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Ditch Your Diet and Learn to Eat Normally

The body already knows what to eat. It has the wisdom and capacity to choose the right foods, in the right quantities, and it's constantly telling us what it needs.
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The last time I was standing at the grocery store checkout, I counted almost a dozen magazines with the words "weight," "pounds" or "diet" on the cover. And that was at a place that existed solely to sell food. No wonder we're obsessed with dieting!

Weight-loss books, diet programs, TV shows, supplements and other products aimed at shedding pounds make up a billion dollar industry in the United States. Most of these are based on "expert" knowledge about what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat. The premise is that we have no idea ourselves; left to our own devices, these plans say, we'd eat chips around the clock and devour entire cheesecakes. At what point, do you suppose, did we lose the ability to trust ourselves around food?

But the body already knows what to eat. It has the wisdom and capacity to choose the right foods, in the right quantities, and it's constantly telling us what it needs. We've simply forgotten to listen. After years of dieting, ignoring our hunger cues, and relying on the opinions of experts, many of us have lost trust in bodies and our ability to eat normally. But you can get it back; here's how:

Stop counting. That means calories, fat, carbs, ounces, portions--whatever number you use that's based on measuring, counting or weighing. When you're eating by the numbers, you're eating according to your intellect rather than your body's cues.

Connect with your body. Trusting yourself to eat normally begins with being aware of how your body feels. And that requires that you're actually in your body--easier said than done, for many of us. Start to cultivate a regular embodiment practice: every morning or evening, lie on your back in a quiet, comfortable place, close your eyes, and tune in to your body. Feel the length of your spine along the surface beneath you, feel your heart being beaten, feel your body being breathed. Start to notice what it feels like to be inside your body, especially in your belly. Do this every day, even if it's just for 10 minutes. You'll be surprised at how quickly you begin to connect more deeply with what it actually feels like to be you.

Eat when you're hungry (and not when you're not) Children know when they're hungry, and when they're hungry, they eat--what else would they do? But diets, especially those that rely on calorie counting, teach us to ignore our hunger, or to stop eating when a set caloric amount is reached--even if we're still hungry.

Help your body get back in touch with its biological responses: start to notice throughout the day when you're physically hungry. It may not manifest as a growling stomach or gnawing, empty sensation; more subtle cues are common, like feeling slightly lightheaded or foggy, or a mild headache. Then decide how hungry you are. Are you absolutely famished, or do you just need a small bit of food? And are you really hungry for food, or is it joy, relaxation or love that you're really longing for? If that's the case, see what else would feed you. But if your body is physically hungry, feed it--because what else would you do?

Listen for the answer. Your body knows what to eat, and how much. It will tell you--but you have to be willing to listen. Diets and eating plans don't teach us to listen to what our bodies want to eat. They teach us to ignore our bodies, and eat what's outlined on the plan. The assumption, of course, is that left to its own devices, the body will only crave vast amounts of chocolate. That's usually not true; try it and see. Every time you're getting ready to eat, take three minutes, and ask yourself "What do I want or need to eat?" Be still and listen, quietly and patiently. When an answer comes, ask yourself, "Will this make me feel good? Is this really what I want?" You'll soon develop the ability to discern between what the body wants--clean, nourishing food--and what the mouth or the mind want.

Love yourself. You can't hate yourself into trusting yourself. Love yourself first, care about yourself, and recognize that you're just fine, just as you are. One of the most important steps in trusting yourself to eat normally is letting go of the idea that something about you needs to be fixed. Nothing needs to be fixed, because nothing is broken. You are whole and complete, just as you are. And recognizing that will bring you far more joy than the temporary weight loss from any diet plan.