The first principle of intuitive eating is Reject The Diet Mentality. That sounds scary. Can you ever learn to eat normally? Especially when you’re over 50 and may have been dieting for decades. Let’s find out how to do it.
If, like many women over 50 you’ve dieted a time or two in your life, you may not really know how to eat normally. What does it even mean to eat normally?
This is where intuitive eating can give us some good answers. Intuitive Eating means eating the way we’re born to eat. Eating when you’re hungry, eating what your body needs for fuel, and stopping when you’re full.
That certainly sounds reasonable. Makes sense, right? But you hear all over the place that diets don’t work. Is that true? Depends on what you mean by “work.”
Do Diets Really Not Work?
I mean, let’s be real. IF you really, really, eat less food than your body needs for fuel, and you do this for a while, of COURSE you will lose weight. There just is no way to get around it.
Losing weight is not some magical mystery tour where you have to get your “macros” right, eliminate gluten, “detox,” drink coconut oil, or whatever other weird ideas people have (and will continue to) come up with.
The fact is, if you consistently eat fewer calories than your body needs to maintain its current weight (this is called an energy deficit), you will lose weight. Period.
Now, we don’t go on diets in a vacuum. If you could stick to said calorie restriction and not go crazy, yeah, you’d lose the weight. But a bunch of biological and psychological stuff goes on.
And it’s THESE factors that cause diets not to “work.” Seriously, if you read an article about diets not working, this is what you will see:
- 95% of people who lose weight on a diet gain it back
- diets can lead to diet-overeat or diet-binge cycles
- diets can lead to poor nutrition
- diets mess up your metabolism
- diets are bad, bad, bad!
All those things can certainly be true. But they’re missing my point. A diet per se isn’t the problem. It’s that the diet isn’t sustainable, because of the psychological and biological stuff.
Because it makes you feel like crap, hate what you’re doing, fail again and again, and then feel like crap some more.
Who wants to live like that? If getting in shape, feeling good in your body is THAT hard, who wouldn’t either give up, or try every single new diet or program that comes down the pike?
If Diets Don’t Work, What Does?
How many times have you been told to eat more fruits and vegetables, limit sugary snacks, cut down on processed food, and exercise more?
You know this stuff. You know WHAT to do to be healthy and fit. So why don’t you do it?
And how many times have you said something like this: when I lose weight (get to X pounds, can fit into X piece of clothing), then I’ll be happy (wear a swimsuit, go on vacation) I’LL LIVE MY DAMN LIFE!
Sweetie, you need to live your life right now. Because if you keep thinking like this, trust me, you will never live the life you want to live. It just won’t happen.
You Need to Live Your Life–NOW
In truth, you need to have a purpose that’s bigger than losing weight, or fitting into that sexy pair of jeans.
Instead of asking yourself questions like “How can I lose weight,” or “How can I look sexy like I want,” You need to think differently. You need to ask questions like, “Will weight loss improve my health?”
And, “will improving my health help me find (and give) more joy?” By asking these sorts of questions, you’ll focus less on losing 20 pounds, and more on how you can improve your life.
How will weight loss (if necessary) help you move toward what you value? What do you value?
I mean, let’s face it. If you are consumed by losing 20 pounds, it fills your mind all day and night, and when you actually accomplish it, then what?
After you’ve lost the weight, what will help you keep it off? After all, isn’t that the point? It’s not just to look good at the reunion, right?
This is where we can apply the concept of rejecting the diet mentality.
We All Want To Look Good
It’s true. I do, you do. Few people care nothing for how they look. There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s completely normal.
There are some ideas going around about body positivity, HAES (health at every size), etc. There is nothing wrong with these things, either.
But notice that HAES does say HEALTH at any size. So it’s not a license to eat like there’s no tomorrow all the unhealthy crap in the world that leads to all sorts of health problems.
And body positivity? No problem. After all, not everyone can look like Christie Brinkley at 66. Or even at 22. That gal is just plain gorgeous no matter how dang old she gets.
But you CAN be healthy for you. You may need to ditch the notion that you can look like some model you’ve always admired. You know, the one with a 37″ inseam who is 6′ 2″?
If your legs are somewhat short and you’ve inherited a more stocky build, it’s just not gonna happen. But you can be the best for YOU. And it’s OKAY if you still want to lose weight!
Let Go Of The Rigid Diet Rules
Maybe you can tell by now that I’m not totally on board with wholesale “ditching the diet mentality.” For one thing, if you Google that term and read the articles that come up, you’ll find that it doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.
Like social justice, it’s a fluid term that can sort of mean whatever you want it to mean. Sure, there’s the definition and principles that come from the original authors of the book Intuitive Eating, which I recommend.
But I think some people miss the point that it’s not a license to go hog wild. If you read carefully, you’ll find that it actually entails some hard, soul-searching work.
