Stop Dieting and Train Your Brain Instead
There was a great article recently in the New York Times about swapping New Year’s Resolutions about dieting, losing weight, etc. for this one: Stop dieting and start savoring your food.
I’m paraphrasing much of the content because it’s a “subscriber-only” article and we don’t want anyone to miss out, but we don’t want the New York Times to come after us for copyright infringement either!
First, diets don’t work. We’ve heard this for decades, but new diets are popping up all the time, with “real people with real results. The Times article points to “mounting scientific evidence to suggest that diets don’t work.” “And over the long term, dieting can backfire, triggering your body’s survival defenses, slowing your metabolism and making it even harder to lose weight in the future.”
It goes on to say, “to conquer a dieting habit, you need to let go of old ideas about counting calories, banning your favorite foods and measuring success by a number on a scale.” There’s a lot more to it, hopefully you’ll get access to the full article, but it hinges on developing a “mindful awareness of how we eat and using eating exercises to [learn to] quell cravings and reshape our eating habits.”
A word of advice here, from Heartline: Don’t look at the term “mindful eating” and roll your eyes thinking we’re suggesting you chant and burn incense while you eat. Mindfulness gets bandied about all over the place and is often seen as something that it is not. It is simply focusing on what you are doing exclusively. In this case, focus on what you are eating. How it tastes and smells, how it feels in your mouth, how it looks on the plate. Just focus on what is happening as you eat it. Push away other thoughts until after you’re done eating. Put off talking about your day for the first 10 minutes of a sit down meal. The first 5 minutes. That’s all it is. So, try it. It can’t hurt, right?
How to Train Your Brain
Start practicing awareness by slowing down when you’re eating and “think about what you’re eating and why you’re eating it. Try not to focus on weight loss, food restriction or eliminating favorite foods from your diet. Your goal is to focus on the tastes and textures of the food, and how you feel before, during and after eating.”
The author points out that It can take time to learn how be mindful when you’re eating, so be patient. In one study, it took participants at least 10 to 15 tries — and for some people it took 38 or more attempts — to begin to reshape eating behaviors.
Here’s one of the “eating exercises” the NY Times article shared:
Before every meal this week, note to yourself, on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being an empty stomach and 10 being uncomfortably full, how hungry are you right now? And then:
- Look at the food, observing the textures and colors. Now smell your food.
- Pick up your fork and take your first mindful bite. As you chew, put your fork down and pay careful attention to how the food tastes and feels in your mouth.
- After several bites, check to see if you’re hungry or full.
That’s all. You don’t need to track what you eat, and you shouldn’t restrict your diet either. Just do this every day for one week. Take a look back at the end of the week and see if you feel any differently about your food and eating than the week before.
Try this exercise and similar ones. If you can’t get the Times’ article, try searching for “mindful eating,” the article’s author’s name (below) or Dr. Judson Brewer, Brown University. He has studied mindful eating practices and was quoted in the article as well.
Getting healthy can be difficult. But the more tools and resources we have, the easier it can get. And we can stop making these “diet” resolutions and start resolving to live our best life in other ways.
The article referenced appeared in the Well Newsletter from The New York Times and was written by Tara Parker-Pope, Well Columnist.