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?
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 howyou 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.
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.
Buy local. Buying fresh local produce is good for you, for the farmer who toiled over it, and for the planet that nourished it. Why buy blueberries from Bolivia when you can get them fresh-picked from a nearby farm? Too busy to get to the market early? Most towns have fresh produce clubs that will deliver seasonal bounty right to your door.
Rethink the brown bag. Eating out during the workweek is a no-no if you're trying to recalibrate your food mood. Prepare your own lunchables and include what the fast food joints don't: fresh fruit and raw vegetables, which you can consume without limit. Lunch meetings and other caloric diversions are inevitable so aim to feed yourself at least three times a week if you can.
Allow for treats. But don't overdo it. A dark chocolate sea-salt caramel gelato bar can solve any problem known to man or woman and is as indispensable as a roll of duct tape (but much tastier). Savoring one now and then will keep you from feeling deprived, which is what leads to overeating and an eventual diet crash.
Bronstein, now 55, recalls his five-year transition from 320 pounds to 190. He shed more than just poundage—he also ditched his pathological attachment to food. He now walks 15 to 20 miles daily, both outside and on the treadmill he's attached to his desk. His own process of lifestyle transformation has inspired him to help others by creating FoundationEON.org, a non-profit aimed at eliminating obesity.
The big leaps start with tiny steps, Bronstein says. " I came to realize that just because I wanted to eat something, I didn't have to eat it right away. I could wait until tomorrow, or the day after, and if I still wanted it it would be there. It was the beginning of a major shift."