What is insanity? Albert Einstein has been widely credited for describing insanity as doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. This is how many people approach dieting and weight loss: they move from one diet to next, each one failing like the last.
Managing your weight is not about the diet or the dietician; it’s all about awareness. Diets don’t work because the traditional approach is wrong.
The Problem With Dieting Fads
Dieting typically involves trying to avoid all the food you crave. It’s a restrictive and often stressful experience. Not surprisingly, many people struggle with this approach.
When you’re under stress, your body releases a substance called cortisol, known as the stress hormone. Cortisol is normally released in response to circumstances like waking up and exercising, and is mainly responsible for the body’s fight or flight response due to acute stress. It has many effects in the physiology, particularly in metabolism. When chronically elevated, cortisol can have harmful effects on weight, the immune system, and chronic disease risk.
Cortisol can lead to weight gain because it promotes visceral fat storage—the storage of fat cells in the abdominal organs—which, in return increases cortisol secretion. Cortisol also increases blood sugar; cells are then starved of glucose and send hunger signals to the brain. Cortisol produces cravings for high-calorie foods.
Our fast-paced, stress-filled lifestyles likely push those cortisol levels higher than they should be. If we add a fasting diet to our life, we put our bodies through more stress, and, as a result, even higher cortisol levels.
Fasting diets don’t change our awareness. People on temporary diets don’t usually change their eating habits. If someone has been struggling with weight for a long time, it means that they’re in a love-hate relationship with food and have the wrong eating habits.
Healthy Weight as a Mindset
Poor eating habits such as overeating are acquired early in life. We lose connection with our body and let the mind take control. Eventually, we stop listening to the signals that our body is sending us.
Ayurveda teaches us that our health depends on conscious choices. Being aware of what is good for and harmful to our body is the key to conscious eating; this is the basis of naturally balancing your weight in a healthy way.
When you choose fresh, organic food that’s loaded with nutrients, and contains no preservatives or additives, you regain balance in a healthy way, without starving or causing unnecessary struggle.
Despite of all the available information today about nutrition and how to eat, obesity is a major health problem in our society. Some 35.1 percent of the adult American population is obese and 69 percent is overweight (a statistic that includes obese individuals). Obesity-related risks include heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
So, why do people still struggle to lose weight in spite of the massive amount of information available? It’s a combination of bad habits, not practicing conscious eating, and a lack of awareness.
The Link Between Overeating and Our Emotions
We eat when we feel hungry. Hunger is a natural mechanism the body uses when blood sugar levels decrease; cells send chemical signals to a brain area called the limbic system, particularly the hypothalamus. This brain area also regulates other basic instincts like fear and sex drive, and houses our emotions.
When you feel hungry, your body either needs nourishment or you’re unconsciously trying to pacify an emotion. The body is constantly changing; all molecules needed for this constant renovation are obtained from the food we eat. Hunger lets us know when we need nutrients for maintaining balance.
When you’re facing a negative emotion, you can feel hungry even if your body doesn’t need nourishment. When people lose connection with their body they might feel a void inside; they can’t connect with the emotion behind it, so they eat. Many eat because they feel anxious, sad, depressed, angry, resentful, or feel unfulfilled in life. Any negative emotion can make you overeat, even boredom can trigger this response.
Overeating to try to satisfy an emotional need is just a temporary fix. The emotion doesn’t go away and you end up feeling guilty. To stop this cycle, you need to connect with the emotion behind the hunger sensation. Most people are afraid to do this because it usually means that they have to start being honest with themselves, get out of the comfort zone, and make changes in their lives.
Overeating when you feel anxious or unfulfilled is a habit; these destructive habits can be changed with awareness. When you become aware of your emotions, you start to realize that you can choose.
Whenever you feel the urge to overeat or eat between meals, stop, breath deeply, count to 10 and ask yourself: Am I really hungry or am I feeling __________? This basic exercise can help you stop reacting, and instead, respond to the emotion.
Meditation helps you become more aware and present, which will help you realize that you can choose the way you respond to experiences in life. Meditation calms your mind, helping your body to regain balance.
If you’re trying to control your weight, be gentle with yourself, and don’t feel guilty if you have cravings; these are just physical manifestations of emotional needs. Treat them like alerts that your body is sending you. Look for the emotion behind the craving in order to heal it. Learn to listen to you body with love, as it always knows its way back to balance.