I just stumbled upon a really fun and mindless activity in the process of doing some research for today’s blog. I wasted a bit too much time because I was kind of blown away. A few weeks ago I was slightly enraged after a Dr. Oz show promoting the miraculous grapefruit diet, implying some magical activity of “nootkatone” the substance in grapefruit that supposedly leads to increased metabolism (long story short, I could find no meaningful research other than it also repels tics). The reality is the eating plan promoted was an extremely low calorie diet (on the verge of starvation if you ask me) which clearly would cause weight to be lost (from muscle breakdown, water loss mostly and probably not the grapefruit). Oh, and nootkatone is found primarily in the skin. Yum.
Anyway, I decided to google food words followed by the word “diet” just to see what came up. I decided to go with some of my favorite foods. I googled “ice cream”. Yup, there is an ice cream diet. Then chocolate. Yes again, The Chocolate Diet. Cookies. Bananas. Pizza. And finally, The Pasta Lover’s Diet. I concluded it would never end. Try it, it’s kind of funny.
What isn’t funny is the extreme feelings of guilt and shame many dieters get when they eat something that is not on their diet. Typically, people watching their weight avoid certain foods like the plague, but then break down and eat them due to many reasons (cravings related to inadequate intake which triggers your brain to have the craving is the usual reason). Often, a distorted assessment of the “damage” done by eating that piece of cake or slice of pizza or side of fries occurs. People tend to assume (imagine) that weight will be gained from eating that specific “bad” food. “If I ate pasta I would gain so much weight!” I hear people say. Or, “how can she eat that and not gain weight?”
Yes, lots of foods have a bad rap and assumptions that they can make you gain weight as if they have some super-power to magically add weight. And yet, many of those same foods have their own weight loss diets named after them. Don’t you find that interesting? Or a bit crazy? Even infuriating if you ask me.
I am here to keep repeating the truth. As a woman who has been around the block a few times (as they say) at least when it comes to working within the weight loss world and eating disordered worlds, as well as just observing those who diet, and those who successfully evolve into a happy eating lifestyle, I have something to say. I wish I had a magic wand that make it stop but I don’t, so let me explain:
- There is no one magical food or drink that makes you lose weight. I remember a mom from years ago whose child attended the Headstart preschool where I worked. She was trying to lose weight, so she bought some “Slimfast” shakes. She did not understand why she was not losing weight because she was drinking one after every meal she ate. She thought she just needed to have one of these magical shakes after everything she ate (mostly fast food) and it would make her “slim-fast”. Don’t be fooled into buying anything that sounds magical.
- Most diets, any diet based on any food (even the grapefruit claim) causes weight loss because of the calorie deficit that results with restriction. They all come with a “diet plan”. Losing more than a pound or 2 a week almost always translates into muscle loss (and resulting lowering of metabolism). In the long run, when people fall back to old eating and lifestyles, weight returns. Don’t waste your time or money.
- You actually CAN eat your favorite foods every single day of your life. If you can work on the principles of intuitive eating, and understanding your own feelings of hunger and fullness you will figure out how much and when you want to eat what. This is not easy for everyone. Some people have true fears of foods and need help getting over it. Others have the brain chemistry as well as genetic make-up that makes it difficult to feel fullness. If this is you, getting help from a registered dietitian and a therapist to help with strategies to work on coping mechanisms and an eating plan that works for you is often called for.
- Nutrition matters. You don’t have to be a health-nut but it is helpful to understand the effect of different meals and nutrients on your body, hunger, appetite, fullness, digestive system, etc. For example, I may prefer sweet foods in the morning (maybe your favorite thing for breakfast is a donut and coffee) but the physiological response to this will be crashing a few hours later because there is no protein in donuts and they won’t sustain your blood sugar. So should you add an egg or two on the side? Eeeeww if you ask me….eggs don’t go with donuts, and personally, I can’t eat an egg at 7 am. You can however, have that donut but chances are, when you crash, you will want something with protein (your brain and body tends to work that way). So bringing a Greek yogurt or peanut butter and crackers, or leftover chicken wings, whatever floats your boat in the protein world should do the trick mid morning. Get it? Nutrition matters because the more you know about it, the better you can blend your food preferences with feeling good and getting through your day with both health and happiness.
- Please don’t feel bad if you like to buy some diet products that might work for you. People ask me to check out bars, shakes, etc. all the time. One bar someone shared recently was from some type of diet plan which also sold its products. This particular bar was supposedly a “meal replacement” and per the nutrition label it actually was pretty good. The problem was it cost about 5 dollars. That is a lot, but then again, that’s the diet industry. This person loved the convenience and could afford it. Like I said, whatever works for you as far as foods or products. I just hate wasting money and I hate supporting the diet industry.
- Regarding those people who “gradually evolve” into a healthier lifestyle and tend to maintain their genetically determined natural body weight? I have noticed they focus on healthy eating but without dieting. They tend to structure meals and snacks (such as having 3 meals a day with a snack in between) so they don’t get overly starving and tend to maintain energy levels (which feels good compared to dieting, skipping meals, etc). Although they do tend to do some planning to have the foods available they like, they also go with the flow when there is a celebration or pizza party, or happy hour and enjoy what everyone else is eating. They do come prepared and bring lunches they like to work that also tend to be healthy (maybe leftovers from the night before). They also tend to exercise, walk, jog, work out on a regular basis because they are not on a “diet”, just working on all aspects of health. And that feels good, too.
Where do you go from here? If you want to move away from that dieting mind set and get to the point where you feel you are moving in a healthy direction, yet also getting to eat your favorite foods, I always suggest checking out Intuitive Eating for a great introduction into the world of normal eating and for guidance on how to get there. And remember, you know yourself best. If this journey is too overwhelming for you, seek support from a therapist who specializes in eating issues (you can ask your doctor for a referral near you).
In the meantime, go google your favorite food with the word “diet” after it. I hope it makes you laugh and see the insanity. No food is magical after all.
PS I just googled “wine diet”…..yup, it’s there.