Eat more to weigh less

May 15, 2009 at 10:02 am

by Sally Beare, dipBCNH – Nutritional Therapist

‘I’ll never be hungry again!’  Thus spoke Scarlett O’ Hara as, eyes flashing heavenward, she stood upon the ruined soil of her family’s Georgia plantation, clutching a root in her hand.

If only the same vow could be made by the millions of women in the western world who seem to be permanently either on a diet, about to start a diet, or on a binge between diets.  It’s ironic that with so many supermarkets, restaurants and delicatessens at our disposal, together bringing to us the cream of the entire world’s produce, we often eat so badly and subject ourselves to pointless starving and yo-yo dieting.  Of course, it’s not our fault.  If you put laboratory rats in the same conditions, they will not only be unable to resist the fattiest and most sugary foods but they will show even less willpower than us and just eat and eat until they burst.  Many of us humans seem to be at the stage where we eat and eat until we almost burst and then go on a starvation diet.  Ideally, however, we should be taking what is best for us and eating just what we need.  This, as has been shown time and again in studies on humans and animals, is exactly what we need to keep our bodies in peak condition (along with other lifestyle factors of course).

When I left university I was slightly overweight from my 3-year diet of beer, pasta and chocolate, so I decided to go on a diet.  This, I discovered, made me want food more (there’s nothing like being told you can’t have something to make you want it), so I ended up getting fatter.  Eventually, clutching a carrot in my hand, eyes turned heavenward, I gasped ‘I will never diet again!’ Since then, I have never dieted or had to suffer the trials of being permanently stuck in a diet-binge-diet cycle.  This may sound unbearably smug, but I mean it helpfully.  I enjoy my food and when I am hungry I eat, and although as a nutritional therapist I am probably labeled by some as a ‘crank who is obsessed with food’, I actually feel I have a hassle-free relationship with it so long as I have access to good healthy food, as we are so lucky to do here in the UK.

For those who wish to exit the yo-yo dieting cycle, eating healthily is a good way out of the trap.  You can then focus on what you CAN eat rather than what you can’t.  Avocado salads with olive oil dressings, buckwheat pancakes with bananas and raisins, fresh grilled fish with oven-roasted vegetables and herbs, crusty rye bread with goat’s cheese and roasted red peppers, miso soup with chicken and broccoli…where’s the deprivation in that?  Not only that, but when following a healthy eating plan you HAVE to eat breakfast, lunch, and supper, as well as snacks in between if hungry.  Keeping blood sugar levels even is absolutely key to good health, an upbeat mood, and an efficient metabolism.  Starving and bingeing, on the other hand, confuses the body’s insulin into storing everything away as fat rather than burning it for energy – so you not only put on weight but you also feel tired and ratty.  And THAT’s when you reach for the doughnut, and so it goes on in a downward vicious spiral.

When eating healthily most of the time as a long-term habit, there is room for little treats such as a glass of wine or a piece of birthday cake.  Deviating from a generally healthy diet does not mean that we then have to go on an orgy of ‘I may as well go the whole way now I’ve fallen off the wagon’ bingeing.  In fact not beating ourselves up about the wine and the birthday cake paradoxically tends to make us want it less, perhaps because we are out of the addictive love-hate relationship.  In any case, there are other ways to reward ourselves for a hard day with the children or at the office.  TLC does not have to be brown, triangular and chocolate-flavoured – it can take the form of a relaxing bath with aromatherapy oils, or a foot massage, for example.

In my clinical practice, I aim to find a way of eating which is enjoyable and workable for you.  This may mean breaking old habits and trying new foods and ways of cooking them, but that in itself can be a rewarding experience.  My ultimate aim is not to get you to fit into a favourite piece of clothing which has become too tight but, rather, to heal minor ailments, prevent major ones, and put you in control of your health and your eating.  Happily, these things all tend to go together, and it’s easier than you might think.

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