It’s true that what you eat has a greater effect on weight loss than exercise, however the antiquated notion of “dieting” is terrible for long term weight loss.
Today I want to look at why traditional dieting does not work, and how you can change your mentality to make healthier eating part of your life so you can keep extra weight off for good!
(I do want to clarify in this post I’m using the term “diet” to represent a structured plan people follow to change their weight/body, as opposed to “diet” meaning what one eats.)
Why Diet’s Don’t Work
Viewed as Temporary
There is a collective understanding that we go “on” a diet, which means at some point we’ll go “off” the diet. Whether you are On or Off for long stints, or a day to day decision, when you follow a diet plan it’s from a temporary position.
This is where people get trapped. Diets do work…initially. This is mainly because you’re cutting out food groups (the last point we’ll cover in this section), and at the beginning you have a ton of willpower to stick with this new plan. Even if you stick to your 21-Day Detox, 30-Day Clean Eating Challenge, 90-Day Lean Meal Plan, etc. once you’re back to your own devices for food choices, the unhealthy habits and weight come right back.
This starts a vicious cycle of feeling the only way to lose weight is to go on a diet because when you aren’t on a diet, you gain weight.
Most diet plans out there are highly regimented. You’ll stick to XX amount of calories, count macronutrients (carbs, fats, proteins), and/or cut out specific foods or food groups.
Going out becomes a challenge and the time it takes to plan and prepare your meals can feel like a second job. Plus, your social life will likely take a hit. You may enjoy cooking, but with a ton of rules it can take the joy out of preparing a meal. The feeling of restriction is an unhealthy mindset and leads you to counting down the days until you’re done with your diet.
The time commitment and inability to stray from your routine are rarely sustainable. When you’re inevitably forced to go off plan – you couldn’t get to the grocery to stock up for tomorrow’s meals, your boss takes you out for an important one-on-one lunch, your kid is sick and you simply cannot make dinner, etc. – instead of seeing it as a one time adjustment, you throw in the towel feeling you’ve ruined it.
Become Food Obsessed
You may have started a diet so you “don’t have to think about what you eat”, but what inevitably ends of happening is that food is all you’re thinking about! When you go on a diet you’re not eating intuitively. You’re eating according to a plan that is likely not specifically tailored for you which means you’re putting a lot of thought into what you “can” eat and when you’re supposed to eat it.When dieting you become intensely aware of all the food you cannot have Click To Tweet
When dieting you become intensely aware of all the food you cannot have, and if you cave and “cheat”, feel guilty and shameful over something that a week ago wasn’t a big deal.
As mentioned earlier, diets often cut out entire food groups, and can be highly restrictive calorie wise. Those who choose to go vegetarian in a mindful non-diet mentality way, are conscious of getting what their bodies need after cutting out meat. They boost their protein and iron consumption through things like legumes and grains such as quinoa, for example.
When you cut out entire food groups, you still need to fuel your body nutritiously, and often people don’t have the information they need on how to maintain balanced nutrition when they go on an elimination style diet.
As for calories, yes you need to burn more than you consume to see weight loss, but it’s imperative to get enough to fuel your activity level. With a calorie restrictive diet you run the risk of muscle loss and undue stress on your body. This in turn effects your digestive system which can negatively respond to stress by sending blood to higher priority organs and systems like your heart and brain, and away from the digestive process.
Ditching the Diet Mentality
Stop Morally Judging Food
How many times have you said or heard, “I was bad, I ate pizza last night”, or “I’ll have the salad, I’m being good today”? Food is food. It is not good or bad and does not make you good or bad for eating it. Yes, there are foods that have more nutritional value than others, but that doesn’t make them or you a better person for eating them.Food is food. It's not good or bad and does not make you good or bad for eating it. Click To Tweet
When you assign moral judgement to your food choices, you tie your worth to what you eat. Of course you feel bad for giving into a cupcake when you’ve demonized it!
It’s hard to stop since it’s become very engrained in our society, but you can start by paying attention to how you talk about your food choices. Next, practice seeing food as it is; food. Whether you decide to eat the bacon burger or grilled chicken salad, you are morally the same person.
Think Long Term
When I work with my clients on making healthier nutrition goals, I always ask how easy or difficult the goals we set felt. Whatever dietary changes you make, ask yourself if you will be eating this way a year from now. If that seems like no big deal, awesome! However, if your instinct is, “Omigod, I hope I can make it 30 days!”, this is not a sustainable change for you.
It’s much more beneficial for you to – for example – cut your added sugar intake by 50% for the rest of your life, than to cut it out completely for 30 days and go right back where you were.
To achieve sustainable weight loss, the changes you make in your eating habits need to be ones you can do regularly for life. This is not to say you can’t stray from your healthy habits. Quite the opposite. The changes you make should be ones you can easily come back to when life gets in the way – overseas travel, big life transition, illness, etc.
If the changes you’re attempting to make feel overwhelming or stressful, take that as a big red flag and scale back. Eat fast food 4 times a week and want to give it up cold turkey? Try cutting down to once a week and see how that feels first.
Drastic dietary changes rarely last long, and the weight loss that comes with them are short lived. Start small and see what feels approachable right now and build from there.
Pay Attention to Internal Cues
Our bodies are constantly giving us feedback. Upset tummy after eating dairy, heartburn after eating too much spicy food, exhaustion when you have too little protein, are all signals we can use. When we diet and try to control too tightly what and when we eat, we ignore all of these signals.
It can be tough to relearn, but think of how a child eats or how you ate as a kid. Did you pause to add up calories to determine how much dinner you should eat? Did you keep eating when the food no longer tasted amazing? Did you review the food choices of the past 24 hours to decide if you earned dessert?
Keeping a food journal for just a few days can help you recognize patterns and noting how you feel along with it will give you a better picture of how your food choices align with your mood and energy.
Check out this post on hunger cues and start checking in with yourself throughout the day to become more in touch with your personal caloric needs, without counting calories.
Make one healthy choice. Then Make another.
Cutting out cigarettes or alcohol or gambling isn’t easy by any means, but it’s something you are aiming to cut out, to avoid and abstain. With food, you have to make a choice multiple times each day, you can’t just avoid it. It’s crucial to feel comfortable around food to maintain a healthy weight range.t's crucial to feel comfortable around food to maintain a healthy weight range. Click To Tweet
Going from diet plan to diet plan will not give you long term success, and can be harmful for you both physically and emotionally. Take one of these diet ditching mentality tactics to focus on this week and see how it changes how you feel about your food. Remember, you’ll be eating the rest of your life, so finding a way that makes you happy while keeping you in a healthy range is the best thing you can do for yourself.
For more accountability and a guiding hand in making small changes, check out my 4-Week Kickstarter Health Coaching Program! Together we will look at your habits and work as a team to implement small changes that lead to lasting results, whatever your goals are. Shoot me an email and let’s talk! Samantha@simplywellcoaching.com