In the first part of this series we talked about how losing weight—and keeping it off—is about more than just counting calories or following a special diet for a set time. Of course these things can help you lose weight. However, as studies show us time and again, losing weight this way tends to be a temporary fix. People who “diet” generally put the weight right back on—and often gain more than they lost in the first place.
The bottom line is this: diets simply don’t work in the long term. If you want to lose weight, diets just set you up for failure. Why? Because they only change your eating habits short-term. They don’t address what lies beneath your eating habits—your beliefs about and relationship to food. To lose weight and be successful, this is what has to change.
Now here’s the part you probably don’t want to hear—the reason so many try fad diets and ultimately fail: this kind of change doesn’t happen overnight. And if you expect it to, you’re setting yourself up for failure. This is what the diet industry knows but isn’t telling you. You’re not going to (permanently) change your eating habits in a week, or a month, or maybe even a couple of months.
Truth #1: Small changes may be better than big ones
Our food beliefs and eating patterns have evolved over an entire lifetime, and trying to change them all at once is more than most people can handle. When we try to, what usually happens is that we “cheat,” or we get discouraged and go back to our old habits. And when we do, we feel guilty. The trick is to make many small changes instead of several large ones, and to give ourselves time to adjust to one change before we make another.
For instance: giving up sugar is one of the best things you can do for your health and for your waistline. However, if you’re like most Americans, it’s also probably one of the most difficult steps to take. If you go through and throw everything with sugar out of your house, will it be good for you? Of course. But are you likely to stick to this sugar-free style long-term? While we’d all like to say “yes,” realistically the answer is “probably not.”
Odds are within a week or two you’ll say, “Oh, just one cookie/soda/bowl of ice cream (or whatever) won’t hurt.” One thing will lead to another and in short order the pantry will be full of the same old sugary stuff. The major difference will be that now you’re feeling guilty about your choices, and possibly eating more because of it.
But you can achieve the same goal by a series of small steps—and probably stick with it…without the stress and the guilt. Instead of cutting out all the sugar at once, you can do it in increments. Say you drink 3 sodas per day. Instead of quitting cold turkey, you could commit to cutting down by one a day each week. So the first week you would cut down to two per day, the second week to one, and by the third week you would be soda-free and much more likely to stick to the decision. And this applies to any changes you make—including cooking from scratch.
Truth #2: Cooking for yourself is caring for yourself
There are a million reasons to do your own cooking. You ensure that you have the freshest and most nutritious ingredients. You can easily avoid additives, preservatives, and GMOs. You can control everything about what you’re eating, from calorie count to sugar content to nutritional value. But two of the most important reasons to cook for yourself—and your family—are ones that are often overlooked.
Cooking instills mindfulness, which is a good foundation for any type of real change in your life. And cooking is an active way of taking care of yourself and your family. We all have the need to feel as if we’re providing for ourselves and especially for our families, and this is something that’s unfortunately missing from modern life for many people. When you place a dish on the table, you are saying, I am physically and emotionally caring for myself and for you. I am providing for you in a concrete way. I care enough to do this.
It may sound a bit silly to some. Dinner as an affirmation…who’d imagine? But it’s true. And this feeling of being self-sufficient, of taking care of yourself and your family is a powerful thing in and of itself. When you make the effort to cook at home and use real ingredients, you’re nourishing body, mind, and spirit. You’re giving meaning to your food and to eating, beyond simply satisfying hunger or suppressing boredom. And this is exactly what most of us are lacking.
Truth #3: There are no “good” or “bad” foods
We tend to assign a moral value to foods or the action of eating them. We talk about “health” foods. “Comfort” foods. Guilty pleasures. Treats. Splurges. We have a huge descriptive vocabulary of words and phrases like these for talking about food—and all have a moral connotation attached.
Here’s the problem: when we start attaching a moral value to food—sprouts are “good” but bacon is “bad” for example—it skews our relationship with food. Every bite we put in our mouths—or even consider putting in our mouths--becomes not just a nutrition choice but a moral judgement.
Food has no morality. Food is never “good” or “bad,” and neither is the act of consuming it. Giving it a moral value, even unconsciously, can create a lot of problems.
The most obvious of these, of course, is guilt. If we look at a food as “bad” in some way (say, the soda from my earlier example) that doesn’t mean we won’t go ahead and eat it. In fact if it’s something we enjoy, we’ll most likely go ahead and eat it even if we do think it’s “bad.” But instead of just enjoying it and going on with our lives, we’ll feel guilty. Guilt causes stress, and stress leads to weight gain in its own right. Stress can also push us to overeat when we otherwise wouldn’t…which makes us feel even more guilty.
It’s also easy to fall into the moral trap of thinking, “I can balance eating this ‘bad’ food by eating this ‘good’ food,” which often has the same effect.
Again, food has no morality. You’re not morally superior if you live on sprouts and tofu, and you’re not a Godless heathen if you eat bacon and potato chips. So the next time you take a bite of something, stop for a moment and ask yourself: Am I making a moral judgement on myself for eating this?
Being aware of this, and reminding yourself that food is neither good nor bad can be a huge step toward changing your eating habits.