Sunday, February 26, 2012

Why Diets Work - and Don't

If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, then you’re probably familiar with the vast number of dieting books on the market.  Every author promises that you will lose weight on their diet.  And in many respects this is true.  In fact, every diet can be backed up by people who have shed weight while on the diet plan.  So in this regard, diets work. 

However, there are a couple of important things to consider about diets.  First, while all diets will work for some people, not every diet will work for everyone and if you’ve ever failed on a diet (and felt like a failure), it’s probably not your fault.  Finding the right plan can sometimes be a challenge. 

Second, and more importantly, diets may work when followed, but how you feel when you’re on the diet and what happens afterwards are the true tests of a diet’s success.  With that said, here are five reasons why most diets do not work:

1. Diets mean deprivation. Naturally, when we think of losing weight, we think “diet”.  And it takes some mental and emotional fortitude to actually commit to the diet. Does this sound familiar? “I’ll start on Monday, bracing myself for feeling uncomfortable, knowing I’m going to be hungry and knowing I’m going to be thinking about all the foods I won’t be able to eat.” 

And then after the days or weeks of deprivation, what inevitably happens? When you “go off” the diet, you will naturally compensate for what you missed out on while you were on the diet.   You may gain the weight back and then some.

In fact, may I suggest that if you have wanted to lose weight but have been unsuccessful, that you are already feeling deprived and have been trying to cure those feelings with extra food that is not fulfilling your needs and is only making things worse?

Most often, successful weight loss requires a healthy, sustainable eating plan that helps create a positive feedback loop.  Why?  Because a healthy, balanced diet will not only give your body what it needs to function, it will help your weight normalize, provide lots of energy, and improve your mood.  As a result, you’ll feel motivated to take better care of yourself consistently. 

2. Diets are temporary. So, you finally get up the strength and determination to go on a diet and you assure yourself that it’s only until you reach your goal - it’s only temporary! If you’re anything like I was in the past, you start to imagine all the situations coming up where you won’t be able to enjoy yourself because there will be lots of food and drinks that you can’t have. 

Maybe you’ll even avoid social invitations because of a diet.  So now what happens?  You associate going on a diet and losing weight with deprivation in other areas of your life as well.  You actually find yourself on a life diet.   What are the chances of success?  They’re very low.

When you think you can’t be happy or have fun until you lose weight, then you completely miss out on the journey.  In fact, losing weight and getting healthy is part of a journey and you can make it as enjoyable as you wish! Granted, if your weight is causing significant health issues and causing significant pain or difficulty getting around, then weight loss will certainly make life more enjoyable.  That said, none of us know how long we have here and you can learn a lot about yourself as you adopt new lifestyle strategies to get healthier. 

3. They’re all about the food.  How often do you reach for food to fill an unmet need or suppress uncomfortable feelings or emotions?  Maybe you use it to deal with sadness, stress, or boredom, or after a bad day. In all of these situations, when you reach for food, it conveniently gives you something else to obsess over.  In addition, the excess weight may provide a safe place to hide from the real you that wants to express itself.

When you use food to deal with your emotions, you’re not actually comforting yourself at all, you’re really punishing yourself. Most diets don’t address the emotional component of eating at all.  They stress willpower.  And trying to practice willpower is just another opportunity for feeling bad about yourself. In fact, depriving yourself of food when you’re already feeling deprived in some other way will only make the problem worse.

4.  They focus on weight.  Are you addicted to your scale? Do you let that slab of metal decide whether or not your day starts off on a positive note? Besides the power it has over your mood and how you feel about you, another thing to consider here is that the number staring back is only part of the picture. 

Your body composition, that is, the percentage of fat to muscle and other tissue is equally, if not more important than the number on the scale.   If you’re attempting to lose weight, obviously, the right way to do it is to lose the fat and preserve the muscle.

If you’re now exercising and especially if you’ve added in resistance training, then you may be gaining muscle as you lose fat.  This is a good thing but may make weight loss slower than you expect.

Instead, ask yourself, “How do I feel?”, “Do I have more energy?”,  “Do I feel stronger?”,  “Are my aches and pains disappearing?”, “Am I thinking more clearly?”, “Do I feel less stress?”, “Am I getting sick less often?” These are all important questions to consider rather than the number on the scale.  If you answer yes to any of them, then you’re on the right track and the number on the scale is not so important. 

5. They require you to eliminate whole food groups. This is very common, I think, particularly today with all the low carb diets out there. Have you decided to completely cut carbs out of your diet?

Please know that long term, all three groups of foods:  proteins, carbohydrates, and fats are necessary to looking and feeling your best.   They are all needed for healthy brain function, a strong immune system, strong bones, strong muscles and functioning organs, and glowing skin.  Also, studies have shown that when whole food groups are left out of meals, that it can cause cravings for the missing foods. 

In fact, a study in the journal Appetite found that when people ate meals that were either high in protein, or high in carbohydrates (so there was very little of the other nutrient), the participants did in fact crave the foods that had been missing, but the people who ate the low carb meal had more significant cravings for carbs than the people who ate the meal low in protein. 

What often happens when people go without carbohydrates for too long is that they will begin to reach for the junk foods, loaded with sugar and the worst kind of carbohydrates that will relieve their cravings the most quickly.

When you include all three food groups in your diet and incorporate them into your meals, you’ll likely be choosing healthier choices from each food group, you will be more satisfied with your meals, and be less likely to crave the foods you think you need to avoid.

Are you wondering how to incorporate a healthy eating plan into your schedule that won’t feel like a diet but that will improve your health and help you release excess weight?  Contact me and see if working with a health coach is right for you. 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles

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