Diet - The Ultimate Four Letter Word
The word diet has become synonymous with deprivation, and for good reason. From low-carb to low-fat to everything in between, diets promise to give us the body we've always wanted but only if we adopt some restrictive eating philosophy for
"x" number of days, weeks, or months.
And to be fair, in the short-term, diets work. Paleo, Atkins, Keto, Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, and Jenny Craig have led to the shedding of a gazillion pounds. Unfortunately, while some have mastered the art of weight loss, few have mastered the more important skill of keeping it off.
And if you think dieting is a relatively new phenomena, think again. Diets have been around for hundreds of years. In fact, many of today's popular diets (the Keto included) are recycled versions of earlier diets that promised our ancestors grandparents and great grandparents trimmer waists and leaner thighs.
Insanity - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
So what gives? If diets don't work, why do the collective "we" keeping going on them? Are we simply gluttons for punishment, just plain gluttons, or do we sincerely believe that the next fad diet really is the diet to end all diets?
This is a question I invariably ask myself whenever working with a client who wants to lose weight, which happens to be most clients. If there is one trait they share, it is a history of chronic dieting. You name it, they've tried it.
And I totally get the appeal. People want to lose weight, and past experience has taught them that dieting results in weight loss. And the fact that they can't keep it off? Well, most of them chalk it up to a lack of willpower and motivation. In short, they blame themselves and not the diet. The story is so incredibly common, it feels cliche.
But maybe they're wrong?
What if I told you that researchers have shown that an individual who loses 50 pounds to weigh a 145 pounds will have to eat fewer calories in order to maintain their new weight.
Even though dieting can and does result in weight loss, it can also result in a sluggish metabolism. It seems our body's very complex system of feedback loops and controls doesn't sympathize with our desire to be a size 8. We may want to look good in a swim suit, but our body has one priority. Survival. And survival has historically been dependent on homeostasis, or maintaining the status-quo.
Of course, how quickly the weight is lost, how long an individual was overweight prior to reaching their goal, and what else they do to stay there, like exercise, may all factor in. But it seems the very act of dieting (or calorie restriction) impacts our metabolism in ways that we don't fully appreciate (or understand). No wonder so many of us start to gain the weight back almost immediately.
And if you believe the research, that is exactly what we do: gain the weight back, sometimes in excess of what we lost to begin with. About 95% of us. And thus the viscous cycle of weight loss and weight gain begins.
Great. So does this mean that I'll never lose the unwanted pounds?
The good news is that sustainable weight loss is possible. The bad news is that 99.9% of the time dieting isn't going to get you where you want to be, at least not over the long haul. Diet really is a four letter word.
The key to changing our bodies starts not with calories or carbs or protein or fat. It starts with nourishment. Our bodies are designed to "eat to live" rather than to "live to eat." Calories from carbs, protein, and fat serve as energy sources as well as the building blocks for bones, muscles, and tissues. And before the food processing revolution, they also used to provide large amounts of other nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, we have been thrust into an unnatural eating environment. On one hand, food is neither scarce nor hard to get, which certainly has advantages. Yet on the other hand, we are surrounded by foods that are calorie dense rather than nutrient dense. And these foods have been engineered to be irresistible. Thanks to excessive amounts of sugar, salt, and fat it really is hard to just say "no."
Though it's not sexy, it's not fast, and it's certainly not a secret, the most logical way to a healthy weight is not to focus on weight at all, but instead to focus on eating foods that nourish us from the inside out in portions that are reasonable for our needs at any given time and that are balanced with an active lifestyle.
But isn't what you describe actually a "diet?"
In some respects, any pattern of eating can be referred to as a diet, diet being a noun, as opposed to dieting, diet being a verb. A healthy diet isn't meant to be temporary, isn't necessarily restrictive or exclusive, doesn't focus on weight loss, and never ends. It's a long-term approach to eating that emphasizes nourishment rather than some arbitrary level of thinness or precise ratio of macronutrients, and that also embraces the cultural and emotional context of food without over-indulging it. Most importantly, it's sustainable, practical, satisfying, and effective.
The health and wellness coaching process helps clients develop eating habits that both nourish and satiate, while celebrating food and the experience of eating. By addressing nourishment rather than weight loss, your body can get to the business of doing what it was designed to do and to do it well. The truth is if we knew how to eat well, we wouldn't have any weight to lose in the first place. And if we don't learn how to eat, even if we manage to lose the weight, we won't be able to keep it off for any significant period of time. When it comes to weight-loss, losing weight isn't the real issue because weight gain isn't the real problem. It's a symptom of a bigger problem, a diet that provides calories (often times many more than we need) but still fails to properly nourish because it fails to provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients in the perfect ratios we need.