Saturday, December 09, 2006

The No-Diet Diet

I've started a little experiment, and while it's not going all that great at the moment, I have a feeling it's going to be the most successful weight management and healthy lifestyle tool that I've ever used. The goal is not to diet. I know that may sound like a cop-out, and it's even a bit scary from where I'm standing, but it's beginning to make more and more sense.

I've been counting calories or Weight Watchers Points for so long I can barely eat anything without mentally calculating something in my head. I exercise not for the health benefits, the energy and the mood elevation, but for the calories it burns. I eat foods based on their calorie/points count instead of their nutritional value. And while I know this is all wrong thinking, it seems to be the only way I know how to go about losing weight. Then one day recently, I looked at my calorie calculator and had 300 calories available in my daily calorie range (1300-1600 calories). Instead of considering that I wasn't really hungry and therefore didn't need to use these calories, I immediately started thinking about what I could and couldn't do with them. After munching my way through the 300 and then some, I realized what I was doing. I wasn't eating because I was hungry, but rather because I had calories available to use. It was a wasted purchase, like buying a formal dress, not because I had an event to attend, but because I had the cash in my pocket.

I started wondering why I eat and exercise. I went over certain situations in my mind and it occurred to me (not for the first time) that I often eat when I'm not hungry. In fact, just last night, I continued to eat despite palpable stomach discomfort. So what's the deal? And how can I change this pattern? I also started thinking about what it would be like to have children and what kind of an example I would be. Would I teach them healthy habits naturally, or would I teach them to look at food as the enemy and exercise as a chore? Honestly, I don't know the answer to any of these questions yet. But I do know that even if counting every calorie I put in my mouth and writing down every food that I choose to eat causes me to lose weight in the short term, it's not a weight loss that I'm ever going to be able to maintain over the long term. If I don't first discover what is causing these binges and how I can disrupt them (and maybe even avoid them), then I'll always be bound by them. And I certainly won't be able to teach my children to have a healthy mindset about food and exercise. The last thing I want is to transfer my own obsessions and false ideas to others.

So my plan is simple. No more dieting. Instead, my focus is on getting in touch with myself. I need to understand why I am eating in every situation. I need to develop skills to decrease my tendency to eat everything but the kitchen sink. I need to figure out what it is that allows me to be satisfied with a single bowl of cereal some mornings, and what causes me to crave four or five bowls, and to give in to that craving, on other days. While the plan seems simple, none of this is going to be easy. And it's clear to me from last night's fiasco that I may lose sight of my goals and fall into old habits while I'm learning. But I think that this way may be the best way for me to learn what I need to know in order to accomplish my ultimate goal of living a healthy life, instead of just becoming successful at a lifetime of dieting.


dr peg said...

Pardon me for blurting in here as a complete stranger (found you at First 50), but I want to say I applaud your move. I think body and mind awareness is far more likely to succeed than any diet or calorie counting. Good luck!

smtwngrl said...

dr peg--Thanks for the support! It's not going to be easy to change 30 years of habits, but I'm working on it.

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