The Anti-Diet: How Not Dieting Is the Key to Losing Weight
The Intuitive Eating Approach
Jill Carlson, 36, had issues with ice cream. So the Chicagoan, who had lost and regained 60 pounds through a series of different diets, did something drastic. Instead of following conventional weight-loss wisdom and banishing Ben & Jerry's Cake Batter from the house, she filled her freezer with it, stocking 10 pints and giving herself permission to eat it. At first she did -- a lot. But after a couple of months the sweet treat sat untouched. "It lost its sparkle," she said. "I knew at that point that ice cream -- or any food -- no longer had an unhealthy grip on me."
Jill is among the growing number of women who are turning their back on typical diets. They're making peace with food and their weight, using what experts have dubbed a no-diet approach. Their ranks include Oprah Winfrey, who declared she would never diet again after reading Women, Food, and God by Geneen Roth, and Smash star Katharine McPhee, who credits this tactic for helping her recover from bulimia. These women practice what's called intuitive eating; that is, they eat only when hungry, they don't feel guilty about food, and they eat whatever their body tells them to. And it works: According to researchers at Brigham Young University, people who scored high on an intuitive-eating scale not only had less anxiety about food and got more enjoyment from eating but also had lower BMIs.
If you stop focusing so much on eating less, you'll actually eat less. It's a radical notion, but desperate times call for desperate measures. "For most people, dieting doesn't lead to weight loss that lasts," says Traci Mann, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota. In the most complete analysis of weight-loss studies to date, she found that most people regain all the pounds they dropped, and as many as two-thirds pack on even more. Not shocking, when you consider that chronic dieting can affect a person's psychology -- for example, cause moodiness or preoccupation with food, says Janet Polivy, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Dieters have a tendency to binge, both before their diet begins and after it fails.
Unfortunately you can't change how you view food overnight. "It's a journey," says Barbara Meyer, PhD, the program director of Green Mountain at Fox Run, a nondieting weight-loss retreat for women. "We've had distorted relationships with food for a long time; dieting disconnects you from how food makes your body feel." But with time, you can get to a better place. Just look at Jill's unconventional ice cream experiment. It's actually a well-known tenet of the no-diet approach, called habituation; Jill ended up dropping 50 pounds -- without trying! "I'm eating healthier because I realize I have more energy and better digestion when I do," she says. "My relationship with food and my body is more peaceful, and the weight loss is just a side effect of that. That makes me feel really powerful."
Jill's success made us wonder, Can the habituation strategy work for anyone? Are there other no-diet techniques that sound like psychobabble but actually get results? We sent three women to the experts at the forefront of the movement to find out. The goal: to fix stubborn eating problems by trying anti-diet tactics for two weeks.
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