This is the time of year we start looking for quick ways to lose weight, and there are a slew of diets that will show up in your search. Don’t eat this or that and definitely don’t eat that. Eat lots of small meals throughout the day—or, wait, only eat during eight hours of the day. These fad diets may help you shed pounds, sure, but the truth is that once the initial motivation wears off, you are often left with a rigid plan that is hard to follow in your daily life. Increasing evidence has made it clear that trendy weight loss methods just don’t work in the long run.
Happily, it seems that the new think on dieting is more about offering freedom from strict food rules. “Unlike years past where carbs or fat were the enemy, diets in 2018 are not unanimous in demonizing any one macronutrient, which can be confusing for consumers, but is progress toward a more balanced approach to eating,” says Anna Brown, a registered dietitian nutritionist in training at NYU and founder of Nutrition Squeezed. Many nutritionists and health pros are now recommending a non-diet diet, if you will, to maintain healthy weight loss and prevent the development of disordered eating.
With the non-diet approach, there are no “good” or “bad” foods. All foods can be included in reasonable portions. It is similar to intuitive or mindful eating in which you listen to your body’s cravings to guide what you eat, explains Brown. This allows you to become more aware of your body’s natural hunger and fullness signals so that you never feel deprived, depleted of energy, or overfull.
Though all food is acceptable with the non-diet approach, it isn’t a free-for-all when it comes to consumption. “It’s helpful to understand and follow the general recommendations of a healthful diet: adequate nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients; a balance of all the food groups and a variety of foods within each, including colorful vegetables, a variety of whole grains, and lean proteins, and a moderate amount sweets, saturated fats, and salt; and appropriate calorie intake for your BMI,” says Brown.
By paying attention to the physical cues in response to the foods you are consuming, you will become better at choosing what to eat and when to eat it. For example, if you reach for an afternoon snack that’s high in added sugar, you may notice a short burst of energy but will crash shortly after. It takes practice, but mindful eaters will naturally become drawn to the nutrient-rich foods the body needs to excel, such as nuts and dried fruit or veggies and hummus.
“In my opinion, the non-diet approach works the best because the mentality is all about adding delicious, healthful foods to your plate instead depriving yourself or obsessing over what you’re going to eliminate from your diet,” Brown says. “When you add fresh produce, whole grains, and lean proteins to your diet, you naturally crowd out the unhealthy processed foods.” In fact, a review of studies that explored eating by internal cues, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, found that participants who learned to eat this way not only lost weight, but were also able to sustain their results over a longer period of time. According to the authors, “participants also experienced improved psychological health as measured by depression, ineffectiveness, anxiety, self-esteem, negative affect, and quality of life.”
To get going, check in with yourself throughout the day and start recognizing real feelings of hunger or decreased levels of energy. This will help keep you from eating because you are bored or stressed. Then, start paying attention to how you feel during and after meals. Take deep breaths, eat slowly, and, most importantly, enjoy the foods you are eating.
As with any diet, though, Brown recommends seeking guidance from a dietitian or medical professional. “Without this supervision, you may deprive yourself of adequate calories that ensure you’re meeting your nutrient and energy requirements,” she says.