Everyone I know has been on a diet. Unfortunately, diets can often do more damage than good. Here are 3 scientific backed steps to stop dieting and create a lifestyle change. AND still lose weight.
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You’re reading this because you are either a). on a diet currently or b). have been on a diet/diets in the past and failed.
And either way, I feel you. I’ve done all the diets and lost and regained the same 10lbs. I have failed every diet in the book. There is no judgment.
But, I have to agree with Yoni Freedhoff, author of The Diet Fix. In an article he published US News, he states, “I don’t think 95 percent of people fail diets. I think 95% of diets fail people.”
This statement is bold and there are going to be a number of people who strongly disagree with Freedhoff and me. But, most diets are designed to fail. WHAT?!
Every single diet includes some kind of deprivation. This can include calorie reduction, limiting carbs or sugars, limiting fats, limiting processed foods, or completely avoiding any of the above. Deprivation is not something that statistically works.
Why Diets Fail
According to a study by Traci Mann from the University of Minnesota, caloric deprivation (most diets) decreases leptin levels and increases ghrelin levels. Leptin is the satiety hormone and ghrelin is the hunger hormone. Those who are in a caloric deficit have increased ghrelin levels even after eating a normal meal.
To add to that, diets fail because being in a caloric deficit causes the brain to fixate on food. People can become almost obsessed with what and when they will eat next. And to top it off, people in a caloric deficit will associate food with rewards.
Maybe you can relate to this. Have you ever started a diet off strong on a Monday? Then, by Thursday you are dreaming of a “cheat meal” on Saturday? So you tell yourself, “I’ll work really hard at my workout and be extra ‘good’ today and tomorrow so that I can have ________ on Saturday.” And then Saturday rolls around and you eat more than you expected and justified it with, “I deserve this because I worked hard or because ________.”
You can see how this could become a vicious cycle of deprivation and then bingeing very quickly.
And unfortunately, this deprive/binge cycle will often cause people to regain the weight they have lost and then some.
Here are some other reasons that diets don’t work:
- They are temporary. Most people go on a diet to reach a specific weight loss goal. But, at the end of that goal, many people return to their old way of eating. This leads to regaining weight.
- They label foods good and bad. People who are long-term dieters will tell you that chips or ice cream are bad. This is the mentality that often sets people up for failure when they decide to have a “cheat day”. Your brain tells you that this may be the last time you get chips or ice cream, so you should eat more now.
- They can cause damage to your metabolism. If you start an aggressive diet where you are cutting out a lot of calories or a food group, that will have an effect on your hormones and how your body uses food for fuel. In the end, you could be left with a slow metabolism that makes it even more difficult to lose weight.
All of these reasons that diets fail is reason enough to stop dieting and create a lifestyle change.
Conspiracy or Sad Reality
This point is hard to prove, but stick with me, here. Above, I mention that diets are designed to fail.
Well, who designs these diets? Often, diets are designed and tested by doctors. And I believe that when these doctors tested and saw results from these diets, they were trying to helpful.
But, here’s where you have to be careful about what business and practices you trust.
The Keto diet was designed by physicians in the 1920s to stop epilepsy. But now, the Keto diet is commercialized by large wellness companies who want to sell you Keto weight loss drinks and pills that will put you into ketosis.
They are a business. And their business comes from those who want to lose weight. If every person who tried the Keto diet was successful with sustained weight loss, they would be out of business within a few years.
Instead, I believe that many companies see the flaws in these diets and they take advantage of those flaws. They know people will cave at a birthday party and eat a piece of cake that will take them out of ketosis.
So, they sell those people pills to help expedite the process of getting back into ketosis. But, again, this isn’t sustainable long term. Keto doesn’t fit with most social events or going out to eat or even traveling.
But people get results on Keto so they want to try again and again after they fail. This again leads to that vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting. And it fuels the diet and supplement industry.
In comparison, a lifestyle change is something you can maintain throughout your life. And it’s something that allows you to have freedoms from calorie or food group restrictions. You can still live your best life and lose weight.
3 Ways to Create a Lifestyle Change and Stop Dieting for Good
There are a number of ways to stop dieting. Some of them are going to be exceptionally difficult if you have been in a diet mindset for an extended period of time.
So, I took my own experience and a bunch of research to bring you 3 scientific ways to stop dieting for good and create a sustainable lifestyle change.
Stop Counting Calories
The number one way to stop dieting for good is to stop counting calories.
I know this has someone shaking in their boots. It can be frightening to think about giving up the structure and complete control that calorie counting provides.
