It’s January and if you are like most people, you are probably starting a new diet…again. I get it. I have started numerous diets and, consequently, each one has caused me to gain weight. That’s because diets don’t work. Let me explain why and hopefully offer a better approach to more healthy eating and weight maintenance.
Why diets don't work
Let me start by saying that I have been dieting for nearly four decades. I have tried everything from the Scarsdale Diet — highly restrictive, 1,000 calories a day — to the wildly popular Atkins Diet, consisting of high-protein and low-carbs. And I've tried just about everything in between. Like everyone else, I have wanted to “drop 20 pounds in two weeks without changing my diet or exercising.” How lovely it would be to never leave the couch, eat sleeve upon sleeve of Girl Scout cookies while the weight magically dropped off! I have counted more calories and points than I care to mention. And, I am no stranger to Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig or SlimFast.
All of this to say that each time I have embarked on one of these new diets I swore it would be “the last time.” And most times I would be successful in losing weight, for a while. Eventually, however, I would gain everything back, plus five pounds.
Isn’t it interesting that we are willing to put ourselves through all kinds of torturous diets that require us to drink pickle juice or eat only meat, or restrict us in some awful way to lose weight? Why we are willing to do just about anything… except eat whole foods, exercise, and get plenty of water and rest.
It turns out that when we severely restrict calories, we impede our weight loss efforts as the body behaves as if it is being starved. As a defense mechanism, it becomes very efficient at using energy from muscle and lean tissue so that it can protect any stores of fat for the future. Once we begin losing muscle, our metabolism slows so that we burn fewer calories. This lowered metabolism then slows our weight loss.
When we find that our weight loss has slowed or stopped altogether, we eventually give up on our diet and return to our previous lifestyle and eating habits. The body can now resume its normal functions, having successfully saved us from "starving to death." This is when we gain everything back that we might have lost, and in an effort to stave off any future starvation, our body will typically add five pounds to our mass as insurance.
So, what’s the answer to all the dieting nonsense?
The answer is inside, not outside
The first step in stopping the dieting madness is to realize that the answer is not “out there” somewhere. The answer is inside of you, not outside of you. I hate to break the news to you, but there is no magic pill in a bottle or tasty shake that will magically make the pounds melt away. The only way to lose weight and keep it off is through mostly healthy eating and moderate exercise. And, to realize that it has more to do with your relationship with food than anything else.
If you have been dieting for a while, as I have, you have most likely lost touch with why you eat. Most times we are not even hungry when we sit down at the table. Many of us have lost touch with our natural triggers that let us know when we are hungry and when we are full. And, a good number of us are using food to console us when we are angry, sad, or depressed.
What are the real reasons why we eat?
The question is, what are you really hungry for? Is it success? Freedom? Independence? Because we won’t find those things at the bottom of a potato chip bag. We must first start looking at the real reasons why we eat. And we must decide that we are worth the time and effort.
We also must decide that we love ourselves regardless of our current size. There is one truth that I have learned: You cannot move forward until you can be happy where you are. If you are not happy at 175 pounds, I can guarantee that you will not be happy at 125 pounds. As I said before, it’s an inside job. Often times we have a distorted body image that we must overcome. Remember, your self-respect and peace of mind come from within. Only profound self-love and kindness will work when we seek to lose weight.
If we have a truly healthy relationship with food, we won’t over-eat. We see food as fuel because that is all that it is. Food cannot take away our sadness or boredom. It doesn’t have the ability to make us feel better. Food cannot impact our feelings in any way.
Stop looking for the quick fix
This look within ourselves is no simple task. I suppose that’s why we continue to look for a quick fix rather than taking a hard look at who we are, what we believe and why we believe it. But if we can take that first step, I guarantee it will be well worth it. If we can stop relying on a scale to tell us if we have been “good” or “bad.” If we can stop using food as comfort. If we can start to pay attention to our bodies long enough to reconnect with the cues it gives us about being hungry or full. If we can start to make choices that benefit our bodies and our minds, those are the places where we will find our sanity again. Those are the places where we can reconnect with our real selves. Our authentic selves. And we can finally get off the dieting merry-go-round.
In short, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and exercise. There are so many factors that contribute to our weight gain and some of us truly need to be under a doctor’s care. But I can definitively say that none of us need to call Jenny. And, none of us need to shame and belittle ourselves with restrictive diets that hurt our bodies and our self-worth. All of us could probably take a few more naps and drink more water. We could all get out do a little more walking, especially if you are near AMLI Downtown. And we all can start paying more attention to what we are feeling. Maybe then, we can stop believing in a quick fix and start believing in ourselves instead.
Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/mojzagrebinfo