Hester Kohl is a health and wellness coach from the midcoast. Credit: Courtesy of Hester Kohl

For many people, the start of January means trading out Christmas cookies, festive parties and other holiday indulgences for New Year’s resolutions to eat better and lose weight.

It’s a see-saw, often featuring fad diets and unhealthy habits, and plenty of folks are stuck on it. But it doesn’t have to be that way, according to Hester Kohl, a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach from the midcoast. She is offering a free talk on “Fearless Eating” next week at the Belfast Free Library, with the goal of showing a different path forward.

“This approach isn’t about what you’re eating,” she said. “It’s about when and how. How hungry am I? What am I hungry for? It’s a common-sense approach.”

Kohl knows what she’s talking about. Years ago, she became obsessed with eating the healthiest diet possible, and tightly restricted what she would and wouldn’t eat. Even after becoming a health and wellness coach, she struggled with the cycle of food restriction and then overeating. But then she learned about a mindful eating program called “Am I Hungry?” which was created by Michelle May, a family physician who had her own history with yo-yo dieting.

For Kohl, “Am I Hungry?” was transformative. She took a facilitator training to teach it five years ago during a winter she described as “the snowiest, coldest winter ever,” and one that became surprisingly enjoyable because of what she was learning.

“The program showed me how to use fun as a treat and not food as a treat,” she said. “It’s about filling your life with happiness, so you’re filling your life with what you love. It’s a void food can never fill.”

She’s teaching “Fearless Eating” this winter in eight-week sessions offered in Camden, Belfast and by Webinar. There’s a cost to those workshops, but her program at the library is free.

“Every day we read about a new fad diet — keto, intermittent fasting, gluten-free — each claiming to solve all our problems. Instead, we feel more obsessed with food, crave everything we’re not allowed to have and feel guilty about it,” she said.

There are three styles of eating, she said — overeating, restriction and intuitive. Because many people find themselves eating for reasons such as stress, boredom and fatigue, they may not know when they are actually hungry. But if they can begin identifying and tracking their triggers, including stress, they can begin to change that.

“The trigger shows you what you really need,” Kohl said. “If it’s stress, you need relaxation. You’re not going to get that from a brownie.”

In fact, eating a brownie or two when not hungry could worsen the stress, causing the person to feel badly about themselves and vow to restrict their eating.

“It’s a bad cycle,” she said. “The cycle of deprivation leads to the cycle of overeating.”

Hester Kohl will talk about “Fearless Eating” at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 7 at the Belfast Free Library. For more information, visit hesterkohlwellness.com.