But, this is the first step in stopping the diet mentality. And if you want to follow the other steps, this is where you have to start.
The Dangers of Counting Calories
- It’s a constant battle between the numbers and your stomach. If you are allotted 1500 calories per day and after you eat dinner you are at 1460 but still genuinely hungry, you will try and tell yourself that you’re not. This is deprivation. Your body knows when it needs food; all you have to do is listen to it. On the other end, if after dinner you have only consumed 1100 calories, your mind will jump to “I can have a cookie a scoop of ice cream”, even if your stomach is signaling satiety.
- You will eat less healthy food to save room for dessert. Your mind is a sneaky and extremely manipulative organ. Once you have been calorie counting for a while and have seen some weight drop, you’ll be convinced that as long as you stay below that number, you’ll lose weight, despite how nutritious the food is. This means, instead of eating a full lunch with a lean protein, healthy fats, and veggies, you will cut some of those calories out so you can have a treat food instead.
- You assume you can eat anything as long as you stay under your calorie intake and still lose weight. Reality is, you can. But it’s not sustainable. Your body needs certain macro and micronutrients to function at the highest efficiency. And when it doesn’t have those, it creates cravings that can send people into a spiral of eating anything and everything they can. So, when all your are focused on is the number and not the nutritional value, you will likely find ingenious ways to stay under your calories without sacrificing flavors you like from processed foods. But in doing so, you are setting yourself up for failure because your body will begin to revolt after some time and demand nutrients in the form of severe and almost uncontrollable cravings and fatigue.
- You start labeling days good or bad based on calorie intake. This is the point that finally made it click for me and why I gave up counting calories. If I went out to breakfast with my family and ate a calorie-dense meal, I would automatically label the day ‘ruined’ and just eat whatever I wanted. There was no balance. I was either right on track or blowing my whole day. And I’m not the only one who has been in this situation.
The Science Behind It
According to a 1956 study called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, reducing calories under maintenance level works for a period of time, but then the effects begin to decrease over time.
The body is an incredibly efficient thing, and it knows how to regulate weight on its own. When the men in the experiment reduced their calories to 1570 calories for a 6-month timespan, they did lose weight. However, their metabolic rate (the rate at which the body burns calories) also decreased by 40%. That’s an astonishing number.
What to Do When You Stop Counting Calories
You might be starting to agree with the above ideas and seeing how calorie counting can be more problematic than you anticipated. But, now you don’t know how to proceed.
First, delete whatever calorie counting app you have on your phone ASAP. You don’t need it anymore. At first, it will feel very foreign and you might have withdrawals. But, stay strong.
You are now going to focus on intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is the exact opposite of dieting. It’s a method of listening to your body and what it needs. This might sound woo-woo to some.
The idea is that you will pay attention to when your body is giving you hunger cues and eat at those times. You stay mindful while eating and when your body tells you it’s full, you stop.
The only other guideline is that you choose foods that make your body feel good and that also satisfies you in flavor. You don’t have to eat plain chicken breast or steamed broccoli if you don’t want to. That being said, intuitive eating means really taking time and effort to think about what your body needs and providing it.
Your body needs vitamins and nutrients from fruits and vegetables. So, find fruits and vegetables that you enjoy. When you know you are really hungry and want a big meal, choose things that will fill you up and keep you full longer.
But if at the end of the day you want a cookie, you can have one. There is no good or bad with intuitive eating.
This practice can take a while to get used to and to feel comfortable with, especially coming from such a strict routine like counting calories. But, stick with it and fuel your body with the foods you need and the foods you want and your body will take care of the rest.
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Stop Multi-Tasking While Eating
In today’s technologically advanced and on a tight schedule society, it’s not unusual for people to be on their phones, watching television, or working on their computers while eating.
But this minor habit has some pretty dire consequences. When your attention isn’t on your meal and instead on a screen, you are more likely to overeat.
As mentioned above, a huge part of learning how to eat to fuel your body, feel satiated, and still enjoy food is knowing when your body cues hunger and when it cues satiation or fullness.
It’s unlikely that you will be able to accomplish these tasks if you are preoccupied with TV, your phone, or your computer screen.
Instead, you should slow down and focus your attention on your meal. For one, this will allow you to sense when you get full. But, it also will allow you to savor and enjoy your food more. This alone can make you feel more satisfied after eating.
