Behavior modification sounds like torture, but after years of working with clients who ask me to help them “eat healthy”, I know that diets don’t work. Sure you can manage a diet for three days, or even 17 days, but if your mindset says, “As soon as this is over, I’m eating a cheeseburger and fries” you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
And disappointment is the main reason why most diets fail. Thought I was going to say “lack of discipline,” didn’t you. Nope. Disappointment happens first. You don’t lose the amount of weight you thought you should, or don’t lose it fast enough, and then it’s back to the reward of food. I know, I’ve been there. A lot. And so has my chief taste-tester and wife. She’s not a chef, she’s a creativity coach, art journaler and author–of how-to journaling books, not diet books. And she loves to eat.
Her story is one you are also familiar with if you’ve dieted: you lose weight, you feel happy you’ve lost weight, you decide you can “add back” your favorite food “in moderation,” and in a month, “moderate” chocolate amounts include both dark chocolate peanut butter cups and Mounds bars. In the same day. Maybe a few.
Until you are ready to change your relationship with food, diets won’t work. OK, that’s my opinion, and I’m not a doctor, but I am an overweight guy and a chef who got here by eating. Along with my partner in food-love, who admits to enjoying every ounce of increasing avoirdupois. OK, fat.
I believe the only way to lose weight and keep it off is to change your relationship with food. I also believe that means not hating food, not eating foods you hate, not depriving yourself, and not thinking of food as fuel. Many people can do all that, but I can’t. And I won’t. The hard work, however, is that I’m a chef and now challenging myself to cook interesting, delicious, satisfying, good-mouth-feel foods that puts a smile on your face before you step on the scale and see the pounds disappearing.
Some of it is hard. I believe that sugar is addictive, and the more you eat, the more you want. My taste-tester made the decision to cut out added sugar entirely because it made her feel sick and out of control. The natural reaction, “let’s go with artificial sweeteners” didn’t work for her. Her GI tract doesn’t like sugar alcohols (most artificial sweeteners) and even “natural” sweeteners kept her sugar craving at levels that made behavior modification impossible. So, she chose not to eat anything with added sugars and to not add sugars to anything. Hard? For a while. Then food started tasting different and sugar wasn’t such a goal.
Now I cook for people who want to change their relationship with food. You can still love food, you can still read menus for pleasure. You can be a vegan, eat raw, and love it. But my taste-testing wife and I are flexitarians (we eat meat, fish, dairy, eggs, grains, but make conscious food choices and know what we are eating) But here are some basic principles of eating well, changing that relationship with food, and losing weight to feel better:
1. Know what you eat. Don’t eat mindlessly. If you are going to put food in your mouth, know what it is. “Mechanically separated,” stuff, “cheese food,” and “partially hydrogenated” anything is not food to develop a relationship with. Eat real food.
2. Until your relationship with food has stabilized, do not allow yourself to get really hungry. Hungry people make bad food choices. You will swear that fully-loaded nachos are a balanced food choice because they cover the food groups: salty, crunchy, greasy and yummy. The same idea applies to grocery shopping when you’re hungry. Don’t go there.
3. Try new stuff. Of course a cinnamon roll tastes better than a carrot stick, no doubt. But the hunt is on for foods that are healthy, taste yummy and you are eager to eat, so you will have to suspend your disbelief and try new combinations. Hard cheeses like gruyere and jarlsberg can be tasty snack foods, as can hummus and yogurt with coconut topping.
4. Don’t punish yourself. Yes, raw nuts are better than salted, roasted nuts. But 50-percent less salt, roasted nuts are still better than a dozen cookies sandwiched with full-fat ice cream topped with Nutella. And yes, I’ve done that.
5. Be kind to yourself. No punishment. This is a process you are going to live with, to grow into. Welcome to a new, healthier life, and a lot of support from a personal chef. You are not alone, you have a lot of company. So join us here and learn how to do it, step by lighter step