Why quick-fix diets are not the answer
As a dietitian, I get excited when others start a journey toward healthy eating. However, I am sometimes concerned by certain ways to go about this, like quick fix diets, detoxes and pricey supplements that promise drastic results. This is because dieting leads to more weight gain and less body satisfaction in the long term, plus most people do not need any special products to be healthy. Healthy eating can be cheap, tasty and fun, and is more likely to be sustainable when achieved in this way.
How diets often lead to weight gain
It is possible to lose weight on many different diets; the hardest part is avoiding the weight regain afterward. Dieting increases the risk of gaining weight, instead of losing it, by over 300%; and 95% of dieters who lose weight will gain even more back. Why are so many motivated dieters failing at keeping the weight off? Because science has not yet found a diet that leads to losing and keeping off even an average of 5% body weight in the long term. This means that for someone weighing 200 lbs, a permanent 10 lb weight loss could not be guaranteed. Going on a diet (low calorie, ketogenic diet, etc.) involves restriction which leads to weight loss. Even with exercise, metabolism still slows down since it has less fuel to work with. Muscle can start being broken down for fuel, and this muscle loss also lowers caloric needs. Dieting tends to make people hungrier and more irritable, making cravings harder to control and increasing the risk of giving up and binging on “bad” foods they were avoiding. Unless this diet is maintained forever, people eventually start eating more food again. The trouble is that metabolism stays low, even after a whole year! Many end up gaining more weight than they lost, which lowers body satisfaction and increases the likelihood of dieting again in the future, leading again to more weight gain. This is called yo-yo dieting; where it is actually possible to “diet” your way to a higher weight.
What about cleanses?
Cleanses can have different meanings but the general idea is to remove toxins from the body or help organs do this even better. This is sometimes done by taking supplements, but it could also mean eliminating everything except for one specific food. While cleanses are trending; registered nutrition professionals are certainly not recommending them. The lungs, liver and kidneys remove toxins every day and the body eliminate best when given enough nutrients such as protein and fiber. Dietitians of Canada, a professional association dedicated to giving evidence-based nutrition information to improve health, states that detoxification and cleansing claims have no evidence to support them and are often actually false advertising. They do not make weight loss easier and can instead harm health, especially for children, people who are pregnant or lactating, or those who have diabetes, or kidney, heart, or liver conditions. Cleansing can also seriously affect medications being taken, therefore a medical doctor or pharmacist should always be consulted first.
Best rated diet of 2019
Though quick-fix diets are not recommended, research does show that proper nutrition can improve health. It is best to learn to accept our bodies the way they are first, and then only make healthy behavior changes that are sustainable for the long term. For those looking for direction on what to eat, the Mediterranean eating pattern is rated 2019’s best diet. It is easier to stick with compared to normal diets and is well known for its benefits around heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer, in addition to some long-term weight loss (if that is a goal). This way of eating focuses on plant-based foods like produce, whole grains, nuts and beans, plenty of fish and flavoring with herbs. It involves both regularly eating nutritious food to help our bodies work well, and occasionally choosing less nutritious items as well.
Slow and steady wins the race
Working on permanently changing eating patterns takes more work than a quick fix, but there are so many more benefits to be had. Building a healthy lifestyle involves making new routines so that the nutritious choice is the easy choice. Food is meant to be enjoyed, and when energy is spent on learning ways to cook that makes nutritious food taste good, then maintaining a healthy lifestyle is easier. If you find yourself dining at restaurants too often, research new recipes to make homemade meals exciting! Maybe dust off that slowcooker to make the after-school rush less stressful. Keep in mind that even when we fuel our body with nutritious foods, we need to do so mindfully. Many things influence what and how much we eat – some common triggers are emotions, free food and habits like snacking while watching TV. Instead, let internal hunger cues lead the way, and slow down to really appreciate whichever foods you choose to eat. Get support in creating a new food environment; tell family or friends it is important and have them help. We tend to do better when we talk about our new healthy changes and get others involved.
For those trying to improve their nutrition in the New Year, congratulations on taking the first step! Working on a better lifestyle, especially without focusing on weight, will have so many benefits in terms of energy, mental health and prevention of disease. Stabilizing at a natural weight associated with healthy eating and moderate activity will be much more satisfying than forever chasing unrealistic standards through quick fixes. Rome was not built in one day, and a new lifestyle will not be either. Start with small, enjoyable changes and work up to larger goals. It takes effort and there will be setbacks, but it is important to be kind to ourselves and to keep moving forward. All too often, we have negative thoughts about ourselves and our bodies that we would never say about our loved ones. It is time to start accepting our bodies the way they are and appreciating them for whatever they give us – perhaps strength, resilience, vision to see nature’s beauty or the ability to create life.
For those needing more support, dietitian appointments can help with learning about the Mediterranean diet or with barriers to healthy eating. Take advantage of the Healthy You weekly group program starting in April 2019 to help stay focused in the long term. To learn more or sign up, contact Michelle Stevens by calling 229-1541 x232 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michelle Stevens, RD