It has been so long since I have posted that I am at a loss of words. There are so many nutrition and health topics I would love to write about but cannot seem to put them together into a concise and engaging post. Today is my third attempt at posting this week – I think the feeling that I need to do this was making it more difficult that it needed to be. Regardless, I know it gets easier with time, so today I will begin.
I will start with diets.
First off, “diets” do not and will not ever work. When Americans talk about going on a diet, they are talking about a short-term fix to lose weight. They say it is also to make them healthier, but this could be debated. Only eating grapefruit, taking metabolism boosting medications, and consuming countless pills that are not tested for safety by the FDA are all just a few of the tactics people employ, all of which are less than healthy for our bodies. Are you one of these people who is currently on a diet or thinking about starting one?
What is it you want to get our of your diet?
…to lose weight?
…to look good in a swimsuit?
…to reduce their % body fat (this is different than losing weight)
…to lower their cholesterol?
…to improve their blood glucose control (HgbA1C)
…to lower their blood pressure?
Regardless of what you want, going on a diet is not the answer. The answer is making permanent lifestyle changes, which includes changing your diet, not going on a diet. When you say you are going on a diet it implies that it is short term. The problem with this is that once you stop you will likely end up back where you were; depending how restrictive your diet was, you may even end up with more weight than you started with.
The key is to make changes that you can keep forever – if you can keep the lifestyle forever, you can keep the weight off forever.
Last spring I wrote a comprehensive weight management program, encompassing many of the principles described in the American Dietetic Association’s Position Paper on Weight Management. It has yet to be implemented (I do hope to implement this once I have established myself as a Registered Dietitian), but through the research process I learned a great deal about dieting and the weight loss process. In the past, I was the person who thought, “Why is it so hard for people to lose weight? All they need to do is eat less and move around more and they will shed pounds like a dog sheds hair after the winter.” I soon realized that weight loss is much more complex than we think.
There is a strong psychological component that drives people to eat given certain triggers. It also causes people to feel hopeless with one mistake. American’s have an “all or nothing” mentality, so one slip-up (i.e. eating a small bowl of ice cream) often results in immense regret and feeling of failure, followed by a submission to desire (i.e. eating the entire carton of ice cream, out of the carton). While this doesn’t happen to everyone, it does happen to many people. If you are one of these people, I strongly suggest you talk to your doctor about a referral to a psychotherapist specializing in disordered eating or emotional eating – it could literally save your life.
There is also a strong physiological component that drives us to gain weight. Back in the day, before we had warm houses and Old Country Buffets, we didn’t have much. In order to survive, we needed to hold on to all the energy we could in order to survive the cold winters and countless days without food (fat is great for this). Our bodies were programed to decrease our metabolism when we were in famine to preserve the fat mass we did have. This is very similar to restrictive dieting. At first we will lose countless pounds and will feel on top of the world. However, after a few weeks or months (depending on the person) we will start to plateau. We wonder what is going on – we are doing everything we were doing before and now we are not losing weight; in fact, we are gaining some! We start to blame it on that one potato chip we ate, or that 5 minutes we had to cut out of our workout last week. However, these things are not the reason for the sudden halt in weight loss. The reason is your body has realized it is being starved and it doesn’t know when it will get the food it needs again, so it is going to slow down and hold on to everything it can. If this is you, please do yourself a favor and go to see a REGISTERED DIETITIAN (RD) who can help you plan out a healthy weight loss regime. This will likely include a small reduction in calories daily, along with daily exercise, and gradual weight loss of up to 10% of your body weight for 6 months. You will then be instructed to maintain (yes, maintain) your weight for the next 6 months. This prevents your body from going into starvation mode, readjusts your metabolism, and ensures you have the skills you need for long term weight loss.
Over 50% of Americans want to lose weight, most of whom would like to lose it over night, but that isn’t possible – how long did it take to get to where you were when you decided you needed to change? Likely it was years in the making. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but instead, slowly and precisely to ensure a strong, beautiful masterpiece. Weight loss is something that takes time, but when done properly can help you reclaim your life.