May 5, 2015, 4:23 p.m.
I offer this post in honour of International No Diet Day
Diets. Don’t. Work. Even when we call them a “lifestyle change.” For so, so many reasons. But here’s one to consider. A diet provides you with rules about what you’re supposed to eat or not eat. Attempts to control your food intake through willpower and control require that you drown out the internal signals, leaving you much more vulnerable to external signals. But unless you lock yourself in a closet, there’s no way to control the constant exposure to food we face in our world.
On the other hand, if you’re an ”attuned eater,” which means someone who chooses foods based on an internal felt sense of hunger, appetite, and satisfaction, those cues like TV commercials or fast food aromas don’t faze you. Sure the pizza smells good, but one piece may be enough; if your needs are met, your desire for more weakens. The pizza stops calling out to you.
Check out the research to see how this plays out. Say you’ve just had a fabulous dinner at one of the top restaurants in town. It’s dessert time, but you’re really full. Nonetheless, the waitress brings the dessert tray around to tempt you. When researchers tested this scenario and similar ones, with real people, they found that attuned eaters were much less likely to order dessert, regardless of what type of persuasion the waitress tried, while dieters were much more likely to bring it on.
Overall, well over 100 studies have looked at situations that disturb the dieter’s self-control. The results are consistent. Emotions such as depression, anxiety, anger, fear, and excitement, or disinhibitors, such as alcohol, cause a dieter to overeat. Conversely, they turn off the appetite of an attuned eater. As long as things go well, the dieter can maintain control. But if anything gets in the way or changes, she can’t. The reason is clear: Dieters don’t rely on the normal signals of fullness to regulate their eating, so there are no brakes in place.
That’s the world dieters live in: one in which they are vulnerable to the constant environmental cues that we can’t escape.
In contrast, attuned eaters are protected from this food saturated environment. When our bodies are in charge, we make choices that help us to feel good, eating what we want, when we want. We don’t fight or resist our environment. Instead, we have natural brakes in place to make sure that we don’t eat out of control. Sure, you see delicious food around you, but if you’re not hungry, you’re not as tempted by it. And you don’t feel deprived by not eating it. Perhaps a taste satisfies.
Research (conducted by me and many others) shows you can dump the diet mentality, and re-learn the skills to trust and appreciate your body. You can also develop other self-care behaviors to manage your emotions, which will help restore food to its rightful place as a source of nourishment and pleasure.
Check out the Health at Every Size© movement for more. More information can also be found in my books, Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Leave Out, Get Wrong and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight (co-authored by Lucy Aphramor, PhD, RD), and Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight.
Dr. Linda Bacon is an internationally recognized authority on weight and health. She is currently a Health Professor at City College of San Francisco and an Associate Nutritionist at the University of California, Davis. She has published her work in top scientific journals as well as the highly acclaimed bestseller, Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight. Her recently released book, Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, or Just Fail to Understand about Weight, is a crash course in what you need to know about bodies and health.
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