You’ve tried diets. They stink. Not only are they a miserable, laborious process, but they can lead to crashing and burning, regaining of weight, and a whole lot of stress. What’s more, is that they apply moral value to food, labeling some as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad.’ And to what end? Do they even work out? Are they worth it?
Registered dietitian Lisa Mastela, RD, MPH, founder of Bumpin Blends says, “Even if you were to do a crash diet, or have more restrictions, or do something less ‘enjoyable,’ in order to keep weight off (if weight loss is your goal), there’s a strong chance you’ll gain it all back — especially if you don’t have a plan for what’s next when the diet’s done.”
How to “Diet” Without Dieting
So how do we eat healthfully and fuel our bodies — without the crash diets? Is there a way? Short answer: yes. And depending on your goals, you can likely start right away. Mastela believes this is the answer to a lot of our healthy eating problems. “To me, the best diet for you is one that reduces stress rather than adds it and is one that you can ENJOY for the rest of your life. Enter: Mindful eating.” According to this dietitian, this could be the anti-diet diet you’re looking for.
What is Mindful Eating?
It’s pretty straightforward: mindful eating (sometimes called intuitive eating) is taking a mindful approach to your diet. Living in the present moment, and being cognizant of what you eat — and how you feel while you’re eating. “It’s simply the practice of being mindful about what you’re eating, and listening to your body,” explains Mastela.
“You might think, ‘Oh, well my body just tells me I want junk,’ and that might be true — but if you truly tune in and listen to your body, you’ll notice a shift,” she says. “You will likely find that the more you do what it’s asking of you, the more you’ll actually crave foods that are more supportive of your health.” In other words, the more you get in tune, the more you’ll know what to eat — beyond junk food cravings. But this is a slow process.
How Does It Work & What’s The Science?
It starts with meal planning and shopping for your food, and only eating when you’re hungry — starting small — and savoring every single bite. The experience of eating is slower, more sensual (as in, using your senses!) as you reflect on the aroma, flavor, and texture of your meal. Incorporating gratitude, slowly chewing small bites, and focusing on your food (not your phone or the TV or your emails!) rounds out the process.
With mindful eating, nothing is actually off-limits. If you’re doing it correctly, you may likely find that nonstop junk doesn’t actually make you feel good. That said, the sparing, occasional indulgence lights you up — and afterward, you crave some crisp, fresh veggies in a crudité. Ah, the elusive ‘balance’ we all seek!
The elimination of moral value on food is crucial, explains Mastela. “It helps to eliminate ideas of food being off-limits or ‘bad,’ and reduces restrictive feelings — including STRESS —around food. This is so important,” she says, noting that stress can actually cause weight retention and weight gain.
And what about the research — is there science around mindful eating? Yes! There are plenty of studies on mindful eating that show this approach to diet can positively benefit your life by helping you lose weight, reduce stress, and maintain a healthy body.
Why Is Mindful Eating a Great Option?
“Why is this the best way to eat, be healthy, and manage your weight? Because it’s sustainable — for the rest of your life — and benefits you far beyond just weight management,” says Mastela.
She says the greatest aspect is this ability to maintain health and not have to fuss over food. “Mindful eating is meant to be a lifelong lifestyle change — while a diet is often a do-it-as-long-as-you-have-to-to-get-results approach, mindful eating is about tapping into your food and lifestyle,” says Mastela. “This includes everything from the sourcing and sustainability of your food to tastes and quality, cooking, textures, how you feel after eating, and even your lifestyle beyond food.”
Keep in mind, Mastela says this will take some time and the path is not linear. “Living mindfully is a beautiful practice (keyword: practice) that has the ability to completely reshape how you live your life in a fantastic way, from lowering stress and anxiety to increasing enjoyment of your food and life, and even helping you get the right body for you if that’s what you’re after.”
Can You Lose Weight?
“Truthfully, mindful eating would be a very slow way to actually lose a lot of weight,” says Mastela. The alternative: She encourages anyone who wants to lose weight to work with a dietitian, and transition to mindful eating once the goal is hit.
Working with a dietitian can be key because there’s no one size fits all when it comes to dietary approaches. You have to find what works best for you and your unique needs!
RELATED: 5 No-Diet Lifestyle Hacks to Push Past a Weight Loss Plateau
What Are You Waiting For?
With all this evidence on the efficacy of mindful, intuitive eating and its ability to impact your mental and physical health — and overall lifestyle — with a high chance of long term success, why not give it a shot?
As always, with all diet advice (that can inherently affect your medical health), confer with your physician and work with a registered dietitian if you are able. And at the core of this: be kind to yourself, listen to your body, and stay super present while you’re eating!
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