I decided to take a different angle today on Mental Health Monday and discuss dieting vs. lifestyle change, and why you never want to “go on a diet” – you’re just setting yourself up for failure, trust me.
Americans are obsessed with being thin and beautiful (no, the two are NOT mutually exclusive!) and thus the diet industry in America rakes in billions of dollars per year. Millions of women spend hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars, trying to find the elusive “magic pill” that will make them thin or healthier. I hate to spoil things for you, but…
…there is no magic pill. There is NOTHING but lifestyle change that will make you healthier or thinner, if that’s your goal.
Trust me. I have been on every diet known to man: Slim-Fast, Medifast, Weight Watchers, Nutrisytem, diet pills, the protein sparing modified fast, the Cabbage Soup diet, Atkins, South Beach…and so many more I have forgotten about. Yes, they made me lose weight – temporarily. After I stopped these programs, I gained back all my weight and then some. One, I strongly believe, caused me to develop binge-eating disorder. And all of them made me miserable and hate myself. It was only through gastric bypass surgery and LIFESTYLE CHANGE (see those key words!?) that I started losing weight and feeling better about myself.
In thinking about diets, I now feel like they are almost pre-cursors to some people developing eating disorders. Diets group foods into “good” foods and “bad foods” and encourage you to deprive yourself of the “bad” foods. But, you know what? Food is just food. There is no such thing as a “bad” food – nutritionally incomplete, sure. But not bad. Some foods just have different nutritional profiles, but here’s another secret – your body isn’t going to distinguish the sugar from pineapple vs. sugar from a cookie. It’s going to be used and stored in the exact same way. Diets are also often restrictive calorically, sometimes dangerously so. Most of the weight loss you see in the first week or so is water weight – most experts agree that a safe rate of weight loss is 1 – 2 lbs per week. So, those 8 lbs you lose the first week? Probably not going to happen after that. Even after gastric bypass surgery, I rarely lose more than 2 lbs in a week, although sometimes I do experience a bigger loss.
Diets might also encourage unrealistic exercise expectations. For someone who is sedentary, introducing exercise is a great idea – if done properly. Someone who hasn’t exercised in years might feel obligated to go out and run a mile, and will end up hurting themselves. Also, who has time to exercise for 2-3 hours a day? Not this girl. The Centers for Disease Control suggests 150 minutes of moderate to intense activity a week and muscle-strengthening activities 2 days a week for adults. Can you do more than that? Sure. But don’t spend half a day in the gym! There is more to life than that!
In sum – if you’re considering a diet, please don’t do it. You will set yourself up for disappointment and failure. I truly believe that eating should be a pleasurable experience and that ALL foods should be eaten, and that you shouldn’t feel guilty about doing so. While it’s harder after gastric bypass, I still enjoy food, it just takes a little more planning on my part.
Instead of a diet, may I suggest trying to change your lifestyle?
Lifestyle is basically defined as “the way you live your life” (thanks Merriam-Webster, but I got that one on my own!). Maybe your current lifestyle is one that YOU consider unhealthy (because really, there’s no standard definition of “unhealthy”) – lots of fast food or other nutritionally deficient foods, not enough sleep or exercise, too much caffeine, etc. and you’d like to change. That’s great! But hold up, don’t go too wild.
Remember that lifestyle changes are meant to be for the better and become permanent. You might feel like you want to jump in right away, but try small steps first. Go for a walk around the block instead of training for a half-marathon. Swap out a fried food for a grilled or baked food. Go to bed a little earlier. Do this more and more often, and guess what? You’re making changes!
However, this doesn’t mean that you need to give up your dad’s beloved fried chicken or your Sunday afternoon Netflix binge sessions. It just means that you balance it with everything else. Even after I had surgery, you bet I still eat my dad’s fried chicken – in much smaller portions and likely with some vegetables on the side instead of half a plate of macaroni and cheese. It is absolutely ok to eat whatever you want! You should never feel deprived. For me, deprivation just made the cravings stronger and I ended up bingeing and then restricting…over and over and over again. Again, all about that balance.
It won’t be easy. I will tell you this right now. You will want to scream, cry, throw in the towel, cry at the sight of kale (let’s be honest though – who wouldn’t. Easily my least favorite green veggie). Go back and examine why you’re doing this. Why is this worth all the trouble?
There is honestly no real definition of “healthy”. That means something different to everyone. For me, yes, it does mean at a healthy weight for my frame size – but it also means being able to run, hopefully faster and longer than the previous day. It means eating what I want in moderation. It means being able to one day carry a child. It means not having diabetes or high blood pressure. And most of all, it means being confident that I am working hard toward my goals daily.
Finally, remember that no matter what you look like – you are beautiful. You are your own unique person with amazing things to offer the world. Do not let ANYONE tell you anything different.
Share with me: have you ever been on a diet? How did it make you feel emotionally?