Millions of Americans will start a diet this month. More than a common resolution, however, weight loss is a cultural activity and even its own financial industry in the U.S. With all the diet programs out there, the media attention paid to dieting and the collective focus on it every New Year (and throughout the year!), it’s easy to wonder why so many continue to struggle with weight management issues. One key factor is the concept of “dieting” itself. How does it sabotage our success, and how do we move beyond the deprivation dieting model? Below are six ways the “diet mentality” fails along with strategies for a better health and weight loss approach.
It defines diet as a verb instead of a noun.
When we talk about “diet” as a verb, we’re focused on the act of restricting. When we use it as a noun, however, we refer to the kinds of foods we choose to eat. One of the first assignments I give my clients is to redefine this word and use it only as a noun. Instead of thinking about how and when they will begin and end “dieting,” I encourage my clients to identify what their typical diet is and how they want to improve it for their health.
When you’re in “dieting” mode, you believe it’s a temporary effort. Maybe you’re thinking about looking your best for an upcoming wedding or class reunion. Maybe swimsuit season is on the horizon, and you’re starting to get anxious about showing skin in front of your friends and family. Whatever the case, the dieting mentality offers limited returns because it’s a brief phase rather than a commitment to lifestyle change. Ask yourself how good it would be to always feel comfortable in your skin, to live life (not a single event) at your desired weight/body composition. Thinking this way will help you get past that short-term, quick-fix mindset and envision an “in it for good” behavior change.
It’s too extreme.
When people diet, they often take on too many changes all at once. Right away, you’re bound to always be thinking about the foods you can’t eat anymore. A better approach has you thinking about all of the foods you can and should be eating. We also know that behavior change takes time and that tackling one new behavior at a time presents the best and most lasting results. Instead of adopting an entirely new meal plan or specific diet at once, assess your current eating routine and make a list of smaller goals you’d like to accomplish (e.g. eating protein at every meal, drinking half your weight in ounces of water each day, etc.) and practice one at a time before you move on to the next.
It doesn’t allow enough time to show change.
The “diet mindset” encourages you to grasp for quick progress. You might be checking the scale or looking in the mirror daily to force progress to show itself right away. This happens because, oftentimes, you’re attempting too many extreme changes all at once (and may be starving!). Typical dieting practices create a sense of sacrifice or perhaps even desperation. In keeping with that, you want immediate progress because otherwise the extreme efforts aren’t worth the results. Instead, remind yourself that your body is not a math equation. Think of food as nourishment. Understand that your food choices influence hormones. Food sends signals to your body and metabolism. For some of us, it might take time before those signals help our metabolism become more functional. There are so many variables that can impact your body’s ability to lose weight (e.g. stress, sleep, environment). It’s best to learn what foods your body should be eating to support an efficient metabolism over time.
It cultivates a negative mindset.
Have you ever been out to lunch with friends who complain about the food they “have” to eat or make statements such as “Oh, I can’t have that: I’m on a diet”? Maybe their dieting even causes them to avoid your usual get-togethers. The fact is, we foster deeply negative associations with dieting. I can’t tell you how many of my clients indulge in a major “cheat week” prior to beginning work with me because they assume all the fun and good will be over then. They talk about readying themselves to be miserable if it means they’ll lose weight. Negativity will never win when it comes to weight loss. Being a dietitian and a self-proclaimed “foodie,” I often coach my clients to get excited about food and develop a positive relationship with it. Helping them identify what foods they should be eating - along with how to prepare them so they enjoy and look forward to consuming them - can be the key when it comes to eating healthy for life.
It focuses on deprivation instead of nourishment.
I’d put this at the top of my “fail” list. When dieting, most people choose foods because they are low in fat or low in calories. Unfortunately, consuming foods throughout the day that are low in fat and calories often leads to a less functional metabolism and a very hungry body. My goal with clients is to reverse this type of thinking by identifying the nutrients and real reasons we need to eat certain foods. Don’t choose an egg for breakfast because it’s only 70 calories. Instead, choose an egg (or a few of them) because eggs are loaded with protein that helps maintain your lean tissue and manage your blood sugar. Choose eggs because they have healthy saturated fat that keeps you fuller longer and promotes skin, hair and nail health as well as choline that helps your cell membranes function properly. Don’t swap your starchy potato at dinner for more veggies because it’s lower in calories. Strive to eat as many vegetables as possible each and every day because they are loaded with vitamins and minerals that you can’t find in any other food group and because they offer essential fiber.
Your turn! How has traditional “dieting” in the past meant deprivation to you? What changed when you adopted a Healthy Way of Eating approach? Share you thoughts and experiences. Thanks for reading, everybody!
Written by Anika Christ, Senior Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.