Why Diet Mentality Isn’t Working
While making drastic changes to our eating can help with weight loss, at least initially, going to extremes is often not sustainable over the long term. Think of The Biggest Loser approach. Why punish ourselves and then end up back at square one?
This is where mindfulness comes in. By paying close attention to our bodies and honing tweaks we can live with, for the rest of our lives, we feel self-empowered. Cultivating body trust, with awareness, is what will get you to a healthy weight, a weight you can happily maintain over the long term.
There is no one size fits all diet either. We are all individuals with underlying pre-existing medical conditions, such as the state of our thyroid function, or our resistance to insulin, whether we are aware of them or not. These conditions inevitably affect our metabolisms. Hence why some individuals can drop weight easily and others struggle, even when eating the exact same calorie amount.
Back when I was addicted to sugar and simple carbs in my twenties, I was unaware that I had polycystic ovaries, insulin resistance and candida. Ironically, I developed polycystic ovaries due to being raised on excess sugar and simple carbohydrates, like lots of pasta, sweets and bread, however, I didn’t even know what these conditions were, let alone how to treat them.
I suffered from Candida, which is an overgrowth of bad gut bacteria, due to chronic antibiotic use (for my severe acne). I didn’t understand that my gut was leaky or that my chronic migraines were an indication of an underlying sensitivity to gluten. It was a vicious cycle of beating myself up and not really understanding the underlying causes of my conditions.
However, these somewhat “invisible” conditions that I was unaware of, caused me cravings so intense that they were stronger than my ability to say no. Then I would start a diet which forbid these foods completely, and I would be miserable. It became a form of physiological torture.
The main reason restrictive diets don’t work is that most of us can’t stay on a diet for a long period of time because we often crave the food we are avoiding. Also we are not addressing the root causes of our cravings. And when we have been using certain foods as a way of coping emotionally (from a bad boss for example), to take away our lifeline feels like freefalling into our own private hell. We get hangry. We suffer immensely without our trusty support system because we haven’t replaced it with a healthier coping mechanism. We lose our patience. It usually doesn’t end well.
Diets also tend to encourage unrealistic restrictive eating habits that are neither sustainable nor healthy. I’ve seen some women attempt to go keto, only to end up exhausted and adrenally fatigued. Most busy women, especially busy mum’s need some complex carbohydrates to make it through the day.
Eventually what happens, when we feel deprived and tired, resistance creates force, we start to resent the restrictions and we overeat the foods that are forbidden… Then there is literally no. Carb. Left. Behind.
Or, another big one is alcohol. Dieters are prepared to abstain, until the Champagne starts flowing at their best friends’ birthday party…or work function. Or anniversary….or Christmas.
I once read in a book that most alcoholics are potentially hypoglycemic, which means that they crave alcohol due to having low blood sugar. If this is true, then we would be best to focus on keeping blood sugar stable through better eating and reduce the need for liquid sugar, in the form of alcohol. However, I believe that for some people, abstinence from alcohol is the best solution. It’s up to us to really know ourselves. Yet, we can’t abstain from food, so we need to figure out a way to work with it.
I know that restricting carbohydrates works for weight loss. But does this mean we need to be Keto or zero carb in order to be a healthy weight? Such extremism is usually not necessary. In fact, doing keto properly is actually very hard to do and to maintain over the long term.
While being in ketosis has its merits scientifically (for example, I would go keto if I had cancer, to starve the disease of its sugar source) however, often just emphasizing more quality protein and healthy fats in our daily eating routines simply helps to satiate us more and leave less room for the “play foods” such as cookies and ice-cream.
But can we still have a cookie or some chocolate ice-cream? Yes! In fact I recommend having foods we love, mindfully, with intention and attention, following real food and in small quantities. We need to have our protein first, then we don’t tend to overeat the treats.
In my mind, it’s up to us to experiment and figure out our personal carbohydrate tolerance. For example, how much can we eat and get away with? And we do this by paying attention to our own bodies. We become nimble and non-judgmental. If our jeans are tight after a day of too much cake, we make adjustments the following day, and perhaps eat lighter that day, to maintain our equilibrium. No need to beat ourselves up or be riddled with guilt.
There is no such thing as “good” or “bad” foods. In fact, it’s best not to morally judge food, because it’s just food, whether it has nutrients or not. There’s a time and a place for all foods, if we really want them, in a well-rounded eating plan. At the same time, just because we can eat everything, doesn’t mean we need to or even want to.
By forbidding certain foods, we tend to increase their allure, which can then lead to the paradoxical effect of weight gain and decreased confidence in our ability to do something as elementary as feeding ourselves.
When we take a step back from diet culture and focus instead on learning to recognize and understand our hunger cues, both emotional and physical, we naturally become in better tune with our bodies.
Our intention is to achieve a sustainable, pleasurable health focused lifestyle based on the pillars of self-love and self-care. Only you knows what feels right for you. In addition, I’ve found that quality sleep, physical activity and stress management are all important categories of a healthy lifestyle and go a long way in helping us manage a healthy weight.
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G'day. Welcome to my blog, where I write about mindful eating. My name is Sally Asher and I'm a wellness author of three books. I hold a Health Science degree and have a passion for behavioral change. I live between South Florida and Melbourne with my husband and two teenagers. My husband and I run a real estate investment company. I love to help people eat mindfully and reconnect with the innate, intuitive sense of eating that we are all born with.