islandparent Parenting Health Ditch the Diet & Choose Health

Ditch the Diet & Choose Health

January is the time of year when many people start to think about making diet and lifestyle changes. The indulgences of the holidays have taken their toll and motivation is often high to get to work on fitness and weight goals. We are bombarded with information and advertisements for programs and products promising to help us lose weight, reduce health risks and feel better. The choices are endless: Keto, Paleo, Intermittent Fasting, Alkaline, Atkins, South Beach, Sugar Free, Fat Free, Cleanses, Detox, Cabbage, and Grapefruit. How do we know if they work? How do we know which is the best choice for us? The truth is, while most of these diets will result in weight loss in the short run, not one of them has been shown to produce consistent, long-lasting benefits in terms of weight loss or improved health.

The problem with diets is that they don’t change our long-term eating patterns so when we stop dieting we usually gain all of the weight back, and often more. Many diets promote rapid weight loss, which results in muscle loss as well as fat. This is counterproductive because muscle burns more calories than fat. When we severely restrict calories, we put our bodies into survival mode and burn less energy doing the same activities. When we return to our normal eating patterns, we gain weight because of our reduced metabolism. Diets that restrict entire types of foods can be nutritionally inadequate and can lead to deficiencies if maintained too long.

Most importantly, diets create an unhealthy relationship with food, which can lead to deprivation, binging and, ultimately, weight gain. Diets take a toll on our mental health by making us feel guilty, ashamed and lowers our self-worth, the exact opposite of our intent. When children see their parents dieting to lose weight, it influences their own ideas about body weight, affects their own relationship with food, and can set them up for lifelong struggles with eating and weight.

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Two thirds of Canadians are overweight. That doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with those individuals. It means we live in a culture that makes it very easy to gain weight and very difficult to lose it. Our lifestyle and environment promote weight gain. There is constant pressure to eat too much, and too much of the wrong things. The diet industry is poised to take advantage of that fact.

You might wonder, “If diets don’t work, what can I do to get healthy?” While there is little evidence to support the effectiveness of weight loss diets, there is plenty of research to support the health benefits of a well-balanced diet and a lifestyle that includes adequate sleep, stress reduction and exercise.

The research is clear that our bodies need the following for health:

• A variety of foods each day that includes lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grain foods and protein.

• Regular meals and snacks. Eat at least every 4 hours.

• Limited sugar, salt, alcohol and caffeine intake.

• Limited processed foods and foods high in saturated fats.

• Regular physical activity.

First, make small changes that you think you can maintain over the long term. This might mean something as simple as drinking more water, taking a walk on your lunch break or taking a piece of fruit for your snack so you’re less tempted to eat the muffins at the office. Build on this by adding one small goal at a time. Making small changes is easier and more sustainable than trying to change everything at once.

Second, stop weighing yourself. The scale is not a measure of your progress. It takes the focus off health and promotes unhealthy attitudes towards body image and self-worth. You can improve your health by making changes, even if it doesn’t result in weight loss. Reward yourself for changing your behaviour, not for losing weight.

Lastly, be mindful of your eating habits. That means paying attention to what, when, where, why and how much you eat. Take time to prepare, eat and enjoy good food. Pay attention to your body. Notice when you are hungry and when you’re full. Create a positive eating environment by making your eating area attractive, and eating with others. And remember, be kind to yourself when you over-indulge. You are not a failure, you’re human.

Diet Red Flags

Promises rapid weight loss. Anything more than 1–2 lbs a week is unhealthy and unsustainable.

Recommends a very low calorie intake (less than 800 calories) without medical supervision

Requires you to purchase products from a specific source or promotes the use of weight loss aids such as supplements or herbs.

Excludes entire food groups.

Encourages you to skip meals or fast for long periods.

Does not encourage long-term realistic lifestyle changes including exercise and a healthy diet that considers your lifestyle and health.