By Megan Possin, Gundersen Lutheran registered dietitian
Many Americans start the New Year with a resolution to lose weight. At this point, more than 35 percent of those goals have likely been kicked by the wayside. When New Year's resolutions fail, we are frequently left feeling discouraged and inadequate.
The reasons many weight-related resolutions don't make it past Feb. 1 is that they are too restrictive and are often created with an all-or-nothing mindset. We try to drastically cut calories or begin exercise regimens that they are not realistic to maintain. After a small dietary indiscretion, such as eating a cookie, many of us will feel weak or guilty for not sticking to our planned food restrictions. As a result, we think, "I've already failed on this diet; I might as well eat a dozen cookies!" And then we do! In essence, we are setting ourselves up for failure.
This year, I challenge you to take a different approach with your weight-loss goals. It is based on the notion of mindful or intuitive eating. The definition of intuitive is "instinctive." When we look at the eating habits of infants and children, we notice they eat according to instinct. They seek out food when they are hungry and stop eating when they are satisfied. Babies have not yet discovered how to use food as a quick fix for boredom, to manage emotions or simply as a source of pleasure. Infants are a pure example of intuitive eating.
The process of rediscovering our ability to eat in this instinctive manner is fully explained in the book "Intuitive Eating," which is co-authored by registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. The main concepts of this book describe how we can end the diet mentality of counting every calorie, constantly weighing ourselves and meticulously judging our bodies. Tribole and Resch teach us to listen to our body's hunger signals, allowing us to reach a natural healthy weight and stop the feelings of guilt associated with eating. No food needs to be banned from our diet, and no individual food should hold the power to make us feel remorseful for enjoying it.
When we listen to our body and take note of what makes us feel good, such as moderate physical activity and nourishing food in appropriate portions, we can kick the feelings of guilt and regret often associated with yo-yo dieting. By tuning into our hunger and fullness cues, we find that we can eat chocolate cake without guilt when we give ourselves permission to enjoy it while respecting our body's satiety signals. Our body clearly tells us that an oversized piece of cake is not a healthy decision by leaving us feeling uncomfortably full and sluggish, if we listen to it.
We are in control of our food choices. I must reiterate - we are in control of our food choices. A balanced diet that also includes our favorite foods and treats is possible, but only when we understand the root of our behaviors and think through our choices in a positive way.
Working as a dietitian for Gundersen Health System's 500 Club®, I can see how the process of learning to eat intuitively can work in partnership with the concepts of the 500 Club. By consuming appropriately sized meals (controlled in calories and fat, balanced with three to five food groups and are still absolutely delicious), you can easily enjoy an out-to-eat experience.
500 Club restaurants offer all types of foods, ranging from pizza at Pizza King, to steak at Fayze's Restaurant & Bakery and hamburgers at Sloopy's Alma Mater. Your favorite foods do not need to be "off-limits." There is no shame in ordering a 500 Club entrée and then sharing a dessert with a friend. If you pay attention to your body, it will likely be thanking you for eating an appropriate-sized meal with balanced nutrition, along with a few bites of your favorite treat.
Aim to make 80 percent of your food choices from within the food groups, including fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free dairy, and the remaining 20 percent from treats or other snacks. You can browse a full listing of 500 Club restaurants and menus at 500-club.org. If you are dining at a restaurant that does not offer 500 Club selections or if you are craving an item from the regular menu, go ahead and enjoy it! Just do so mindfully - savor the flavors and textures and stop eating when you are satisfied, not stuffed. Split the meal with a friend if the portions are oversized, or take half of your dinner home with you to enjoy again the next day.
If this type of relationship with food sounds appealing to you, pick up a copy of "Intuitive Eating," by Tribole and Resch. It may provide an eye-opening view into why you make many of the food choices you do. Understanding the reasons why we eat is a first step in modifying our behaviors and creating healthy lifestyle changes.
If you would like some support in applying the concepts of intuitive eating to your life, you can schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian at Gundersen Lutheran. Registered dietitians will also be leading an "Intuitive Eating" book club at Gundersen Lutheran beginning in February 2013. To register for the book club or to schedule an appointment, call (608) 775-3447.
The beauty of intuitive eating is that it is a process. It's not all-or-nothing. Ditching the diet mentality and changing your mindset about food and your body image will not happen overnight. There is forgiveness in the learning process. With practice and guidance from a registered dietitian, you can learn to listen to your body, honor your hunger and successfully reach a healthy weight - in a way that makes you feel in control.
500 Club meal examples
Grizzly's Wood Fired Grill
- Fish Tacos - Seasoned pan-seared tilapia topped with pico de gallo, red cabbage and cilantro-lime cream sauce, served with garden rice. 575 calories, 17 g fat
That Salad Place
- Strawberry Fields Salad - Spring-mix lettuce, strawberries, feta cheese, avocado, dried cranberries, almonds and raspberry vinaigrette dressing. 440 calories, 17 g fat
- Beef with Peppers Panini - Roast beef, provolone cheese, roasted-red peppers and red onion on flatbread. 510 calories, 15 g fat
Features Sports Bar and Grill
- Caribbean or Cajun Shrimp Skewers - Served on a bed of rice with side salad. 480 calories, 3.5 g fat
- Chicken Pesto Pizza (500 Club style) - Thin crust layered with basil pesto and topped with garlic white meat chicken, tomatoes and provolone cheese. 560 calories, 19 g fat
To view a complete listing of Gundersen Lutheran 500 Club member restaurants with links to their menus, visit 500-club.org or call (608) 775-2357 for more information.