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Healthy Eating Excerpt from Don't Weight

Beware of the "Diet Vortex"

Even though you have decided to avoid dieting, you may still be accidentally sucked in by the "Diet Vortex". You may start out trying to eat more fruits and veggies, and accidentally end up eating more than you really like. In your enthusiasm for healthy eating, you may force yourself to eat things that you don't enjoy, and then you might feel like you are on a diet. Some people try the "Exercise in Halves" (where you divide your food in half in order to take a moment to notice if you are satisfied before you eat the other half) and accidentally use this exercise as a tool to stop eating and leave half of the food. Oops, these are dieting thoughts and behaviors.

Decades of dieting experience causes a pattern of thinking that is like a powerful vortex. It can suck you into restrictive eating before you realize it. There is a great difference between dieting that includes restricted eating and this process of healthy eating based on internal signals. It is a subtle difference. It is an important difference.

Carl and the Popcorn

We had been working together for a few weeks. Carl was in his fifties. He had been fat all of his life. After trying every diet and loosing weight time and time again, he found himself fatter than ever. This time he just could not get himself to try another "program". When he read about this healthy eating based on enjoyment rather than on willpower, he had to try it out. He was thrilled with his first exercise: "Savor Your Food". He tuned in and experienced what he ate. When he was satisfied, he asked himself the question, "Why eat it?" As he answered that question, he began to learn many emotional reasons he ate. He became aware of his emotional needs that used to motivate him to eat. He thought of those needs and chose other ways to meet them. He was using food less. This was good.


If Carl were able to achieve these goals, he would not eat more than was comfortable. He would find an amount of food that his body needed to be healthy. That is what is supposed to happen. However, almost everyone, including Carl, temporarily veers away from these simple new goals and slides into more familiar goals of the past.

After a few weeks of working toward healthy eating, Carl reported that he was beginning to crave popcorn every evening. When he ate it, he savored it, but it still tasted good all the way down to the bottom of the bag. He had started eating a bag of popcorn every night. Something was going on. As we talked in our weekly session, Carl started to blame himself. He said, "I am sabotaging this one just like I have sabotaged all the rest." Did you hear it? Did you hear what he said? I did. Carl was talking about this process of healthy eating as if it were a diet.

Carl had been sucked into the diet vortex. It happens. After years of dieting, even though he was trying something different, Carl had accidentally started to act like and think as if he were on a diet. He had started to use diet goals and diet motivations. Even though he was savoring his food, he was using "Savor Your Food" as a tool to force himself to eat less. He was eating smaller breakfasts. He was doing "real good" and avoiding snacks. He was eating low fat at lunch and dinner. He was eating only fruit for desert. He had put himself on a diet! And, funny thing, he had the exact same reaction that he would have had IF he were on a diet. He began to get cravings and experience binges.

What is the solution? How can Carl get out of the diet vortex? My answer seemed almost too simple: "Focus on the new goals of this process."

  • eat nutritious foods when you are hungry
  • experience and enjoy what you eat
  • stop eating when you are satisfied
  • meet your emotional needs without always using food

It is simple, and effective. I suggested that Carl add foods to his meals that might be more satisfying. Protein digests more slowly than carbohydrates, so perhaps if he ate a little more protein at meals he would reduce cravings. Next, I suggested that Carl notice when he was hungry and EAT whenever he was hungry. Fruits and/or veggies would be a great choice for snacks. How much should he eat? I don't know. Carl's body knows. I suggested he eat until he feels comfortably full or satisfied. Instead of trying to trick himself into eating less, Carl should focus on his own feelings of satiety. He should eat healthy foods until he is satisfied. Yep, I told this fat man to eat more healthy food, listen to his internal signals of satiety, experience and enjoy popcorn if he wanted it, and stop eating popcorn whenever he was satisfied.

That is just what Carl did for the next week. He reported that he had only had popcorn on two evenings. He only wanted half of the bag. He could see how the old diet goals of restricting food had actually caused him to eat more. He calmed down and focused on the specific, constructive goals that we had set in our session. These goals were enough to keep him busy. He was surprised that thinking about these new goals took up all his attention. He did not have to try to avoid the dieting goals. He just needed to increase his focus on his new healthy lifestyle goals. The next week he did not happen to want popcorn at all. He could have had all he wanted.

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