A recent encounter with a former classmate who has lost and gained the same 50 pounds multiple times on numerous diets and programs reminded me why I teach what I do and why diets don’t work.

Following someone else’s prescription for finding and maintaining a natural weight for your unique body–or for living your optimal life–isn’t sustainable. Eventually a crisis comes along, our best laid plans fall short of the demands of a given day, and we find ourselves facing decisions that the “program” didn’t equip us to cope with.

The energy and vitality you need to feel good in your body and enjoy your life comes from knowing yourself–heart, body, mind and soul–and making choices from inner guidance about what you really need in any given moment.

When fatigued toward the end of the day, do I really need a caffeinated diet soda, a cup of coffee, candy bar or bag of chips? Will any of those produce the energy I need to carry me through to dinner with a sharp and clear mind, peaceful heart and energized body?

Everybody is different. Maybe one of those options works for you.

My husband’s 4 p.m. cup of coffee really works for him. It doesn’t work for me. I’d be tossing and turning until the early morning paying the price at midnight for that boost of afternoon energy.  That diet soda may give you a caffeine hit and temporarily satisfy your sweet tooth, but in many people is linked to higher rates of weight gain and can contribute to heart and kidney problems. As for candy bars, composed primarily of simple sugars they’ll provide a quick boost of focused energy followed by a return to fatigue within a relatively short time.

One of the health professionals in my office building told me last week that when she’s in a depleted place and didn’t plan other options, she’ll pick up a bag of gourmet potato chips from our on-site cafe. Organic potatoes  fried in healthy oils and lightly salted, she says that gives her what she needs to get through to the next meal. But you can be sure it is not her “go to” choice for optimal nutrition!

Rather than offering diets or plans, I encourage my clients to become experts on listening to physical cues about hunger and fulness as  well as noticing the physical and energetic impact of individual foods and combinations of foods. What does that look like? I can only tell you what it looks like for me because everybody is different.

Here’s an example from my own life. When it comes to breakfast, a cup of tea with half and half and honey combined with a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon produces a heavy, full, satisfied feeling in my stomach and gives me an initial boost of energy followed by steady, slow burning energy for up to four hours. If I’m heading into a morning full of commitments with no time to refuel, that combo is a good choice, for me, but it might not be for you.

If I’m heading to workout first thing in the morning, opting for tea and a slice of toast with almond butter is preferable.  That gives me a boost of energy,  with a lighter feeling in my stomach that makes for better short term energy to fuel my workout. Then I’ll follow up with a protein rich smoothie after my workout. I do drink tea of some sort most days, but I mix it up and don’t always splurge on the emotionally satisfying but nutritionally questionable additives!

But that is my body. It’s what I’ve learned from years of listening to my experience. I eat differently depending on the day and season.

You are the expert on your body. No one else can tell you what you really need at any given moment. Trained professionals can offer general guidelines about what works best for most people but they can’t fine tune that information to meet the unique demands and needs of your daily life. That’s why I believe that finding and maintaining an optimal weight depends on developing a positive working relationship with your body by aligning information about nutrition and exercise with your own inner wisdom.

What about your body? What works for you? I’d love to hear your wisdom and invite you to share it here so others can learn from your experience as well.