Many of us who are middle-aged have been watching our weight since our Twiggy and Tab teenage years. On and off, diet after diet, we watched our weight go up and down and back up to a number that was much higher than when we first decided to diet. So even as we agonize over the size and softness of our middle-aged bellies, we know in our guts that these diets have failed us.Â We long for peace with food and at least a truce with body hatred. But if we decide we’re not going to diet again, we’re not sure about what to do to care for ourselves.
Before we became “diet survivors” http://www.dietsurvivors.com/ we relied on rules to tell us what and how much to eat. Believing that this was the best way to care for ourselves, we practiced ignoring the wisdom of our wants and needs.Â But now, before we waste one more precious moment of our life watching our weight, we are determined to never diet again. Even though we’re not sure how to find our way back to the body trust that will transform our relationship with food and guide us back to our sustainable, healthy, natural weight, we are ready try.
- To begin, we need to risk reconnecting to our body with compassion, caring, and curiosity.Â After years of hating our body and trying to fix what we thought was wrong with it, we can expect this to feel awkward. But as we redirect the energy and determination we had dedicated to dieting and depriving ourselves to now relearning how to compassionately care for our bodies, it will get easier.Â As we tune into our body, we’ll discover that everything we need to know is here, in this place where we live. We’ll find that we don’t need to look outside of ourselves to figure out what we should eat, or what the proper portion is. We’ll find that, just as our body naturally lets us know when it’s time to rest, to take a deep breath, or to head to the bathroom, it will reliably signal and guide us to eat what’s needed in just the right amount.
So how do we go about doing this?
- Eating favorite foods.Â First we allow ourselves to tune into what it is that we truly want to eat. After years of avoiding “bad” foods because we came to believe they were fattening, this shift to feeding ourselves what we want may feel terrifying.Â While eating certain foods may raise our cholesterol or blood pressure or contribute to other medical conditions if we’re predisposed to these conditions, we will come to understand that no food causes weight gain. And that after our taste buds allow us to and savor various foods, our bodies don’t know the difference between “good” foods and “bad” foods. So despite what diets tell us, our bodies will not gain weight when we eat apple pie instead of an apple.
- “But, but, but, if eating apple pie or french fries didn’t cause me to gain this weight, how did I gain it?” Most of us who are above our natural weight have gained weight because, over time, we’ve consciously or unconsciously eaten “good” and “bad” foods past comfortable fullness, and as a result, our body has received more fuel than it needs. While there’s no need to judge ourselves about this, if we’re now ready to care for ourselves differently by eating foods we like, we will also want to tune into our body’s signals to guide us in eating the “right” amount.
- Tuning in and responding to our hunger and fullness signals. Instead of eating a “serving size” or a certain number of points of apple pie or apples or whatever, we allow our sensations of hunger and fullness to let us know when to start eating and when to stop.Â And while this sounds simple, for those of us who have ignored our hunger and fullness signals for so long, it may be difficult to recognize when we’re hungry and when we’re full.
- Waiting for hunger. To help ourselves reconnect with the sensations of hunger, it may be helpful to do a “wake-up-and-wait-for-hunger” experiment. On a rare day when we have no commitments, we might wake up, and instead of eating breakfast because it’s breakfast time, we might allow ourselves to spend some time tuning into our body, noticing shifting sensations, and waiting for our body’s natural hunger waves to roll in.Â Should we find that we’re not able to connect with hunger feelings, we can choose to keep waiting, knowing we will respond to the signals when they do arise. Or, if it feels more comfortable, we can choose to eat without connecting to our hunger signals and resolve to begin allowing ourselves to devote as much time trying to tune into our body’s signals as we did ignoring them.
- Finding fullness. While some of us may find it difficult to reconnect with our hunger, many more of us will find it much more challenging to recognize our sensations of fullness.Â So just as we will need to practice tuning into hunger, we may find it helpful to experiment with serving ourselves varying amounts of food at our meals and noticing, as we are able, our shifting sensations from perhaps no sensations to subtle satisfaction to comfortable fullness, or uncomfortable fullness.
- Ending exercise and pursuing play.Â Finally, as we move away from watching our weight and ignoring our needs and moving instead toward caring for ourselves and tuning into and responding to our needs, it’s possible that we may never need to exercise again. By listening to our body and our spirit rather than making ourselves go nowhere on a treadmill, we may find our way to movement and play that we enjoy and are able to do. Perhaps we get our bike fixed up and ride it on the weekends with a friend. Or we may discover that we love line dancing.
And over time, as we play more and risk eating foods we want when we’re hungry, stopping when we are satisfied, we restore trust in our bodies and ourselves as we find and stabilize at our natural, healthy weight. But by then, we may not notice, because we’ll be living our life, not watching our weight.
Copyright Â© 2010 by Amy Tuttle. Reprinted with permission from Amy Tuttle.
Nutrition therapist Amy Tuttle, RD, LCSW is the Director of Valley Green Counseling, a private practice in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that specializes in resolving eating and weight problems. She also provides no-diet articles and resources, including “Stay Attuned: The E-zine for Nourishing Connections” at the Nourishing Connections website.