When you are contemplating starting a new diet, the first and most important question to ask yourself is this “Is it sustainable?” “Can I maintain this for the rest of my life?” or will I find myself doing this again next Spring, Summer or the next time I want to fit into a certain outfit?
Dieting, by definition, is a temporary food plan. It may help you lose weight in the short term but most dieters will know that once they revert back to their normal eating habits, all the weight comes piling back on again…and more, in many cases.
The deprivation of restrictive diets can lead to a diet-overeat or diet-binge cycle. Since your body is wired to protect you from starving, it responds to overly restrictive diets by slowing your metabolism, which of course makes it harder to lose weight. This is proof that dieting actually changes our biology, but not for the better.
The Biological Changes of Dieting
According to Dr Traci Mann, a psychologist from the University of Minnesota who established The Mann Lab – a health and eating lab – where studies are conducted that focus on the health behaviours of dieting and eating, there are three important biological changes that take place when dieting:
Neurological. When you are dieting, you actually become more likely to notice food. Your brain becomes overly responsive to it, especially to tasty looking food. But you don't just notice it — it actually begins to look more appetising and tempting. It has increased reward value, so the thing you're actually trying to resist, becomes even harder to resist.
Hormonal. As you lose body fat, the amount of different hormones in your body changes. The levels of the hormone that make you feel full decreases, while the hormone that makes you feel hungry, increases. So you are more likely to feel hungry, and less likely to feel full given the same amount of food.
Metabolic. Essentially, your metabolism slows down. Your body likes to use calories in the most efficient way possible, which is a good thing if you were starving to death, but a bad thing if you’re just trying to lose weight. When your body finds a way to run itself on fewer calories there tends to be more leftover, which ultimately get stored as fat – exactly what you don’t want.
Lose the Diet Mindset and Focus on Wellbeing
Dieting is inherently bad because involves the wrong kind of motivation, which is why it rarely leads to the desired goal. A better way forward would be to stop focusing on weight loss and instead focus on your WELLBEING.
Here are a few wellbeing rules to live by.
Be active. This includes all your daily activities as well as incidental exercise such as using the stairs instead of the lift. If you have a sedentary job, get out of your seat regularly. Make sure you walk daily and aim for 10,000 steps per day.
Eat well. If it’s packaged or tinned it’s not fresh. Eat whole foods and plenty of fresh foods. Also making sure you eat a balanced diet as well as the right portions. A good way to avoid foods that are bad for you is to shop in the outside isles of the supermarket where all the fresh fruit and vegetables tend to be kept. Remember, if you don’t keep unhealthy foods around you, you are less likely to eat them. Lastly, drink alcohol in moderation, or if you prefer, remove it from your diet altogether.
Practice Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating is an anti-diet approach developed by dietitians in the 90s that now has a compelling evidence base supporting its effectiveness. It works by helping you ditch diets and dump the emotional baggage around eating. Practicing Intuitive Eating will help you understand your body’s signals so that you eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. In practice, that means you:
give yourself permission to eat how much you want — then work on figuring out what makes your body feel good.
sit down to regular meals without distractions. Multitasking—like eating while watching television or working—and distracted or hurried eating can prompt you to eat more . Read more about the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating.
Exercise. If you’re not a regular exerciser, start slowly with three times a week for 30 minutes each session, and then expand on that. If you’re not sure what the best exercise for you is, find a good personal trainer . A professional personal trainer will provide you with the tools and education that lead you to new ways of thinking about your health. It may take some time to implement but remember you didn’t put the weight on overnight either!