Happy New Year! If you are like most people during this time of year you are likely making some new year resolutions that often involve starting a new diet.
As a Dietitian I often hear people saying “I want to lose 20 lbs” or “I want to start a new diet” or “I want to eat clean”. While many people might have sincere intentions to improve their health, there is a problem with making weight-related resolutions or starting a new diet. In this blog post I hope to share with you a deeper understanding of the effects of diets on your health and hope to give you a new perspective on diets.
What is a Diet?
The word ‘diet’ can have several meanings. If you look at the Merriam Webster definition of the word ‘diet’ you will find several definitions including (2):
a/ food and drink regularly provided or consumed
b/ habitual nourishment
c/ the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason
d/ a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight
The definition of diet referred to in this blog post is dieting for weight loss (d above).
Please note that some diets may be medically necessary, such as for food allergies, diseases such as celiac disease or thyroid disease, or food intolerances. This is not the topic of this post. Clients should work closely with a Registered Dietitian to support them with their specific condition.
The Problem with Starting a New Diet
In an attempt to live a healthier lifestyle many people start a new diet especially during the New Year. We live in a multi-billion dollar diet industry that is constantly trying to sell new diets, new shakes, and new miracle foods that promise weight loss, greater energy and happiness. While all this sounds appealing, these diets don’t disclaim the deprivation, guilt, weight re-gain, and negative relationship with food that often accompanies restrictive eating. In fact, 95% of people who diet regain weight and more within two years (1).
The Diet-Binge Cycle
When food is intentionally restricted on and off, as in the case of chronic or ‘yo-yo’ dieting, you are prone to the diet-binge cycle (1). This cycle describes the eating behaviors of chronic dieters as shown below:
You start off excited for the new diet. You follow every rule, avoid every forbidden food and, count every calorie.
However as time passes you start to miss your favorite foods. These foods are usually higher in carbohydrates or sugar, such as bread, pizza, and pastries. Eating out is not as enjoyable and you avoid parties and potlucks so you are not tempted by all the food.
You start feeling deprived of foods and preoccupied with thoughts of food and eating. As cravings for these foods intensify it is only a matter of time when you give in the diet and binge on that food(s) you’ve been avoiding all this time.
You eat those foods uncontrollably until you feel guilty and ashamed of eating. You feel that you have no will power and that you failed this diet, when in fact the diet failed you.
In an attempt to re-gain control you decide to start a new diet, a different diet that is hailed to make you lose weight. Unfortunately you set yourself up for failure once again and the diet cycle starts over.
The Research on Diets
There is plenty of research that supports that food restriction can lead to increased cravings and binge eating. Diets can lead to a slower metabolism, disordered eating habits, nutrient deficiencies, a negative relationship with food, poor self-esteem, weight stigma and body shaming. Yo-yo dieting makes it very difficult to lose weight and eat healthy and you lose your trust with food. Did you know that 95% of people who lose weight by dieting will regain it within 1-5 years? The process of dieting just doesn’t work (1,3,4).
The Solution to the Diet-Binge Cycle
This year I encourage you NOT to start a new diet.
You do not need to be on a diet to cleanse your body or detox. That’s the job of your liver and kidneys. You don’t need a diet to be healthier, lose weight, or be beautiful. This is diet culture talking and it’s important to recognize it.
Yes I know you want to improve your health but instead of focusing on a new diet to start or on creating weight loss goals, how about working on non-diet related goals and focus on making a lifestyle change? A lifestyle change is sustainable, creates a positive relationship with food, results in long term behavior changes, improved physical and mental health, and overall well-being. The tips below will help get you started on your lifelong journey to health.
Three Tips to Building a Peaceful Relationship with Food
1-Give yourself permission to enjoy all foods. Follow an all-foods-fit approach and bring in joy and mindfulness to your meals rather than following ‘diet rules’. That will bring in pleasure and satisfaction. Focus on what you can add to your diet rather than limit.
2-Start to listen to your body. What does your body crave at this moment? Are you hungry? What does fullness look like to you? Starting to understand your hunger and fullness cues rather than following a checklist of foods is the start to creating trust around food.
3-Be compassionate to yourself. Would you talk to your friend the way you talk to yourself? Chances are no, yet we are really good at self-critiquing our eating habits. It takes time to adapt a new healthy habit. Sometimes a little self-care is needed to put you on the right track.
These tips provide a more positive approach to nutrition and are the essence of becoming an intuitive eater. Intuitive eating is a proven model that allows you to rediscover a peaceful relationship with food. If you are ready to ditch the diet mentality and create a positive, mindful lifestyle change then I invite you to apply for my nutrition counseling intuitive eating program. Schedule a free call today to see if this works for you.
What do you think of this approach to health? Let me know your thoughts!