Why I Won’t Let My Clients Diet
This week, “New Year, New You” resolutions may be fizzling, and I just want to send out a note of encouragement that your chance at making 2017 a better, stronger year than 2016 hasn’t passed yet! There’s still time!
I love New Year’s Resolutions. There’s always room to take a step back, look at the big picture, and decide what lifestyle factors we want to shift. For me, I downloaded Quicken for my personal finances, started a new full-body weightlifting routine, and put lots of extra date nights with my husband on the calendar!
But here’s what I don’t want your New Year’s Resolutions to include: dieting. I don’t let my clients diet, because, by the very virtue of dieting, you miss the mark of what it means to develop a healthy, simple, and beautiful relationship with food (and your body).
Why Diets Don’t Work
Here’s a quick caveat: sometimes diets do work… temporarily. But diets are, by their nature, temporary. They operate on quick restriction, willpower, and fast results. Most commercial diets don’t educate you about how to eat for health, satisfaction, and long-term weight maintenance.
Instead, most diets set you up to yo-yo – to lose weight, then bounce back up quickly to your original weight, or maybe even higher.
Why does this happen? Two reasons:
Your body’s metabolism works all the time – even when you are sleeping or sitting at your computer. The only time you’re really aware of your metabolism is when you’re exercising and it seems like you’re burning a lot of calories with the high level of effort. However, you actually burn more calories throughout the day than you do during exercise. This basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories per day that we “burn” just keeping the heart beating and the lungs pumping. For most people, BMR starts in the low 1,000’s (for really petite women) and can go as high as the 2,000’s or even 3,000’s. It’s hard to beat that with a workout!
Most diets promise a “metabolic reset” or “jumpstart.” In reality, they do reset your metabolism, but not in the way that you want. Restricting your calories too low, as diets usually do, can effectively “fool” your body into thinking that food is scarce, and your body will instinctively and automatically lower your BMR to accommodate the scarcity.
Yes, you will lose weight, but the problem is that your body doesn’t increase the metabolic rate just as easily once the diet is over. It wants to safeguard your fat storage in case there really is a food shortage.
The consequence of this is that after a diet, when you go back to eating a relatively normal amount of food, your metabolism is even slower than it was when you started the diet. This means that you will probably gain even more weight back than you lost, because your BMR has been lowered to the point that perhaps more than half of your calories are seen as “excess,” and are automatically stored as fat.
It can take years for your metabolism to even out after a “successful” crash diet. If you lost a large amount of weight quickly in the last 3-7 years, keep in mind that your metabolism may be lower than someone who is your same weight who didn’t lose weight to get there.
It doesn’t seem fair, right? But it’s the way our bodies try to protect us from starvation. Just to be clear, no matter how quickly or slowly you lose weight, your metabolism will get slower, because you will literally be a smaller person with less mass to maintain. However, generally speaking, your metabolism will only slow down to the point that you restrict your caloric intake, so you can minimize the change by eating at the right level for your body to thrive.
On top of the negative metabolic aspect of dieting, there is a huge psychological aspect to dieting that can be very harmful to women. We are already bombarded with messages about what our bodies should look like, and even confident, empowered women struggle with knowing how to handle attitudes towards food, dieting, and body image.
My primary concern about dieting is that it creates black-and-white thinking, as well as a chasm between “good foods” and “bad foods.”
Foods simply can’t be classified into “good” and “bad.” It’s so much more complex than that! Enjoyment, biology, allergies, sensitivities, traditions, and personal preferences all factor into the choices that should drive our various ways of eating.
But here’s the real psychological problem with diets:
Diets teach you that you can’t enjoy both the body you want and the food you want.
Diets say, “You have to pick one.”
I despise how diets turn food choices into moral, black-and-white, fork-in-the-road decisions. You’re not “bad” because you ate something decadent that you love, any more than you’re “good” if you eat carrots and broccoli. Diets want to imprison you in your own mind, so that every time you lose weight, it’s the diet’s success, but every time you “fail,” it’s your fault.
Real Nutritional Skills
Developing real nutritional skills, on the other hand, allows you to both enjoy your food and to leverage your eating to achieve your health and fitness goals.
Nutritional skills include:
- Knowing roughly how much you should eat each day
- Consistently buying and preparing home-cooked meals that you love
- Understanding how to “eyeball” portion sizes
- Developing ordering-out skills that support your health
- Getting in touch with your hunger and fullness cues
- Sorting out issues with emotional eating
None of those skills are taught while dieting. Dieting is all about adhering to the plan. Developing real-world nutritional smarts, however, requires you to be patient, work through personal issues, and figure out your ideal way of eating through (sometimes circuitous) trial and error. Could it involve some self-discipline, transforming your attitudes, and perhaps eating less food than before? Aaaaaaabsolutely. But, ideally, these changes happen in a context of self-acceptance, long-term planning, and a flexible attitude.
Weight Loss is Slow
Finally, remember that – if you are using real nutritional skills and not “dieting down” – weight loss is a slow process, and it’s the adoption of a new lifestyle. It’s not temporary, and willpower, which can burn out quickly, will not be your friend. Instead, developing a healthier way of eating requires patience, persistence, and consistency over a long period of time. One pound per week is the most that I recommend for my clients, because it can be accomplished with a healthy, well-rounded way of eating that doesn’t eliminate or restrict foods that you love.
If you launched into an aggressive commercial diet this January hoping to “reset” your metabolism, don’t worry – there’s still time to change gears! If you have questions about what you could tune up your way of eating, contact me HERE to start the conversation!