Stop Yo-Yo Dieting With ‘Middle-Way’ Eating
I’ve worked with many people over the years, and the vast majority of them have a history of yo-yo dieting where they have a tendency to swing between extreme behaviours of being either ‘on’ or off’ a diet and nowhere in between. From my experience the ‘black and white’ mindset is very common, and it can really get in the way of moderate, balanced eating, promoting a vicious cycle of food restriction and overeating. I use the analogy of a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other. In contrast, with middle-way eating you’re aiming to settle more around the central point. Think of it as a packet of biscuits. If a person is on a strict diet they might not allow themselves to eat a single biscuit, but if they give up the diet after a few days or weeks they might go back to eating biscuits, and not just one or two but possibly the entire packet. This is because they might not be ‘in the zone’, and when they’re not following a diet 100% they might have a tendency to overeat biscuits. This is why people who don’t trust themselves around food might put themselves on diets as they feel it’s the only way they can control their eating. They feel that in order to lose weight they need to follow someone else’s rule book (a diet plan), but in fact what they will benefit from far more is to set up their own personalised way of balanced eating.
Identify Your Black And White Behaviours
If you want to improve your relationship with food, stop yo-yo dieting, lose weight and achieve long-term successful weight management, it’s really important to think about any black and white eating behaviours you may have. Long-term weight management is only possible if we adopt a balanced, sustainable way of eating. I’ve heard many people tell me that they really don’t want to go on another diet, and when I explain to them the concept of middle-way eating they really like the idea of being able to eat the foods they love in moderation, without having to control their eating through diet rules. Initially, however, it might seem like a bit of an alien concept to them after a history of yo-yo dieting, but they know that it makes absolute sense. I help clients to identify any extreme thoughts or beliefs that can lead to black and white behaviours, and find strategies to tackle them.
‘Middle-way’ eating is about not engaging in extreme eating behaviours such as bingeing and restricting, just balanced, enjoyable, moderate eating. If we can adopt more moderate attitudes towards food, we can then make positive changes in terms of our eating behaviours and stop yo-yo dieting because we won’t feel that we have to put ourselves on restrictive diet plans in order to try and eat less. When we overeat, we’re not paying attention to the body’s cues. Mindful eating is about considering what and how much to eat in any given situation, as well as whether to eat in the first place. This is in contrast to ‘autopilot’ where we might eat out of pure habit or because of external cues such as the sight or smell of food or other people eating. With overeating there’s usually little enjoyment- it can be mindless, mechanical munching, particularly if we’re distracted such as eating whilst TV watching or if we’re eating for emotional reasons. With mindful eating we can learn to savour food, learn to go for the foods we really want to eat and pass on the rest, and can find ourselves enjoying less food more.
The Importance of A Flexible, Not Rigid Mindset
Restrictive diets can encourage all-or-nothing eating behaviours so that when a person isn’t following a diet, they find it hard to regulate their eating. This is particularly the case if they tend to eat mindlessly, without any consideration about the options available to them. With the black and white mindset also comes rigidity. Mindful eating promotes a more flexible approach to eating. For example, if you eat a very large, overly indulgent lunch, you might feel that you’ve blown it and write off the rest of the day. With mindful eating, you’re thinking about what you’ve eaten without beating yourself up, and then making adjustments later on in the day, for example, by eating a light snack in the evening rather than eating another full meal. If you find that when you’re not on a diet you tend to overeat or feel out of control of your eating, you might be able to relate to some of the scenarios below.
