Lose weight without denying your cravings

I’m generally skeptical of diet gurus and all their gimmicky diet plans. Instead, I think you should follow a common sense approach. Eat reasonable portions of diverse, healthy foods. And avoid unhealthy foods as best you can.

It helps to think of the foods humans ate for millions of years before you were born. They mainly ate wild game meat and plant-based foods. But they didn’t eat cereals or grains, which were not grown until about 10,000 years ago. Today, we call the original diet the “Paleolithic” (or Old Stone Age) diet. Some even call it the “caveman diet.” And consuming these foods best suits the human metabolism and physiology.

In fact, 30 years ago at the National Cancer Institute, I suggested we study the caveman diet. I believed it was a good place to start to find which foods are most healthy. And which foods contribute to the modern epidemic of chronic diseases like cancer.

There were periods when cavemen did not hunt or gather enough to eat. Just don’t confuse the caveman diet with a “fasting diet.”

On a fasting diet, you eat very little (or even nothing at all) for one or two days a week. Then, the rest of the week, you eat anything you want. Some “health experts” say this diet simulates the feast-or-famine eating pattern our ancestors experienced.

But this diet actually shuts down your metabolism. It sends a “famine” signal to your body, which responds by conserving calories and fat. So you may actually end up gaining weight. Plus, it’s a bad idea, in general, in terms of dietary diversity and nutrition.

Besides, a diet that you can live with every day, day after day, should be all about what you do eat. Not what you don’t eat.

I believe the body physiologically knows what it needs. Your job is to quiet down and listen.

This approach is called “instinctive” or “mindful” eating.

Of course, “mindfulness” is a form of meditation. But you also can apply the basic principles to your eating habits.

With this approach, you need to be aware of internal hunger and fullness sensations. You should also strive to be mindful of eating for physical reasons (hunger), not emotional reasons (boredom, stress, etc.).

If you’re not hungry, don’t eat! And when you do eat, take deep breaths, go slowly, and give yourself time to recognize the cues your body is sending you in terms of feeling full.

When you use this mindful approach, there are no “good” or “bad” foods. That means you don’t need to–and shouldn’t–constantly deny your cravings. Instead, follow your intuition.

For example, after you’ve eaten something with extra fat and sugar (hopefully only rarely), your body will naturally draw you to eat more nutritious foods…if you truly listen to the cues it’s sending you.

Of course, I’m not telling you to constantly give in to your cravings. But your body can handle the occasional splurge, up to a point.

Truthfully, though, when you are really tuned in to mindful eating, your body won’t want to make a steady diet of unhealthy foods. Instead, it will naturally guide you back to the kinds of foods our ancestors ate millions of years ago.

Solid evidence suggests mindful eating can make a significant difference to your health. In fact, two years ago, researchers at Ohio State University compared “mindful” eating to a traditional, portion control diet in men and women with Type II diabetes. They found that mindful eating was just as effective as a traditional diet plan. The men and women lost the same amount of weight on both plans. Plus, both groups improved their blood sugar levels.

You can learn more about this sensible approach to mindfulness in your everyday life in the book I wrote with Don McCown called, New World  Mindfulness. It’s very easy and rewarding to practice mindfulness in your everyday life. You just may need a little help getting started.

Bottom line?

Ignore the diet gurus and the latest diet fads. Instead, pay attention to your body. And eat what it’s telling you to eat. Just make sure to listen closely. Mindfulness also carries many other health benefits in addition to healthy eating.


1. Comparative Effectiveness of a Mindful Eating Intervention to a Diabetes Self-Management Intervention among Adults with Type 2 Diabetes: A Pilot Study,” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics November 2012; 112(11): 1835-1842