If you ask people their #1 health wish, the most frequent answer is “lose weight”. With obesity and diabetes the greatest health threat in America, I understand why. But every year people lose MORE weight, only to gain it back in less time it took to shed it.
I’ve been there. My first diet happened in 6th grade. Plain tuna fish, a slice of wheat bread and five olives where packed in my lunch for a week straight. I didn’t want to be on a diet and when I sat down at the lunch table, no one wanted to trade with me.
My poor mom decided she needed to go on a diet and found this hack-job who promised “lose 10 pounds in 10 days”. That’s all she wanted. The desire to lose those ten pounds was stronger than the suffering through ten days of tuna fish. Since “misery loves company” she recruited me to suffer with her. She didn’t know any better. None of us did.
Over 25 years later and it seems we still don’t.
Scan social media or the checkout lane and it’s pretty easy to see we are obsessed with diets - Keto, paleo, low-carb, intermittent fasting, meal-replacement shakes. I even saw “health seasonings” at the supermarket to sprinkle as a topping and “protein water” all promising better #health.
As a nutritionist, my issue isn’t with the products themselves, but the ignorance of the underlying problem. Sure, you can diet your way to a different number on a scale, but what are you learning and training your body (and mind) to do along the way? What are you reinforcing by this on again, off again cycle?
We hear and share messages of:
Less is more.
Eat less to weigh less.
Deprivation is the only path to success.
Normal eating is bad; dieting is good.
Food is my enemy and I have to control it.
My body is the problem and I have to fix it.
Anyone else see the problem with this kind of thinking? Let me rephrase this another way: If your 14-year-old daughter or son was speaking these messages out loud, how would you respond? If you have a 14-year-old like me, they’re already hearing these messages loud and clear.
So how do we change it? How do we flip the script to reflect the value of the food we eat and (more so) of our bodies?
I say we ditch the script and write our own.
Now, I’m not here to shame you into feeling bad about your dieting life. I’ve been there too. There is nothing wrong with a desire to improve your physical appearance, lose some excess weight, or change your body composition. I do this too. Hell, I used to be a competitive bodybuilding for crying out loud! I’m here to suggest another option aside from the standard “deprivation” we all associate with “diet”.
When I looked up this word on Dictionary.com, I found 11 different definitions of it. Yes, ELEVEN. Many of which include phrases like “requirements” and “limit food” and “lose weight”.
To start, take back this word diet and redefine it in a manner that supports how we approach food. It’s really just the style in which we eat that supports our daily living. Some people follow a varied diet, or a low-carb diet, or even a vegan diet. What I want to make clear about these phrases is they are absent of judgement.
How you choose to eat should accomplish two things:
Support a healthy body
Make you feel good
All our food choices (aka dieting) can be sifted down to those two categories. If you are wondering what to eat, whether it’s OK or off-limits, or if the diet police will show up at your front door, consider these two principles.
Support a healthy body
The food you eat should support your health today and your long-term health. You have to think both short and long-game on this. Otherwise you end up sacrificing your long-term health for quick results.
The food you eat should also support your metabolism, hormone regulation, and sleep. It should keep mood stable, energy high, hunger at bay, and limit cravings. It should help you reach your goals with as little compromise on your health as possible.
Big picture: The food you eat should HELP.
MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD
The food you eat should taste good and be enjoyable. You should actually like eating it.
The food you eat should also contain a variety of plants and animals from nutrient-dense sources. They shouldn’t irritate your body or make you feel lethargic. They also shouldn’t make you feel guilty or deprived. The should make you feel good physically, mentally and emotionally.
Big picture: You should LIKE the food you eat.
Parse that down and you now have TWO qualifiers for your diet.
Is it going to help me?
Do I like it?
Simple and to the point. No special formulas for counting carbs. No special ratios of fat to protein. No magic shakes that cost you $400.00 for a month’s supply.
So next time you belly up to your favorite food (like a bacon-guacamole cheeseburger), ask yourself these two questions. If the answer to BOTH is a resounding YES, then you’ve hit the JACKPOT. But sometimes the answer isn’t a resounding YES. Sometimes it’s YES and NO or NO and YES.
It’s important to point out that life a your diet are all about compromise. Sometimes you might have to eat something you don’t exactly enjoy but need. Or you decide to have something you want, but know it won’t help you. That’s OK. Compromise.
This is a process. an ebb and flow. As you hone in on your body - what works, what you need, and what you want - you’ll refine this and start to hit the jackpot more and more.
I’ve given up dieting for over three years now. There are times I eat a little less because summer is on the horizon or I’m more mindful of my carbohydrate choices. There are other times my body is craving more, so I listen and feed it. I never go crazy one direction or another. I teeter-totter back and forth within this middle ground that is my perfect diet - one that helps me and that I enjoy.
Now it’s your turn. What are some small tweaks you can make to begin this ebb and flow? Is there something you formerly considered “off-limits” that is worth beginning to incorporate back in because you enjoy it? Share in the comments below or feel free to ask questions.