Recently I’ve been thinking how curious it is that most of us have such a challenging time going from chronic dieting and overeating to “normal” eating. I include myself as one of those people. Yes, habits die hard, but dieting has its own unique challenges and is—pardon the pun—no picnic, so why do we fight so hard to give it up?
Imagine if you were a “normal” eater and forced to restrict your food intake, that is, to eat when and how much someone else wanted you to eat and to forget about your own appetite cues. This person would boss you around and tell you how much and when to eat or not eat. No matter what you felt like eating, Bossy Pants would insist that you override your cravings and partake of what he or she wanted you to eat instead. Want a piece of pie at Thanksgiving? Too bad: eat Jell-O (sugar free, no less). Want sauce on your chicken or fish? Too bad: too many calories. Eat it plain. Imagine someone insisting that no matter what others are enjoying, you’re stuck with low-calorie, low-fat fare for the rest of your life—in small portions, to boot?
Is that experience really so much fun that you couldn’t bear to give it up? In truth, most people avoid not eating enough. We call that starvation and for eons have worked to eat as much as our bodies needed. How about spending time counting fat grams, weighing food, and tallying calories? Do they bring you pleasure? Or stepping on the scale every day when you’re in a rush to get to work or hurrying the kids off to school? Or spending time writing down every tidbit you ingest in minute detail? This is pleasure?
What is enjoyable—and natural—is to sense hunger and eat to satisfy it, and to feel proud that you can nourish yourself well. Think of the times you’ve done that and how divine it feels. Equally, making food choices that not only feel good in your body but are good for it is a wondrous experience: no one telling you what to do, but feeling totally competent to nourish yourself. Do you like someone declaring when you need to go to sleep or to the bathroom? Then why would you want someone telling you when to eat?
The fact is, if you could stop eating on a weight-loss diet, you can stop when your appetite meter says, “full, done, enough, quitting time.” Plus you get the bonus of self-pride. It’s crazy thinking to tell yourself that someone knows better than you do what, when and how much you should eat. Does that really make sense? You were born with appetite cues to give you that precise information. They’re natural to all of us. Use them. Let yourself benefit from them and remember how wonderful you feel when you do. Also, don’t forget to remind yourself frequently how not fun dieting and weigh-ins are.