If the new year inspires you to make some healthy changes, avoid the pitfalls of a trendy diet.
You don’t want a temporary fix that will send your weight yo-yo-ing up and down the scale. Instead, make this the time you improve your lifelong relationship with food and your body.
Listen to your gut.
If you’ve tried every crash diet out there, you may have developed an unhealthy perspective on the simple act of enjoying a meal. Maybe you’ve banned certain foods from your fridge because you heard they’re making you gain weight.
Some chronic dieters eat or starve themselves on a strict schedule in desperation to shed pounds. Others neglect their body’s nutritional needs entirely, focusing solely on counting calories and carbs.
Have you heard of intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is not a weight-loss plan. But, this approach to mindful eating can support your weight loss goals, along with exercise and making healthy food choices. This simple approach can empower you to establish or reconnect with your natural ability to eat only when hungry and stop eating when you’re full.
You can benefit from eating intuitively, regardless of any dietary restrictions. Rather than limiting what you eat and when, this approach requires you to tune in and listen to your body, pay attention to internal and external hunger triggers, and let go of the guilt associated with enjoying food.
Principles of intuitive eating:
Reject the diet mentality.
Respect your body’s natural, daily need for calories and nutrition based on your activity level. Eating is not bad for you.
Recognize what hunger feels like.
We are used to eating meals at designated times that don’t always align with the body’s needs. Learn what hunger feels like, and get comfortable with that normal sensation. Hold off on snacking until you actually feel like you need to eat. Don’t eat just because the clock says it’s time.
Pay attention to your food.
We feast with our eyes just as much as our taste buds, so don’t ignore what you’re eating. Mindless eating can lead to overconsuming and missing out on the pleasures of a good meal.
Avoid grazing and eating when you’re bored. Put your food on a plate, and sit down to eat with minimal distractions. This will enable you to be in the moment, pay attention to the flavors, and truly enjoy your meal.
Slowing down will give your body and brain the time needed to realize when you’re satisfied. Chew until you can no longer feel the texture of the food in your mouth.
When you stop feeling hungry, pause eating to allow the sensation of being satiated to set in before you’re too full. It takes about 20 minutes for your body to send signals to your brain to tell you that you’re full.
Let go of your inner food police.
You don’t need to deny yourself certain foods or food groups if you’re able to enjoy them in moderation. On occasion, allow yourself to have foods you previously banned from your diet. But, this isn’t a green light to overindulge on sweets. Added sugars activate reward centers in your brain, so eating them every day can increase cravings.
Food won’t make you feel better.
Anxiety, depression, boredom, loneliness, and low self-esteem can trigger binge eating or eating when you’re not hungry. This can lead to feeling worse, emotionally and physically.
Eating should be a source of enjoyment and pleasure. But it can’t take the place of having friends and family, hobbies, physical activity, and other interests.
Follow the 80/20 rule.
This is not another fad or deprivation diet. It’s a balanced approach to eating that can positively affect your weight, heart, and overall health — without eliminating your favorite foods or counting calories. The idea is simple and sustainable, which is why it works.
Most of the time, eat the healthy stuff. But don’t feel guilty for the occasional indulgence.
What should you eat the majority of the time?
- Fresh, whole foods instead of processed, refined, and packaged products
- Fiber and vitamin-rich vegetables in a rainbow of colors instead of fried and sugar-glazed veggies
- Lean plant and animal proteins instead of breaded, canned, or fried dishes
- Whole, fresh, or frozen fruits instead of canned fruits in syrup
- Whole grains instead of enriched-flour bread, pastas, and cereals
- Heart-healthy cooking fats like olive and avocado oil instead of trans fats like vegetable shortening or saturated fats like butter and lard
- Good fats like avocados, nuts, and seeds instead of saturated fats found in animal products like cheese and red meat and trans fats found in baked goods
- Carbonated flavored water, coffee, and teas free of added sugars instead of sodas, fruit juices, and alcohol
- A serving of dark chocolate (70% cocoa) instead of a sugar-packed milk chocolate candy bar
Here are more ideas on how and why to curb your sweet tooth.
Make your kitchen a happy place.
Whether or not you like to cook, preparing your meals is one way to improve your relationship with food. When you select (or even grow) the ingredients in your meals, you can see what you’re putting in your body.
Preparing your own food makes it easier to eat more fresh vegetables, consume less sodium and added sugars, and control portion sizes. Cooking from scratch instead of microwaving frozen meals or chowing down on prepackaged foods empowers you to focus on quality ingredients.
Avoiding processed foods and sodas, in particular, is a simple way to cut back on chemical preservatives, artificial flavors, colors, and added sugars and sodium.
If you have children, get them to help out in the kitchen or a backyard vegetable garden. Engaging with fresh ingredients and food preparation can inspire children to eat more nutritious home-cooked meals. Kids can even help with meal planning and picking out fresh fruits and veggies at the grocery store.
Following a balanced diet from a young age can establish lifelong healthy habits and a positive association with nutritious foods.
Learn how to prepare simple, healthy meals at home.
Hold yourself accountable.
If you’re looking for daily guidance and some insight into your habits, you may want to try one of the mobile apps on the market. Lifestyle apps like these can help you keep track of your daily food intake, how much you’re exercising, and how your mind and mood contribute to your choices.
The notifications can serve as friendly reminders of the goals you’ve set and promises you’ve made to yourself to make lasting, positive changes.
Some apps include remote coaching to keep you on track with regular check-ins. They can offer personalized feedback on the types of foods you’re eating and provide healthier substitutions.
No mobile app can go to the grocery store for you to grab broccoli instead of ice cream. And an app can’t make your workouts easier. But, a tool like this may help you understand why and when you make choices that conflict with your health and weight goals.
As a result, you may be able to break bad habits and commit to a more active lifestyle for the long term.
Written by Dana Kantrowitz, a contributor to UMiami Health News. Medically reviewed by Michelle Pearlman, M.D., a gastroenterologist with the University of Miami Health System.
Part of it is biological: Stress has been shown to trigger appetite-related hormones and other chemical responses that make us want to eat. Read more.