By Sheryl Kraft
Back in June of this year, I was moved to write a post, Why Diets Fail, after a reader wrote me with a desperate plea for help: I've been inspired by your recent posts about learning new ways to eat; I'm especially inspired by the fact that you were actually able to lose a few pounds. I'm 48 and going through peri-menopause. The weight is creeping up and despite my dieting, I'm not losing a pound! Any advice?
I’m no expert, but I expressed my own take on the failure of diets; I’ve come to realize that rather than being ON a diet (and hence, OFF a diet), what you really need to do is change your eating patterns and habits and adopt a new way of life – and ditch the dieting concept once and for all.
Last week I was lucky enough to spend a few days with the real experts at the nation’s oldest weight-management retreat dedicated to women, Green Mountain at Fox Run in Ludlow, Vermont. It’s nestled high up in the mountains on twenty acres of wooded seclusion. I met lots of great women - who came from as far away as Israel and Alaska - who had struggled with dieting, bingeing and their weight much of their lives and were finally ready to commit to working hard and make a real, necessary and lasting change.
And guess what we had for dessert one night? No, not diet jello.
And it wasn’t “pretend” cheesecake made with artificial sweeteners and non-fat imitation cream cheese; the kind that makes you wonder why you bothered eating it in the first place, since it doesn’t even come close to cheesecake. It was the real thing.
That’s because the team at Green Mountain have a different (and very refreshing) philosophy about losing weight: dieting doesn’t work. Dieting, in their expert view, leads to feelings of deprivation, which leads to cravings and bingeing – eating too much of the “wrong” food because it is forbidden. The thinking goes something like this: I may as well eat it now and eat lots of it because come tomorrow or next week I won’t be able to have it ever again.
Their group of nutritionists, eating behavior specialists and exercise pros all come together to re-educate women who have struggled all their lives with the wrong messages. You probably know what I’m talking about – eat low-fat and you’ll be thin; cut out carbs and your belly will shrink; fill up on high volume foods and you’ll be satisfied and never crave another cookie again; eat those special diet cookies all day long and you’ll keep off the pounds.
As Alan Wayler, PhD, Executive Director of Green Mountain told me, “We aim to reframe the conversation away from weight and to health. If you are taking care of your health, you’re taking care of your weight.” And he should know: he graduated from MIT with a doctorate in nutritional biochemistry and metabolism and did his master’s work at the Institute of Human Nutrition, Columbia University and Cambridge University in England. AND it’s in the family: not only did his mother, a widely recognized nutritionist, teacher and author, have the vision to found Green Mountain at Fox Run in 1973 but his wife, Marsha Hudnall, RD and author of seven books, runs the program along with him.
I learned so much that I want to share with everyone. But if I did, I’d have to write a book! So I’ve worked hard at distilling the most important information. Here are some important tips to keep in mind:
1. Let go of the “diet mentality.” Focus on feeding yourself instead of starving yourself. Stop searching for the magic cure and instead, broaden your perceptions of the foods that qualify for healthy eating. Give yourself choices.
2. Establish a pattern of regular eating. Have small, regular meals – and snacks. This way you won’t suddenly have hunger pangs which cause you to grab the first thing in site (which is guaranteed to be the wrong thing).
3. Give yourself permission to eat. To avoid feelings of deprivation (which only cause cravings), eat what you want instead of what you think you should have; eat when you are hungry and stop eating when you’ve had enough (remember, it takes your stomach at least 10 minutes to signal your brain that you are full ).
4. Eat mindfully. Learn to eat in a positive, orderly manner and be fully present for the eating experience. That means turn off the TV, put away the newspaper – and focus on the taste, texture, sight, aroma and satiety value of the food on your plate.
5. Observe portion sizes at meals and snacks. This was so obvious to me when I got home from my visit. I went to a restaurant with my husband and the amount of food I was served was huge compared to what I had gotten used to eating at Green Mountain. And trust me; I did NOT go hungry while away. They served the full meal on a plate that was as big as my outstretched hand (about 7-inches in diameter). It was satisfying and just enough.
The shift might be slow; change is like that. It might be difficult to adjust your way of thinking if you’ve experienced dieting and deprivation up until now. And I think it takes constant practice and slow and methodical thinking – at least in the beginning - to remind yourself of these things.
As a teen, I had a friend who worked at a chocolate shop. “How do you ever stop yourself from eating chocolate all day long?” I asked her. If it were me, I thought, I’d be nibbling away all the day’s profits. Her answer now makes sense: “I can have it ANY time; I don’t need to eat it all day long!”
This Matters > Think about small children – they are rarely fat. They listen to their inner cues to tell them when they are hungry and when they are full. They eat what they like and feel satisfied and satiated because of it. It’s called intuitive eating. And it makes a whole lot of sense.