Yes, the holidays are over and millions of people are guilt-ridden over the amount of pumpkin and pecan pie, coconut and carrot cake, homemade cookies and candies, turkey and ham they have consumed over the past six weeks. So begin the pilgrimages to weight loss centers and gyms to lose weight this new year and rid themselves of their excess tonnage and their guilt. People grasp desperately for any and every diet that promises quick weight loss.
Let me make it clear that I am not a dietitian, a medical doctor or an exercise guru. What I share with you comes from numerous trainings on the topic of eating disorders put on by a variety of experts across several disciplines. In addition, over the last 20 years I’ve counseled scores of people with disordered eating and done screenings for people considering bariatric surgery.
Here is a secret about diets no one tells you: they work and they don’t work.
Here’s why they work. Nearly every diet is based on restricting your intake of certain foods. If you choose the Rhubarb Diet (or any other such absurd diet, i.e. watermelon diet, cabbage soup diet, etc) and all you eat is rhubarb, eventually you will get tired of eating rhubarb and won’t eat as much of it. So instead of eating five giant helpings of rhubarb a day you will barely be able to choke down a few mouthfuls of thubarb. Guess what this does? Cuts down greatly on your caloric intake! And that’s why you lose weight. It ain’t the rhubarb, honey.
And here is why diets don’t work. They take you on a very predictable train ride:
- First stop – Excitement. “I’ve just found a new diet!”
- Second stop – The Last Meal before your execution. Eat all you can before dawn tomorrow!
- Third stop – It works! You experience weight loss (but it’s mostly water).
- Fourth stop – Adaptation and craving. By this time your body has adjusted to the reduced intake and slowed its metabolism. This results in a plateauing of your weight. Suddenly all you can think about is food!
- Fifth stop – Frustration and rebellion. You soon regress to a 6-year-old, stomping your foot because you aren’t losing weight and telling yourself, “No one can tell me what I can eat and can’t eat!”
- Six stop – Gain weight and give up. As soon as your weight begins going back up you are stricken with feelings of shame. So you throw up your hands in defeat.
- Last stop – I’ve got to do something. And the solution? “I’ve just found a new diet!” (All aboard! The train ride starts all over again.)
This is why I tell people, “Don’t try to lose weight.” There is a subliminal message you give to your body with that thought. The message is, “I’m going to get rid of part of you.” I believe this encourages your body’s resistance to your weight loss efforts. It’s a tug-of-war between your will and your body.
So what’s the answer? Change your goal! Let your goal be to live a healthier life, which includes eating healthy and exercising appropriately. Our bodies are perfectly designed so that if there needs to be weight added or reduced they will do it on their own.
If you need help in knowing how to “eat healthy” or in setting up an eating plan (NOT a diet plan), I offer three suggestions:
- First of all, consult with a Registered Dietician. These folks are not as hard to find as you might think. Every hospital and every extended care facility has to have a dietician either on staff or with whom they contract to provide their services. My experience is that these folks are extremely eager to offer helpful advice to individuals who are trying to live a healthier life.
- Secondly, consider following a diabetic eating plan, even if you are not diabetic. You can quickly find these in your local library or on the web.
- Thirdly (and the suggestion I most often make), join Weight Watchers. Three things make their approach successful. You are allowed to eat a variety of foods; actually you can eat anything you want. The food diary that is required acts as an accountability partner, keeping you honest with yourself about what you are actually putting into your mouth. And then there is the support you receive from a group of people who, just like you, is trying to live a healthy life.
People often make the exercise component of living a healthier life way too complicated and expensive. You do not have to join a gym or hire a personal trainer in order to get benefits from exercise, though those can be a part of your plan. For many years I have had a habit of walking two miles a day at least four days a week. It is part of my lifestyle. Don’t use the elevator or escalator, climb the stairs. Park your car as far away from the front of the store as you can. Use fifteen minutes of your lunch time to walk or stretch.
Balanced Eating: Where to Start? (Ann Capper, RD, CDN)
Why Isn’t My Diet Working? (Video)
Finding a Nutritionist (article – Constance Rhodes)