The last time I dieted, I was 17.
I had no idea what I was doing and no education at all on how to eat.
No one told me how to be healthy—only how to be skinny. But I despised restricting calories and not eating what I wanted. I preferred to eat what I wanted and then throw it up…and so I did.
Eventually I gave up. I couldn’t do it. Dieting wasn’t my thing! I became sick, overweight, and quite miserable—and I lost a cherished spot on the Australian dance team.
Isn’t it funny how we weren’t taught we could eat well and have a thriving body at a healthy weight, and all at once?
This recent NY Times article dives deep into the science of why dieting didn’t work for me—and why it probably won’t work for you either.
To sum up the results of so many studies on dieting, it just doesn’t work. I’ve been saying this for years. In the long run, restrictive diets are hardly ever effective, don’t improve health, and may even cause harm.
Why? We have a certain weight range, called the “set point,” where our bodies want to be. The actual range varies from person to person, but whatever it is, our brains are hardwired to keep us there. When our weight drops too low—through excessive calorie counting and other restrictive dieting, for example—our brains go into “starvation mode” and suppress metabolic function.
As a result, we burn fewer calories and feel hungrier!
According to the NY Times,
“Men with severe obesity have only one chance in 1,290 of reaching the normal weight range within a year; severely obese women have one chance in 677. A vast majority of those who beat the odds are likely to end up gaining the weight back over the next five years.”
This is why cutting calories simply does not work. Our brains (thinking we’re starving) will declare a state of emergency, and they will ultimately win, packing any lost kilos back on. In addition, these kinds of diets are stressful and anxiety-inducing. Extra stress hormones cause our abdominal fat to increase, while anxiety frequently induces binge eating.
It took me over a decade to figure it out what to do instead, but you don’t have to suffer like I did. I’ve been thriving now for nearly 10 years, and I am so happy to share my tips for eating in healthy abundance.
Here are a few ways to never diet again:
Eat What you Love
My family and I enjoy every meal that passes our lips. That doesn’t mean I spend tireless hours cooking while my daughter has to entertain herself; rather, it means we love simple, nourishing foods. Eating fresh, ripe pineapple sprinkled with coconut sugar as a whole meal, for example, or a banana and raspberry smoothie with greens from the garden. Simple. Delicious. That’s the key. This way, we love eating, look forward to mealtime, and build a healthy bond with food.
Address the Actual Issue
Diet programs tell us exactly what to eat, yet we still fail. When I eat out and order fries, it’s not part of a plan; it’s a response to not having planned anything. We may turn to chocolate when we haven’t eaten much in a day. We may turn to high-fat foods when we actually need emotional comfort. When we find the issue, we can meet that need instead. If we can predict the issue, then we can even plan ahead and address it rather than turning to junk food.
Eat Before you Leave the House
We know that healthy, nutritional options are only part of our choice. It’s helpful to bring awareness to some other factors, such as our environment. If our home is filled with a certain food, it is likely we will eat that food. If the shops near our work sell junk, we’ll need to be prepared with better options. And our environment is social too—what are our friends, family, and partner eating? Which situations will make wise nutritional choices challenging? Eating a nourishing, fulfilling meal before we head out changes the game. If we’re satiated nutritionally, then cravings won’t win.
Make Conscious Choices
Our food choices stem from our history, our stories, the advertisements we see, and ingrained habits. We must stay away from advertising in all its forms, and keep awareness on ourselves. We may not always be conscious of the stories driving our behaviour, but we can play with our patterns. If we’re craving junk foods, it’s more than likely we’ve not had enough nutrients or calories. When we enjoy healthy foods that we love in abundance—unrestricted—we reap the benefits of a craving-free life.
I used to have a salad and a Magnum ice cream bar, and think that one balanced out the other. It doesn’t. A standard salad is usually a piece of lettuce with a couple slices of a chosen vegetable and some fat drizzled on top. That does not suffice! That’s why I wanted the Magnum (honestly, I actually wanted three Magnums and allowed myself one or two).
Once I began eating more fruit and bigger meals in general, I completely stopped the insane self-talk and began reaping the benefits of a nutrient-rich body, and a calm, nourished mind.
All you Need is Love—and a Heap of Fruit
In the past, all my attempts at diets came from a place of dieting to be good enough. Talk about setting myself up to fail. Here’s a better way: we decide now that we love to eat foods that nourish our every cell and desire.
I’d love to hear from you. Have you experienced similar challenges with restrictive dieting? How did you transition into a healthier way of eating? Please share in the comments!
Author: Donna Wild
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Catherine Monkman