The Science Behind It
An article from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published in 2013 outlines the effects of eating while distracted. The results showed that those who were distracted while eating, had a moderate increase in intake immediately. Even more worrisome, those same people had a significantly higher increase in intake afterward.
How to Be More Mindful During Meals
Turn off your electronics and direct your attention to the meal itself. Again, this easier said than done. But there are a few ways to make this a process a little easier.
- Eat with your opposite hand. This will force you to go slower and it will force you to concentrate on the movement and eating more.
- Notice how your food tastes, smells, the textures, etc. Doing this will help send signals to your brain that will later serve to remind you of the food you ate. This can help with post-meal snacking.
- Eat before you are on the verge of starving. When you wait too long to eat, you are more like to try and compensate by eating more and eating faster.
- Take smaller bites. This one plays into time, like eating with your opposite hand. The smaller your bites, the longer it will take you to eat your meal, resulting in noticing fullness cues.
- Be grateful for your food. Gratitude works in just about every aspect of life. In this sense, it can help you to better enjoy your meal so you don’t feel like you were deprived of anything.
No Cheat Days
Are you about done with me yet? First I tell you to stop counting calories and now I’m telling you that you can’t have a cheat day in order to stop dieting. I know, terrible news.
But luckily, you don’t have to give up all your favorite foods. Instead, I encourage you to thoroughly enjoy a food item each day. For me, it’s usually a cookie or a small portion of sugary cereal.
Again, this all goes back to the idea of intuitive eating. But, I want this to be a major point because it has made all the difference for me in being able to maintain my lifestyle and enjoy every bit of it.
Rather than scheduling or planning a day away from your lifestyle change, you now have the freedom to include those little guilty pleasures in your daily life.
It all comes down to balance. With a cheat day, many people go overboard and can undo an entire week of hard work in just a couple of hours. You go out to eat, order the biggest cheeseburger on the menu, with fries and ranch of course. And don’t forget 2 beers and dessert afterward. After all, it’s a cheat day, so you have to make the most of it before you don’t get another one for a week or two.
Do you see how that can be troublesome? You will try and squeeze in as much of the desirable food as you can in one day because you know you won’t get it for a while.
Instead, when you give yourself permission to eat freely and have the foods that bring you comfort, there is no real deprivation period. And this also means that you don’t obsess over food so much.
You aren’t constantly thinking about the next cheat day or cheat meal. Instead, it’s just a part of your daily meal rotation. You get to enjoy it and go on with your day.
The Science Behind It
Honestly, this one has very mixed evidence. There are a lot of people that still swear by a cheat day, as it can raise leptin levels and increase the metabolism in the body for 24 hours.
However, according to Brigitte Zeitlin, a registered dietician, having a treat daily can improve a person’s emotional relationship with food. She eats dessert every day and tells her clients to do the same.
In this article, experts weigh-in on the pros and cons of cheat meals. Ultimately, it comes down to what is sustainable to you. The article also mentions that due to some people’s emotional or even physical attachment to sweets, once they cheat after being deprived, it can be a slippery slope and it’s difficult to go back to eating whole, nutritious foods.
How to Manage a Treat Every Day
You certainly don’t want to trip down the slippery slope, so if it’s not for you, don’t take this last bit of advice. Only you know your body and how you interact with foods.
But, if you love the idea of having a treat each day and want to be able to incorporate it into your lifestyle daily, there are still some guidelines to follow.
- Fill up on the ‘healthy’ stuff first. Eat your greens, make sure you are getting enough fiber, and be sure to get sufficient lean protein. After that, your body will already be telling you it’s pretty satiated. This way, you are less likely to overeat the treat food.
- Portion it out. By no means is this an invitation to bring the whole tub of ice cream or the whole bag of chips to the couch. Get a small bowl and give yourself a small portion.
- No distractions. Back to point number two, here. This is your treat. Enjoy every bite of it. Don’t waste your amazing treat focused on the television or your phone. Sit and really enjoy the treat. This is a great way to connect the mind and body so that you will feel content after eating your portion.
Weight loss does not have to be a battle between you and numbers or you and your favorite foods. You can stop dieting and still be successful in weight loss.
In fact, if you can adopt a sustainable lifestyle change instead, you are going to more likely to accomplish your weight loss goals than you would be on a diet.
Give yourself time to adjust. This isn’t going to happen overnight. It will take time for your mind and body to catch up with the freedom and also the responsibility of paying attention to how you feel and not just how many calories you are eating.
How many diets have you been on in your life? Have you tried to stop dieting without success? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. And send me a message on Facebook with your thoughts on the subject.