Learn to trust yourself instead of some “outsider.” One of the main reason’s diets don’t work is that they are someone else’s instruction for what, when and how much to eat. Your body and the body of the diet expert are different. Heck, your body is different than everyone else’s body so why listen to them. Listen to yourself, to your body, and when you and your body are on “speaking terms” you will be on your way to a healthy body. Listen and obey.
So many of us have tried dieting. All too often though, many of us lose 10–20 pounds, but we end up gaining it back. Not only is yo-yo dieting unhealthy, it is also demoralizing and makes us feel like giving up. What exactly do we have to do to achieve a healthy body weight and to stick with it forever?
In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Do To Achieve A Healthy Body Weight And Keep It Permanently” we are interviewing health and wellness professionals who can share lessons from their research and experience about how to do this.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Sheila Forman.
Dr. Sheila Forman is a psychologist and mindful eating instructor who has devoted her life to helping people make peace with food. Her work, called TAME Your Appetite: The Art of Mindful Eating, is designed to help people change their relationship to food and their body by teaching them how to rely on their own inner wisdom to guide them as to what, when and how much to eat. She is the author of several self- help books all written to help her readers live their best life.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Of course, and thank you for having me. I was born and raised in New York. My parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe who came to this country after World War II. My father worked as traveling salesman and my mother was homemaker. My parents believed in education and encouraged my sister and me to earn advanced degrees. As a result, my sister is a medical doctor and I was first a lawyer and now a psychologist.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
As I just mentioned, my first career was as an attorney and to tell you the truth I was not cut out to be an attorney. I am one of these “can’t we all get along” kind of people and when you are a litigation attorney as I was the answer was always “no!”After almost 10 years in the law field, I knew I couldn’t spend another 30 years doing what I didn’t like, so I shifted gears and decided to go back to school for my PHD in psychology. I had always been interested in psychology and when I got to grad school, I knew I was in the right profession.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
While in grad school, I found a mentor. An extraordinary psychologist who helped shape me into the clinician I am today. She would guide me as I went through my training, teaching me the best practices of our profession. I owe everything to her. Sadly, she died unexpectedly about 10 years ago. I miss her every day.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
The most interesting mistake I made was going to law school instead of grad school when I graduated college. As I mentioned, my parents were immigrants and they taught my sister and me that there are only 3 professions — doctor, lawyer, dentist. I am afraid of blood, so MD was out. No offense to the dentists out there, but I was not putting my fingers in someone else’s mouth. So, what was left was law. In fact, when I was in college, I learned for the first time that graduate school as optional. I was raised to believe that graduate school is where everyone went after they graduated college! Having gone to law a school wasn’t a terrible thing. If you are going to be pushed somewhere, it’s not a bad place to be pushed. But when I decided to leave law to become a psychologist, I learned that is it never too late to make a change.Even now as an established psychologist, I am still growing, changing and adding to my work.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I have a very famous “Life Lesson Quote,” at least famous in my family, and it is “Always have a Plan B!” Life is unpredictable. It can be unfair and unjust, but when you can see the alternative to your situation, life becomes more manageable.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Right now, I am working diligently to bring mindful eating to the world. There is so much pain and suffering caused by our diet culture and diet mentality. I really want to help people to accept and love themselves even if they are not a size 2, and also help them achieve a body weight that is healthy for them.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field?
Sure, not only do I have a PhD in psychology and have been treating patients for over 20 years, I am also one of the first people to be trained in Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness and to become a Qualified Instructor. In addition, I have written several books that help people end emotional eating and make peace with food, one of which is based on my doctorial dissertation.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about achieving a healthy body weight. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define a “Healthy Body Weight”?
I am so glad you asked that. I define a “Healthy Body Weight” as the weight our body settles at when we get out the way! When left to guide us, our body will reach the weight that is right for us, which for some maybe higher than the weight they wish they would be.
How can an individual learn what is a healthy body weight for them? How can we discern what is “too overweight” or what is “too underweight”?
The best way that I know that can help an individual learn what their healthy weight is, is to stop dieting and start listening to their body. The body wants to be healthy. The body wants to be in balance. Diets get in the way of that.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Can you please share a few reasons why being over your healthy body weight, or under your healthy body weight, can be harmful to your health?
Yes, when you carry more weight than your body needs, you put excess strain on your organs, limbs, and self-esteem. Excess weight can damage not only your physical health but your mental health as well. I am not saying that everyone needs to be slim to have self-esteem. No way! I am saying is that if you are carrying more weight than your body needs to be healthy, there can be negative consequence. Being underweight brings its own physical and psychological issues as well. For example, if a person is trying to keep her weight at 130 pounds when a healthy weight for her would be 155 pounds, she is trying to maintain an “artificially low weight.” To keep that artificially low weight, she would need to restrict her food, exercise excessively and even avoid social engagements. It takes a lot of work and costs a lot of precious energy.
