Stop Dieting, Start Listening

When I say I’ve been on every diet there is, I truly mean it. Atkins? Yes. Weight Watchers? Yes. Scarsdale? Yes. An extreme all rice diet at Duke Medical Center? Unfortunately, yes. Name a weight loss fad, I’ve tried it.

I’ve struggled with my weight for most of my life, trying to find that one perfect solution to shed pounds and keep them off. I’ve worked with nutritionists, trainers, and yogis, learning from top experts in health, diet and exercise. But through all of my firsthand experience, I’ve come to realize that there is no “magic fix.”

Don’t get me wrong- I give credit to many weight loss programs for pointing me in the right direction. I’ve gathered their helpful tips along the way and incorporated them into my life in a way that makes sense for me. But the real solution was to stop dieting and start listening to my own body.

Below are 4 important lessons I’ve learned through my on-again, off-again relationship with dieting.

Lesson 1: Intuitive Eating

The most important influence in helping me listen to my body has been my nutritionist Elyse Resch. Her book Intuitive Eating really set the standard for my outlook on dieting. However, I didn’t always understand it. When I first visited Elyse, I was looking for a quick fix to lose weight fast. Instead, I quickly learned that my outlook was all wrong.

Elyse preaches the importance of creating a healthy relationship with food that can sustain everyday life. What is the point of losing the weight if you’re going to be miserable keeping it off? If I travel to Italy, for example, I am going to indulge in pizza and pasta. Why feel guilty for enjoying myself?  It is unrealistic to think that you can be happy by sticking to a restrictive diet forever. So I started being realistic and living my life by the principles of Intuitive Eating.

Lesson 2: Eat Real Foods

Many years ago, I was taking a class from yoga guru Raghunath at the now-extinct Sports Club LA in Beverly Hills. During that class, I ran into an old friend who sung the praises of his Raw Yogi Cleanse.

I just had to try it. So I jumped on board and committed to three full weeks of eating a super diet. This meant saying my sad goodbyes to all animal proteins, preservatives, sugar, and dairy.

Raghunath’s philosophy on consuming foods to heal the body was eye opening. I felt fantastic eating food in it’s natural state and my energy level was through the roof! Thanks to his teachings, I finally learned the benefits of eating real foods.

Today, I am aware of what I eat — where it comes from and how it directly affects my daily life. I’ve expanded my diet with new foods, such as quinoa, almond milk, cacao powder and stevia. I even enjoy dining at raw restaurants and finding delicious raw recipes to make at home, such as this Spinach Quinoa Recipe.

Lesson 3: Pay Attention to Portions

At another point in my ongoing commitment to weight loss, I visited the Golden Door Spa, a sort of health oasis just a few hours south of Los Angeles. The spa allowed me to focus on my goals in a controlled environment where I wouldn’t be tempted or distracted. Although I knew this would be difficult, I welcomed the challenge.

But to my surprise and delight, the food served at Golden Door was less restrictive than most diets I had tried in the past. My palate was satisfied by a variety of healthy meals that included animal protein, dairy and even sugar. How would I ever be able to lose weight while indulging in duck, truffles, tostadas, and even cheesecake?

The answer was portion control. At Golden Door, I enjoyed smaller portions of dishes that were genuinely satisfying. I learned that I am better off eating smaller amounts of what I am craving, because that craving is not going to magically disappear. The trick was to listen to my body and be aware of when I felt satisfied. This made all the difference.

Lesson 4: Have Detox Days

No matter how conscious you are of what you eat, there will always be those times when you overindulge. We all do it. During one of those times when I was feeling out of sorts, I decided to try Dr. Alejandro Junger’s Clean Cleanse. For 21 days, I was allowed two vitamin-enriched shakes and one healthy meal per day. The goal of this restricted diet was to rid my body of toxins and, ultimately, restore healthy eating habits.

Although many people love the full program, I stopped before the 21 days. Not having to think about what I ate was a relief, but I soon realized I was doing myself a disservice. Deprivation is not a lasting solution for me because it doesn’t work in my day to day life. I continued a modified version of the cleanse with smoothies and a meal that my body called for instead. This worked better with my lifestyle.

Even though I ended up putting my own spin it, I learned so much from the Clean Cleanse. The concept of having a nutritious shake with rice protein powder instead of a meal has been so helpful for me. On busy days when I don’t have time to think about what to eat, I prepare a shake in place of a meal ( I love this Organic Chocolate Shake Recipe.) And sometimes, I follow a day of overindulgence by an “all shake day” as a way to let my body recoup. It’s always a great back-up plan.

Lesson 5: Try New Things

My most exotic attempt at weight control was when I spent time at the Surya Spa in the Pacific Palisades. The spa’s main focus is on relaxation and stress relief through a variety of traditional Hindi methods. One of these methods is an ancient Indian healing technique called ayurveda, which uses food and herbs for medicinal purposes.

I’ll be honest – the ayurvedic diet was extremely limited and I knew it would not suit my personality in the long run. As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, I’ve learned that too much restriction doesn’t allow me to heal.

Even though I knew this way of eating would not ultimately satisfy my body, I am thankful for the experience at Surya Spa. I learned valuable new practices, including meditation, hot oil relaxation treatments, and cooking with mung beans ( I love this On-The-Go Mung Bean Recipe!)

Lesson 6: Be Conscious & Committed

I am so grateful for my experience with each of these weight loss programs and for all of the valuable guidance I have received along the way. Sure, some days are harder than others, but the trick is to let go of the diet mentality.

To this day, I still work with Elyse Resch and swear by her method of Intuitive Eating. As she teaches, we are born with an innate nature to know how to take care of ourselves. Think about it: babies know how to breastfeed and stop when they are full. Unfortunately, our society can quiet that innate voice by teaching us bad habits.

I believe we need to find our way back to that voice — the one that tells us to take care of our basic nutritional needs. This is what I continue to strive for. Little by little, I am learning to listen to my body more. It is a conscious and constant commitment to being present and aware. I’ll admit, it’s not always easy (especially when there are sweets involved!) but the benefits are well worth it.