It's important to set specific objectives if you're looking to change your dietary behaviour Image Credit: iStock

In the same way you monitor your dietary intake to shape the kind of body you want, examining — and changing — your relationship with food will govern dietary success or failure. It isn’t just a case of willpower or a steely resolve but about mindful eating and recognising your triggers — and above all, not thinking that you’re on a diet.

It’s important to distinguish between being on a diet and eating healthily, says Banin Shahine, Nutrition Manager at gym chain Fitness First Middle East. “You are not on a diet, you are eating healthily, and there is a big difference between both,” she explains.

In his new book, Shrink: The Diet for the Mind, psychotherapist and former restaurateur Philippe Tahon makes the case that we’ve lost touch with how we feel about food and fat-shame ourselves constantly. We all know what foods are good for us and how much of the different kinds of food to eat, yet as overweight people, we’re trapped by anxieties surrounding our excess weight. “This emotional weight is a far heavier burden than the physical, and very often [my clients] have been carrying it around with them for decades,” Tahon writes.

You are not on a diet, you are eating healthily, and there is a big difference between both.

- Banin Shahine, Nutrition Manager, Fitness First Middle East

We often have a complex, multilayered relationship with food, agrees Reem Shaheen, a Counselling Psychologist with the Clear Minds Centre for Emotional Health in Dubai.

“Food is not only a source of nutrition but it is also associated with love, family connection, social events and observing religious holidays,” she told Better Health. “When individuals are encouraged to explore their relationship with food, some realise that food for them is a companion that they reach for when feeling lonely or bored. Others relate it to source of comfort when feeling sad. Some use it as friend to celebrate with when happy.”

The answer may lie in not thinking about diets at all, but rather — as we’ve all heard many times before — in being aware of whether or not we’re really hungry, and thinking carefully about what we’re eating and why.

New attitudes

Emotional decisions and eating while distracted should be avoided, while structure, routine and healthy choices are the way forward. Sometimes, simply thinking of the wide array of healthy foods available instead of focusing on what needs to be cut out can help avoid a diet mentality.

By taking a long-term view that focuses on maintaining your health, it’s easier to understand the benefits and know why you need to change. This helps you protect yourself from the risks of fad diets — such as cutting out essential nutrients.

Rather than being abandoned midway, as is common with popular diets, completion rates were as high as 92 per cent in non-dieting groups.

In December, British researchers published the results of an experiment on the impact of mindful eating on body weight in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. They found that the 33 people who finished three mindfulness sessions in an obesity management programme shed an average of 6.6 pounds (3kg) in the following six months while those who attended two sessions or less only dropped two pounds.