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A Kinder, Gentler, No-Diet Way To Start The Year

Therapist and author Jean Fain

Right around now, all the people who resolved to start the year with a diet are beginning to hit the “I’m starving!” crux point. And by all indications — including a cover story in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine about the superhuman effort needed to keep weight off — the vast majority are doomed to fail in this New Year’s effort. Jean Fain, a writer and Harvard-affiliated therapist, says there’s a better way, and spells it out in her book, “The Self-Compassion Diet.

I’d been wanting to speak with Jean for months, and this finally seemed like the moment. So what, I asked her, would she tell all the dieters who are just about to fall off the wagon?

Most diets demand that dieters stick to the program no matter what. Even if you’re starving, you’re supposed to keep eating those tiny unpalatable portions, and even if you’re going on vacation, you’re supposed to stick to the carbs, the points and the calories. It’s not a compassionate approach, it is not effective, and it’s absolutely no fun.

So rather than starving yourself thin and cranky, how about treating yourself with self- compassion? And by that, I mean treating yourself like a friend or a loved one, with care and concern, because when you do that, you’re more apt to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full — as well as rest when you’re tired and move when you feel energized. And when you do that, you lose weight naturally and you’re much more likely to keep it off.

“People don’t fail diets, diets fail people.’

That New York Times piece was really striking: Tara Parker-Pope, whom I consider the most prominent health journalist in America, effectively comes out of the closet as someone who’s significantly overweight and just can’t keep off the pounds. What would you say to someone like her, who clearly has a genetic propensity toward obesity?

We come in all sizes as human beings, and we’re not all going to be equally slim and beautiful, and that’s fine because that’s just the way it is. But given whatever our genetic predisposition is, when you force yourself to eat this and not that, or you discipline yourself to stick to some kind of low-calorie diet, more often than not you get trapped in a vicious cycle of under-eating and over-indulging. Continue reading