Huggies’ own registered nutritionist and author of the latest sensation, the anti-diet book Change the Way You Eat, Leanne Cooper, is often asked, ‘why do I find it so hard to stick to a diet?’ ‘Why is nothing working?’ Of course there is no one simple answer. “We do know that dieting simply doesn’t work. If it was going to, I think we would have seen some signs over the past 30 years” Leanne suggests.
Yes, girls (and guys), it’s time to stop beating yourself up about food, because that might be just the very thing making it hard to eat healthy!
Often when we think about managing the food we eat, we think in terms of counting calories, tallying points or measuring our waistline. But why, if we know what’s good for us do we find ourselves repeatedly falling over at the same ‘diet’ hurdles?
One of the many issues with the way we eat today is an over emphasis on food as numbers: calories of this, points for that, grams of on the other. Reducing eating to number crunching can in many cases simply be a distraction and at the same time be an obstacle to eating a healthy diet. Aren’t most diets these days simply rehashes of the same old tired diets we have tried ad nauseam over the past 30 years, just re-wrapped to make them look new and appealing? We know that dieting over the long term just doesn’t work. Surely it’s time we stood up and said, ‘enough is enough’!
Research … shows us that the current paradigm of ‘dieting’
Food shouldn’t be a reward and even less a punisher. Why do we demonise food when it’s us who chose what we eat and how much? Maybe it’s our way of admonishing ourselves from responsibility. Maybe we want a quick fix, even if there is no evidence it will ever work. Maybe it’s a useful money making opportunity. Maybe it’s ‘D, all of the above’.
If you watch a toddler (up to about two), they innately know when they have had enough to eat. Research confirms that little ones can effectively regulate their intake to meet their needs over a 24-hour period. So what goes wrong? What changes? We should be able to enjoy food while implicitly knowing how much we need and when we have had enough, as well as enjoying wholesome foods while not having to spend too much effort on restriction and restraint. Clearly there are a lot of influences over-riding our once good eating habits. But how can we get back to where we started, to where we should be?
“The capacity for us to self-regulate dieting is one of the many behaviours that appears to dilute over time.”
We try so hard and for so long to stick to our diets, to say ‘no’ to those foods that beg us to eat them, in the end often it feels like our willpower lets us down? But, is willpower really to blame or something else? In fact, the effort required to control ourselves is often unsustainable; the stricter we are the harder we make it for ourselves. Studies show that the very effort that goes into restraint leaves us depleted and vulnerable to poor choices, just like hunger does. Hunger and over-restriction are not our friends. The sheer strength of our dietary habits is rarely acknowledged. Automatic behaviours are extremely strong, so strong we may not be aware of them. It takes considerable effort to overcome habits that are so ingrained they are automatic.
“It seems those of us who find we barely notice we are overeating accessible, inexpensive, palatable food regularly are likely to gain weight because each of these variables encourages the intake of energy. So far studies suggest that in these situations the sheer pleasure and enjoyment from a meal overrides our desire to control our weight. We could be forgiven for feeling like the cards are stacked against us, but what we need to be aware of is that restriction isn’t necessarily the best route to success.”
So, what can be done?
We need a diet that is individual for our needs and rich in a variety of unprocessed foods, one that is sustainable for all and nourishes the body and soul. Simple…
We know from studies on longevity that Mediterranean diets such as those in Sardinia (Italy) and the traditional Japanese diet in Okinawa, Japan, appear to yield a long and healthy life. You won’t see rhetoric about calories or points, nothing about low-fat this and that, or restriction, punishing or avoidance. The focus instead is not just on produce, legumes, complex carbs and fish but also on enjoyment. A new move away from diets is the non-diet approach to healthy eating (refer Linda Bacon, Health At Every Size (HAES)). The non-diet approach shifts our focus from eating for body shape to nourishing our bodies for health.
“Remember, we are trying to override old behaviours with new, reshaped ones. You can see that simply ceasing to eat all foods you love but feel you shouldn’t eat might not be the best route for success. In fact, doing this can for some simply be the beginning of failure. After all, how long can you keep it up if you really don’t enjoy your new diet? Some refer to this as inhibition eating, where we try to inhibit the desire to eat a certain food. Research tends to suggest that as a form of restriction it is not effective over the long term”.
Focus on an acceptance of and respect for the enormous variation in natural body shapes and sizes. Be open to flexibility in eating with an enjoyment to match, while being in tune with hunger cues and feelings of fullness (satiety) and enjoying healthy movement.
Healthy eating and the way to sustained healthy eating habits involves:
It’s a ‘big picture’ diet if you have to name it as a diet. It’s eating for nourishment and enjoyment not body image and punishment.
Now it’s taken a good few years for us to get to where we are and unlearning, then reshaping behaviours is not a simple task. There will be some degree of resistance; that’s normal, and it won’t happen overnight – ask any psychologist. But with mindfulness, you will see changes and these will motivate you to keep going. You’ll find just as you can mindlessly overeat unhealthy options, you can with time mindlessly eat well. Without giving it too much effort, it will become second nature again.
Don’t get me wrong, the non-diet approach is no body weight panacea, it won’t result in you significantly altering your body, but it will help you to have better eating habits, a healthier life and feel a whole lot better about yourself and your eating patterns.
Won’t it be a joy to find it easy to eat healthy options, to be less swayed by unhealthy choices, to unconsciously make healthier choices and actually enjoy eating? Plus you can even have treats and won’t feel the need to beat yourself up over them.
Changing habits is not easy, so have a clear vision of what you want to achieve, understand the small steps involved in getting there, ensure all of these are positive. Choose simple strategies; big, clever sounding strategies can simply be overwhelming and underachieving. Start with one strategy and focus on this for a month. They say it takes about a month to rewire your neural pathways to override an old habit and form a new one. You could liken it to the path ants wear into a tree trunk, the hundreds of hours it took to create this path and the time required to wipe it away is just as mindboggling. Healthy eating is problem solving focused, not punishment focused, always positive and flexible.
This information has been provided by Leanne Cooper Director of Cadence Health and Food Coaching Courses, Leanne is a registered nutritionist and mother of two very active boys.
This fact sheet may be reproduced in whole or in part for education and non-profit purposes with acknowledgement of the source. It may not be reproduced for commercial use or sale.
The information presented is not intended to replace medical advice
You can purchase this book from the Huggies Book Club