Change is an exciting thing, and being able to see positive transformations of one’s body is as thrilling a change as any. Whether you are trying to take pounds off or put them on, chances are you have considered following a diet. While some diets are rigid due to biological reasons (e.g. diabetes) or religious grounds — e.g. avoiding pork as a Muslim — many choose to follow them in hopes of achieving dream physiques.
Seemingly everyone has tried dieting, but what is it about diets that captivates us? Abigail Saguy, associate professor of sociology at UCLA, claimed the primary reason is the way we are perceived by others. People with “abnormal” body types are treated poorly in our society, and this is most apparent to those that are on the receiving end of this mistreatment.
In today’s world, where obesity is becoming the average, millions of Americans attempt diets in hopes of changing not just their health, but their public image and social standing. In fact, significant differences in the ways those who are underweight or overweight are treated has led Saguy to cite a report that more than 75 percent of self proclaimed dieters would be willing to take a pill to lower their life expectancy if it meant being able to maintain their ideal weight.
Diets are intended as a highway to health, but some of the ways we implement them are not. UW Health warned that even the most successful weight loss plans are extremely challenging to stick to. Many begin diets full of hopes and high spirits only to be humbled by the weight they put back on after allowing themselves the freedom of food choice again.
The truth is, most diets can help individuals effectively lose weight in the short term, but they can place novel stressors on your body and compromise long term health. Many are motivated to start a diet and cook for themselves for a few months, but the desire to do so diminishes over time. Humans’ natural desire is to fit in and overly restrictive meal plans limit our ability to stick with diets. When we feel apart from others because of our food choices, it is easy to turn to what we know best: impulsive eating.
One major problem with weight, and thus dieting, is the blind trust placed in it as a superior measure of health. Weight can give marginal insight into health, but its importance is frequently overstated. Weight doesn’t directly correlate with health, said Sarah Halter, MD at the University of Washington Medicine. A slim individual may eat poorly and not exercise, while someone above the ideal body mass index (BMI) range may practice excellent eating and exercise habits, Halter mentioned.
University of Wisconsin Health is one of many groups advocating for a non-diet approach that encourages informed eating. Learning about food is perhaps the best plan because it keeps all foods as options — in moderation — and is sustainable. Many diets restrict foods that are very healthy in moderation. Eliminating carbohydrates, for example, deprives the body of much needed fuel, and could even cause mindful eaters to avoid nutritious fruits and vegetables due to their high carb content. In short, severely limiting what one eats may make decisions simpler, but it creates more problems than it solves.
A non-diet approach is less restrictive but it is not easy; sticking to it requires patience. Change may be slower and less obvious, but it will last. Continuing to make conscious food decisions and following inner hunger cues is an effort everyone should make. In a society where food is ubiquitous and engineered to build addiction, challenge yourself to satisfy your sweet tooth with pineapple or berries instead of a soda, but do not avoid the reward of an enticing sweet on occasion.
The good news is that there is more interest and information regarding health and dieting today than ever before. The internet is a superb way to find healthy recipes as alternatives to home favorites without sacrificing the flavors you love. Use it to find a lower calorie pizza or dessert, or, at the very least, make sure you get all the bliss you could hope for from a treat you indulge in.
Changing eating patterns is a big step, and it requires planning and dedication similar to a diet. The one thing separating conscious eaters from health fanatics is freedom to choose different foods. Be mindful of what you eat, but do not obsess over it. Improve your physical health with food, and protect your mental health by allowing yourself to indulge occasionally. A non-diet approach may not always work for weight loss, but it will work for overall health.