Sustainable weight loss involves relying on the wisdom of nature and your body, while at the same time engaging in emotional and spiritual growth. Fad diets have a beginning and an end, and they rely on willpower to get a person through the diet. People fall into the diet trap which is unsustainable over their lifetime. The weight returns like a boomerang. Why? Most people revert back to the old habits and foods that caused their weight gain in the first place. After five years as a holistic nutrition counselor, I have discovered five common pitfalls that men and women experience when trying to lose weight.
1. Not asking the expert what to eat
People desperately search for the next diet that ‘will work this time’, not realizing that their own brilliant body speaks volumes about every food ingested if only they would take the time to listen. Isn’t it interesting that animals know what to eat in the wild even though they have never read a book or experimented with a diet? They trust their ‘gut wisdom’ to guide them to the foods they are intended to eat.
“The Second Brain” by Dr. Michael Gershon, is an excellent book on the subject of ‘gut wisdom’. This highly accurate ’second brain’ located in our gut not only advises us on healthier food choices, but also regulates our moods from the results of those choices. We think our body isn’t functioning properly when actually we have tuned out the constant feedback our ‘second brain’ sends. The body wants to efficiently carry out the necessary functions for our optimal health, but the ‘keeper’ of the body needs to become aware of the language of the ‘second brain’.
In addition, bio-individuality plays an important role; there is no perfect way of eating for everyone. Experiment with whole natural foods whether raw or cooked and then listen to the response your ‘second brain’ relays. Some common signs if the food chosen is not a good fit would be constipation, diarrhea, headache, bloating, heartburn, etc. On the other hand if the feedback is positive, signs of increased energy, a feeling of well-being or lightness will be present. These unique messages will come through as you begin to listen and respect your body’s language.
2. Relying on labels for food purchases
People rely on package labels and product claims to decide which foods to purchase. Have you ever considered that the length of the ingredient label is often in direct proportion to the shelf life of the product? The optimum foods for human consumption usually have a small window of bioavailability. If food is grown in nature, it’s good to eat!
What about organic foods verses conventional foods? Organics are grown in nutrient-dense soil without the use of harmful chemicals. However, if organics do not fit into your budget, that’s ok. Choosing one-ingredient foods such as whole grains (brown rice and quinoa, etc.,) vegetables and fruits, instead of prepackaged or fast foods will yield noticeable results.
Nature has already given us the perfect ‘diet’. Nature gives us all of the perfect foods in the perfect season. When we rely on nature for our food and then intently listen to how these foods respond to our unique body, we will develop a way of eating that promotes health, weight loss and is sustainable over a lifetime.
Here are some possible examples of what to eat for each food category: For protein, you can choose from beans, organic grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, eggs and nuts. For whole grains, try options such as quinoa, brown rice or millet. Remember there are more nutrients in the actual whole grain versus a processed whole grain product. Keep in mind that not everyone feels good eating whole grains so experiment and notice what feedback your body gives you. The fat in a meal is what helps you to feel satisfied so choose from natural options such as unrefined oils, nuts and avocados. For vegetables, choose from nature’s bountiful array but be sure to include some of the most nutrient dense, dark green vegetables such as kale and collard greens. And then to enjoy some natural sweetness, try a piece of fruit. There’s no need to eat boring meals with whole foods. Find delicious recipes that combine these one-ingredient foods with herbs and spices. You should thoroughly enjoy the foods you’re eating.
Work towards 90% of the time eating nutrient dense foods to support your body and then 10% of the time have some dessert or your favorite food. You don’t have to become a perfect eater to enjoy the vibrant health your body craves. If you’re learning a way to eat for life, it helps to incorporate some flexibility.
3. Falling asleep at the plate
Isn’t it ironic that as a culture we love food, but we seldom make time to enjoy the experience of a good meal? Many people eat standing up, in the car, or watching TV, thus tuning out the entire eating experience. Have you ever eaten a delicious dessert and immediately wanted seconds because you didn’t remember tasting the first serving?
