As a dietitian, I’m often asked which diet I think is the best. My professional, honest, and heart-felt answer is this: no diet at all. This takes people off guard, but it’s true. A non-diet approach to eating, health, and weight is most successful, and research, observation, and personal experience show it.
I recommend mindful eating instead.
I realize these two words don’t sound as exciting as many fad diets you see on Pinterest. But actually, mindful eating is so great it will make you do the happy dance! Why? Because mindful eating doesn’t have a calorie range to stick to, overpriced foods to buy, crazy concoctions to drink, or a “do-not-touch-or-forever-feel-guilty” list.
Seriously, dieting is like dating the wrong guy (or gal). But mindful eating is like a great marriage!
Let’s start with dating. At first, you’re excited. It’s all you can think about. You’re filled with hope that this just might be “the one.” You work really hard to do everything just right and sometimes you even pretend to like something (like ice skating) even when you don’t. Your mind is totally consumed with this new relationship and you’ll put aside other friendships, responsibilities, and hobbies just so you can focus on this one person. You give up a lot of what you enjoy to try to make things work, but it just doesn’t end well. You feel bad that you’ve been fooled again into hoping that you’d found “the one,” even though from the beginning, it was never meant to last.
Doesn’t this sound oddly familiar to dieting? You get really excited at first and you’re hopeful that you’ve finally found the “right” diet that will change your life forever. You work really hard at it — you follow all the rules, measure portions, count calories, eat only the things you’re supposed to. Your mind is totally consumed with the new diet, and you find yourself having to give up things you really love, like pizza or birthday cake, or sometimes even parties or eating out with friends. You lose some weight and it seems good at first, but eventually you get tired of always having to follow the rules and miss out on foods or outings you enjoy. You end the diet because it’s simply too much work, and you know it’s not going to last.
See the similarities?
Now let’s talk marriage. When you’re in a great marriage, you don’t go through every day wondering if you’re doing everything the “right” way. You don’t fear messing up or ruining everything because of one thing you did or didn’t do. In a great marriage, you’re intentional about ensuring your relationship is on track and moving forward. Even when everything is going great, you still learn and grow and find new ways to make it even better. You plan time together, you give attention to your spouse, you listen and respond to his/her needs. You don’t spend all your time doing spontaneous romantic gestures for each other, but you do enjoy some. Not everything has to be in perfect order for you to have a great marriage. You learn to be flexible and demonstrate gratitude, grace, and forgiveness. You put intentional time and thought into the marriage, but it doesn’t feel painfully hard or overwhelming. When you’re in a great marriage, you experience love, trust, security, and peace…and it lasts.
Now let’s circle back to mindful eating. When you become a mindful eater, your mindset around food and eating is completely changed. Instead of looking to a certain diet plan or food list to decide what you can eat, you ask yourself what you’re really hungry for. You don’t go through each day fearing you’ll mess up. Instead you trust that you know enough to make good, balanced food choices. You don’t view “healthy eating” as hard and overwhelming; rather, you view it as second-nature. You’re intentional about planning and setting yourself up for success, and you pay attention to your body’s needs and desires. You look forward to enjoying good food — at home, at parties, at restaurants, and more. You’re flexible when unexpected things happen. You practice gratitude, grace, and forgiveness. You consume food (and really enjoy it!), but food does not consume you.
With mindful eating, there is love, trust, peace, and a sense of security between you, your body, and food…and it lasts.
Like dating, diets can provide a quick sense of excitement that some people relish. But if you’re like me, you’d rather have long-lasting results like those found in a great marriage. That’s why I highly recommend ditching the diets and finding your true love in mindful eating.
Ginny Clark, MS, RD, is a dietitian and co-creator of the Mind.Set.Goal!TM program, which helps people end their struggle with weight, improve relationships, and feel great for good. To learn more, visit www.mindsetgoal.com.
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