Have you ever been frustrated because no matter how hard you try at something, there are obstacles that emerge seemingly out of nowhere that thwart your efforts? I’ll share my example. My 22 month old very suddenly decided to go on an impromptu high chair strike last week and wouldn’t eat unless he was running around like a maniac. At the same time, he decided naps and bedtime weren’t for him anymore. Temper tantrums for the history books ensued. I tried all different techniques to get him back on track, but despite my best efforts and quickly draining patience, I wasn’t getting anywhere. I always try hard to get more calories and healthy foods into my slender little boy, and this obstacle totally blindsided me.
I have many clients that have an array of different obstacles keeping them from achieving their goals. Many times, these goals are towards weight loss. I’ve seen so many that have the best intentions, but often come discouraged because of failed past attempts, or because they have regained. What is the common denominator in this picture? The word, “diet.”
Most people assume that as I dietitian, I put people on strict “diets.” Not exactly, and man, that would be depressing to do all the time. I actually hate the word “diet.” No one wants to be on a diet, I mean, it has “die” in the word. Not too encouraging. To me, My job and passion is to improve your every-day way of eating and encouraging LIFESTYLE changes. A diet is temporary. A healthy lifestyle change is meant to be permanent, which means results, and permanent ones at that.
Humor me and let’s follow an imaginary client, Jill.
Jill is a mother of two, and has a full-time job. Her friend is getting married, and she is to be a bridesmaid. She wants to lose about 50 lbs in the next 2 months, so she decides to go on a “crash” diet. She restricts her calories, cuts out snacks, avoids carbs, and joins a gym with the intention of working out everyday. She feels tired and grumpy a lot of the time, but she sees the weight coming off. She manages to drop 30 lbs by the wedding, but a few months later, she is back at her previous weight. Jill feels frustrated, discouraged, and not exactly excited to do another crash diet to get back to her goal weight. She also feels unsure of what to eat anymore. Why didn’t this work out for Jill?
Expecting too much too soon.
Trying to lose too much weight too quickly is typically not maintainable and hard on your body. A healthy weight loss is considered 1-2 lbs per WEEK. While this seems slow to some, you are more likely to keep it off, and avoid putting your health in jeopardy.
Overly restricting calories causes nutritional deficiencies, other health complications, and leaves you feeling miserable and deprived. You might even see your hair dull, your fingernails break more, and your skin get dry. A severely restrictive diet is of course, not maintainable, so as soon as you come off of it, you will regain. If you feel hungry all the time, hunger is going to win. Think of it this way: 1 pound is worth 3,500 calories. To lose a healthy amount of 1 lb per week, you should cut 500 calories per day from your normal caloric needs. You can cut 500 calories from what you eat, work out to burn an extra 500 calories a day, or can split it 50/50, by eating 250 calories less and burning 250 calories. These are all options, and you are much less likely to binge after being ravenous too long, and then beat yourself up after. After you have reached your weight goal, you may need to adjust your daily calories to prevent too much weight loss.
Focusing only on carbs
Carbs have gotten quite the bad rap in the last decade or so, an the popularity of diets such as Atkins, Paleo, etc. skyrocketed. While an excess of carbs in the diet can cause weight gain, eliminating carbs can cause more nutritional deficiencies (especially of B vitamins leading to anemia and other complications), and leave you feeling exhausted and moody. It also leads you to replace that food group with an excess of protein, fat, and possibly other highly processed, made to be “carb-free” foods. Rather than eliminating a food group (not maintainable or healthy) Jill should have instead viewed her diet as a “whole picture.” She needs to focus on a variety of all food groups, in proper portion sizes. Any diet that wants you to eliminate a food group is one to avoid. They are food groups for a reason, and science still backs that variety, in healthy portion sizes, is the key.
Unrealistic goal setting
Jill rightly knows that you must exercise in addition to eating better to see results, so she joined a gym and decided she was going to get on a treadmill everyday. While Jill has great intentions, the combination of her exercise commitment, the overly-restrictive diet, working a full-time job and mothering 2 kids made her feel horrible, and after the wedding was over, it made her dread the thought of going back to the gym again. To get to her weight loss goal, Jill would have been better off setting a more realistic and more maintainable goal for herself that would fit with her current lifestyle. Pick an exercise you think you’d enjoy, and set a goal you know you could live with, permanently. Maybe going to the gym 2-3 times to take a Yoga class (which Jill really likes better than suffering on a treadmill anyway). On other days of the week, she could take a pleasant walk/jog with her kids to decompress.
To permanently make healthier lifestyle changes, you NEED motivation, and you need it for the right reasons. Jill wanted to lose weight because she was focused on looking good for the wedding. While looking and feeling good is important for our self-image and confidence and is definitely part of it, the wedding was a one-time event, and once it was over, her motivation lacked. Sometimes finding the motivation calls for self-reflection. A better, more permanent motivator might be wanting to improve her health, prevent chronic disease in the future, and live a long and full-filling life for her kids and grandkids.
Eating better is a journey. We need support in journeys, especially emotional support. When it’s not there, or feelings are not communicated, it can get tough. Having someone there to encourage and support your efforts makes a great difference. For example, Jill and her kids could make a goal together to eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day, and could be there for each other to encourage one another. Or maybe Jill and her coworker could exchange healthy recipes they found on Pinterest, and share each others progress. Or maybe Jill could see a registered dietitian for counseling and to continue with goal setting to keep her motivated.
Some people are emotional eaters. If you are on a diet, and something happens, you may “fall off the wagon” and then feel guilty. Rather than forcing yourself back on a restrictive diet to compensate, a great way to deal is food journaling. When you notice you ate more than you intended, what was going on? What were you feeling? Write down what you ate along with the emotion. It is amazing how quickly you can see a trend, and how you might better handle it in the future. This can tie back into emotional support.
These are a few ways Jill, or anyone, might be more successful. Rather than focusing on a particular “diet”, focus on your lifestyle, your eating habits again, as “the whole picture.” Instead of focusing on “good” and “bad” foods, change the focus to portion sizes and moderation. Focus on quality, cook at home with more whole foods and real ingredients. Lead an active lifestyle, but don’t beat yourself up if you are not “perfect” everyday. Roll with life by this attitude, and I guarantee you will be more successful than any diet out there. The results may be more gradual, but I promise it is worth it in the long run.
So back to my toddler (if you are still reading by now!), do you want to know what finally worked? After many exhausting efforts to get him to sit back down for meals, we rolled with it. We got rid of the restrictive high chair, got him a big boy booster seat, and skipped the strapping him in. Once he felt he had some freedom and a little independence, he went with it (with a little encouragement). Bedtimes are getting better too. I guess being too restrictive just isn’t good for any of us in the long run! We’re human!
One last thing…if you need guidance on weight loss, want to learn proper portioning and even get a personal meal plan based off your caloric needs (not a diet), please don’t hesitate to make an appointment with me. We can skip the fad diets and cut to the chase of what science has proven to work, for permanent and healthful results. Check out www.food4success.com for more info on my services, a schedule of upcoming classes, and how to contact me.
Until next time!