07/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Is It an Eating Disorder or a Relationship Disorder?

The new diet trick no one's talking about

Most Americans have been on a diet at some point in their lives. Even if they're not overweight--it's hard to resist the temptation to look like the hottest celebrity whether they're on the low-carb, no-carb or cabbage soup diet. We're bombarded with advertisements touting the benefits of the latest dietary craze. If you're on a diet now, you're not alone. But I'm going to fill you in on a little secret that could very possibly change your life and the way you look at food.

As you have probably heard countless times before, most diets don't work. Let me rephrase that, most diets are not sustainable. Can you imagine never eating a piece of bread again, or living on cabbage soup? In fact, studies have found that depriving yourself of certain foods will just have you craving more. Can you relate?

The problem is most Americans have an all-or-nothing approach to life. Our bodies are very smart. When we completely cut one food out we have intense cravings. People think they should resist their cravings or if they give into them they're weak. I encourage you to be kind to yourself. Listen to your body.

Sometimes when we crave certain foods it's our body telling us that we're dehydrated or lacking certain minerals. For example, if you need water the body doesn't send the message that you're thirsty until you are on the verge of dehydration. You might think you're hungry, but it's actually your body telling you that you're really thirsty. Before you go to the refrigerator have a tall glass of water. Salt cravings are an example of nutrient deficiency. Ask yourself if you've had any vegetables or whole grains.

There are also times when we think we need chocolate or a half pint of Ben & Jerry's to get through the day, but it's actually a lifestyle imbalance. Have you ever thought that your cravings and weight gain could be linked to more than just the foods you eat?

A theory that I've taught since I founded The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in 1992 is primary food. Primary food refers to everything that's not on your plate: career, relationships, spirituality and physical movement. The idea is when you have a fulfilling career, loving relationships, a spiritual practice, and regular physical movement you are more likely to make better decisions over the foods you eat. When you are balanced in your personal life, food becomes secondary.

Before I founded Integrative Nutrition, I worked in a small natural food store. All day, every day, I watched customers moving through the aisles, shopping, asking questions, giving great care and attention to the quality of the foods they would be consuming. Then after work, I would often go out into my neighborhood to chill out. Sometimes, I would go to the movie theater, where many of the popcorn-munching, soda-gulping moviegoers were laughing and enjoying themselves with their friends or romantic partner. I noticed that the people I saw in the evening often looked healthier, happier and more alive than the people shopping in the natural food store. This got me thinking. It wasn't just about the food.

Another situation that had a big impact on me was when one client came to her counseling session crying about her marriage. While working with her, I saw that eating more fruits and vegetables was not going to make the issue disappear. And then later I found other clients who made great improvements in their health by smoothing out their relationship issues. Creating more positive relationships made them happier and healthier than any dietary changes could have made them. It's fascinating!

Think about your own life. Have you been on a diet for as long as you can remember? Are you one of those yo-yo dieters? Before you give up hope, look at your primary food. Are you in nurturing relationships? Do you have a career that inspires you and gets you excited for each day? What is your spiritual practice? It takes time to balance out all areas of your life, but I encourage you to be aware of these outside influences. You will slowly see that as you adapt a more balanced lifestyle you will be happier and more likely to nourish yourself with nutrient-rich food.