Pass the Gravy

11.26.13 10:45 AM ET

The No-Diet Diet May Be the Key to Avoiding the Holiday Belt Bulge

Forget juice cleanses, paleo-approved snacks, gluten-free treats, fasting for days, and Vegenaise. The most effective way to lose weight may be to eat everything you want.

With late November comes the most wonderful time of the year—and worrying about extra pounds courtesy of Thanksgiving feasts, holiday cocktails, and cookies that seem to magically appear.

The constant parade of decadent temptations makes it difficult to keep your waist smaller than Santa’s. But between constant over-indulgence and a stringent diet of greens, there is a happier middle ground that promises to give you peace of mind—and may even promote weight loss. And it’s not a fad; it’s the “no-diet diet.”

The “no-diet diet” lingo may sound trendy, but the idea has been around for decades. Also referred to as intuitive eating, the point of the program is to listen your internal cues to eat only when you’re hungry, to generally choose foods that will help fuel your body, and to put the fork down when you’re full.  

For those in tune with their bodies and minds, the no-diet diet can indeed lead to a healthy lifestyle, said Elisabetta Politi, a registered dietician and the nutrition director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina. 

“If you pay attention to the food you eat, you don’t need a lot of it,” she said. Such an approach is much more natural than following a diet full of restrictions, Politi added, and much less likely to lead to those very unfun feelings of deprivation.

Simple, right? There’s just one caveat: like the little black dress you’re considering for your office party, the no-diet diet is not one size fits all. “A lot of people who have trouble controlling their weight are not in touch with their bodies, so telling them to rely on their feelings of fullness or hunger is not going to help very much,” Politi said. So while she prefers the intuitive eating to following the latest trend diet, for some, a more structured approach, like counting calories or measuring portion sizes, may be a better option, she said.

Carly Goldstein, a blogger and senior at UC Davis, was drawn to the idea of intuitive eating about six months ago after years of what she called “a really horrible relationship with food,” including serious calorie restriction that was inevitably followed by binge eating. In the early weeks of the program, Goldstein struggled to not eat all the foods she’d been denying herself for so long, but said she has now “settled in” and no longer eats mindlessly. And if she does eat less than healthily—such as during a recent long weekend of eating and drinking with friends in Chicago—she has noticed her body craves things like fruits and vegetable stir fry to recover.

For her, the point has been accepting herself as healthy without worrying about numbers. She did note, however, that when she stepped on the scale to weigh her bag before a long flight that she has not gained any weight since starting to eat intuitively.

The appealing thing about intuitive eating is that it’s practical for everyone interested in finding pleasure from food, and the mantras of the no-diet diet definitely apply to everyone venturing out into the cold, eggnog-laden world. Choose quality over quantity, Politi advised: if it’s delicious, you just need a little to enjoy it.  And those cookies? Sugar is an appetite stimulant, she said, so know you’re going to want more than just one. Going to a party with some ideas of what you want to eat and drink ups the chances you’ll make choices that are good for you.

Even Deepak Chopra, the alternative medicine and spiritual guru, preaches a dietless diet. His latest book, What Are You Hungry For?, released this month teaches readers to lose weight by increasing awareness and triggers for fulfillment. As he recently tweeted, “Eating is a natural way to feel happy. Overeating isn’t.”