In contrast, can you help articulate a few examples of how a person who achieves and maintains a healthy body weight will feel better and perform better in many areas of life?
When a person achieves a healthy weight through healthy means, her self-esteem increases because of her accomplishment. Having trusted herself with a non-diet way to manage her weight, she can trust herself to guide her into other new and exciting changes. Her sense of self-efficacy will have increased that will carry over into the rest of her life.
Ok, fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Do To Achieve a Healthy Body Weight And Keep It Permanently?”. If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
- Stop dieting! If I had one wish, it would be that people stop dieting. If you look at the research, there is NOTHING that shows that diets work in the long term. NOTHING!
- Accept yourself as you are right now. There is a historical figure in psychology named Carl Rogers. Dr. Rogers famously said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.” By accepting oneself, the fight ends. It is hard to take good consistent care of something you do not care about.
- Learn to trust yourself instead of some “outsider.” One of the main reason’s diets don’t work is that they are someone else’s instruction for what, when and how much to eat. Your body and the body of the diet expert are different. Heck, your body is different than everyone else’s body so why listen to them. Listen to yourself, to your body, and when you and your body are on “speaking terms” you will be on your way to a healthy body. Listen and obey.
- Develop a daily meditation practice. Meditation is proving to be an effective way to lower stress, reduce anxiety, improve sleep and restore a pleasant mood. If you eat in response to stress, anxiety, fatigue or depression, meditation can help stop that habit. If your excess weight is the result of eating for these reasons, you will see that excess weight leave and stay gone … but you must keep up the meditation. (Sorry!)
- Become a mindful eater. Mindful eating is about eating with awareness of your body’s needs, the quality of the food you consume and your emotional well-being. By learning to pay attention to your body and follow its lead, you can heal a lifetime of “disordered” eating, achieve a weight that is right for you, and finally be at peace with your body and with food.
The emphasis of this series is how to maintain an ideal weight for the long term, and how to avoid yo-yo dieting. Specifically, how does a person who loses weight maintain that permanently and sustainably?
The secret to losing weight and keeping it off is doing the same things in maintenance that you did to get the weight off. This in a nutshell is why diets don’t work. You can’t keep restricting forever. Instead, when you take a mindful approach to weight management, you learn the skills that will take the weight off and keep it off along the way. Maintenance is built into the process.
What are a few of the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to lose weight? What errors cause people to just snap back to their old unhealthy selves? What can they do to avoid those mistakes?
- Deprivation and/or restriction cause backlash eating aka binges. Diets require restriction its as simple as that. When you restrict calories or carbs or fat, you eventually feel deprived. That deprivation can cause you to crave the forbidden foods and before you know it you are spoon deep in the Haagen-Dazs. Instead, make all food available and use your body to guide you to the right foods in the right amount. And don’t worry, it may lead you to the Haagen-Dazs!
- Try to lose too much weight too quickly. Many diets are set up to cause a significant amount of weight loss in the first week or two. This is done so that the dieter can feel successful and want to continue. The problem is that most of weight is water weight, and one cool glass of icy H2O can bring all that “weight” back. Instead, manage your expectations and think of your weight loss efforts as something you will do forever and go easy on yourself. A small change every day can lead to a big win later.
- Rely too much on the scale. There are a lot of physiological events that can impact the number on a scale. Too much salt. PMS. Working out. A gain or loss on the scale can lead to excess eating. A gain might make you throw in the towel. A loss might make you want to celebrate. Instead of relying on the scale to tell you how you are doing, how about keeping track of your energy levels, your belt notches, or your meditation practice. Theses non-scale victories can be even more motivating than the needle on the scale.
How do we take all this information and integrate it into our actual lives? The truth is that we all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
Fear is what stops most people. Fear of change. Fear of keeping up the change. Fear of never eating their favorite foods again.Fear. Fear. Fear. Figure out what you are afraid of and take your fear with you on your journey. In time you will either drop the fear because it is not valid or you will deal with it and it goes away on its own.
On the flip side, how can we prevent these ideas from just being trapped in a rarified, theoretical ideal that never gets put into practice? What specific habits can we develop to take these intellectual ideas and integrate them into our normal routine?
A simple habit to start today is meditating. A brief daily meditation can calm the nerves and make changes easier to attain. In fact, in my TAME work, we start with meditation as the foundation because with meditation you calm your whole system down and learn to make choices proactively rather than impulsively which can make big difference as one tries to manage her weight.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Oh, that’s easy! I would make diets illegal, and, in their place, I would put self-acceptance and body wisdom.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Another easy question, I would love to sit down with Former First Lady Michelle Obama. She made a great effort to help turn the tide of childhood obesity. I would love to share with her what I know about the physical and psychological causes of excess weight and put together a program that she and I could share with the world.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Your readers can sign up for my monthly newsletter on www.TAMEYourAppetite.com. I can also be found on the following social media sites:
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.