I recently worked with a client who was applying what she’d learned in a recent session about eating more mindfully. She did her best to savor a sandwich from a fast food restaurant and discovered it actually tasted awful! It wasn’t until she ate it slowly and mindfully that she realized this valuable information. Her next test was a box of macaroni and cheese. Guess what? She threw that away too. As always, her body immediately sent her clear messages on her food choices, but this time she listened.
Also, it’s important to understand that if you don’t slow down and enjoy your food, you’ll want more and more to satisfy your craving. Take the time to be fully present to experience your meals: savor the flavor, feel the texture, eat slowly, chew thoroughly and notice when you are comfortably satisfied, then stop.
4. Using food for comfort
How does emotional growth relate to weight loss? For many people, food has solely become a way to comfort themselves rather than a means to be physically nourished. Instead of being present with an uncomfortable emotion by naming it and locating it in the body, people often unconsciously turn to food to relieve the discomfort. Usually this is accompanied by overeating which further ‘stuffs’ the emotion. Now the message becomes, “I am so full and I feel guilty!” Instead of: “Why do I feel anxious, overwhelmed, or fearful?”
Unresolved emotions have an impact on weight gain. People often eat to cover up a problem, not from hunger. If we don’t directly address our emotional challenges, we may use food to deal with the stress of a hectic schedule, to alleviate our loneliness or boredom, or to calm our fears, etc. It helps to ask the question: “Am I eating to nourish my body or to escape a feeling?” Becoming more conscious of your eating habits is a powerful means to sustainable weight loss. Eckhart Tolle shared that one of the most profound things that can happen to a human is to become aware of his or her thoughts. Excess weight can be our teacher if we are willing to uncover and awaken to unconscious patterns and habits around food.
5. Avoiding spiritual growth
I broadly define spirituality as anything that nurtures and/or supports your life. For some it’s church, for others it’s yoga, meditation, or nature, etc. It fulfills a basic human need to connect to something greater. If we neglect this deep desire for connection and wholeness, we may unconsciously turn to food to satisfy this hardwired spiritual yearning.
Becoming a more conscious eater deepens our spiritual connection for several reasons. First, we are eating foods made by nature that are alive and perfectly designed to support our body, versus a ‘food’ that is in a package made by a company to make a profit. Consuming one-ingredient foods directly from nature literally connects us to life itself.
Secondly, eating in a conscious way anchors us in the present moment. We have to not only be present with the food to fully appreciate it, but we also have to stay attuned to how we feel after eating our meal to learn if the foods are a good fit for our unique body. We often live our lives trapped in our minds – either stuck in the past or in nervous anticipation of the future, which can lead to mindless eating. As we become more mindful and present with food, this skill can support us in being more aware of our body, thoughts, emotional habits and life itself.
Why choose a healthy lifestyle?
After reading these 5 common pitfalls of weight loss, you might agree that sustainable weight loss goes much deeper than a 3-month diet. How we do life tends to be how we do food. So healing your relationship with food involves listening to your body, incorporating one-ingredient foods from nature, and growing and awakening at an emotional and spiritual level – a lifestyle change.
So why invest so much energy in eating healthy? Isn’t eating fast food and sugary foods fun? Not at the expense of your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual health. What would your life be like if you were comfortable in your body, with vibrant energy and a sense of well-being? Changing the way you eat is transformational. Not only will you lose weight, but you’ll keep it off with a sensible and sustainable approach to eating. I’ve never met anyone who after losing weight said, “I miss the extra pounds, not fitting into my clothes, the mood swings and the exhaustion.”
Life is now. Don’t wait.
Maggie Christopher is a certified holistic nutrition counselor with a private practice in St. Paul. She specializes in digestive issues, sugar cravings and weight loss. Her program allows people to comfortably embrace a healthier way of eating and living. To deepen her counseling skills, Maggie is enrolled in a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy program at UW-Stout and will graduate in the spring of 2013.