To be a successful dieter and lose weight, you pretty much have to learn to ignore your body’s signals of hunger. Your stomach growls, but it isn’t dinnertime yet. You can’t eat now or you’ll have hours of hunger before bed to get through. So you guzzle water and pretend it’s not happening.
If you do that enough times, you start to lose the ability to recognize real physical hunger, get so hungry that you end up eating more than you intended and feel guilty, or a combination of both. When you throw in the human brain which is hardwired to see food and want it, suddenly you have a perfect storm of what is assumed to be lack of willpower.
Just about every diet gives you a specific number of calories to eat in a day (even if they’re in the form of points or exchanges), regardless of the level of hunger that results. You stick to the plan and you lose weight. There’s a list of good foods and bad foods, and sometimes there’s a meal plan. Simple, until you realize emotions and life are part of this.
When the focus is on 100% effort (or even the 80% you hear about) and the goal of the scale moving downwards, this can lead to all or nothing thoughts. Like the time when you had a few cookies and threw in the towel because you’d already blown your diet and you ate a bunch more. (Raising my had on this one.) If you’re being told to diet or feel you have to, there may also be resentment for being forced to eat things you don’t like or give up what you love.
What if you want to go to a party and everyone is eating great food but you? Have you walked into the breakroom at work to get water, see donuts, and suddenly you’re hungry? What if you follow the plan exactly and the scale goes up like it does sometimes?! What happens when you reach goal weight and you have no idea how to tell if it’s real hunger you’re feeling?
With black and white diet thinking, we are either on plan or off. If you’re off and the scale goes up, you may feel like a failure. How many times have you thought I’ll just do an extra cardio class or hit the gym to burn this dessert off? Why do I tell myself I can resist pizza when I’m just fooling myself? Or maybe you save up your calories by not eating breakfast and lunch for the dinner party.
Calories and exercise do matter in the bigger “weight puzzle”, but they aren’t the only piece and don’t have to rule your life. Instead of looking for the scale to move up or down and basing your mood on it, there are a lot more ways to measure and celebrate success. Ways that are often overlooked since the focus is on a different number:
- Are your cholesterol, insulin levels or other health markers improving?
- Are your measurements changing for the better? Are your clothes fitting better?
- Can you exercise longer, walk further, lift heavier?
- Do you sleep better? Do you have more energy during the day?
- Can you go to a dinner party or celebration and have a few bites of dessert and be satisfied?
And this is a big one… do you feel happier? Not just physically better, but mentally happier.
This is just the short list. If you take a step back, I bet you could add a few more things personal to you. As I mentioned in the first post in the Health Doesn’t Weight series, being able to enjoy life, feel good about yourself, and finding that balance is huge.
The key is to start listening to your body and what it’s trying to tell you, and factor that in with being more mindful of what you’re eating and how much you’re moving. Learn to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Do activities that you enjoy and look forward to. Change your thinking about what you can and can’t eat.
Focus on the quality of the process and level out the emotional ups and downs. The end result is the mindset of letting your body regulate itself to what is maintainable instead of to an ideal that your mind wants. I don’t know about you but I’m never going to look like Jamie Eason or Cindy Crawford regardless of how hard I try, but I can be happy looking like the best and healthiest version of me.
Successful change comes one step at a time in small steps. You can’t just tell yourself to stop drinking coffee, start a new exercise program and completely change your eating habits all at once. This sets you up to fail again. We’ve started building some habits that you can easily work into life on Facebook and Instagram.
In the next few posts, we’ll talk more about how to start implementing these small changes. What non-scale successes do you look for?