Has there been a time where you felt guilty for reaching for second helpings of a delicious dish or dessert while justifying it with something along the lines of, “It’s okay, I’m just going to go on a diet/detox after this?”
Or, maybe this sounds familiar: you find yourself eating really healthily for one week, then the minute you cave in and eat something unhealthy, your eating habits suddenly take a turn for the worst.
You might find that you’re extremely hard on yourself when you don’t feel comfortable in the clothes you want to wear. Suddenly, you regret all the unhealthy food choices you’ve made in the past few months after indulging in the sweet treats you wanted.
You’re not alone. I’ve experienced all of these scenarios. I used to yo-yo diet for years, and I would cycle through really healthy or restrictive eating plans one week only to eat whatever I wanted the next week. I wasn’t aware what I was doing wasn’t helping me. I thought that I was doing the right thing.
I was always fighting to be a particular weight or to look a certain way. My eating habits were inconsistent, and so were my weight, my energy levels and the way I felt about my body. I could be very happy with my weight one week and the next I would have poor body image.
After years of unhealthy eating habits, my body didn’t take it well anymore. I got to a point where I had no energy and felt unhappy with my choices. I knew I needed a change.
Identifying Dangerous Patterns
After years of not looking after my body in the proper way it needed to be cared for, the messages became louder and clearer until I made the choice to pay attention and listen to my body. I was in my early 20s, and I didn’t have the energy of a normal adult my age. It was time to listen to my body and make a change.
I began to re-educate myself about my health from a more holistic perspective. I moved away from using food as a way to control how my body looked and moved toward using food as a way to heal my body of illness.
By embracing mindfulness with my eating, I began to notice which foods my body rejected and which foods fueled my body. Paying attention to these details made me very aware of how my eating habits affected my mindset. I noticed that when I simply paid attention to how the types of foods changed not only my mood but how I felt physically, something changed in me.
I redefined what being healthy meant for me. On reflection, these are the steps I took to redefine my health and finally be free of yo-yo dieting and controlling eating behaviors.
1. Tune into what truly motivates you
For a lot of people, the initial reason to diet is to be thinner; however, this motivation is not always enough when more important things take priority in life, such as having energy to go about your day, building a career and being present for your family.
When my energy level started to affect my social life and college life, my motivation shifted and accelerated because attention was now drawn to one of my highest values: my health. I realized that striving to be healthy just so that I could be thin was not helping me in the long run if my body was suffering.
To be truly committed to creating a healthy lifestyle, you need to be driven by something of high value to you, across all areas of your life, such as your health and vitality (what keeps you alive and thriving so you have the energy to be with your friends and family, to excel in your career, to travel, etc.).
Use this to remind yourself why you need to be healthy to live a fulfilling life now; don’t wait until you’re burnt out and sick to value your health.
2. Eating healthily doesn’t mean becoming a vegetarian or vegan
When I changed my perspective on health, I also realized that some of my old beliefs about health were not helping me. I used to believe that being healthy means only eating foods with fat-free labels, eating just under the recommended daily calorie requirements, and never eating avocados, nuts or other foods that are naturally high in fat.
I learned to look at the beliefs that lead me to this way of thinking. I also learned that I had to let go of these old beliefs that held me back and create new ones that brought me toward a lifestyle where I felt that I had the energy and vitality to do the things I loved.
My beliefs, to this day, include: eating whole foods as often as possible; making healthy snacks and listening to when my body is truly hungry and not just emotionally hungry, and listening to my body to judge my food intake rather than counting calories.
3. Dig deep to find what is really holding you back
When we continue to stick with unhealthy habits, even ones we want to change, we become stuck because staying there fulfills a need. Usually, we don’t know what that need is until we look within and are completely true, real and honest with ourselves.
For me, it was trying to manage a full scholarship, a full social schedule and the first time being away from home when I was in college. I was anxious and trying to control my exterior situation by controlling what I ate.
Dieting fulfilled that need because it helped me to like my body; however, when I gained weight, I disliked myself. Once I started to accept my natural body type and embrace the body I have rather than change it to look like a photoshopped celebrity, I began feeling good about my body all the time, regardless of how much I weighed or what I ate that day.
Once you dig deeper and understand your why, you can work toward meeting your need for something like self-acceptance in a healthier way. To do this, start with the behavior you see on the surface (such as restricting calories), and ask yourself why you do this. What is this behavior truly feeding? Get your answer, and then ask yourself why or what the purpose of this is.
Once you follow these steps and mindfully create a healthier lifestyle that is unique to you, your own version of being healthy will become a part of who you are, and not just something you strive for, it will just become you naturally.
Yo-yo dieting is an easy trap to fall into, and can be difficult to get out of. However, it’s important to recognize that it’s not a healthy appropriate to weight management; in fact, it can be dangerous at times. These three steps can help you to break unhealthy habits and learn to love yourself as you are. Share you tips for breaking yo-yo dieting!