How To Stop Dieting + Start Enjoying Food: The Ex-Dieter’s Guide
By Lily Kay
Do you have the ability to look at any item in your fridge or pantry and instantly know its calorie content and fat percentage?
It’s the hangover from years spent dieting and sometimes it drives me crazy!
Sometimes I just want to eat the damn thing without having that voice in the back of my mind whispering “553 calories” with every bite.
Don’t get me wrong, I am awesome at telling that voice to shut the hell up and getting on with my meal, but when I first began to move away from diets towards a mentally healthy, sustainable, and enjoyable way of eating it could really trigger some major food fear.
It was the mental equivalent of a disapproving aunt sniffily asking “do you really want to eat that?” at Christmas dinner and nobody needs that. To help you combat that voice in your head I’ve compiled the ex-dieter’s guide to really and truly enjoying food.
The Ex-Dieter’s Three Step Guide to Enjoying Food
When I dieted, I spent so long trying to convince myself that this food wasn’t for me that I wasn’t really sure what I actually wanted to eat. I’d consumed so much low-fat, calorie-free, carb-less, tasteless fake food that real, whole food was practically an unknown. I needed to get back to basics and connect with my food again. I’m not talking moving to the country and churning your own butter (unless that’s your bag), but choosing fresh, whole ingredients, and preparing and cooking meals from scratch forges a connection with your food that you just don’t get from taking a diet microwave meal out of the freezer – not to mention the improvement on taste and nutrient content.
You don’t have to be the next Julia Childs to cook from scratch, nor do you have to spend hours in the kitchen (let’s face it, who has the time?). Experiment and have fun.There’s no end of quick and easy recipes on the internet and you might even find cooking is your life’s true calling. Failing that, you’ll have some delicious dishes that you made yourself. Plus, you’ll have learnt a new skill and when you’ve made it yourself you’re so much more likely to enjoy eating it – without feeling any misplaced guilt or fear.
Associate Food with Positivity
If food was associated with negative emotion and thoughts – guilt, shame, fear, lack of control – it’s difficult to find the motivation to get on good terms with it. Rather than trying to remove the negativity, focus on the positive aspects and allow those to crowd out the old stuff.
Food plays an important part in our social lives – it can be wonderful to gather around a table with old friends, enjoying food together. Dieting and food fear robs us of that joyful experience. Arrange a dinner date with your besties (the ones who don’t do diet talk) and allow the conversation to take the focus off the food and eclipse any old worries around what you’re eating. The food provides a nice backdrop to the fun, and becomes the icing on the cake rather than the main course.
Appreciate what food brings to your life by beginning to notice how it makes you feel physically. Don’t attach judgement to your observations, just notice what happens when you eat. Maybe you ate way past your fullness levels because that cake was SO good, and now you’re feeling overstuffed and lethargic? Or did you eat just the right amount of that wonderful, balanced meal and now you’re full of energy? If you’re a runner, or a gym bunny, how does what you eat affect your work out? Experiment a little – does adding an extra egg at breakfast keep your mind sharp throughout the morning’s meetings, or could you make do with less in the evenings if you find a full stomach keeps you awake?
By noticing patterns and appreciating how awesome food can make you feel you become better able to make positive choices.
Remove the Fear
What’s your biggest food fear? I used to worry that once I started eating I wouldn’t be able to stop, so I couldn’t allow myself to let go and just enjoy my food. There were certain foods that I didn’t even allow in the house because I feared that just once bite would mean I’d have to finish the lot. Ironically, this meant that when those foods were around I descended into totally out of control binge-fests. Not fun. Once I relaxed the rules and made sure nothing was off limits I was free to enjoy the taste without going crazy.
It didn’t happen all at once – this is a process – but trust me. It works. Choose that one food that you know you can’t resist and stock up your cupboards. Then whenever you get the urge, go and eat some. But not sneakily, guiltily, stuffing it in straight from the packet before anyone catches you – eat it like the civilized, adult woman that you are. You get to choose what you put into your body so guilt and shame have no place at your table. Put the food on a plate, arrange it nicely, sit at the table and slowly, mindfully, enjoy it. If you want more? Get more. Had enough? Put it away, you can always have more later.
Remind yourself at each bite that you are choosing to eat this. You’re not out of control or binging, you’re simply choosing to eat a food you enjoy. Take back your power and the fear you used to associate with that food fades.
Do I still hear that annoying voice quoting grams of carbohydrates at me when I’m trying to enjoy a pizza? Sure, but the difference is, now I can tell it where to go. Now my decisions about whether I really want to eat that are based on how hungry I am, the kind of fuel my body needs, what flavors I’m fancying at that point, and the fat and calorie counts just don’t enter the equation.