This year, ditch the diet resolution. If you've already fallen off the wagon, don't sweat it. Be kind to yourself.
The problem with resolutions is the ‘all or nothing’ attitude that comes with them, setting you up for failure when you ‘mess up.' Rigid rules like “I’m giving up dessert,” or “I’m never eating carbs,” or “I’m giving up gluten,” or “I’m not eating after seven in the evening” set unrealistic expectations for perfection; and the only thing being given up is the resolution.
While restrictive diets can work in the short term, they’re not sustainable. Depriving yourself of foods you truly enjoy, or foods essential for nourishing your body and brain, often results in overcompensation—overeating—when you get tired of the diet. Diets can start in motion a vicious cycle of guilt and self-recrimination that usually result in despair.
This year, let’s shift our resolve from restrictive dieting to a focus on developing or reestablishing sustainable, balanced habits for healthy bodies and minds. By practicing moderation, moving your body every day, and exhibiting self-compassion, you’ll be developing habits for a lifetime of health and happiness.
Here are a few guidelines for a new (non)diet philosophy for 2013:
1. Eat real food. You've heard us say this again and again. It may sound simplistic, but simply eating real food—food you can imagine growing—as opposed to bagged, boxed, colored, bedazzled, processed food, is the first big step toward good health. Fill at least half of your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables, and the other with good sources of non-refined carbohydrates and lean proteins.
2. Variety is the spice of life. Eating well isn’t about what you can’t eat, it’s about what you can eat. Just peruse the shelves and bins of your local grocery or Co-op to discover new fruits or vegetables, spices or ingredients you’ve never tried before. Pick one new ingredient each week. Not only does introducing new foods bring interest to your meals, different foods and spices contain diverse phytochemical profiles that contribute unique health benefits for our bodies and minds.
3. Eat often. Nourish your body every three to four hours to keep your energy high and your metabolism humming along from morning until night. Starving yourself by skipping meals results in a drop in blood sugar, likely sending you running straight for the vending machine. Instead, eat smaller meals and appropriate snacks throughout the day. Planning ahead is key. Keep a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator (and car and desk) to prevent impulse eating.
4. Allow yourself to enjoy your favorite foods mindfully. Diets tend to categorize certain foods as ‘bad,’ or ‘off-limits,’ setting you up for failure or guilt. When we allow all foods into our life, we can relieve ourselves of unconscious feelings of deprivation which often leads to subsequent overeating. How many times have you broken your 'diet resolution' and thought “I blew it anyways, so I might as well have more…”? Want ice cream? Or french fries? Or pizza? Eat the real thing--not an imitation. Then, enjoy your favorite foods mindfully, meaning you savor each bite, eating slowly and without distraction. If you honor your cravings in small portions—you’ll be less likely to over-indulge in the long run.
5. Move your body daily. Daily physical activity has incredible health benefits-- everything from protecting your heart to controlling your blood sugar to elevating your mood. Select activities that bring you joy—walking your dog, dancing, gardening, chasing your child around the yard—and engage in them often, and with relish. Activity does not have to mean logging hours on a treadmill. In fact, you’ll get more benefits from picking activities you love—partly because you’ll stick with them.
A version of this article appears in the January 2013 edition of the Bellingham Community Co-op Newsletter.