Diet and dieting: two simple words but so dreaded by most. Dieting is usually meant as the way back to healthy eating habits after overindulging on the wrong foods and as a tool to lose weight. Great but does it work?
I remember when I was a little girl, we’d go for our annual family vacation where overindulgence was a favourite pastime. As soon as we’d be back home, both my parents would announce they’re now on a diet. The only sad result of that was the lack of a cookie to be found in the house during that mysterious ‘diet’ period. Of course, that only lasted a few weeks before all was back to normal. My parents usually always looked the same to me.
I had no idea at the time, but once dieting is normalised in a household, it’s hard to shake off in the future.
At least the perception of it as something good for you. And the mentality. And let me not start with the possibility of an eating disorder. Not one win-win scenario comes with dieting.
While at university, with project deadlines and lack of basic cooking skills, I too succumbed to that dieting pressure. Oh, I’ve been bad scoffing down junk food for a week, time for a diet detox. And yes, having been a vegetarian since childhood was not a guarantee for clean eating. And so, it went for years.
Why does dieting never work for anyone in the long run? I can think of many reasons but the ones listed below is why it never worked for me personally.
Dieting is restrictive
Dieting as a term is not just harmful mentally, it’s damaging physically. Now we aren’t referring to those allergic or intolerant towards dairy or gluten, for example, or those with high cholesterol who need to keep a strict diet free of such substances for their basic health. We’re talking about the average person, like me and you, who have a problem with setting boundaries with food.
I remember when I was pregnant and the doctor said I can’t eat runny eggs, that’s all I was craving! Runny eggs was all I could think of all throughout my pregnancy. Why? Because I couldn’t eat them.
And I never even liked runny eggs that much before I was told I can’t eat them.
And that’s the biggest reason dieting doesn’t work in the long run. No one likes the feeling of being deprived.
Dieting focuses on weight, not health
This really is the worst thing you can do for yourself mentally. Weighing scales have long been banned from my household as they can be so misleading. You could be retaining water and the scale goes up discouraging you from your attempts at eating healthy.
There are two ironies that occur to anyone who diets: the weight loss stops and the weight comes back. The weight loss stops due to the fact your body is entering starvation mode and does what it does best: ensures your survival by storing extra fat reserves. The weight comes back sooner or later. It’s been scientifically proven that the average person who diets, will put their weight back within 1 to 5 years.
Solution: ditch the scales and the diet!
Dieting limits your sweet tooth
Now, this is a huge deal for me. And possibly most females out there. Let me paraphrase this, most humans out there! Having a sweet tooth is so not gender-biased. If you tell me I need to ditch the sweets to be slimmer, I’d always pick to be bigger and eat sweets. The solution to this is moderation.
I do know one thing after years of attempts and it’s simple: diets just don’t work long-term. As much as we want them too. As many restrictions as we set. The weight keeps on creeping back and we feel worse about ourselves.
Would you want to restrict yourself for a year to only gain the weight back once you start eating normal food we humans crave? No, you don’t. And neither did I. Which brings me to the last point…
We are only human
We humans are social beings. Imagine being invited to a party where delicious food flows and you stand there with a glass of water and a piece of asparagus in the other hand. Would you have fun? No, didn’t think so.
So what works instead of dieting?
In my case, I decided to follow a simple daily eating plan where I ate everything in moderation. All of it: good food, sweets, pastries, you name it. Nothing is ever forbidden on my plate. My weight has been stable for over a decade. According to the doctor when I go for my routine check-up. I don’t own a scale, remember?
Is it possible to feel at your best without a diet? Of course it is, you just need to start focusing on the right methods that work for you and are sustainable long-term. For me, these have been:
Listening to your body
Your body doesn’t feel restricted and you begin listening to it more. Trust me, when you listen intently enough, it would tell you when you’re full or when you should eat more. Sure, there are days where I too cannot stop eating but that means there are other reasons behind it, like being too tired or it’s that time of the month, or you haven’t been eating properly and you’re down on nutrients.
Your body will always try and get everything it needs one way or another. It’s up to you to choose to feed it with proper nutrients or junk.
The 80:20 rule
I like to follow the 80:20 rule for each and every day. 80% good food and 20% – anything my heart desires. Combine this with some physical activity and there’s the recipe for long-lasting good health and proper nutritious lifestyle.
For example, I’ve had a fry up for breakfast, bring on the salad and fish for lunch and the soup for dinner. Or vice versa. And thrown in some healthy hummus sandwiches as a snack in between. Or a handful of nuts. Or a piece of fruit. You get the picture.
Be aware of what you put in
Being aware of good nutrition needs a little reading in the beginning. And depends on what you choose to eat. I’m a vegetarian, for example, so my meals always have to consist of the perfect protein. I would cook lentils with rice as opposed to just lentils to create that perfect meal that satisfies me for longer. A complete protein is born each and every time legumes are combined with grains and wheat. I didn’t even know this until I educated myself on the value of nutrition. And the reason I had to educate myself on nutrition is because I wasn’t gaining enough muscle while working out.
Defining your reason, your motivator
Find your reason of why you want to educate yourself on nutrition and why you’d want to invest time and effort into eating better and let that serve as your motivation each and every day. And please don’t ever focus on weight. That comes as a result but should never be the sole motivator.
My biggest motivators for being a healthy eater are being strong by gaining muscle and living longer. And not just living longer but living longer and feeling good about myself. Well it’s not like I can predict how long I’ll be around for but should I be blessed to reach old age, I would like to feel good about myself and live life to the fullest.
Noticing how you feel
Afternoon energy slump makes you reach for that chocolate bar? Notice how you feel after eating that and how you feel the next time when you replace it with something healthier like a handful of dry fruit and nuts. Observe your energy levels and make decisions based on exactly what you would need in that moment.
Getting enough sleep
This one is crucial. Not sleeping enough is the biggest reason we reach for junk food because we mistake the sugar high they temporarily give us for good energy we need to sustain us for the day. In fact, eating junk when you’re tired makes you feel even more sluggish and results in less energy and increased drowsiness and moodiness.
You hear me say that a lot, don’t you? And for good reason. Nothing gives you more energy and more determination to eat right than a good workout. If you’re prone to eating junk throughout the day, schedule a workout first thing in the morning. You’ll see how you’d want to reward yourself with good nutrition afterwards.
Love yourself regardless
Today is not your day and you don’t feel like eating right? That’s okay. There’s always tomorrow. Love yourself regardless of the goals you feel like you’re failing. You love taking care of people you love around you. Make yourself one of those people. Take care of you and your needs like you would with a loved one. When you learn to truly love yourself, you’d be less critical of you and more prone to taking good care of your being. You would start putting your health as a priority like you do with loved ones. And that would result in better lifestyle choices, nutritional ones included.
What has changed then? My desire to be good to myself, to take care of me. Not care about the number on the scale. I started caring about the food I choose to consume and how it affects me. I started caring about my health and my well-being.
And that is the best diet of all!