In my experience, developing a better relationship with your body in general – and what you put into it – starts with breaking what I call the ‘daily trance’, which is the root cause of a number of self- destructive habits.
Before we get into the detail of what I mean by this, here’s an exercise for you to try. Note down what you ate yesterday, when, and what you were doing at the time.
What... When... While...
Does anything stand out to you? from what you’ve written down? I’ll hazard a few guesses: first of all, you’ve really had to think hard to remember the what and the when. Secondly, I bet a good half of the instances you’ve noted involved doing something else as you ate.
So why is this significant?
Well, the first rule when it comes to getting a handle on any habitual activity, including food and drink consumption, is identifying what the habit is and the circumstances that lead to you engaging in it. Once you’ve done that, you can become much more ‘mindful’ of your behaviour – i.e. understand what you do and the things that might be triggering you to do it.
Over the years, I’ve had so many clients visit me for help with all sorts of issues, and food and struggling to lose weight has been consistently top of the list. I think this is because being bigger than they should be has such a major impact on people’s lives -from their self-confidence and self- image, right through to their health and ability to enjoy the things that make life worth living.
Without exception, such problems don’t actually lie in food at all. They tend to stem from an unhelpful mindset and accompanying rituals, which lead to them eating the wrong things, or too much of the right things, or with too little exercise, and with insufficient awareness of the damage they are doing to their bodies.
Most clients have tried two or three traditional diets and seen their weight yo- yo backwards and forwards for years as a consequence, but never achieved lasting success. They have all known far more about dieting than me. In fact, they are usually experts in it.
I found myself asking ‘why are they still overweight?’. I realised that if the many fad diets out there actually worked, these people would without doubt be the shape they wanted to be. Yet most of them had repeatedly experimented with the latest craze and dropped pounds, only to put them back on again. So, what was going wrong?
When we’re born, we human beings come complete with an inbuilt survival mechanism, and it’s as simple as can be: our stomach sends signals to our brain that we need to eat, we cry and, once we’re satisfied, we stop. We are programmed from the off to take what we need and our body knows exactly what that is.
However, as we grow, our brain gets more involved and we start to become conditioned by our environment, developing associations with food, good and bad. For example, if our parents give us sweets as a reward or to make us feel better, that creates a link in our brain between sugar and comfort.
How many of us have been told as children to clear our plates in order to be rewarded with pudding? Just one example of how natural instinct about when we’ve had enough and need to stop eating gets clouded by conditioning.
Similarly, being deprived as a child for whatever reason can lead to binge eating tendencies later in life, once those restrictions are taken away.
In my experience, there are several reasons why diets don’t work, but the fundamental one is these kinds of connections. Because diets only address the physical results of our over-indulgence and don’t change how we think, they don’t address the real problem.
You wouldn’t put a sticking plaster over a six-inch wound and expect it to heal, and this is no different. Wonder diets, crash plans, a plethora of number crunching equations, colour combinations and health-inducing halos, protein-only, fat-for-fit, sugar free and fasting focused, most of us have tried some form of fad diet at one time or another, and ended up somewhat dissatisfied with the outcome.
In fact, most of the meal plans, regimes and lifestyle options – call them what
you will – I’ve ever come across actually increase the dieter’s obsession with
It’s often possible to cheat the system, too – who hasn’t avoided eating or drinking for a few hours before a weekly weigh-in just to dupe the scales, and then gone and undone all their good work just after? Go on, you can admit it, no-one’s listening!
Then there’s the fact that diets are so focused on weight in the first place, when it’s a range of factors that are important, such as overall body shape, size and muscle tone/ratio.
I think the fundamental issue is that we’ve lost sight of the basic principles on which the human species relies: eating only what we need, of all kinds of food, in moderation, and exercising more.
The trick is to visualise the shape you want to be and why. Concentrate on all of the positive things looking different will enable you to do, and the doors it will open, whether that is being able to walk your grandchildren to school, complete a life challenge like climbing a mountain, live long enough to fulfil your dreams or simply get to the top of the stairs without being out of breath.
You’ll be amazed how much more likely you are to succeed, if you focus on the positives of what you want to achieve rather than the demotivating facts of what you need to do to get there.