While the oft-touted advice to get to our goal weight is simply to cut back on calories, achieving long-term weight-loss goals is actually much more complex. What we don’t realize is our goal weight can actually be hard to achieve and maintain, especially without an eye toward a lifestyle shift.
Research has proven time and again that restricting and dieting often don’t work. In fact, traditional dieting methods often lead to long-term weight gain, rather than weight loss because it doesn’t teach the necessary behaviors for developing sustainable healthy eating habits. Research also shows that restricting foods and calories alone often leads to increased cravings for them, resulting in potential bingeing, a cycle known as the restrict-binge cycle.
Eating mindfully and intuitively, on the other hand, focus on tuning into your body and trusting it to know what it needs. While intuitive eating doesn’t focus on calories or weight, research shows it may stabilize and reduce weight. A 2015 study in the American Journal of Health Promotion found women who reported being intuitive eaters had significantly lower BMI scores than non-intuitive eaters.
Rather than focusing exclusively on counting calories or cutting out entire food groups, try these mindful ways to tune in to your body and hunger:
CONSIDER YOUR RESPONSE TO CERTAIN FOODS
Ironically, it can be the rigidity established by cutting calories that causes us to crave certain foods even more, potentially making us crave foods we don’t normally think about. The only way to learn how foods make you feel is not to feel restricted by them.
You may find that when you remove chocolate from the pedestal and give yourself permission to enjoy a piece of chocolate each afternoon, you may stop craving it altogether. You may determine it doesn’t make you feel energized the rest of the afternoon or that allowing one piece removes the taboo and you can stop there. By paying attention, you may discover how foods affect you in different ways.
ACKNOWLEDGE YOU MAY BE HUNGRIER SOME DAYS
Picking an arbitrary number of calories to eat each day won’t necessarily account for your body’s needs but listening to your hunger and fullness cues will. Because our bodies are fluid and adaptable, our calorie needs are constantly changing.
Recovering from an illness or injury, being under a significant amount of stress or recovering from an intense workout are just some examples of when your body may need more calories and specific macronutrients. Being able to trust your hunger cues, rather than ignoring or suppressing them is one way to become more trusting and intuitive.
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THINK BEYOND CALORIES
A low-fat granola bar may taste better in the moment and have fewer calories than, say, an apple and an ounce of nuts. However, because of its higher sugar content, you may find yourself hungrier only to snack more afterward and ultimately consume more calories than if you ate the apple and nuts. This is your body’s way of seeking satisfaction. While our bodies don’t monitor calories, they know what foods are satisfying and filling.
RECOGNIZE THAT HEALTH IS MORE THAN JUST WEIGHT
There’s a plethora of research indicating that there are different ranges of optimal Body Mass Index (BMI), including that we can be healthy outside of the “normal” BMI range. In addition, the correlation of mortality rates with BMI often fail to take into consideration such critical factors as family history, mental disorders and our social environment.