Americans are preoccupied with dieting -- but weight loss isn't just about what to eat and what not to eat. It's about paying attention to how and why we make our choices.
"You need to notice what you're doing and be present with what is happening before you can make changes," says Aruni Nan Futuronsky, senior life coach and program advisor for Kripalu healthy living programs. "Ask yourself, what am I hungry for? Many people who struggle with food are dealing with a deeper imbalance in their lifestyle."
Those imbalances may include too much stress, feeling overwhelmed or unhappy, not getting enough exercise, and skipping meals.
Hit the pause button.
According to Aruni, an integrative approach to weight loss starts by taking a moment to clearly examine our relationship to food. Observing ourselves without judgment is hard and takes practice, which is why it's the first step.
Kripalu Lead Nutritionist Annie B. Kay, MS, RD, RYT, says many people think that there's something wrong with them because they can't control their weight.
"They tell me, 'When I'm good, I eat this, and when I'm bad, I eat that,'" Annie says. "Our bodies need compassion, and many modern Americans have a hard time treating themselves with that level of positive self-regard."
The good news is that when we practice mindfulness, we eventually learn that we don't need to automatically respond to every craving. We can take a breath, step back, and determine whether the craving is emotional or physical.
The fiber effect.
What Annie repeatedly hears from those struggling with their weight is that they're hungry all the time and think about food all the time. One way to curb that preoccupation, and promote weight loss, is by eating three healthy meals a day, Aruni says.
A nutrient-dense, whole-foods, high-fiber diet isn't just good for you, it can help you feel satiated. After making those changes, many clients tell Annie that they aren't thinking about food as often.
"That's the fiber effect," Annie explains. One reason people feel hungry is because they're eating processed foods and not getting enough fiber, which is found in beans, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
According to Kripalu presenter Mark Hyman, M.D., fiber keeps our blood sugar levels and cholesterol in balance, quickly eliminates toxins, and reduces our appetite, leaving us satiated longer.
Mark recommends aiming for 30 to 50 grams of fiber daily, although the average American eats only about 15 grams.
Change happens slowly, so be patient. And remember, weight loss isn't about finding the perfect diet -- it's about creating a sustainable lifestyle, one step at a time.