Matzo ball soup, guacamole and chips—these are the foods I eat when I’m in the mood to celebrate. I drown my sorrows with Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch. And when I’ve taken too many trips to the freezer and too few to the gym, I punish myself by withholding the foods I love. Like a lot of women I know, my relationship with food is complicated: I look to it more for joy, solace, companionship (even repentance!) than for nourishment. But I’m learning that it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t need to starve yourself—or beat yourself up for not starving yourself—to lose weight. Instead, discover how to nurture yourself and create a healthier, happier relationship with food—and your body.
LOVE-YOURSELF STRATEGY: Learn to eat mindfully
To kick the habit of overeating, turn your attention toward food rather than away from it. When you sit down to eat, relish each morsel. Notice the color, shape, texture, and aroma, as well as the taste. If you’re eating with friends or family, talk about how the meal was made and where it comes from. Even when indulging in a fast-food meal, take it home and enjoy it properly: Put it on a plate and eat with cutlery by candlelight!
HOW IT HELPS: Mindfulness, which can include deep breathing and meditation, helps you become more aware of the reasons you’re eating, says Jeffrey Greeson, Ph.D., a health psychologist at Duke Integrative Medicine. “Often we eat not because we’re hungry but because we’re stressed, frustrated, or bored.” Mindfulness lets you catch impulses as they crop up and teaches you to sit with difficult feelings and respond to them in a healthy way instead of using food as a buffer. It can also make eating more satisfying, which may help you eat less.
GET STARTED: Start today with a shopping trip to your favorite market. Choose foods that delight your senses—juicy fruits, colorful vegetables, and high-quality chocolate. Once back in your kitchen, take the time to prepare a meal that looks and tastes appealing.
LOVE-YOURSELF STRATEGY: Savor low-density foods
Forget the idea that to lose weight you have to feel hungry all the time. Instead of depriving yourself, satisfy yourself with low-energy-density foods like fruits and vegetables, wholegrain breads, and broth-based soups; they’re filling without being high in calories or fat.
HOW IT HELPS: In a one-year study of 97 obese women (conducted by Barbara Rolls, a nutrition researcher at Pennsylvania State University and creator of the Volumetrics Eating Plan), those who filled their plates with low-density foods ate more but still lost 3.3 pounds more than those who ate less and restricted fat. In separate studies, Rolls and colleagues found that women who ate a large green salad or a bowl of broth-based soup before a meal consumed fewer calories than those who went straight to the main course.
GET STARTED: Create meals around legumes, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, and when shopping for packaged foods, learn to check the labels. A food has a low-energy density if the number of calories is lower than its weight in grams. (For example, one half cup of black beans weighs 130 grams but contains only 100 calories, so it’s considered a low-density food.)
LOVE-YOURSELF STRATEGY: Embrace complex carbs
Simple carbs like white flour, refined sugar, and white rice spike your blood sugar and leave you hungry soon after you eat. For a more satisfying meal, choose complex carbs like brown rice, beans, non-starchy veggies (leafy greens, peppers, and cucumbers), whole-grain pastas and breads, and most fruits; they’re all low on the glycemic index, meaning the sugars are absorbed more slowly into your bloodstream, keeping blood sugar steady.
HOW IT HELPS: Researchers at Harvard University found that obese patients who lost weight by eating foods low on the glycemic index reported less hunger and kept off the weight longer than those who lost weight on a typical low-fat diet.
GET STARTED: To find foods that are low on the glycemic index (scores of 55 or less), go to glycemicindex.com.
Woman with groceries via Shutterstock