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Stop Dieting and Start to Lose Weight

By Sheryl Kraft

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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.

Cheesecake.

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.

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Comments

intuitive eating. like that way of describing this really natural way of living. thanks, Sheryl.

Thanks for your comment, Kerry. I love that description, too, and I feel that's how you can truly tap into your hunger.

I went off the Atkins diet months ago because it was so restrictive and I felt horrible eating alot of meat. I just recently stopped eating late at night and that is the key for me! I am looking forward to a leaner body and a healthier one. No more diets!

It's great, Sherry, that you figured out your eating cues and are now able to stop the dieting. Good luck!

Amen to this! I did Weight Watchers a few years ago and lost about 10 or 15 pounds, but I couldn't maintain that, and I gained it all back... and then some. I just couldn't shake the feeling that I was... depriving myself.

I'm actually doing a "diet" right now that's less of a traditional diet and more like a lifestyle change: the Flex Diet. It's helping me change my bad habits for the better by exercising more, taking daily walks, not skipping breakfast, eating salads before dinner, not snacking after dinner, using smaller plates, etc. And it's even making me enjoy cooking MORE, by helping me to consider foods that I hadn't really cooked with before.

Another good resource I stumbled upon awhile ago was Eating Mindfully by Susan Albers.

Yeah... I feel as if dieting always makes things worse.

I'm so bad at all of this. While these tips make sense, I find they are hard to do. I get in trouble with #3 especially. I could give myself permission all day long is the problem I think!

I think #4 is SO important, and so often overlooked. One of my sons is grossly overweight and I KNOW that when he eats at the table with other people, he eats about half as much as when he fills up a plate and eats in front of the computer.

In preparing for a trip to France, I often read the theory that the reason the food-obssessed French are not all overweight, is that they enjoy every bite and take their time.

I'm curious whether this method works for women over 60? I had heard in the past that one should really chew each mouthful, and appreciate the food, which I guess would be number 4 on your list.

Thank you for reiterating these smart attitudes toward eating. If everyone followed these suggestions, we'd all be happier and healthier (but then, I guess the publishing industry would REALLY suffer without all those diet books).

I so need to learn to eat mindfully. So often I'm eating on the go so I'm not even paying attention to what I'm eating--or worse, how much!

Amen, Sheryl! I try to eat healthfully, but I'm not a fan of rigid diets. Instead, I eat fruits, veggies, and whole grains most of the time, then occasionally indulge my sweet tooth without guilt.

About a year ago I switched to using our smaller plates for dinner. If it's not enough, we can always go back, but more often than not, it's plenty.

One of the things I notice we do with kids is force them to eat when they don't want to. I think it sets up a very bad precedent for later in life.

Thank you Sheryl. It was great to read your synthesis of your time at Green Mountain at Fox Run. Working with women only and with the very issues that you capture in this blog is one of the highlights for me as one of the behavioral consultants. We really are creating a healthy weight retreat for women who are tired of dieting and want to be enjoying life and food. Darla Breckenridge psychologist-masters at Green Mountain at Fox Run.

Darla,
Thanks so much for weighing in here :)

I really enjoyed meeting you and all the amazing staff at Green Mountain at Fox Run. You are all so enthusiastic, supportive and knowledgeable. No wonder women are successful after their visits!

It is always a blessing when a writer not only encourages people to stop dieting, but also offers sane, self-loving tips to remember in a sincere way, like you do.

I actually lost weight without trying once I just focused on healthy foods, not calories. I try to eat as many "real" foods as possible, not all the processed diet foods. It makes me feel sad, when I hear other women talk negatively about themselves and how they are cheating on their diets or "being bad" when they have a treat.

So happy to hear that, Petra - and thanks for your comment. I think you can't go wrong eating "real" foods rather than processed. And I agree it is indeed sad when women beat themselves up for eating the "wrong" thing.

I really like what you write about. Alisa Bowman suggested a look see at your blog. However when I tried to subscribe via email I kept receiving and error message.
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Thanks for the comment, Maureen. I'm sending a message out to see if we can remedy your problem with email subscriptions. It's nice to add a new reader to the mix!

Thanks for your blog Sheryl. My downfall is that after lunch I am always looking for chocolate. I love healthy food and I eat plenty of it, probably more than I need, but the chocolate thing has become a real issue. I can feel the kgs piling on and though I have not had a weight issue before, as I am heading to my 50s it seems I need to change something...

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