Black And White Eating Behaviours
A rigid, ‘black and white’ mindset and accompanying eating behaviours can keep us trapped in yo-yo dieting, but if we take the time to explore our eating habits, beliefs and values when it comes to eating, food and weight loss we can finally stop yo-yo dieting and enjoy a more flexible and sustainable approach- this in turn can help to improve our overall relationship with food. Examples of black and white attitudes and behaviours include:-
- Being either ON or OFF a diet and nowhere in between (either restrictive eating or overeating)
- Sticking to a diet plan perfectly, or not doing it at all
- Strict dieting before a holiday and then overeating on holiday
- Being ‘good’ all week and then overeating at weekends (vs. fairly consistent eating all week)
- Always clearing your plate (no matter how full you are whilst eating)- feeling unable (or being unwilling) to leave food on plate
- Always having seconds
- Being unable to stop eating a whole packet after just eating 1 or 2 (eg biscuits or rows/pieces of chocolate)- always having to finish the whole packet or not eating them at all
- Always having 2 courses not 3, or unable/unwilling to leave a restaurant not absolutely stuffed- and avoiding restaurants when you’re on a diet
- Always feeling the need or desire to eat or dish up large portions
- Overeating or mindless eating that frequently leads to regret
- Overeating at lunchtime, then feeling you’ve blown your diet/’good’ eating so you overeat for the rest of the day (instead of making adjustments and eating less for the rest of the day)- ‘blown it’ mindset
- Ignoring fullness levels and just eating because you want to, feel the need to, or because the food is there.
It’s great to see people feeling so empowered once I’ve introduced them to the concept of middle-way eating and they’ve had some time to try out this more flexible, mindful way of eating. Weight loss and long-term weight management doesn’t need to involve strict dieting; it’s about giving yourself permission to eat the foods you enjoy whilst approaching those foods in a mindful way that’s in your own best interest. When we learn to eat in a more mindful, flexible way we’re able to discard those extreme and exhausting eating behaviours that make us feel out of control of food, start to improve our relationship with food and stop yo-yo dieting once and for all.
Advantages And Benefits Of The Mindful Eating Approach
To illustrate the advantages of the mindful eating approach, here are ten features:-
1 No more restrictive diets
2 ‘Bad’ or ‘forbidden’ foods don’t exist; permission to eat all foods- no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to eat
3 Reduced feelings of guilt and shame around food- no more secret eating
4 Genuine enjoyment of food- by making helpful food choices, actually noticing food when you’re eating it, and eating when your body actually needs it
5 Feeling more relaxed around food and more in charge of food- food is no longer a fight, based on listening to your body’s internal cues about what, whether or how much to eat
6 Promotes a much better relationship with food (than simply just having a weight loss goal and going on diets)
7 Feeling more empowered through increased self-awareness- better understanding of your eating triggers, why you overeat, how you might be using or relying on food, why you’re struggling to lose weight or maintain your weight long-term, why you self-sabotage etc
8 Any weight loss is as a result of an improved relationship with food, not as a result of restrictive dieting
9 No ‘rule book’ to follow about what or how much to eat- genuine choice (based on your own inner wisdom)
10 Going on a valuable journey of self-discovery and self-insight, rather than just going on a diet.
Mindful eating is about self-regulation, not dieting. It ensures that you give your body nutritious, enjoyable foods in moderate quantities, there’s no sense of deprivation, and it also helps you to start trusting yourself around food. As always, it’s about balance, and about finding a long-term, sustainable solution that will enable you to escape and put an end to yo-yo dieting for good.
Review From A Client
Here’s a review from one of my clients which reflects how people can learn to stop the fight with food, tackle overeating and lose weight using the middle-way approach without having to resort to restrictive diets, enabling them to stop yo-yo dieting:-
“I’ve had issues around food for pretty much all my life. I’d binge eat then restrict myself and was always on a diet. Together with Emma, we explored reasons why and my attitude towards food. I realised I’d always categorised food into ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and the moment Emma suggested I relax this method and give myself permission to eat any food, something clicked in me. She was full of suggestions of ways to help me build my confidence and belief in myself to make this work including highlighting positive moments in my food diary to make them stand out – a game changer for me! Honestly this has been life changing, I feel so comfortable with my choices and feel like food no longer has a hold over me. No more bingeing and I’m losing weight without even feeling like I’m doing anything out of the ordinary! It’s also had a big impact on my mood and digestive issues making this even more worthwhile. I would definitely recommend Emma to all!”
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