Healthy Living YMCA Health and Fitness

How scientists say you should eat

People wander aisles in supermarket looking at produce

A few months ago, I read a fantastic article about why you can’t lose weight on a diet. Too often, I hear people blame themselves when they don’t shed the pounds they wanted to. “I have zero willpower,” they’ll say, implying that if they’d just tried harder, the weight would have naturally gone away.

The article is so great because it explains the problem isn’t your determination or grit; it’s neuroscience. You can learn why dieters are more likely to become obese direct from the source by reading Aamodt’s article, but if you’re already convinced that dieting isn’t the ticket to looking and feeling your best, here’s what scientists say you should do instead:

1. Eat when you’re hungry 

Never ignore your growling stomach! Feelings of hunger are your body’s way of telling you it needs more fuel. Keep your desk, car, and bag stocked with nutritious snacks so you always have something to munch on.

2. Stop eating when you’re full

Your body also knows when it’s had enough; bloating, feeling “stuffed,” and even nausea are its way of telling you to stop. Instead of basing the size of your meals on overly generalized rules like calorie counts, pay attention to how you’re feeling, and stop eating when you feel content and re-energized.

3. Give food your undivided attention

You’ll get better at knowing how much food your body wants if you focus while you eat. Don’t have “working lunches,” where you take bites between answering emails, and don’t sit in front of the TV during dinner. Make food the main event, and enjoy each meal with your friends or family.

4. Don’t judge yourself

In order to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, you’ll have to be accepting of what your body tells you it needs. Don’t feel guilty if you want a snack half an hour after lunch, and don’t feel like you “have” to finish those last bites of chicken to meet your protein target for the day. Make meal time a judgment-free zone so you can get the nutrients and energy you need.

Eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full isn’t a diet; it’s the way your body’s been hardwired to function. That’s why people who listen to their bodies in this way are actually more likely to maintain a steady weight than chronic dieters. They also daydream about and crave food less than those who count calories.

The bottom line: you’ll look and feel your best if you ignore all the fad diets and give your body what it’s telling you it wants.