Dear Chronic Dieters,
I hear you. You tell me that dieting always works for you. You always lose weight when you cut out this or that food, or when you follow a certain type of plan. You are always able to lose the weight when you put your mind to it. You measure your success by the weight lost. I’m here to tell you that these weight loss diets aren’t a success, despite the weight loss. You may have lost weight but these diets have not worked.
You’ve had success with weight loss diets but you think about food all the time (like ALL the time). You’ve had success with diets but it’s made eating the foods you enjoy cause feelings of guilt and shame. You’ve had success with these diets but you are miserable. You eat different foods than your family. You can’t attend a social event without worrying about the food. You have a lot of regret after eating a certain type or amount of food. You binge in private. Considering all this, can we really call the weight loss or these diets a success? This type of “success” comes with a huge sacrifice. Your thoughts should not be consumed with food. Eating should not take up so much mental energy.
You’ve had success with your diets but the weight loss has never lasted. You may attribute this weight regain to a number of factors - lack of willpower, a job change, boredom, or some other stressful life event but you do still feel that these diets work. If only you could stick to them.
These diets have caused you to lose so much more than weight. These things that you've lost along the way don't bounce back as fast as the weight does. Or ever. You regain the weight but the food guilt and restrictive thoughts stick around. You punish yourself for your body just doing what it was meant to do. Survive. Your body doesn't know that the starvation (i.e. diet) was on purpose. It doesn't know you wanted to deprive it from nutrients so you can fit a smaller clothing size. It reacts by slowing down metabolism, in an attempt to preserve itself. To survive. When you inevitably drop the diet, your body says “Oh, thank goodness!” and over compensates for the restriction. This can come in the form of a bingeing and/or weight gain.
It's not your fault, though. Dieting is an easy trap to fall into. It can become a vicious cycle. It often does. We are surrounded by messages to lose weight. Diets are advertised to us everywhere. They promise results. They promise a new you. They promise happiness. They say their diets are so easy you can’t fail. Well, they are right about about something. You don’t fail on these diets. These diets fail you. The problem is that these diets weren’t made with you in mind. Very few people can follow these restrictive plans. These diets continually over promise and under deliver.
Now what? If restrictive diets don't work in the long run...then what? If not dieting, what do you do? Nothing?
I’m certainly not here to tell you that it’s wrong to want to lose weight. However, spending a lifetime hopping on and off different diets just doesn’t work. I think deep down you know that. It’s time to stop hunting for that “one diet” that will just work for you. It’s time for something different. It’s time to look at health and your weight from a different perspective. Your weight isn’t the only thing that determines your health.
I know it's scary to drop the diets. I know it's scary to do exactly what all those diets told you not to do. But...those diets didn't deliver long term success or happiness, did they?
Focus on health. Focus on the things which make you happy. Focus on moving your body, not to expend calories but make your body feel good. Focus on giving yourself foods that energize and nourish your body. Focus on what you can add to your diet, rather than what you “should” take away. Give yourself permission to eat ALL foods, even those that don’t fit into the category of “healthy” foods. Focus on healthy ways in which to deal with stress and emotions, ways that do not include food. Focus on getting enough sleep. Focus on making your heart full so that the number on the scale doesn't matter as much.
Now, the difference between what I do as a Registered Dietitian and these restrictive diets is that I can never promise (or, rather falsely promise) you a certain amount of weight loss. I don't even know what a healthy weight for you is. I can make an estimation based on your height and body type but it's just that, an estimation. A healthy weight is dependent on a number of factors and is very individualized. The scale isn’t the best or only indicator of your health.
I can't in good conscience encourage an eating plan that will severely underfeed and deprive you. While you may get immediate results with a restrictive diet, these results won't be sustainable in the long term. I can, however, help you to include (and hopefully enjoy) a healthful range of foods. I can help you identify behaviours that may be influencing your weight. I can help you learn to identify your hunger and fullness cues. I can help you break free from all those diet rules that you’ve internalized over your many years of dieting. Doesn’t that sound better than going on yet another diet?