Helping people find the right balance with food is a real passion of mine.
By the time most people come to see me they have developed two sets of unhealthy habits. On one hand, they overeat. This makes them feel tired, moody, and frustrated (and, of course, is not great for the waistline). At some point people get sick of overeating, and turn to their undereating habits. This makes them tired, moody, and frustrated for different reasons (although they are often ok with it if they are losing weight!) .
Eventually, though, most people get sick of undereating, and swing back again to overeating. Dieters can spend their entire lives swinging between these two extremes like a pendulum, never really finding the middle-ground. Finding that space in between involves being able to say no to food at times and yes at other times - that is why I was so happy to be able to begin to address balanced eating with the contestants in our second Mind-Health session!
Finding the balance involves learning to say “no” to food.
Saying no to food can be tough going. So I showed the group the “Mental Meal” – a powerful psychological technique to say no to psychological food cravings*. And, thankfully, there are lots of other great psychological techniques to help you say no to food - from mindfulness, to tapping, to hypnosis, and more!
But in the long-term, maybe the most powerful way to reduce overeating is actually to say “yes” to food more often. Psychologists know that food isn’t only fuel for our bodies. It excites our minds, connects us, and nurtures our spirits! If we try to dismiss the emotional bond we have with food by demonising foods we love, we set ourselves up for self-sabotage.
How does this work?
When we can’t have something, we want it more – this is called the Forbidden Fruit Effect. The wanting more eventually leads to eating more, but because we see the food as “forbidden” we feel like we have broken our diet, and we may as well eat even more – we call this the What The Hell Effect. After experiencing a few What The Hell Effects we tend to abandon our diet completely. So saying a blanket NO to any foods (even the less nutritious ones) awakens a powerful psychological rebellion that, paradoxically, makes us eat more, not less.
So what’s the answer?
I believe it is in building mindful eating** skills. There is so much to mindful eating, but what we did with the contestants was to have them allow themselves a chocolate and savour the experience. Because we eat foods like chocolate for psychological reasons, not for nutritional ones, we don’t need a lot of food if we pay our food a lot of attention. And it worked! Some of the contestants said it was the most delicious chocolate they had ever eaten, and were satisfied with just one piece! Because when we enjoy more, we eat less.
So my wish for you is that you develop a great ability to say no to food, and the ability to say yes in the right way from time to time, and find the balance that is just right for you.
*These techniques we discussed are for dealing with psychological hunger, and should not be used to deal with physical hunger. We always want to honour physical hunger as your body’s sign to eat nutritiously.
**Mindful eating is also called intuitive eating – I use the terms interchangeably.
Glenn Mackintosh is the founder of Weight Management Psychology. To find out more about how psychology can transform your eating, movement, weight and body image, visit weightmanagementpsychology.com.a