The first thing I ask my clients when we start working together is to avoid using the word “diet” in describing our wellness journey. Everyone is labeling things, processes, and people. Somehow we believe that we will be more successful if we have a word (description) to hang on to. Whole 30. Plant-based. Keto. Ugh, I cringe every time I see any of these labels. The way I look at them is that they are a new way to eliminate a food group in order to create a caloric deficit that will result in a fast weight loss. Before you continue any further, please pay attention to four words in the last sentence and tell me how they make you feel: eliminate, deficit, fast, weight loss. Why all of these diets seem to be successful or have a following? Because of the last two words: fast & weight loss. Everyone forgets that change takes time and that it usually didn`t take us one night to gain weight, therefore, it will take us more than one night to lose it.
Why all of these diets fail?
Because of the first two words: eliminate & deficit. The more limitations we put on ourselves the harder it gets to sustain the change. This is why food group elimination often presents a challenge and exaggerated caloric deficit leaves us hangry and weak.
Please understand that there are exceptions in every case. Some diets are very successful in treating medical diseases and should be used to improve the health of an individual.
However, for someone who is in a good place but looking to optimize their health and possibly improve their body composition, choosing eating recommendations that fit their lifestyle and goals is crucial. While it is normal to have to adjust certain habits, it is not recommended that we choose a “diet” that will rule our lives. It most certainly needs to be the other way around. Meals should be easy to fit into our current work and family schedule. I have met way too many people who are avoiding family events in order to “stay on track” with their diets. That is no fun! We cannot replace our family so we need to figure out a way to enjoy life while focusing on our health. A balanced life requires small sacrifices that need to be manageable.
So how do we pick through the noise and figure out the way that works for us?
1. What are your goals?
Weight loss requires a caloric deficit but it doesn`t need to be outrageous. If this is your goal, start with tracking food intake and then evaluate to see where you can cut down. You don`t want to take away from nutrients, therefore, you have to be able to recognise foods that are not serving you well. These are usually snacks like chips, cookies, etc. You are looking to gain lean mass without adding too much fat? This is challenging but not impossible. You need to be in a caloric surplus or maintenance and prioritise where that caloric increase is coming from. The answer would be eating in a way that focuses on tracking macronutrient intake.
2. Are you active?
Working out? What type of workouts? How long are they? When are you working out? All of these questions are an important part when choosing a new eating regimen. Food needs to provide fuel, the necessary energy to perform and improve your workouts as well as support recovery process. The one mistake I see with clients is that they are continuously under eating and overexercising. Somehow, society has become extremely afraid of food. Mainly thanks to the food industry and various dietary promotions that are focused on issues I mentioned at the beginning. Please know that our bodies can run on empty for just so long. Eventually, you will end up losing muscle mass (instead of body fat). This results in a term popularly known as “skinny fat”, where an individual looks “skinny/fit” but actually carries an increased amount of body fat and a very small amount of muscle mass. Eat enough!
3. What are you ready to compromise?
This is almost the most important question. What is in your way of health that you are ready to say no to in order to feel better? It may sound very simple but believe me, once you start the elimination process you will miss whatever you gave up. Something that blows my mind daily is how many people are struggling to give up alcohol. Please pay attention to the phrase “give up” because I used it on purpose.
I don`t think you need to give up anything entirely (exceptions are tobacco, food & drinks that are making you ill). Rather find a balance between enjoying your life, and things that you like while setting boundaries.
If you are drinking daily than start with cutting back to only drinking on the weekends. If you can`t say no to a dessert after dinner, plan ahead and commit to eating dessert only on Fridays or only during special events. This shift may not be successful right away but stay persistent and committed. Allow failure but recognise why it is happening and what is it teaching you.
As you can see, weight loss is way more than a diet. It is about finding a sustainable way to create better habits that will serve your health and last a lifetime. Listen to your body, feed it and enjoy the life you`ve created outside of the “diet” culture.