Stanley Bronstein remembers the moment as if it were yesterday: February 1, 2009, four months before his 50th birthday. His knees hurt, his back ached and he had trouble bending down to tie his shoes. Oh, and he weighed 320 pounds. Bronstein, who runs a non-profit, knew it was time for an epic change. “I decided right then and there to re-imagine my relationship with food and exercise,” he says, although he confesses the idea of moderation scared the hell out of him. “Food was an incredible source of pleasure for me and had been for a very long time."
And, for many, that’s the problem. The Boston Medical Center says that 45 million Americans diet each year and billions are spent on weight-loss programs—yet often with lousy results. Even with all the fasting, purging, liquid cleansing, Weight Watchering and South Beach Dieting out there, the USA still has one of the highest obesity rates on the planet. A staggering 80 percent of dieters either fail to lose weight or gain it back after ceasing their diet regimen. What’s up with that?
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Part of the problem, according to experts, is that most planned diets don’t acknowledge the unique relationships we have with food and the way we consume it. The University of Wyoming has identified what they call a “Summary of Eating Styles” designed to help us understand our default relationships with food so we can consciously shift to a healthier style:
Unconscious: Mindlessly eating while watching TV, talking on the phone or contemplating one’s navel.
Chaotic: The over-scheduled person who wolfs down sustenance because they’re always in a hurry.
Refuse-Not: See food—eat food. Nothing is off-limits, even if it’s on someone else’s plate.
Waste-Not: Cheap or free food is the trigger here. All-you-can-eat buffets? Satan’s catering.
Emotional: Food equals comfort.
Careful: The person who anguishes over every bite and calorie (and drives you nuts in the process).
Professional Dieting: Someone who is never satisfied with body image—even if they’re already close to perfect. Keeper of the perma-diet.
Intuitive: Responds to biological hunger sensibly by honoring food and enjoying the eating process.
Nutritionists agree that the right approach to weight loss is to take a transitional approach toward true—and permanent—lifestyle shifts. Knowing your eating style can help you modify not just what you eat, but why and how you eat it, which leads to a healthier approach to food. But it’s not always easy. “Most people are put off by the fact that what we promote is life-long change,” says Robyn A. Osborn, RD, PhD, a dietician and educational psychologist in Indianapolis, Indiana.
See also: How Smart Is Your Fork?
But it can be done. Here are some ways to kick-start your new, healthier love affair with food:
Stay in control. What, where and how we eat are all within our sphere of influence. Instead of opting for the 2 a.m. Sonic drive-thru, we can manage what goes into our bodies by controlling what goes into our food—in other words, making our own meals. Or just go back to bed.
Be reverent. Food isn’t just necessary fuel for our busy bodies, it’s a valuable natural resource; when prepared with care and love it becomes something sacred. Slow down and savor it. You’ll gobble down less and enjoy it more.