Just recognizing your own hunger levels takes practice. Sometimes a lot of practice, especially if you’ve ignored them for most of your life.
And then stopping to consider if you’re eating because of some emotional issue, or just mindlessly eating, or you’re under stress, or it just happens to be dinner time.
In addition, maybe you still want to lose the damn weight. Hopefully you’re looking for a gentler way that doesn’t beat you down, cause you to yo-yo some more, and just go deeper into the rabbit hole.
This is the value of ditching the diet mentality. If you want (or need) to lose weight, you shouldn’t have to feel deprived. You should be able to eat a satisfying amount of food you like.
And above all, you should not let rigid rules dominate your life. That is the recipe for disaster. You just plain should not feel miserable.
How About Some Flexible Eating Principles?
I believe even changing the language can make a huge difference in how you approach your health and fitness. How about not saying, “I’m on a diet.” But, if you care to share, saying that you follow flexible eating principles?
It’s a much more positive approach that still recognizes you care about what goes into your body. You want to enjoy food, but you want to enjoy good health as well.
I’m working on posts on each of these principles and will link to them below as they become available.
Flexible Principle No. 1
No matter what you have heard or read, the key to losing weight is energy deficit. I know that sounds negative, but it’s true, no matter how the concept has been turned into pretzels in the past few years.
Disclaimer: I know there are all sorts of mitigating factors in losing weight. I understand the biological principles that slow the metabolism, hormonal changes that take place, and a host of other things that affect how, and how quickly you lose weight.
Even how much weight you can lose. But be that as it may, you still need to eat less, exercise more, or a combo of the two, in order to lose weight.
It really doesn’t matter which eating plan you choose, either.
Flexible Principle No. 2
If you are eating less and/or exercising more, it’s crucial that you not be in a constant state of hunger. Or constantly feeling deprived. That is a recipe for ultimate failure.
Instead, the next flexible principle is that of energy density. This simply means that the foods you do focus on fill you up without adding a lot of calories.
This would include the usual cohort of fruits and vegetables, salads, most soups, etc. Something along the lines of the Mediterranean style diet.
There are a host of ways to increase energy density in your food, without feeling you are depriving yourself. This, along with being sure you are working on your mindset are absolutely crucial for long-term success.
Flexible Principle No. 3
Along with energy density, you should also strive for nutritional density. For the amount of calories a food has, you want to look for a lot of beneficial nutrients.
Can you guess the foods? Fruits and veggies, of course, legumes, nuts and seeds. Most plant-based foods fit into this category. Not all of course. For example, olive oil is certainly plant based, but very high in calories.
Some studies suggest that eating a lot of foods high in nutritional density can decrease hunger because these foods tend to satisfy your body’s requirements better.
Flexible Principle No. 4
I don’t think I have to remind you that eating foods closer to whole is better than eating highly processed foods. We’ve all heard that forever.
But in general, whole foods are better than processed foods. By processed, I mean highly processed. Oatmeal is processed, but it’s considered a whole food.
Whole foods are those closer to the way they are found in nature, and only minimally processed.
“While there’s no official criteria for a whole foods diet, most would agree it consists of minimally processed foods as close to their natural state as possible. Experts agree this is a smart way to eat, as it encourages nutritious options from all the food groups.”Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH
Flexible principle No. 5
I’ve stated elsewhere that for years, probably decades, I’ve tried a zillion different ways to not only lose weight, but to feed my family healthy and tasty food.
I’ve perfected a lot of recipes that I love by simply replacing certain ingredients that are either lower in fat and calories, or healthier alternatives.
So the final flexible principle is make swaps for your favorite foods if necessary. If you love bolognese sauce, find a recipe that is still rich and delicious, but more healthy.
Love a good blue cheese dressing? Make a lower calorie but still incredibly fabulous batch.
And I have some excellent ideas in my free download about adding more vegetables to your diet.
Together, these 5 principles used consistently will come as close to guaranteeing weight loss as anything can. But the difference is, the weight loss can be permanent.
Are You Ready To Reject The Diet Mentality?
Diets work, and they don’t work, so what’s a girl to do? Get clear on your values, your “why” for losing weight and becoming healthy.
Understand that it’s okay to want to look good. Even in your fifties, sixties, and beyond!
Get rid of rigid diet rules. They’re counterproductive and tend to lead you away from, instead of closer to, your bigger purpose in life.
And finally, adopt flexible principles for eating. If you can remain flexible, you won’t beat yourself up if you “go off your diet.” You’ll never have a food group that is off-limits.
Oh, and one more thing…don’t think for a second that exercise doesn’t play a part in a healthy lifestyle! It’s just not the focus of this post. 🙂
Let me know what you think in the comments. Are you ready to discard rigid diet rules and put some more flexibility in your life?
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