Ever wondered why there are literally thousands of diets out there, and tens of thousands of books on losing weight, and yet we have a growing obesity epidemic? Most people I know (including me) have tried dieting and failed. So why DO diets fail? Here is my take on this contentious issue.
- They have a Narrow-minded Focus: All the diets that I have ever tried (in my previous life as a chronic dieter), focused on one or two health principles and ignored the rest. Take Atkins for example. It focuses on increasing protein intake while cutting down on carbohydrates. While this can be a positive if you are eliminating refined carbohydrates like white bread and baked goods, the dieter also loses out on the complex carbs from plants and whole grains that are chock full of vitamins and minerals. The Atkins Diet also fails to differentiate between good fats and bad fats. So you get pumped full of lean protein and ‘allowed’ fats such a mayonnaise and sour cream. As a result your brain is foggy and you have little energy. Our body needs complex carbs, healthy fats, easy-to-digest proteins and micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) to achieve optimal health. Which brings me to my second point…
- They are Unsustainable: So you did the diet, didn’t eat bread for 2 months and stayed away from avocados like they are the plague. You have lost some weight. Now what? The diet is over and now it’s back to real life. Most diets have a maintenance phase that is a tamer form of the core diet. Most diets ask you to severely reduce the intake of one or more food groups (see point 1), causing nutrient deficiencies in the long run. For example, if you are on a low fat diet for an extended period of time, you will start to see your nails and hair become brittle. If you are avoiding carbs and over consuming lean meat you will likely have constipation and feel foggy. It is unrealistic to expect that you won’t ever eat a morsel of bread again. You will. Sooner or later. It may happen at your niece’s birthday party or at the next family reunion. Either way, your diet should account for your life! You should have a diet that allows you to live your life but also stay healthy. It’s not about avoiding certain foods. It’s about recognizing what your body requires to thrive, and minimizing the empty calories.
- They create a Vicious Cycle of Deprivation and Guilt: This is my biggest pet peeve with diets! Most diets make you feel starved and deprived of certain foods. Maybe you can’t have any fats, so you are craving olive oil on your salad. Perhaps you can’t eat carbs so you are craving a big piece of bread to make you feel full. The feeling of scarcity and deprivation creates emotional longing for that food. You may resist for a few days but eventually you will cave, and you will cave in a spectacular fashion (oh, I’ve been there!). You won’t opt for a piece of whole wheat sprouted grain bread. Oh no, you will eat a croissant! We all know what comes next. The Big G. Guilt! Now you feel like a horrible person who just inhaled a croissant. And you’re bloated. Talk about emotional eating! To get off this roller coaster, we have to pay more attention to our thoughts and their connection to our bodies. The more in-tune you are with your body, the better informed you are of what it requires in that moment. The bottom line is that the more you deprive yourself, the more likely you are to binge eat. So don’t put your body and mind through that roller coaster ride. It’s not worth it. You end up right back where you started and you feel crappier about having “cheated”.
- They Fail to Make the Connection between Food and Nutrition: Our society has reduced food to mere calories, fats, carbs and proteins. There are 13 vitamins and at least 18 minerals needed by our bodies to operate at an optimal level. These micro-nutrients are key participants in thousands of chemical reactions happening in our body every second, of every day. Not only are they part of these reactions, they are the catalysts! Which means that these reactions will either slow down or not happen at all without these nutrients. So forget about calories, weight loss and vanity for a moment. Are you feeding your body foods that are packed with these nutrients so that these important processes can take place? Just think about that for a second. Is that muffin you just ate hurting you or helping you? We have to shift the focus on how you feel after you eat something instead of focusing solely on taste (and food that is good for you can taste good!). Western society is plagued by lifestyle diseases that are directly connected to what we are putting in our mouths: type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, IBS and so many more. Our high cancer rates are definitely related to the toxins in our environment and the toxins we are putting in our bodies (think food colourings, preservatives and additives). The answer is obvious. What you put in your mouth today will determine your health 5, 10, 20 years from now. So don’t be short sighted. Don’t follow a diet that does not emphasize the important of providing optimal fuel for your body.
- They Perpetuate the Magic Pill Myth: In the last 5 years we have seen a massive influx of magic diet pills and potions that promise to melt away the fat, revealing gorgeous, toned and slim Jennifer Aniston-like bodies. Those companies are just out to make a buck and are doing a disservice to society. They are perpetuating a myth that one diet, one pill, one book can fix your problems. Firstly, we are all unique individuals What works for one person will most like not work for the next. We are not assembled in a factory. All of us have unique body types, our own food sensitivities and metabolisms. Popular weight loss diets and diet pills do not take our unique body chemistry into account. Secondly, Rome wasn’t built in a day. We all want a quick fix for all of our life problems. However, it’s time to get real! Think of the injured athlete who goes to physiotherapy for several weeks and months before finally getting his or her full range of motion back. Change happens slowly. Bad habits take time to break. Good habits need patience and persistence to ‘stick’. If you have low energy, asthma and need to lose 50 lbs, no cookie cutter diet will fix all your issues. You are better off doing your own research, working with practitioners that will work your individual needs and figuring out what works for you and your lifestyle, at your own pace.
So this year, ditch the diet. Get off the “weight loss train”. Instead, look to whole foods that nourish our bodies and fill us with bountiful energy to meet our challenges head-on and live our lives to the fullest!