Well friends, it’s January. Which apparently means it’s time to talk about diets.
At this time of year you can’t turn on the television, open a web browser or flip through a magazine without hearing about the latest and greatest diet craze.
And to be honest, it kind of drives me crazy.
I completely understand the media obsession with new year’s diets. Every year, approximately 45 million Americans start a diet on January 1st. After several weeks (or months) of holiday indulging people are looking to clean up their eating habits and many resolve that this will be year they finally lose the weight.
The $66 billion diet industry loves this mentality. January is a great opportunity for weight loss companies to sell their specific “healthy eating” programs to a gullible public. And with a staggering 70% of the American population currently overweight or obese there is a huge market for these programs.
Unfortunately, the statistics on diets’ success are not very reassuring. Approximately 98% of diets fail and the majority of people who do lose weight wind up gaining it all back, and then some, when they go off the plan.
And make no mistake, the diet industry loves this. In fact, its continued success depends upon people’s failures – failures which often instill shame and guilt and make people feel bad about themselves. Grrr!
I was listening to a podcast the other day and the host was interviewing a “health” coach who was promoting her nationally-available weight loss program – one of the many that rely on prepackaged meals, shakes and supplements – to help people safely and easily shed weight. The interesting thing about this interview was that the coach never explicitly named her program nor stated that it relied on company-prepared packaged (i.e.: processed) foods.
In fact, early on in the podcast I was intrigued in her story because she spent the bulk of the interview talking about how she finally learned to listen to her body, focus on intuitive eating and make better choices, and how much better she feels since making these changes.
But then, as she launched into the hard sell, she said something like (and I am paraphrasing), “what’s so great about our program is we take all the guesswork, all the thinking, all the prep-work out of healthy eating. We know that for our clients, mostly busy women, it’s impossible to eat healthy – they are too busy [taking care of others] and too tired to choose and prepare healthy foods for themselves, so we offer them an alternative to the junk they are accustomed to eating.”
Did your eyes just bulge out of your head? I wouldn’t blame you if they did.
When I heard her say this I think I literally yelled “WTF!?! (luckily just the abbreviation) out loud during my run.
Did this woman really just insult half the American population by calling us too dumb and too lazy to make healthy choices on our own?
Yup, she sure did. And although I was initially shocked at her characterization of American women, I realized that this is exactly the picture the diet industry is trying to paint: “Losing weight is hard. You can’t do it on your own. You need us to make it possible for you. You need our perfectly portioned meals and our protein shakes and our specific food plans to accomplish your goals.”
And I get it – I get why this is appealing. Losing weight ishard. And many people can’t do it alone. And most people embarking on one of these plans has failed in the past and are desperate to find the magic solution that will finally work for them.
But I whole-heartedly believe that the answer to these problems is not some “program,” detox, cleanse or fad diet. Because my friends, there is no magic pill.
That’s why my advice is to ditch the diet once and for all. Yup, you read that right – make your resolution this year “not to diet.” I know this is controversial, but I promise you, you will be happier, and probably healthier if you skip the diet in 2019.
Let me be clear – I am not advocating that you stuff your face with Coca-Cola, chicken fingers and Twinkies. Nor am I suggesting that you spend the year lying on the couch binge-watching Hulu.
I have nothing against a genuine desire to lose some weight, especially if the motivation for your weight loss is to get healthier, stronger, have more energy, improve athletic performance, sleep better, find mental clarity or just feel better in general.
But how can a program, any program, that takes the “guesswork, thinking and prep-work” out of healthy eating possibly set a client up for long term success? I mean, does anyone really go on these programs forever? Is that the goal? Shouldn’t we, instead, be teaching people how to make healthy choices, prepare healthy foods and plan for success?
If you read this blog you know that I am very much in favor of healthy living. And I definitely believe that mindful eating is a big part of that. But you don’t need to go Paleo, vegan, gluten-free or Keto in order to have a healthier relationship with food.
In fact, I think a reliance on any diet that eliminates or drastically limits any type of food (except in the case of legitimate food allergies or health concerns) is most-likely detrimental to health, and it can make one downright obsessive.
The way you lose weight and get healthier is by making small, sustainable lifestyle changes. So, instead of trying another new diet this year, my advice is try these ten little things instead:
- Focus on adding not subtracting – try to get five (or more) servings of fruits and veggies every day.
- Find an activity you love and pursue it regularly – art, exercise, crafting, music, bowling, Pilates, game nights – whatever you like best.
- Set a bedtime. And stick to it.
- Follow the 80/20 rule – 80 percent healthy choices, 20 percent “treats”.
- Focus on how foods make you feel and listen to your body. You should not feel tired, sluggish, or bloated after eating. Pay attention to what foods energize you and what foods leave you wanting a nap and choose accordingly.
- Make time for friends and family. Just because the holidays are over does not mean that we have to hibernate. Make it a point to get together with others at least once a week.
- Drink mostly water, or at least unsweetened beverages.
- Cook at home.
- Plan ahead.
- Reduce your consumption of processed foods.
The healthiest populations in the world do not subsist on frozen meals, protein shakes and juice cleanses. They eat real food, lots of plants, they drink water (and occasionally wine), they spend time with people they love, they move a lotand they make time for sleep. Basically, they do the things I’ve identified in the list above.
You don’t need to implement them all at once. In fact, you shouldn’t. Start at the top of the list and try to do one of these things every few days until you have incorporated them all.
If you need an easy make-at-home breakfast to replace you’re your usual drive through sandwich or bagel and cream cheese, here’s a quick and easy breakfast idea for you: Greek Yogurt with Fruit and Seeds. I like to use 5% fat plain Greek yogurt, but even 2% tastes delicious and creamy (and way better than fat-free) and mix it with 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon of raw honey. Then I top it with whatever fruit I have available – usually there are bananas in my pantry, berries in my refrigerator or freezer, and this time of year I am really into frozen fruit. I have been topping my yogurt with frozen mango and pineapple or frozen cherries. And then I sprinkle a tablespoon of mixed seeds on top. I like to use chia, hemp, pumpkin and sometimes ground flax seeds. Coconut would also be delicious too.
Next week, we’ll talk more about meal planning and how it can help set you up for success this year.