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Episode 200: To Diet or Not To Diet

Are you beach body ready?
I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say "Yes." Because all bodies are ready for a beach, I mean half marathons and space exploration aside they're pretty much ready for anything if we're honest.
Unfortunately we currently live in a culture where we're not expected to be happy with our body shape, no matter what we look like.

I get that unhealthy extremes aren't good, it's true that being underweight is very very dangerous and so is being overweight. But whatever the secret to becoming a healthy weight is, it isn't done through shaming each other.

But as a hypnotherapist as well as a psychotherapist I do get more clients than most therapists would normally get asking for a "quick fix" for weight loss or asking what the best sort of diet is. So I thought I'd go through my take on dieting today. Which will really be all about NOT dieting.

If your goal is to lose weight permanently then it's very rare for diets to help you do that.
Research has shown that 95% of chronic dieters will regain any weight lost within two years. And a recent study from UCLA found that one of the biggest predictors of weight gain was having recently being on a diet.
So let's put diets to one side and look at developing a healthier relationship with food instead.

So the first thing to do is to learn how to eat anything you want. It's food it's not a crime, so nothing's off limits.
There's a big difference between eating "whatever you want" and eating "as much as you want."
It's only food, so we need to get away from the idea of good vs bad foods. Or healthy vs unhealthy.
Eating pizza isn't unhealthy. Eating pizza every day is, but that's not the pizzas fault so don't put it into some evil category.

For a huge majority of people cutting out unhealthy foods altogether is not sustainable. If you are ALWAYS choosing a healthier version of something, when you'd actually prefer something else, it's got real potential to backfire on you as it will make you feel denied and then resent losing weight. To be a permanent way of life we want as few negative emotions about the process as possible which means NO negative emotions about food.

But if someones been on a diet for even a few years let alone 30 or 40, it might feel really scary to have free reign, you might not trust yourself. If that's the case you my need to put some strategies in place to help you feel safe about changing your attitude to meals.
One thing that helps is to plan your meals in advance. If you sit down before you go food shopping and decide what you're going to have throughout the week, you'll be able to see that the whole week is a nice middle ground between being too restricted of the things you like and too much of the things that cause weight gain.
This will make it easier to give yourself a normal size portion of food, not a diet size portion. Just a normal meal with a variety of ingredients. If your dinner has got some vegetables in it then you're onto a winner already, even if it's just a red bell pepper and an onion. If you're eating those then you're not eating chips, you might be eating chips as well, but your meal is balanced. Your meal won't be ALL chips or ALL broccoli, it'll be just normal.

It might be a bit of a challenge to get your head around what's "normal" though, so be patient with yourself. Get back in touch with your appetite so that when you're hungry you eat and if you're not hungry then you don't. It kind of is that simple on paper, it's just putting it into practise that is hard work. Because you might have a lifetime of associating food with guilt and it can be hard to break the habit.
If your relationship with food is unhealthy then you need to accept that you're in this for the long haul. This new attitude is forever. So even if all you want to do is go from a size 16 to a 14 or a 36 waist to a 34, there's nothing wrong in taking your time.
It's ok if it takes 12 months. In a years time you'll be glad you took the long way round and might even look back and think "I don't know how I did that. It just sort of happened by itself" that's ok. Let it.

Getting back in touch with your appetite isn't easy for some people. Many times clients will say to me that they've never been "in touch" with it in the first place, as they've been on a diet since they were 12 years old. You might need to practise using a hunger scale.

On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being so full you feel sick and 1 being so hungry you could pass out then you're ok to stop eating once you get to 5 or 6 and if you're around 3 or 4 then you know it's time to eat.
Thats might seem like a tiny window, but a normal sized portion of food will move you from 3 or 4 to 5 or 6 on the hunger scale so that you are no longer hungry and can stop.
Portion size would likely have been a contributor to the weight gain in the first place, so you might have to get into the habit of either making yourself slightly smaller portions or being ok with leaving food on your plate and then throwing it away.

Yes! Throwing food away!

It's not a waste to do this!

It's no more of a waste to throw food away than it is to eat it when you aren't hungry.

Another thing to look out for is something called counter-regulatory eating. It's sometimes called the "what-the-hell" effect and has an influence in lots of areas of our life, but crops up a lot with food.

Counter-regulatory eating is the effect that crossing some sort of imaginary line has on our behaviour. It's when we say to ourselves "Oh what the hell, I've eaten one biscuit I may as well have the entire packet."
It describes the cycle created when you indulge, regret what you’ve done, and then go back for more.
The trick to over riding it is self compassion.
If you automatically shift into self criticism when you've eaten something, then you're more likely to then over indulge and hurt yourself either physically and emotionally, so stop!

Accept the fact that you weren't hungry but still ate a slab of Dairy Milk. It's done and can't be changed. When this happens you need to accept it and move on without criticism. Because many studies show that when we criticise we just end up saying "What the hell I'm having something else now."

In one experiment dieters were asked to come and take part in an ice cream taste test. Some were given a milk shake before they ate some ice cream and some weren't. But the ones that were given a milkshake ate far more ice cream than the other group, who didn't feel that they had "spoilt their diet."
The same thing happened when comparing people who weren't on a diet with those that were.
This one was with pizza and participants were given slices that were either smaller than someone sitting next to them or a larger slice.
Before they all left participants were asked to take part in a taste test of some cookies. What they found is that the combination of being on a diet with the thought that they'd eaten a big portion of food meant that they ate way more cookies than the other people.

The ones NOT on a diet ate fewer cookies!

When this study was replicated a few years later they set it up so that everyone was offered more pizza if they wanted it. What they found is that whether someone was on a diet or not if they perceived that they'd been short changed because the person sitting next to them had more, then they went and got extra pizza.
But if they perceived that they'd had plenty, because the person sitting next to them had a small slice, then they didn't.
THINKING that your food is restricted in some way is going to encourage you to eat MORE not less. Continually showing us that DIETS! DO! NOT! WORK!

In one study, researchers got a group of women together and gave each one a doughnut and were told that they four minutes to finish it. Then they were asked to drink a big glass of water to make sure they felt full.
Some of the women were then given a message of self-compassion, encouraging them to not be so hard on themselves for indulging. Another group did not receive any message.
Then they were all were presented with bowls of sweets and were invited to eat as little or as much as they wanted. What they found is that the participants who had received the self-forgiveness message ate on average 28 grams of the sweets.
But the participants who didn’t get the message ate 70 grams. More than double.
Just by being given a little message on a card that said "Don't be hard on yourself, it was only a doughnut" they were able to more than halve the amount of sweets they had or more than double their willpower.
Whatever the mechanism in place it shows us that being hard on yourself is going to ruin your weight loss process.

To sum up. If I can try to make a complicated problem as simple as possible, I would say "Do what works for you."
But do it in such a way that you give yourself permission to eat any food you like, you eat a variety of things and generally you only eat when you're hungry. And you don't beat yourself up if you do.

Generally that's it. In theory, there's not much more to it.
Of course, putting it into practise might be difficult though and if you feel you need a counsellor or psychotherapist to help you to put some old things to bed then do seek one out.

I genuinely don't expect that listening to me slag off diets for 15 minutes is suddenly going to make everything right that's been wrong in your life for 30 years or more.
But what I hope is that it can help you to challenge yourself if you do want to lose weight and you find yourself drawn towards those extreme diets.

Be patient and be self compassionate.