Is it possible to eat what you want without gaining weight? Many people, especially those who are chronic dieters are afraid this is not possible. Breaking away from the rigid set of dieting rules feels scary, and dieters are comfortable with the “restrictive” state diets teach. How can we learn to reshape our relationship with food, and respect our hunger?
Michelle May, MD is the author of “Eat what you love, love what you eat: How to break your eat-repent-repeat cycle.” Her website Am I Hungry? describes many of her eating philosophies. In her own words:
“Most diets are restrictive and unsustainable, leaving the dieter feeling guilty and disappointed. My goal is to help people recognize and cope with their triggers for overeating, rediscover joy in physical activity, and effectively nourish their body, mind, heart and spirit.“
After reading her article on the blog “Dieting and You” entitled Paint-by-Numbers or a Masterpiece, I decided to reach out to her for an interview. Michelle was kind enough to take the time out of her busy schedule to answer some of my questions. Eloquently and kindly she spoke about how we can turn our relationship with food around and answer the question “What are you hungry for?”
Q: You don’t advocate “Dieting,” So tell us, Why don’t diets work?
A: They do work-temporarily. But they fail to address the root cause, and for many people, result in feelings of deprivation. This causes them to crave food more, and feel more out of control when they are around food. Restriction drives overeating. People think they don’t have enough willpower. Restriction also leads to obsession which is bad. Our body is wise, but people are skeptical because we are so diet-focused as a society. we think that we need to diet chronically to maintain are weight. But, we are all born with the instinctive ability to eat what our body needs. Instinctive eaters eat what they love, when they’re hungry, stop when they’re full and don’t worry about food in the between times.
Q: It can be very difficult and scary for chronic dieters to look at this approach to eating. They believe being intuitive is impossible and they will never know when they are really hungry and full. How do we separate cravings/hunger for love etc. from real biological hunger
A: This is a deceptively simple step. Ask yourself the question “Am I hungry?” Before you eat. Before starting to eat, focus on what’s going on inside. Do a Mind-body scan for the physical sign/symptoms (such as a drop in blood sugar) and also notice emotions/feelings. If your not sure you’re hungry, you’re probably not. If you decide to eat even if you are not physically hungry, notice this, and try to gain insight on why you want to eat. This question, “Am I hungry” must not become a rule to abide to, instead look at it as a way to pause, and reflect, being more mindful of your eating habits.
Q: So if we learn to appreciate and respect our hunger we can end yo-yo dieting and the eat-repent-repeat cycle?
A: Instead of a yo-yo I like to think of this as a Pendulum between excess and restriction. Find the flexible arc in the middle of the pendulum where you still have freedom. We need to get away from this hopeless pursuit of trying to be perfect. Accept where you are. Everyone overeats, undereats, over exercises, underexerises sometimes. Its just important that we find a Balance.
Q: How can we move away from the “perfect” “skinny” mindset and learn to appreciate ourselves and our bodies, our health?
A: For too long now, we’ve tried to measure things by physical attributes-health is just a trophy that everyone seeks.
We need a balance of body, mind, health and spirit. Health is more than a number on a scale. Numbers like BMI, blood pressure, are easy to get obsessed with, and we need to take a step back and look at the whole picture of health.
Q: How can we fit fitness into this pictures without it becoming obsessive?
A: Often we look at exercise as punishment for eating or we need to exercise to earn the right to eat, which creates a very negative relationship with exercise. It turns into a penance for eating a “bad” food, and often you feel guilty if it is missed. This becomes an obsessive behavior which strips all of the joy from exercise. I think we need to not discuss exercise at the same time as weight loss. Exercise is good for everyone! Not just for those people that need to lose weight. It is also important to pay attention to the positive aspects of exercise, and find something you love doing.
Q: How do we create an atmosphere where food is not viewed as an enemy but can be savored and enjoyed without going overboard?
A: We need to put food back into perspective. When you are eating, EAT. Eat with abandon and joy, not to pay penance or seek to be virtuous. When you are not eating, let it go. Don’t think about it. Enjoy what you are doing at the time. Approach life fully engaged in the present moment. Mindfulness is not only a form of eating, but also a life skill.