Health: No more bingeing, no more dieting

Losing weight is just

a matter of curing a food addiction? Sounds unlikely, but if it works... Millie Jenkins signed up for `Eating Less'.

When Time Out asked readers what they really wanted, in a Christmas survey, a third of the women who replied said "to be thinner".

But if there is one thing you are guaranteed not to get at this time of year, it's a washboard stomach. I am sure all those wishful thinking women in the Time Out survey know that. They probably also know that 95 per cent of people who lose weight on diets later put it all, and often more, back on again. However, that still won't stop them making the same old resolutions in the vain hope that things can only get flatter and firmer in the New Year.

But what if the merry-go-round of seasonal bingeing and dieting could be avoided? Gillian Riley, an addiction counsellor based in North London, runs a course called Eating Less. She is best known for her book on smoking, How To Stop Smoking and Stay Stopped For Good, which has sold 40,000 copies. I went to see her three months ago about smoking and haven't had a cigarette since.

So I signed up for Eating Less, hoping that she could work the same magic on my thighs that she has done on my lungs.

"Eating Less" sounded like a sensible, but until now impossible, goal. Recently, when cooking an elaborately low-fat, low-glycaemic, combined (no protein and carbohydrate together) meal, my boyfriend asked, "Why don't you eat normal food, but just eat less of it?"

What a stupid question, I thought. Eating less of a normal meal is a lot harder than eating a lot of some weird concoction that doesn't qualify as real food.

The course, Gillian Riley stresses, is not for people with severe eating disorders. It is for people who have simply had enough of "yo-yoing" in and out, locked into a vicious circle of stuffing and dieting. Often they are just bored to death with worrying about food the whole time. "They may be overweight, or not," says Riley. "What they have in common is an addictive relationship with food - that's too much about pleasure and not enough about health and nutrition." Her definition of an addictive eater includes a slim person who eats only a Mars bar or a bag of crisps for lunch. "It's about how to eat less without feeling you're losing out on something," she says.

The course was to run for five weeks, with each session lasting two-and- a-half hours. And that was just the beginning of the process. Everyone on it is female, and we range from skinny to large. I suspect we all have the same question on our lips: "Exactly how long will getting thin take, please?"

A long time, says Riley: "It's no quick-fix solution. There will be no sudden shedding of pounds."

This process is about changing the way you think about food.

"People often blame overeating on hormones, genes and metabolism, and although biochemical factors are involved, the driving force is addiction in the mind," she says. The course, and the book she is currently writing, are based on a cognitive therapy technique. The aim is to look at thoughts and beliefs about food, unravel the mind's addictive impulses, and retrain it to have a more healthy, balanced relationship with food.

This she believes, is very difficult if losing weight is your only goal.

"When your eating choices are related to how you look, it clouds the real issues."

She advises throwing out the scales and finding other, more valid reasons for eating less - such as reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer, living longer, having more energy and feeling more in control. "The irony of making health your priority," she points out, "is that the healthy body is a leaner body."

But, she adds: "It's a myth that if you eat masses of pasta, rice and wholegrains, you're OK. Eating too much of anything is bad for you. Even being even half a stone overweight increases the risk of degenerative diseases."

It is also important to realise that diets cannot work, for basic psychological reasons: "On any diet, you are always in a state of either compliance or rebellion. The more you comply, by sticking to the diet, the more it sets you up to rebel." So the more you tell yourself you "can't" or "aren't allowed to" eat something, the more likely you are to feel desperately deprived, and end up eating it. "After years of dieting, you tend to have deep problems with deprivation," she says.

The result is that most of us have an "addictive desire" that has been reinforced countless times.

"Addiction is difficult to talk about," says Riley. "It sounds so judgemental. And with food, people assume you mean severe disorders. I think addiction is a matter of degree."

But what is an "addictive desire", as opposed to valid hunger? "Addictive eating," she says, "is eating anything other than what is needed to stay in good health."

This makes my heart sink. Surely all we "need" is a handful of nuts and berries? If so, I'd rather die young and plump than old and thin. Whatever happened to pleasure?

"It's fine to get pleasure out of eating," she assures me, "but eating also needs to be about supporting your body's health." This is about making gradual, sensible changes.

The key is to stop feeling deprived: to have a "free" attitude towards food, with no rules and regulations. This is a psychological trick which I found worked for smoking. The more you tell yourself you really can smoke if you want to, instead of saying you absolutely can't, the less desperate you feel.

Most of us on the course found this idea of "freedom" hard to get our heads round. After all, if you really can eat anything you want, you will, won't you?

The funny thing is, you don't. I thought life would become one long trolley dash. It hasn't.

Riley offers a technique to use at every meal, which helps you to stop and think about the urge to overeat. She encourages you to look at all the excuses you give yourself. Her theory is not about being perfect, so it's not like a diet, where you fall off and that's that. A few weeks on, I don't know whether I weigh less (I threw my scales out) and I don't feel any thinner. But I am eating healthier food and less of it. What I like most is the idea of never going on a diet again.

The difficult thing about her technique is that it's subtle, psychological stuff. It takes a lot of thinking. But thinking is the key. Riley says it is amazing how little research has been done into the psychological side of addictive eating.

"Any research tends to be funded by pharmaceutical companies who stand to make profits on the sales of products," she points out. "It's as if the mind doesn't exist - or if it does, it's of no consequence."

There may be less money to be made using the power of thought, she says, but it is a lot more effective than any pills, quick-fix diet books or plastic surgery.

Gillian Riley, PO Box 2484, London N6 5UX

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

    £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, an experienced and hig...

    SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

    £20000 per annum + commission: SThree: Sthree have an exciting opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Plumbing & Heating / Bathroom Trade Counter Sales

    £22000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established London ba...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat