The notion that diets don’t work (for better health, weight loss, etc.) is becoming increasingly popular, and for that, I am grateful. However, diets and diet culture are still everywhere, usually with promises like “do this for X time period to [insert bogus health claim], lose X amount of weight and feel amazing.” Because we live in a world that still celebrates small bodies and stigmatizes larger ones, diets with these claims are appealing even to those who may, deep down, know better. In my practice, I’ve found clients with a history of chronic dieting all have a breaking point in which they realize just how much diets can negatively affect quality of life. And they want out. Here are a few ways I help them do just that.
The diet industry does a great job making dieters think they’re doing something wrong when diets don’t end up “working” for them. Or that they’re “bad” for not being able to stick to a diet. This isn’t because you are a failure or didn’t have enough “willpower,” it’s because diets are not designed to actually work. The diet industry wouldn’t be a multi-billion dollar industry if diets worked or were easy to stick to. Let that sink in for a minute, and then repeat after me: It’s not you, it’s the diet that is the problem. So let’s get rid of it/them!
The other problem with weight-focused nutrition approaches and interventions is the fact that weight is not a behavior. It’s an arbitrary number that naturally fluctuates from day to day (thanks to fluid shifts!) and throughout the life cycle (puberty, pregnancy, menopause!). It is not something we have control over a lot of the time. For these reasons, I find it a mistake to make weight loss a primary goal (or secondary, to be honest) when working with clients. What works much better when it comes to health goals are real, health-promoting behavior changes that are actionable, measurable, and scientifically shown to improve long-term health outcomes.
When working with clients, I always focus on what they can do to complement their health goals and add to quality of life, as opposed to what they shouldn’t do. For example, instead of “you can’t eat past X o’clock” or “you must avoid X foods or food groups” (this never works, by the way), I use positive, health-promoting behavior change depending on the individual client, their lifestyle and goals. For one person it could be, “every week, aim to cook three meals at home” in order to eat out less and increase vegetable intake, and “during lunch, get outside for some fresh air and a 15-minute walk” to add movement into the day, or “have X fear food with lunch on Tuesday and journal about it” to help heal the relationship with food, and “take yourself out to a meal with no distractions or screens this weekend” to help you work on mindful eating. Health-promoting behaviors look different for everybody, and they can evolve over time along with your health goals. I almost always choose to start small, with 1–2 behavior changes to focus on first.
CLICK TO TWEET THIS ARTICLE > Trying to lose weight? Give up dieting and adopt these healthy behavior changes that last according to an RD via @myfitnesspal.
Without the numbers on the scale as a measure of “progress” (I say this in quotes not only because these numbers are arbitrary, but because often weight lost on a diet is not lasting, or it’s not done in a healthy way), it may feel like no man’s land out there in your health journey. However, there are many other ways to check in with yourself to see if your healthy behavior changes are benefiting your life in a meaningful way. Here are just a few examples:
- You are able to run up the stairs carrying a full laundry basket without getting out of breath.
- Playing on the floor with your children or grandchildren is no longer painful.
- Your digestive system is more regular.
- You can go out for ice cream with your family without feeling intense guilt and shame afterward.
- You no longer need medication for your Type 2 diabetes.
- Your cholesterol and triglyceride numbers are now within a healthy range.
- You just ran a personal best 10K (or half-marathon or marathon).
- You no longer feel like taking a nap at your desk when the clock strikes 3 p.m.
- You now know more than five ways to cook vegetables and enjoy them.
- You can go out to dinner with friends without stressing about being “good” or “bad.”
- You eat carbs with every meal instead of depriving yourself and feel more energized.
I could go on because the possibilities are endless.
Dieting (and weight loss, for that matter) do not equal health. In fact, dieting is very often one of the least healthy things we can do to our bodies. Health-promoting behavior changes can last a literal lifetime, once you figure out what is most meaningful to you and your health goals and put them into practice. If this seems daunting, working with a registered dietitian can be helpful!