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A Healthy Body is Naturally Slim

Do you often think that this diet will be different, this time? You might feel this every summer with each new diet you try. But with diets, unfortunately, the weight loss will eventually rebound and chances are that you will become increasingly obsessed with food and your body. This is not our fault; the process of dieting makes us more preoccupied with food, makes food the enemy, makes us feel guilty when we’re steering off-plan and slows down our metabolism.

Why diets are the enemy

Many of us know everything about the best diets and can recite fat grams and calories like a walking nutritional database, but losing weight and sustaining your results is definitely not a knowledge issue. The knowledge is readily available, but still, more and more people are becoming obese. Chances are that the mere contemplation of starting a new diet will bring on cravings and urges for restricted or ‘sinful’ foods. Every diet also teaches us not to trust our bodies or the food we put in them.

Not only does dieting not work, but it’s causing more harm than good as obesity levels are skyrocketing in both children and adults and eating disorders are increasing. Dieting has become so embedded in our lives almost to the point of being compulsory. Do you remember a time when you simply ate when you were hungry and didn’t worry about how you looked or about health, calories or weight? Many of us can’t even remember such a time.

Dieting can be seen as a type of short-term starvation and, therefore, if we are given the opportunity really to eat, we often feel uncontrollable. Even though it might feel unnatural and out of control, this is a very normal response to dieting and starving. The body will fight to be nourished when it is starving. If you are underfed, you will obsess about food.

How can we fix this?

So many people are confused about how to reunite with their bodies, nurture themselves and fix their relationship with food, even though there are so many plans and advice available. Many of the road maps we take to eat and live with joy and ease, might have taken us in the wrong direction – looking outside ourselves for satisfaction, answers, validation and happiness.

There are so many confusing messages out there – on the one hand, diets tell us to restrict our food choices, but on the other hand, we are told that consumption equals happiness. So, we often drink and eat to try to feed ourselves the things that we think we need to feel happy or perhaps even make us numb enough not to care. It is not surprising that so many of us tend to over-consume, but, unfortunately, the search outside ourselves to meet our needs is designed not to work.

Imagine a world where, instead of unsuccessfully trying to fix our feelings/situations with food, we eat only when we’re hungry and instead breathe when we’re stressed, laugh when we’re happy, play when we’re bored, move when our bodies need to stretch, learn when our minds need to expand and love when our hearts ache to be broken open. Discovering what you are truly hungry for might change your life in ways you never imagined (Rossy, L, 2016).

Mindful eating to the rescue.

Mindful eating will help you to let go of the judgment and relate to your body in a more positive way, which means that you will feel much better and end up treating yourself better as well. Healthier decisions naturally flow from treating yourself well and having a kind view of yourself.

Grossman et al (2004) has shown in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research that people who engage in mindfulness, experience significant health benefits such as improved immune system functioning and physical improvements in pain, sleep and weight. Keng et al (2011) has shown in the Clinical Psychology Review that mindfulness also has an effect on psychological health such as emotional reactivity, depression, anxiety, stress and behavioural regulation.

It is unlikely that you will be able to change the way you eat sustainably until you begin to trust your inner wisdom. The body knows exactly what foods are healthy, what nutrition it needs, how much and when to eat and what foods to avoid. Animals have been living by instinctive internal wisdom, for many years – no one had to tell them or give them a class on what to eat. We are just as intuitive as animals but, unfortunately, we have been cut off from the body’s guidance and voice.

Why try this approach?

1) To reach your body’s ideal weight

When you put an end to emotional and stressful eating and you start to tune into your body’s real needs, your eating habits will naturally improve and then the weight generally takes care of itself. Mindful-eating training has been incorporated in many different weight-loss programmes and researchers (KayLoni, 2015) have found that lower rates of mindful eating are associated with obesity and unhealthy weight gains.

2) No more dieting

The real goal of mindful eating is to focus on feeling good, remaining healthy and giving your body what it truly needs. You will naturally settle at a healthy weight when you eat just the right amount needed for your body to function properly. One-size-fits-all-plans and fad diets don’t work if you want to sustain your results, as you won’t be learning to manage your preferences and emotions.

3) Manage and prevent health conditions

Studies show that mindful eating results in better self-management over eating disorders, digestive issues, diabetes and more. Research done by Karla (2012) showed better glycaemic control in diabetic patients, modest weight loss and fascinating improvements in quality of diet after mindfulness-based training. When the diabetes patients became more aware of how much, why and what they were eating, they were able to self-manage blood sugar levels and food intake. Mindful eating is also a very popular approach as an intervention for food addictions, binge eating, disordered eating and anorexia. A study (Katterman, 2014) done by the Department of Behavioural Sciences at Rush University Medical Center showed that mindful eating worked better than other standard intervention methods used for food addictions and eating disorders.

Where to start

You know you are eating mindfully, if:

You are in tune with your body’s hunger and satiety signals and listen to them to gauge how much to eat.

You are aware of why, how much, what and how you eat.

You don’t feel guilty after eating and truly enjoy your food by savouring and tasting every bite.

You engage all your senses when eating, slow down and chew your food properly.

You understand the feelings and emotional triggers that lead to emotional eating and deal with them productively.

You don’t judge yourself or feel guilty when eating occasional indulgences. You accept your cravings and body without feeling a loss of control or shame.

You observe how you feel after eating and know what foods work for you and which don’t and adjust your choices for the next meals accordingly.

Zena Le Roux

Zena le Roux is a health coach, clinical nutritionist and investigative health journalist. She works with people who find they are deprioritising their health or who feel exhausted, frustrated – and stuck! She helps her clients to say goodbye to bland, restrictive diets and turn their painful relationship with food into one of freedom and joy! Her practice is based in Waterkloof Ridge, Pretoria – www.zenaleroux.co.za