Why Diets Do Not Work...
Yup, I said it, they just don't work. Now, why would I, as someone who is studying over 100 different types of diets, say that diets don't work? Don't worry, I'll explain, and at the end of it all, I'll give you four ways to achieve your health goals! ;)
So to begin, the statistics show that 95% of people who do a diet for a given period of time, gain back the weight they lost within 5 years or less.
I suppose you could say they work temporarily, but not long term.
Has that ever happened to you? Where you've gone on a diet, had some success, lost 10, 15, 30 lbs... and then over the course of time, gained it back?
It's really common, and if you answered yes, you're not alone.
Perhaps you had a good experience with whichever diet you chose.
Or maybe your experience was like most people, where you felt ridiculously restricted in what you're "allowed" to eat, hungry, deprived, and/or lethargic. In these cases, an important brain chemical, serotonin, is decreased. Serotonin is responsible for feeling happy or content, and it is biochemically developed in your digestive system. Makes sense, right? Who hasn't felt pure delight in consuming delicious foods?!
Part of the problem is, eating isn't meant to make us feel hungry, deprived, or lethargic. Moreover, it isn't meant to be something that is dreaded or anxiety inducing, "Welp, here I am again, eating 5 pieces of broccolli and chicken breast for dinner. Woopdy doo." or "Oh my gosh, I totally forgot to pack snacks! I'm starving and the only things calling my name are all the DONT EAT items on my diet list!". Eating food is meant to provide sustenance, energy, life, and happiness! Especially when it happens in community with family and friends. ;)
For those of you who know me well, you know that I would eat the WORLD of food on a regular basis. I was known for having a huge appetite and eating nearly anything. When I was 10, I would eat 4 burgers at the Padres tailgating parties every Saturday. When I was in high school, I'd put down two Chipotle burritos after basketball practice. When I was in college, I'd fill myself to the brim with multiple helpings of anything from the cafeteria... primarily pastas, bread, waffles, and/or frozen yogurt. When I was at my last job, I merited the nick name "chief hungry bear", and was nearly always expected to eat my share of whatever food graced our office.
Food was (and still is) a very close friend of mine.
In 2012, I finished undergrad, weighing 20lbs more than I did when I started college. I then went to seminary where I found myself eating out constantly... and continuing to increase my weight on the scale, about another 7lbs. After my first semester, I decided something had to change. I hit a number I'd never reached before in my weight and I was not feeling well on the inside.
Throughout this time, I was working out, and I was convinced that because I worked out, I was cancelling out all the food I put in my system... as if food should be something that is cancelled out.
I began losing some weight by counting calories. I suppose you could call that a type of diet. It worked pretty well, and I was able to "control", so to speak, my portions or intake. The challenge was, that I was contantly concerned about how many calories were in everything I ate, and with how much I weighed. If I went to breakfast and had coffee with a friend, I was spent for what I could have the rest of the day... and well... hungry Robin just isn't the best case scenario for a whole rest of a day.
To make a long story short, I eventually found a groove for eating where I was intentional about my eating without having to calculate calories. Additionally, I started to learn more about what was actually good for me to eat, and the reality that calories are not so much of a concern or priority, for that matter, when you're eating healthy foods. I learned, it's not about weight, it's about being healthy. Sure, there's such thing as being too heavy, but health doesn't come from weight or from calories. It comes from a balance of the "majors" in our life.
Fast forward 3 years, and we are back to real time. I have since lost 20lbs, and I never count a single calorie. I am not on a diet, and I have the best relationship with food, I think I have ever had. It still brings me happiness, and it still tastes great. The major change is in what I choose to eat more than anything else. But it's not just food, it's stress, it's rest, it's relationships, it's job fulfillment, and it's our faith and sense of purpose.
Here's the reason why I'm not on a diet and why my system has been working long term...
I've created a LIFESTYLE.
Diets don't work because they're not sustainable. It is our daily habits over the course of a long period of time that bring long lasting change. If we are stressed, under slept, or unsatisfied with our life, we're most likely not going to eat well, let alone experience the joy that comes from having those things in balance. Health follows a healthy lifestyle. It's so important for us to find what works and stick to it. If we get bored of a certain way, it's okay to change! The key is to seek different healthy options, patterns, and methods for doing life.
The details of how I eat and live probably isn't the best for you, because you're not me. Each person is uniquely crafted with a specific purpose, series of gifts, and physique that is unlike any other.
So often it's easy to focus on the fast transformation we want in our bodies, but we don't allow our mindsets to transform our lifestyle. A way of eating only goes so far without a solid reason behind it.
Here are four tips for finding a lifestyle that works for you:
1. Pay attention to where you spend your time.
Often times, where we devote our attention and focus is the culprit behind anything that is off balance in our life. Do you spend time stressing? Are you getting enough rest? If you were to create a list of your 3 most important relationships, could you say that they get the most of your attention?
Consider what you do before and after you go to work or when you've got free time on the weekends. It is usually in those windows that we discover what is most important to us.
2. Try new healthy foods!
It's usually not so much about not eating certain things as it is about including healthy foods in your usual meals. Once I started trying foods I never even knew existed, I realized how delicious healthy can be. It's been so fun, and I have come to eat the new foods I tried over old favorites on a regular basis.
3. Try new physical activities.
I think it's easy to see the common posts about fitness of someone in the gym lifting weights or people trying to beat their running goals (who does that?! ;P) and think that's what physical activity has to look like. The reality is, that there are hundreds of options available to you to try. It could be walking, yoga, biking, playing in the park with your kids... anything to get your heart rate up on a consistent basis. Just find something that is both enjoyable and sustainable for you!
4. Get clear on your "why".
The reality is, unless you've got a good reason, you're not going to keep eating well, exercising, or disciplining yourself to get more sleep. We've got to be able to take a bigger picture look at the ripple of effect of our choices and how they feed or starve our dreams and aspirations.
All that to say, forget those diets, and get out there and create a life for yourself!