(Published by the Ham&High on the 10th February 2011)
For some people it is very important to be slim for professional or personal reasons. This can make one vulnerable to problems with crash diets, fear of eating and in some cases can lead to eating disorders such as overeating, anorexia or bulimia.
Dieting tends to go in a cycle which works like this: wanting to lose weight and hearing about a new miracle diet that can help do just that, one tries it out and at first it seems to work – the pounds are disappearing.
However, the diet is not satisfying and it gets more and more difficult to stick to. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, crash diets are one-size-fits-all rather than taking one’s own particular likes and dislikes into account. Secondly they are actually starvation diets; on such a diet, one gets hungrier and hungrier.
What happens next is critical. One breaks out of the diet when unable to bear it any more and then finds oneself overeating ravenously. The (unjustified!) feelings of guilt and low self esteem that often result are a danger point - one can be trapped into a repetitive cycle of overeating then crash dieting, and an eating disorder can result. If the dieting is dominant one can become anorexic. If the overeating is dominant one can become seriously overweight. If one copes with overeating by vomiting or with laxatives, then one can fall into bulimia.
If you recognise your own behaviour in any of this, then perhaps the time has come to get a grip of the situation and improve it. Consult a specialist if you feel you cannot do this alone. Instead of crash diets, what is needed to manage one’s weight effectively is a healthy diet that is comfortable, sustainable and based on foods which one likes.
A sensible meal plan in parallel with being aware and pro-active about one’s eating behaviour is a start. If you think you are eating too much and don’t seem to be able to control it, first of all construct an achievable meal plan – one you can stick to. Healthier eating means mainly meals cooked from basic ingredients with the right proportions of protein, carbohydrate, fat and fresh fruit and vegetables.
Don’t judge your body shape by how tight your clothes feel – clothes can shrink; so weigh yourself regularly. Be aware however that one’s ideal weight depends on the balance of fat and muscle mass – not just on height.
It can help to get advice from a nutritionist to construct a realistic meal plan adequate to one’s age, height, build, sex and food preferences. Simply trying not to eat or eat very little only makes you feel hungry and want to binge; whereas establishing a good, regular meal plan will help to normalise eating habits.
Equally important is to try to pinpoint the reasons behind the urge to overeat and the circumstances which lead to it. Being alert to eating patterns in this way helps plan an effective change.
If overeating is a form of escapism, it helps to construct a list of activities that could be an alternative. The choice of activity should be enjoyable and easy to do at times when the urge to overeat strikes. Sedentary activities requiring concentration, such as reading, may not help much. Activities which involve using your hands - gardening or playing a musical instrument for example - are helpful. Other activities like walking the dog or cycling, which take one away from habitual eating places are also useful.
The key point is this. When you’re defeated by the latest diet and just can’t stick to it any more – realise that it’s NOT your fault, it’s the diet’s.
Val Eve, PhD