“to restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.”
This may surprise you, but as a Dietitian, I actually don’t believe in dieting.
Does this seem kind of contradictory?
Let me back up. “Diet” is a confusing word. It could describe a customary way of eating such as a ‘vegetarian’ diet or a way of eating according to cultural beliefs such as a ‘halal’ diet. Diets are also needed for medical reasons such as a gluten free diet for celiac disease. I want to be clear that the kind of diet that I’m referring to in this post is the initial definition – following a restrictive way of eating in order to loose weight. I call this deprivation. Why am I against dieting?
- They’re nearly impossible to sustain. Many people lose weight initially, but the vast majority of people who lose weight by dieting will regain it in a couple of years. Diet plans tend to be thought as a temporary plan that is followed until a goal is achieved. Then what? In addition, the deprivation of restrictive diets may lead to a diet-binge cycle.
- They could lead to nutrient deficiencies. Diets that are restrictive, such as fad diets, may lack essential nutrients. I’m going to used the gluten free diet as an example (although it is a diet for a medical need, it has recently become a fad diet used for weight loss, in my opinion). A gluten free diet that is not properly planned could lead to vitamin deficiencies such as B-vitamins (including B12, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6) iron and folate.
- They take the pleasure out of eating. Frequent dieters become so preoccupied about the nutrient and caloric composition of what they’re eating that they fail to enjoy one of the most wonderful activities in our human existence – food consumption. Eating becomes mechanistic. It is also easy to feel guilty as conflict arises between your bodies desire and your minds restriction. Dieting, along with the frequent and compulsive weighing that accompanies it, can lead to eating disorders.
- They fail to address the underlying issue. This is probably the biggest reason why I don’t believe in dieting. A diet tells you what you should eat. Now go eat it. However, there is much more to weight loss than communicating what should be eaten to loose weight. Why has there been weight gain/why does the individual feel they should loose weight in the first place? Do they not have time to prepare home cooked meals and eat out often? Do they not have the skills and confidence to prepare healthy dishes for themselves? Are finances an issue? Do they have healthy foods available to them? Do they stress eat? Do they not have time to exercise? Do they feel they know how to exercise? Do they enjoy any physical activities? Do they have the supports to exercise and prepare healthy foods? And above all – do they have enough confidence and motivation to make a lifestyle change? In my practice when patients have asked me “what should I eat” I reply with “well, what and how do you normally eat and what are your goals?”. A prescriptive diet plan often fails to address these barriers and therefore won’t necessarily work for everyone.
Alternatives to Dieting
I will expand on these more in a later post but I thought I should briefly touch on them here:
- Expand your cooking skills and try new healthy dishes to increase your confidence in food preparation.
- Eat to feel full – eat fibre rich and protein rich foods.
- Find an additional motivation for eating healthy/exercising more than to just loose weight. How about making a goal to finally run that 5 K race?
- Allow yourself a treat every day to avoid feeling guilty when you crave one. I like the 80/20 rule – make healthy choices 80% of the time but 20% of the time have fun with your food choices.
- Learn to love your body. The way you are naturally is beautiful. Adopt a healthy lifestyle instead.