It’s that time of year again. “New Year. New me.” It’s the mantra that plagues us each and every new year. While resolutions can be made for any aspect of one’s life, one particular aspiration seems to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind: weight loss. Starting January 1st, it seems that every advertisement is from someone promising they have the elusive, magic weight loss solution. Whether it’s your trainer at the gym, your “keto” friend, or the girl on Facebook you went to high school with who sells multi-level marketing; they all believe they have found the one secret that our New Year's Resolutions have been missing year after year. It appears that if any of these cures actually worked, losing weight wouldn’t be at the top of seemingly everyone’s to-do list. Still millions of Americans flock to gimmicks and impossible to maintain diets in hopes of getting rid of those pounds for good.
Sometimes you don’t fail at your diet. Your diet fails you.
Have you ever started a weight loss plan, done amazingly well for a few weeks, and then completely fallen off the wagon? That’s because the large majority of diets are not maintainable for the long term. They are put out by individuals or corporations with little to no knowledge of the body’s intricate biochemistry, who are merely looking to make a quick buck off of consumers who are caught up in the New Year's weight loss craze. After trying and failing at these faulty plans, most people feel as though they failed, as though they didn’t have enough willpower to keep up the progress. If you have ever been in this position, take heart in this: there is a high probability that you were on a plan that was never set up to be sustainable.
One reason dieting is so tricky is that our bodies are much more equipped for storing weight than losing weight. Our ancestors were constantly on the move, and their next meals were not always promised. As a survival tactic, our bodies evolved to store energy for times of need. This is an advantageous adaptation but can pose a problem for those with more sedentary lifestyles and in our modern world where calorically dense foods abound. Your body perceives an overly restrictive diet as a threat because its number one goal is to ensure that you have enough energy on board. This is why many individuals get stuck in an overeating cycle. They try to reduce their intake down to an absolute minimum and then end up binging on junk food later. This isn’t a failure on the dieter’s part. The brain perceives the extreme restriction as potential starvation and overrides the body’s willpower, causing the individual to seek out whatever food is available and to eat as much as possible. This restricting and binging cycle is the reality for so many. And, the sad part is, these people believe that they are to blame.
Whether we are in energy surplus, maintenance, or deficit, our bodies use a mixture of stored energy and energy coming from the foods we eat. A successful weight loss diet must be designed in a way that stimulates the body to use more stored energy than dietary energy. However, our bodies prefer to keep these energy stores locked away in case a time of actual starvation arises, so the reduction in energy coming into the body needs to be moderate enough to be sustainable.
Another factor that can cause a diet to fail: not enough variety. Ever tried a diet that instructed you to eat nearly the same thing each and every day? There’s a reason almost every nutrition expert puts variety near the top of their list of health recommendations. If you have a protein shake for breakfast and grilled chicken, broccoli, and rice every day for lunch and dinner, you might feel that you are on the right track. However, this routine will not even come close to meeting your body’s micronutritional needs. While we can supplement to make up for some of this, we are designed to eat a variety of whole foods in order to get the maximum amount of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients from our diets. If you start a diet that restricts your eating to only a handful of foods, you may have a greater drive to overeat simply because your body is deprived of nutrients and it is seeking to fill those needs. Any sustainable weight loss diet will not force you to eat the same foods each day.
A third reasons weight loss diets fail: one size fits all approaches. We all have friends who have tried one weight loss plan or another and they go around telling everyone they know that this diet works and it is better than any diet they have ever tried. Maybe you’ve tried one of these programs and were frustrated because it didn’t work for you. There is a major fallacy of believing that one weight loss plan will work the same for everyone: we are all very different. We have different needs based on weight, gender, age, and genetics. We have different preferences. The individual’s food preferences should always be considered when designing a weight loss plan. It’s pretty obvious that a diet consisting of foods you enjoy will be easier for you to stick to. Yet, so many want you to follow a regimen without taking your likes and dislikes into consideration. While food is a source of energy and nutrition, it is more than that. It is integral to nearly every social gathering. It can be comforting and nostalgic. It can allow us to experience other cultures. Food is meant to be enjoyed.
While it meets vital biological needs, food also meets some emotional needs. We are constantly told that emotional eating is bad, but that’s not true. Emotional overeating is a problem. But, eating is extremely connected to emotion, and that is not a weakness that needs to be overcome. Your diet shouldn’t force you to eat foods you hate and it shouldn’t remove all of the foods you love. Losing weight and misery do not have to go hand in hand. Food is fun, and it doesn’t have to stop being fun when you are losing weight.
One final reason for diet failure: there is no transition back into real life. The worst diet is one that puts you through all the effort of losing weight and meeting your goal, and then doesn’t help you transition back to eating at a weight maintenance level. So, even if you were able to stick to an overly restrictive, monotonous diet, you might end up finding the weight you lost coming right back in a few months. The period of time right after a weight loss diet is crucial for finding balance and solidifying your progress. Your diet should include a plan for this time as well.
While the New Year’s dieting craze can be overwhelming, hopefully, this article helps you feel more equipped to weed through the scams and gimmicks to find a successful, enjoyable plan of action for you. As always, Nutrition World is here to partner with you on your wellness journey. If you need additional guidance, I am happy to meet with you to set up an individualized plan that fits your needs, lifestyle, and preferences.
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