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Context is key: dieting and lifestyle change

I get kind of pissed about the conversations I see online about diet and weight loss and size. These conversations are coming from all kinds of people – not just those in the health and fitness industries.

What makes me pissed or frustrated is the lack of context and the blanket statements.

Rarely, do “conversations” include other important aspects of what makes a healthy person like:

  • Stress management, which leads to natural food moderation
  • Implementing healthy routines like sleep schedules, exercise, journaling
  • Evaluating behaviors that may be continued or improved on
  • Healthy relationships and how those impact our choices and general confidence
  • Maintaining or increasing muscle mass or bone density
  • Hormonal balance

The list can go on.

Health is more than just what we eat and how much energy we release, but I need context and I think many others do too.

The popular belief that diets don’t work is something I sway back and forth on because it comes down to the language and the context.

The idea of diet in the sense that we know it to be, in the long run, doesn’t work. Diets don’t typically teach you the tools you need for a healthy, sustainable life. This I agree with.

Diet in the way I use it is the defined by what you eat on a daily basis and depending on your physical health goals, it may need to be moderated.

A suggestion I often make is to track consumption in some way, at least for a short period of time because it’s easy to underestimate what we’re eating, just like it’s easy to overestimate how much activity we’re getting in. It’s also easy to say that you eat like crap, but by writing down what you eat for a week you may see you that you don’t actually make “bad” or “unhealthy” choices, you just may need to adjust portions a little bit.

I am anti-extreme diet modification if you don’t truly need it.

There are some populations that do need diets in the sense of moderating their food intake and eliminating some components.

  • A diabetic will need to be aware of their carbohydrate and sugar intake because their body is unable to process it appropriately and this can result in higher blood sugar levels.
  • An individual with polycystic ovarian syndrome or hypothyroidism may have an easier time maintaining a healthy body weight and size as well as hormonal levels on a slightly lower carbohydrate diet because their body struggles to breakdown and utilize carbohydrates. Slightly lower doesn’t necessarily mean the ketogenic diet though, and the focus may be more on complex and fiber-rich carbohydrates rather than significant decrease or elimination of carbohydrates.
  • Individuals with autoimmune illnesses may find that eliminating highly processed foods and gluten may be physically relieving of their gastrointestinal issues as well as other concerns.

Again, this list could continue too.

“Dieting” or moderating your intake can be tough. Whoever said it would be easy was crazy, but it doesn’t have to be miserable and it doesn’t have to be the most difficult thing in the world.

It does need to take you into consideration, and I think that’s where the problem lies.

More often people want to see the weight lost yesterday. There’s a lack of patience, which translates to trying extreme diets, especially if they know someone who has seen success or what they define as success.

Online it’s easy to see results, but we don’t hear about the emotional struggles that also occurred until it’s too late or at least further down the road.

More important than following a specific eating structure like counting macronutrients or calories or paleo, is examining your eating behavior and purpose behind it. I know this may seem daunting – I get that, but connecting the dots gives you a chance to be successful in stating goals and creating a plan to reach them.

Behavior change is the foundation to create a lasting lifestyle.

Cheesy, yes – just like Kraft, but personally, I know that if I didn’t examine my actions and the motives behind them I wouldn’t feel confident in many of the decisions I’ve made along my journey. And for me, that’s the biggest hope I have for others seeking a healthier life – that they understand their actions and move forward with confidence.

It doesn’t matter if you’re getting started on your journey or if you’re making adjustments along the way.

Ask yourself –

  • Can this be sustainable?
  • Do I feel like I’m participating in my life the way I want to?
  • How does the language I use impact how I feel about my choices such as “can’t”, “shouldn’t”, “cheat”?
  • Do I have an attachment to certain foods or textures – where could that come from?

To get my clients started, I ask them to track their eating for a week in a journal or an app if they find that easier. I ask them to write down:

  • What they’re eating in the specific-ish amounts such as 1 apple or 2 slices of bread,
  • Why they’re eating that – do you like the texture or taste, is it filling, is it quick,
  • How they physically feel with what they’re eating – bloating, constipation, energy levels, heart burn, etc,

When we chat about it during our first call, I ask them what they learned and where do they think they can improve. This is really the epiphany moment for a lot of them.

So, I’m not anti-diet, I’m anti-extremism.

Depending on your goal you may need to be in a calorie deficit, that’s how fat loss happens. But you may not need to focus on that as much as you do need to focus on getting diversity in your diet, feeling confident in your food choices and paying attention to other aspects of your life that impact your eating behavior.

Again, diets can lead to loss, but they don’t necessarily lead to sustainable lifestyle change and that’s going to be the key for a healthier life.

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