The January diet ads pop and shout from everywhere: the internet, magazine racks, grocery store signs and beyond. They lure us, once again, to weight loss schemes following weeks of holiday overeating.
This year, at least one major media source calls on the fact that these diets hardly ever work, despite our undying hopes and the diet ad promises. In ”Diets Make You Feel Bad, Try Training Your Brain Instead”, Tara Parker Pope of the New York Times explores the extensive research on what works better: learning to pay attention, be more mindful and aware, retraining old habit loops.
This fits the work of Eat Sanely. Just about all of us have experienced a week or month or more of following some new regime, only to abandon it completely and revert to previous habits. Eat Sanely emphasizes the need to find a way of eating, of relating to food overall, that becomes your new normal, stopping the on-again, off-again attempts to eat differently. This involves all of what the NYT article suggests. Becoming more mindful and retraining habits can be difficult, though, especially at first. Habits develop and strengthen over many years. They often come to manage emotions that we may not even fully understand.
I like how this article suggests starting with one small habit you’d like to change. Of course, tackling more than one sometimes works, too, but this approach can feel more manageable. And success with one small goal very often eases open the door to the next. Even with this approach, though, it is not unusual for people to find themselves drifting away from their efforts, reverting to the old path of eating poorly, regretting it, trying to diet again.
When this occurs, it often points to just how complicated these habits paths can be. They may intertwine, whether we know it or not, with difficult but avoided emotions, with family loyalties we haven’t really considered. They may have become as strong as substance addictions, in terms of associations and “rewards” in the brain.
None of this suggests that returning to diets will help, at all. Keep on going, keep on examining, keep on working to understand. Often, time and repeated efforts make all the difference in terms of our system’s readiness to allow change. Mindfulness helps us to understand and be with our emotions differently. So can tools and supports like journaling, talking to a therapist, other methods of self-reflection, self-help and self-care. Each person’s path is their own and will have its own needs and timing. What’s important is to stay aware of the need to make changes of this type, not in trying to eat certain foods exactly as outlined by one of the hundreds of diet plans calling for your attention. These plans may not only fail to work, they’ll keep you away from what will.