Not another diet book...!
Another January, another diet book.... or not, perhaps. Over the last year, I have taken a totally different angle to my constant (and consuming) thoughts around eating. Rather than imposing another round of rules, restrictions and regulations, I have started looking into my thoughts, habits and distortions - and noting how my brain consciously and subconsciously leads me down all sorts of highly convincing rabbit holes that ultimately mean I eat an awful lot more than I need. My aim? To free up time to think about something much more life-changing, and to move towards eating like a natural eater.
I am a big fan of Dr Chatterjee, having first discovered him on the BBC in 2016 and seen him speak (briefly) in London the same year. Since then I have been a regular listener to his podcasts and have purchased each of his books. Each of his books presents a series of small things you can pick and choose from to create a plan that works for you. I like his progressive medicine approach and his simple way of putting across information that is both thoughtful and do-able, whilst he is vulnerable and able to admit he struggles to maintain habits sometimes too.
However, I wasn't going to buy this book. I didn't want a book with 'lose weight' on the cover. Those words can cause me stress, but I am also responsible for the cognitive and emotional development of a 12 year old girl who shouldn't be exposed to her mother - and society - appearing to believe size matters...
[Top tip: for books with potentially confusing or provocative titles, cover in old wrapping paper.]
But then I heard him interviewed by his friend in late December and there was so much he said that took me away from the last bit of the title and into the 'feel great' part that I pre-ordered the book straight away. I read it over three days and my copy has sevreral pages turned down..
I read a lot, an awful lot, so rather than assume one book will give me all the answers, I see all the answers out there but in various forms. I only have to take away one decent piece of advice for each book to have been worthwhile. I was delighted this one gave me the following six nuggets of information:
1. Our culture expects every meal to be an amazing experience. It is OK to have a meal that is less than outstanding and actually bland and disinteresting can keep our signals working efficiently. This change in perception has helped me to feel my hunger and know when I am becoming full.
2. When we were in Thailand, we were served rice and noodle dishes for breakfast. Revolutionary. And yet I still head for fruit, yoghurt, toast, boiled eggs and porridge after my morning cup of tea. But these don't fill me up for very long. I eat all the filling stuff as I go to bed! I have now taken Dr Chatterjee's advice and last night's leftovers become this morning's breakfast. This has also stopped me eatting so much at the end of the day, because I am not an intensely-hungry-woman by 5pm. Eating this way also means I can easily do the old 'breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper'. Plus - fellow overeaters - I can now stop my evening meal when I am satisfied with no fear of missing out, because I know I'll be having more in the morning. And relax....
3. I always start the day with morning pages, and I finish with my beloved daily diary but, in between, if I am struggling to work out why I need to eat when I know I'm not hungry, I grab a notebook and try the Freedom Exercise: to write down what I feel, why I need to feed myself and what I could find to do instead. By taking a few minute to scribble it out, I often put a pause in between my thoughts and the action and find I leave the food alone.
4. To take the time to see how far I have come, I have started weighing myself every day. This took a long time for me to actually do as I am not sure I have weighed myself for several years and I over-intellectualised this one small act to the point it seemed a momentous challenge. I have no idea how long I have been at my current weight, and yes, when I finally 'just did it' I was so much higher than I had thought! Because no path through life is straight-forward and no weightloss is linear, by weighing everyday I can see how far I have come, and when I have a bounce upwards I can remember (and see) it bounces down again. This visual evidence prevents me giving up.
5. I have tried all the various forms of fasting diets over the years and lost no weight (annoying). Dr Chatterjee's approach involves trying to eat within a window of time and to start with 12 hours. So I have my first cup of tea at 8am and try to finish my one large glass of wine by 8pm (!). Sometimes I don't eat for 13 or 14 hours but I aim for 12 most days. Going to bed less full is improving my sleep too, I'm sure. Plus, now I am having a breakfast I look forward to, it's nice to actually be hungry when I wake up.
6. How many times have I tried to eat mindfully? More than I care to mindfully count... but a suggestion from the book which has worked for me is to eat until I am 80% full (aka 'satisfied'). I no longer go for 'seconds' because once I have said to myself 'I'm done' and cleared away I seem to have accepted the change. I do sometimes tell myself 'sorry madam, the kitchen is now closed' and other times I make a herbal tea before supper so it is ready to give me a different taste in my mouth as soon as I acknowledge the end of my meal.
My definition of success for this book is not the pounds lost, it's more subtle - and long-term - than that. It's to keep moving away from rules and towards freedom, to eat and forget about it (rather than to spend every waking minute thinking of nothing else) and to break the cue-action habits that send me to the cupboard each time there is a negative thought or uncomfortable feeling. That is how I will feel great, and if I also lose weight then win-win.