-fried frozen veg are two faves for us).
A brilliant planned day from my online client Nicola.
- If you’re prone to eating in the kitchen, on the sofa, and all over the house, have a designated eating zone. The kitchen table is an obvious place for this. Have the rule of no eating standing up or in other areas – when you eat, it’s at the table so you can be fully aware of what you’re eating.
- Be completely present with your meal – no distractions. Talking to family and friends is a good thing, but otherwise aim to be totally present in the moment, and noticing the food you’re eating. No TV, phone, reading or working. Be ready to quietly and calmly enjoy your food.
- Make your meal look pretty. Arrange it nicely on the plate, and see if you can add any different colours through strategic use of vegetables. Laying it out and making it look good tells your brain food is abundant, and that this meal will be a joy to eat.
Sweet potato nachos – yum! (recipe can be found HERE)
- Eat slowly and mindfully – really tune in and observe the taste, texture and enjoyment of each bite. Notice when the taste starts to fade (maybe from being ‘fantastic’ at the start to just ‘pretty good’ as you go on) – this is a sign you’re reaching satisfaction.
- If you suspect you’re satisfied but have food left, set a timer for 5 minutes and go do something else. If you’re still hungry for it 5 minutes later, you can eat it and enjoy. If you’re full, you stopped at the right time and that’s a win.
- Leaving a bit of food on your plate is a great way of showing your subconscious mind that you, not food, are in control. Save it for the next day or throw it away. Remember it’s a lot more wasted sitting in your body when you didn’t really want or need it, than it is sitting in the bin.
- Notice how food makes you feel, both while eating it and in the hours after. If you end up not feeling great later on, make a mental note of that for next time. Recalling feeling bloated and lethargic after a certain food can help you make a different choice next time.
- Have an activity you really enjoy planned for after your meal. Often we overeat because we enjoy eating. But if you have something fun scheduled for after, it’s a lot easier to stop, because you’re excited to move on to your planned activity. This can be super simple – sitting down to read a book you’re really enjoying or your favourite magazine, watching a favourite TV program, going outside for a walk or to just sit and enjoy 5 minutes of peace.
- Have an after-dinner ritual – once you’ve done your fun activity (if that tip helps) have the routine of getting the washing up done or loading the dishwasher, then cleaning your teeth to signal eating is done.
- When you overeat (because it will still happen and that’s OK), look for what you can learn. There will be information in there somewhere that can help you in a future situation. Find it and use it to make a plan for next time, and you’ve turned it into a win.
The next bite question
I’ve saved this tip for last because it’s a great one to remember and always has the power to help you avoid overeating.
While enjoying any meal or snack, remember to check in with yourself and ask the next bite question:
How will this next bite make me feel?
Will it make you feel better… nurture you and satisfy you (both now and later)?
Or will it make you feel worse… and lead to pain and feelings of disappointment later on?
You don’t always have to make the right decision. But the more awareness you develop and self-compassion you practise, the better your decisions will get.
Be confident that you will succeed, both with changing your mindset, and with losing the weight for good.
Be equally confident that you’ll stumble and occasionally fall flat on your face along the way.
Messing up is part of the process. Embrace it, learn from it, and go again.
Progress and self-compassion can create amazing results.
If you need any help or are interested in online coaching, you can get in touch with me HERE.