Spring is here and everyone is wanting to fit into their bikinis by summer. After the holidays and a winter of hibernation, it’s easy to put on a few pounds. Then the snow melts, the flowers start to bloom and the panic sets in. “I need to lose 15 pounds by summer!” The quickest solution is often looked for- the latest diet fads are sought out and the fasting begins. Juicing, low carb, high protein, the latest Dr. Oz recommendation…but do they actually work? Of course they work! Anything that results in a dramatic decrease in caloric intake will result in weight loss. Will the weight stay off? Probably not. Can you maintain this diet for the rest of your life? I’m guessing no. The diet ends and you are hungry. REALLY hungry. So you eat all your favorite foods that you gave up for the past couple months. And the weight comes back, typically bringing more weight on along with it. After that the guilt and frustration set in the emotional eating starts which results in the number on the scale creeping up more and more. Finally you decide you’ve had enough and try another diet. The cycle continues.
Extreme dieting almost never works long term. I’ve seen success in those who track calories and exercise, but that can lead to obsession with counting calories which can sometimes result in losing the ability to eat intuitively. Understanding the difference between high calorie food- especially those high in empty calories (soda, sweets, etc) and nutrient dense foods (“real food” high in nutrients such as fiber, vitamins and minerals) is important to making healthy choices. As a registered dietitian, I teach people what this means and how to differentiate between the two. Once this concept is understood it’s important to find balance in your diet and high quality nutrient dense foods should make up 80% or more of what you eat. However, to be successful in stopping the diet cycle you need to dissociate yourself from any guilt you may feel when eating foods that aren’t in this category.
I recommend to focus first on shifting the focus away from losing weight to taking care of yourself. The scale doesn’t define your self worth and much of the time this is what lead to the guilt associated with eating. I suggest to focus on the following to get your body and mind in a healthy state. Practicing these will result in life-long health and satisfaction, while dieting will only lead to short-term results.
- Get hydrated. Not with soda (even diet soda), juice or coffee but with water. Our bodies often mistake hunger for thirst.
- Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with balanced portions of high quality carbohydrate, protein and fat at each meal.
- Listen to your body and don’t eat if you’re not hungry. However, make sure you don’t skip meals (even if you’re not particularly hungry at one meal- just eat light at that meal). Skipping meals will set you up for overeating later, and most likely the foods you are going to seek are nutrient-lacking foods
- Make time for exercise. This should be a priority. Exercise not only keeps our bodies functioning well but can also help to diminish food cravings. Movement releases brain reward chemicals (endorphins) that improve mood and help you sleep better.
- Go to bed! Being overtired leads to overeating and we are most likely to reach for sugary junk food to increase energy levels quickly
- Don’t aim for perfection. More than likely you will never eat perfectly. If you have an off-day or week (holidays, vacations are common culprits) learn from it and move on. The strive to eat perfectly will either lead to an eating disorder or frustration that fuels mindless eating.
On a side note, I was very happy with the results of the marathon I ran a few weeks ago. My finish time was 3:16:50 which was over a 3 minute PR for me! I finished 4th overall female and 1st in my age division. Next up is the Indianapolis mini marathon in May (this will by my 5th time running) and the Columbus Mill Race marathon in September. I have a lot of family in Columbus so I am really looking forward to that one!