The Best Diet is No Diet
Have you ever gone on a diet? I'm going to assume you have because... at this point who hasn't? I'd say the majority of us have even tried multiple. For some reason they're just so tempting, you hear about a new one from a friend that "lost 10 pounds," or "feels so great!" Suddenly, there you are eating cabbage soup 4 times a day, or swearing off all carbs. Depending on the diet, you may have lost some weight, and even felt good for a while. But see, that's the problem with dieting - diets have an end date, or they're so restrictive that you end it yourself, because you just can't deal with it anymore. Then, almost every time, you wind up back to where you started within weeks, but now you've added a sense of failure to your plate. This is where you’re wrong: you didn't fail, diets are unsustainable by design, so don't blame yourself. Just quit the diets.
Let’s start with a little science…
A psychology professor named Traci Mann, has been studying eating habits, dieting, and self-control for more than twenty years. Through her research she has discovered enough to write an entire book, but I want to focus on one collection of findings in particular. There are three biological changes that occur when we diet, that she found particularly useful:
- Neurological change: when we're on a diet our brains are more focused on food (maybe 'cause we feel like we're starving). So, when we're in the presence of something that looks delicious - it literally, neurologically, looks more delicious than it would if we weren't on a diet. This means that all the things you're trying to resist actually are harder to resist. So stop blaming your terrible willpower, because willpower is not the issue.
- Hormonal change: when a person starts losing weight quickly, the hormones in their body that regulate the feelings of hunger and fullness begin to change. The hormone that makes you feel full is reduced, and the hormone that makes you feel hungry is increased. Your body’s systems are literally telling you to eat more. This happens because our bodies are built for survival, so if our body thinks that we are "starving" it will adjust to make sure we survive. Your body doesn't care about how many pounds you want to lose, your body's job is to keep you alive and moving, and most diets feel like a threat to that.
- Metabolic change: ironically, dieting almost always triggers a slowing of your metabolism. When you provide your body with less calories than it is used to, it works to adjust to the new "norm" and becomes more efficient. This feature sounds pretty awesome (it is, the human body is fucking amazing) but what it means is that it uses less calories so that it can store more calories. This kept us alive during the hunter-gatherer days, but it does not work in your favor these days.
Long story, short: Just about every time you go on a diet, your body thinks you're in danger of starvation, and when your body thinks you're starving it does everything in its power to prevent it. A.K.A. We’re biologically predisposed to suck at dieting, so stop beating yourself up about it.
Sooo, if we shouldn’t diet… how do we lose weight?
Aside from the biological reasons that dieting is useless, I mentioned earlier my biggest issue with diets: lack of sustainability. Most diets have a built-in end date, or they don’t have one but they’re so restrictive that we eventually begin to cheat, and cheat some more until we feel like we’ve failed and we just give it up all together. Neither of those things is sustainable and both of them result in frustration (usually because you gain any weight you may have lost, back).
The solution? small, consistent lifestyle changes. You can’t just wake up on Monday and declare that you’re never eating ‘this, that, those, and this’ ever again, because eventually ‘this, that, those, and this’ will slip their way back into your life, and you’ll be looking for the next diet to try, since that one wasn’t for you. Instead you can make small, non-restrictive changes. For example: maybe you’ll decide to start eating 2 more servings of vegetables than you usually do in a day, then once that change feels like a normal part of your life, you might consider implementing a new little change.
The key here is to meet yourself where you are. If your current breakfast everyday is two breakfast sandwiches, and a coke, maybe your first lifestyle change would be to try swapping one of the sandwiches for a piece of fruit, or to try swapping the coke for a glass of water, or seltzer. If you want to make sustainable changes in your life, it’s not realistic to just uproot your entire routine and change everything overnight. Sure, a breakfast sandwich still isn’t ideal, but reducing it from two to one is progress. That little progress serves as the foundation for future progress, and before you know it you’ll be feeling better, and looking better. Progress without feeling restricted, miserable, or starving is the kind of progress your body, and your mind can get behind.
The frustration, that can occur with this method is that it’s a slow process, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to experience drastic weight loss, this is a significantly more gradual process. In today’s world of instant gratification that can be a difficult part to accept or even feel good about, especially in the beginning. But that’s the thing about it, it’s a natural, healthful, process that doesn’t scare your body into revolting against you, and that is also why it’s sustainable - meaning you can actually succeed permanently with this approach. Cliché as it is: Rome wasn't built in a day… so why would you expect a healthy body to be built in 21, 30, or however many days that new diet you wanna try lasts.
One last thing...
Your goal really shouldn’t be to reach a certain number on a scale. I know, I know, you’ve probably heard it before but this is quite possibly the most important point I’ll make in this whole post. You should never let a number define you, not the number on the scale, not the number on a pair of jeans you want to fit into, not your BMI. Who gives a shit what that number is? When you walk out your door in the morning, can anyone see that number? Can you even see that number when you look in the mirror? No. Those numbers are meaningless, so stop giving them so much power.
Your goals should be tangible, something you can actually feel. Do you want to feel more comfortable in your clothes? Do want to feel less bloated? Do you want to feel more capable during your workouts? Do you want to stop feeling so tired in the middle of the day? Do you want to feel more confident? When you look in the mirror do you want to like what you see? Do you want to feel healthy? Do you want to live a long, enjoyable life?
Those are the kind of goals that are worth working towards, those are goals that help you to make small changes one by one, and stick with them - because they feel good. The food that you put into your body impacts so much more than just your weight, that’s something so many of us forget. Focusing on some silly number is what gets us caught up in dieting, you get this idea that if you could just get to this number by the summer, or by the wedding, or by next month - thennn you’ll feel better. But let’s be real, dieting doesn’t feel good. Living feels good. Listen, if you want to keep track of your weight, if it gives you peace of mind - that’s fine. Just remember that it doesn’t actually mean anything, unless you give it meaning, so try to shift your mindset to care more about how you actually feel.
Make small changes over time, figure out what works best for you, and order that incredible dessert at your favorite restaurant when you want to! You only get one body in this lifetime. Do not just care for it until it weighs as much as you want it to weigh, take care of it for life.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it, let me know what you think in the comments. I’ll be ramping up my content over the next month or so, and I have so many things I want to share. If you have any ideas you’d like to see in future blog posts, please send them my way, I’d love to hear from you.
Never miss a post, get exclusive emails, & stay in touch with everything LLL by subscribing below!
Here's a quick list of microchanges you might want to try! Remember, try just 1-2 at a time, then add another, once the previous ones don't feel new anymore.
- Commit to drinking more water (ideal daily water intake is 64+ oz.)
- Experiment with changing up your coffee: transition to having it black, try it with butter instead of cream and sugar, swap from cream to milk, stop using artificial sweeteners, etc.
- Start eating 3 meals per day
- Try cooking on nights you would usually order out
- Try packing yourself lunches for work
- Try a new type of exercise that you might enjoy more than your current routine, or just change up your routine
- Start being mindful about chewing, and eating your food more slowly- listen to your body, really taste your food
- Start reading the ingredient labels before you buy/eat something
- Experiment with putting more greens in your smoothies
- Try a new vegetable every week
- Check out your local farmer's market
- Try transitioning from soda to seltzer, or reduce your soda intake (please don't bother switching to "diet")