Dear Chronic Dieters,
I hear you. You’ve had success with weight loss diets but you think about food all the time. You’ve had success with diets but it has made eating the foods you enjoy cause feelings of guilt and shame. You’ve had success with these diets but you are miserable because you eat different foods than your family. You worry about attending birthdays, weddings and business meetings because of the food. You’ve had success with your diets but the weight loss has never lasted. Considering all of this, can we really call these weight loss diets a success? This type of success comes with huge sacrifice.
The problem with these diets is that they cause you to lose so much more than weight. The things you lose along the way don’t bounce back as fast as the weight does. You regain the weight but the guilt and restrictive thoughts stick around.
Dieting is an easy trap to fall into. It can become a vicious cycle. Diets are advertised to us everywhere. They promise us results. They promise a new you. They promise happiness. They promise you that you wont fail. Which is true – you don’t fail on these diets. But these diets fail you.
So, now what? If these restrictive diets don’t work in the long run, then what? If not dieting, what do you do? Nothing?
Even as a registered dietitian, it is quite a challenge to keep up with healthy eating trends and the newest diets on the block. There’s always a new one right around the corner that promises to solve all of our problems. Most of these diets restrict certain foods (or entire food groups) as a way to lose weight, improve your health and make you ‘feel your best.’ Cut this food out, eat at these specific times, take these supplements and you’ll be on your way to eternity.
I am certainly not here to tell you that it is wrong to want to lose weight. However, spending a lifetime hopping on and off different diets just doesn’t work. I think deep down everyone knows that. Yo-yo dieting leads to weight cycling, which may contribute to chronic inflammation, insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease. In other words, dieting probably isn’t great for your health, physical or mental. In my experience, restrictive dieting also leads to stress, increased risk for disordered eating and feelings of poor willpower when dieting goals are not met.
Focus on health. Focus on moving your body, not to expend calories but to make your body feel good. Focus on giving yourself foods that energize and nourish your body. Give yourself permission to eat all foods, even though they might not fit into the category of ‘healthy’ foods. Don’t label any foods off limits (unless medically indicated). Am I going to eat a cupcake everyday for breakfast? Probably not, because I prioritize healthy eating most of the time. It is always about striking a balance between nutrition and pleasure.
Broaden your definition of health to include physical, social, spiritual and emotional health. Focus on healthy ways in which to deal with stress and emotions, ways that do not include food.
Everyone’s needs are different – and that goes far beyond nutrition. LIFE HAPPENS, and you may be going through loss, pain, joy, hormonal fluctuations or celebration. Often times, these things influence our food choices and that’s okay. There isn’t one way to eat forever. It’s important to allow room for flexibility. And although this may sound like rainbows and butterflies, it is actually hard work.
A healthy weight is dependent on a number of factors and is very individualized. The scale is not the best or only indicator of your health. Getting rid of the diet mentality is a process, so try to make incremental changes and progress at your own speed. Getting to the ‘why’ of your dieting and eating behaviour can be a great first step. Take your time.