Originally appeared in Sixty and Me.
I know exactly what to do, I just need to make myself do it.
Kerry repeated the line stated by capable women everywhere. She was a growth-minded woman who had achieved a lot in life, and yet making healthy eating choices often felt shamefully out of reach.
Why women over 60 struggle to make healthy eating choices
The reason women over 60 struggle to make healthy eating choices is because the solution to “fixing” eating sets you up for failure.
Attempts to eat less, eliminate “bad” foods and tightly control what goes in your mouth are the hallmarks of All or Nothing Dieting.
The term All or Nothing here is pointing out that you are either “on” the diet when eating “correctly” or “off” the diet (and failing) all other times.
How All or Nothing Dieting has failed you
While dieting is the go-to solution for out of control eating, it’s actually working against you. Depending on the research you’re looking at, it’s typical for 80-95% of people to gain weight back (or more!), or for most people to gain all but 2 pounds back after dieting.
Besides weight gain, All or Nothing Dieting works against healthy eating in two other notable ways:
- The Forbidden Fruit Phenomenon
Restricting food often leads to more cravings for that food. While it can feel like a rebellious preschooler has overtaken your body, this is a biological process.
The neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for motivation and feelings of pleasure and reward, increases when foods are “off-limits”. Thus, increasing your motivation (ahem… cravings) to eat that food.
Women often tell me after eating forbidden foods they then spend their mental energy beating themselves up and feeling like a failure, which can create more difficult feelings that you then use food to numb (and thus emotionally eat).
- Dieting disconnects you from your own body
Perhaps more perilous than a slowed metabolism and chocolate cravings is the way all or nothing dieting disconnects you from your own body.
You learn to look outside yourself at calorie counters, scales and step counters to see if you are full, hungry, or doing a good job. One woman recently confided to me she is unable to tell the difference between physical hunger and wanting to eat so she can zone out.
When you are disconnected from your body you can’t trust yourself around food because:
- You can’t tell if you are actually hungry
- You don’t know what will satisfy physical and emotional hunger
- External validation from food logs and the scale keep you feeling like a failure
The alternative to dieting for women over 60 who want to eat better
So we can all agree that All or Nothing Dieting does not work. Does that mean there is no hope to learn to eat well so you can feel good in your body? Of course not!
What to do instead of dieting: Cultivate the Courage to Trust
The good news is, you can learn to trust yourself around food again (or for the first time!), even after decades of dieting.
Once you develop the Courage to Trust – and make no mistake it takes courage to unlearn what you’ve been taught about food and how eating impacts your view of yourself – you can finally experience:
- Trusting yourself to make healthy choices without needing outside “accountability”
- Caring for your emotions and body without using food to numb discomfort
- Acceptance of your body the way it is, even if you want to lose weight
- No more “analysis paralysis” but instead being able to tell what solutions are right for your health, weight and body
4 Steps to develop the Courage to Trust yourself around food
Before you can trust yourself around food you have to heal the impacts of All or Nothing dieting.
Using my Courage to Trust Framework you can create a supportive relationship with food, your body, and your health so that you eat with joy instead of eating to seek joy. If you’d like a step-by-step roadmap to achieve healthier eating, you can download it here.
- Boost Metabolism:
Dieting, aging, and menopause all conspire to slow down metabolism and make it easier to gain weight in your sixties. Boosting your metabolism by making sure you’re eating enough food and moving your body are important to trusting yourself around food.
The best tip I can give you to boost your metabolism is to eat regularly, starting with breakfast. The great advice to only eat when you are hungry only applies to people who have working metabolisms and a healthy relationship with food.
- Calm Your Nervous System
Stress, inflammation, trauma history and a whole host of other stressors can cause food cravings and make it difficult to connect to what your body needs.
Working to reduce stressors in your life and increase your resilience to stress can have a big impact on eating. Which brings me to my next point…
Being kind to yourself can make you more resilient to stress and difficult emotions so you don’t need food to cope. It can also help you unlearn the destructive mindsets picked up from All or Nothing Dieting because you can start to recognize the partial wins and and gain momentum from there.
- Connect with Yourself
Checking in with yourself about how you feel and whether what you ate satisfied you is imperative to having a trusting relationship with your body. If you aren’t used to listening to your body or you have been dieting for decades, listening to your body may not be as straightforward as it sounds.
And that’s OK, do it anyway. Having a supporting relationship with your body will allow you to make the healthy eating choices that keep you feeling good.