till trying to lose post-baby weight? The first step may be to stop worrying about it. It's no secret to most of us that dieting doesn't work in the long run. In fact, a recently published Brigham Young University study showed that women who ate whatever and whenever they wanted -- called intuitive eating -- had lower body mass indexes and better cholesterol levels than women who watched what they ate.
Here's why: Dieting can actually lead to cravings for "bad" foods and bingeing, the body's physical and psychological kick-back to being deprived. The result is a helpless cycle of failure and guilt. But a woman who doesn't follow eating rules is more likely to see food as necessary and satisfying, and to eat in a healthy way.
If you're a chronic dieter, here are some first steps to a healthier relationship with food, from Evelyn Tribole, author of Intuitive Eating (St. Martin's Griffin).
Throw out books that promise a quick and easy weight loss, and declare freedom from anyone, including yourself, who labels foods as either good or bad. Dieting can actually lead to weight gain by throwing your body's natural metabolism off kilter. It also feeds a food obsession, if you have one. But by letting yourself have treats whenever you want them, you're less likely to overindulge. After all, you can always have another cookie tomorrow.
Make peace with food
Give yourself unconditional permission to eat, or not eat, any food. Trust your choices; intuitive eaters generally eat just as nutritiously as those following an eating plan, says Steven Hawks, EdD, who conducted the Brigham Young study.
Respect your body
Be realistic about the body type you've inherited and enjoy your best assets without being overly critical of your body shape. You'll take better care of yourself and will be less likely to binge, starting a positive cycle of change.
Honor your hunger
Learn to recognize when you truly need food. Then, eat enough to satisfy your hunger and provide energy, so you won't overeat to compensate later. For example, watch how your toddler eats. Though it might appear otherwise to moms, children under three follow their instincts and are natural intuitive eaters.
Take time to savor food and pay attention to signals that you are no longer hungry. "Part of being in touch with intuitive eating requires some stillness and mindfulness," says Tribole.
Dine in an inviting atmosphere and consciously enjoy eating exactly what you want to eat. You'll find it takes less food to decide you have had enough. "One of the advantages of intuitive eating is you're always eating things that are most appealing to you, not out of emotional reasons," says Hawks.
Stacy Lu is a freelance health reporter living in Allendale, New Jersey, who lost 10 pounds once she stopped dieting and started eating intuitively.
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