Diets, there are hundreds of them out there with the most popular one currently being the Keto diet. Two months ago I did a poll on my Instagram page asking my audience if they have ever been on a diet, 83% of those who answered said yes. I then asked at what age people started dieting for those who have and how many diets have they been on so far, now the answers I got to these questions I was surprised at myself. Many started at a very young age as early as 10 years old with people having been on as many as 5 diets. The audience used in my Instagram poll is a fairly young population (20-40 years of age) meaning these are quite a few diets for such a short period. With this information, I concluded that honestly, diets don’t work since not one person stuck with one “diet” and was able to achieve their goal with it. So my question was then why don’t they work and why can’t we stick to just one diet and follow it?
After reading through several articles and watching multiple Ted talks by accomplished dietitians, food scientists, psychologists and so forth the consistent reason behind “diets” not working was due to willpower. Every diet out there relies heavily on willpower for it to work however, willpower is limited, and we honestly don’t have enough of it to allow us to sustain a diet (1). Any strategy that consistently relies on the utilization of willpower is doomed for failure (1). Most often, when we see individuals fail in their diet we are quick to blame them saying they lack self-control when in fact it has nothing to do with that. When we diet our body goes through a lot of biological changes that contribute to why we are unable to stay on a diet. These changes include neurological changes (increased fixation on food), hormonal changes (decreased level of the hormone that makes you feel full), and metabolic changes (decrease in metabolism) (2). Overall, diets have little reliability, as most people regain the weight 5 years after dieting with 40% having gained even more weight than when they first started dieting (1). Only about 5% of dieters are able to lose weight and keep it off for a long period of time (2)
With this being said, we must take a different approach that has been suggested in numerous articles and videos, which is mindful eating. Rather than just focusing on food choices, start focusing on why we reach for one food over another (3). By understanding why we eat specific foods, who we are as eaters, and how eating certain foods make us feel we can now create long-lasting changes as we are touching on deeper reasons behind our eating such as our eating habits, behaviors, and patterns (3). This process of eating is also known as intuitive eating, whereby we rely on hunger to decide when to eat i.e. listening to your body’s signals. This approach is far more effective compared to controlled eating where you utilize willpower to decide when to eat (1). Several studies have shown success with mindful eating by achieving weight loss and weight maintenance through increasing awareness of eating tendencies (4).
This practice of mindful eating is one that has been emphasized from the time of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) with one of his hadiths stating, “We are a people who do not eat until we feel hungry, and when we eat we do not satiate ourselves (we do not eat excessively)” (5). Another narration of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) that we can always keep in mind: “Eat when you desire and stop while you still desire” (Bihar al-Anwar) (5). Personally, I have been practicing mindful eating for the past 2 months and have noticed some changes both physically and mentally. I can still enjoy the day to day foods but of course in moderation, because I realized when I overindulged I felt sluggish and just overall uncomfortable. I find that I am far more energized and alert throughout the day without consistently obsessing about food. I eat only when I am hungry and even then I am mindful of the food choices I go for.
With the new year approaching many of us may have weight loss as one of our new year’s resolutions. Instead of trying a new diet why not give mindful eating a try where you can achieve long-lasting sustainable results, not just physically, but mentally as well. It’s time to stop fearing your appetite but rather learning to work with it.
Written by: Raya Haddass
- https://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/4321931/jewish/Mindful-Eating.htm (featured image)