(See here for TED TALK)
As I waited in a midtown fencing gym for my daughter, Laila, to lunge her heart out, I reviewed my unread mails for the week. I happened upon this TED Talk by Sandra Aamodt, Why Dieting Doesn’t Usually Work.
In a simple but compelling way, Aamodt asks us “what if we didn’t seek weight loss but instead sought not to gain weight?” She continues: “what if we encouraged teenage girls (80% of whom claim to have dieted already!) to listen to their bodies” instead of fighting them when they are hungry? She also shares her own experience in weight management, and how diets don’t work, but mindfulness does.
If you follow the health news, you will be aware of many of her points. But she decodes the theories via neuroscience and in an interesting and no-nonsense way. Here goes:
1. Our bodies have a certain weight range that they prefer to hover around. So if we lose a ton of weight, our bodies will compensate and try to retain calories. BUT here’s something new to me: if we GAIN weight over the years, our bodies then think our new weight is normal and will encourage our weight to hover there. Obviously this makes getting to a thinner state that much harder.
2. There are two types of eaters: “controlled eaters” (people who think A LOT about food and weight gain) and “intuitive eaters” who eat when they are hungry and don’t obsess over food and eating. Guess who ends up being overweight most of the time? Yep, the controlled eaters. Lesson here: stop obsessing and eat mindfully.
3. Now here’s the really scary story. Teenagers who diet are MORE likely to turn into controlled eaters for the rest of their lives, and thus, will be over weight.
There is some good news. If you tend to be a controlled eater, you CAN change. Aamondt is a testament to that. She started dieting at 13 and only realized she needed to change her controlled eating behavior as a result of her research decades later. Over the course of a year — yes, it took that long — she taught herself how to eat mindfully. She began to eat when she was hungry and learned to listen — really listen — to her body for signs of fullness and satiation. Oh yeah, and by doing so, lost 10 lbs.
I’m not entirely a controlled eater or an intuitive one. I certainly think about what I eat quite a bit but I’m not obsessed (I hope). Yet I know I could still use a large dose of mindfulness in my life (eating-wise and otherwise). I don’t think a shift can happen over night for me, though. It’s hard to change. And I’m sure I’m not alone here.
But I think I may have a solution. There’s no question that we don’t want our kids to become controlled eaters. And maybe this is how we can get our inspiration. While all parenting manuals say that our kids are influenced by our behaviors, maybe in this case, we can be influenced by our intense desire to prevent them from becoming dieters. Maybe by shooing them away from controlled eating, we too will adopt these beliefs and ingrain these notions into our own heads.
Let’s give it a try.