Diets may be everywhere at the beginning of the year, but unfortunately nearly all are based off of a deprivation model—avoid this, eliminate that, and look at food as “bad” or “good.” Basic psychology tells us that this is one of the most ineffective models of behavior change. This is an especially punishing way to start the year, because the cruel truth is that fad or crash dieting may be a predictor of future weight gain. Bacon L, Aphrmor L. (2010).Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift.Nutrition Journal. 10;9. Retrieved from: NutritionJ Mann T, et al. (2007). Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: Diets are not the answer. American Psychologist. 62(3), 220-233Pietilainen KH et al. (2012). Does dieting make you fat? A twin study.International Journal of Obesity36, 456-464.
Rather than worrying about the size of your shirt, focusing on realistic goals and making small steps towards health will have you feeling better, both physically and psychologically.
Step 1: Move from self-criticism to self-acceptance
Criticizing yourself about the size of your thighs or tummy doesn’t make them any smaller, but it sure can shrink your self-confidence. While sometimes it can be hard to feel love for our least favorite aspects of our bodies, the most permanent and sustainable change comes from a place of self-acceptance. Practice catching yourself making negative comments about your body, and reframe them into a supportive and positive comment. Focus on what you love—your strong legs, your toned arms, or your luscious locks.
Step 2: Assess whether your goals are realistic
You set your sights on something big—and dream even bigger. In order to make sure your goals are achievable, they need to be realistic. Setting a goal to lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks is likely unsustainable—and unhealthy. Just as saying you’re going to transition your husband from meat-and-potatoes to 100% plant-based diet overnight is likely to end with equal lack of success.
Step 3: Enjoy your food and listen to your body
While eating mindfully may not seem as attractive as cutting out fat or going paleo, it is the best long-term solution to optimal weight. Rather than pushing past your point of fullness or waiting until you’re ravenous to eat, it’s best to maintain a neutral point of hunger. If there was a 1 to 10 scale (where 1 is starved, and 10 is stuffed), it’s best to stay in a 5 to 7 range. Choose one meal a day to practice being mindful of hunger, cravings, taste and fullness, to increase appreciation of the foods that fuel you.
Step 4: Add one small change
Improving your health doesn’t have to mean tossing out all your favorites in the pantry, or eliminating that secret chocolate stash. Rather than eliminating a food or food group, think about what you can addto your diet. Maybe it’s a handful of greens in your smoothie for a nutrition boost. Or swapping out white rice for high-protein (and fast!) quinoa. It could even be going for a walk as a family after dinner once a week, instead of everyone turning to their screens. Adding one, small healthy habit to your day will go further in helping your weight and health that doing an overhaul.
Remember, to check in with your health care provider before beginning any exercise or nutrition program. And even if you aren’t the exact weight or shape you want to be, being healthy at your current size can still be possible.