July 11th, 2012 by Digestive Detective
Raise your hand if you've ever been on a diet (or are on one right now). Alright, now keep your hand raised if that diet worked/is working for you (meaning it has created long-term, sustainable weight loss and maintenance). How many hands went down? More than a few I'm guessing.
The reasons diets tend to fall short of expectations are many - in this blog, I'll be focusing on the main reasons diets tend to lack a high success rate and what you can do to overcome the "diet mentality."
The first reason many diets tend to fail has nothing to do with the food itself - but with you; or more specifically your mind. It's a matter of motivation--of purpose. If your purpose for changing your eating habits is not powerful enough or is focused solely on the short-term, you have already set yourself up for failure without even lifting a fork to your lips.
Your purpose cannot be fleeting or wane in any way, shape or form. The purpose you attach to any goal must be truly compelling with a vision of what the outcome (let's say in this case its weight loss as that tends to be the #1 reason most folks go on a diet) will look and feel like when you've achieved it. Once you've identified that deep, intrinsic reason for wanting change in your life (not just your body) then you set the stage for success. The next steps involve focus and follow-through.
It's not enough to merely have a goal. Studies have shown that you can increase your chance of success by writing down that goal. Even further, these same studies exhibited that individuals who set a goal, wrote it down, and then read it every day, dramatically increased their rate of success. Finally, to skyrocket your chance of achievement, create, write, review and carry your goal with your everywhere you go.
No Two People Are Alike
One of the primary problems with diets is that they typically do not account for biochemical individuality, hormonal differences, and other potential health status variables. Broad guidelines may be given that are supposed to "work for everybody", but rarely is this the case. You've probably experienced this yourself: You start eating a particular way while your friend does the same: they lose 10 lbs and you lose 1. The other classic case is the old husband and wife scenario (even popularized in commercials by some food manufacturers): the husband starts drinking more water and eats a salad for lunch and drops weight big time; the wife eats nothing but fresh veggies and chicken, gives up all snacks, starts exercising 5 times a week and the number on scale barely budges.
Individuality must be taken into account for any change in diet or fitness program to work effectively. Are general healthy eating guidelines beneficial? Sure. Will reducing junk food intake help? Absolutely. Beyond these general measures; however, greater focus has to be made towards finding what works for YOUR body. Some folks fair better with different macronutrient ratios and some of us have pre-existing conditions that dictate our nutrition be more customized to achieve healthy change. Regardless of what approach you take, it is always beneficial to track your food consumption and note the way your body is reacting/responding - you don't have to track every morsel eaten or count every calorie, but developing greater body awareness in response to the foods you eat is essential.
When most individuals go "on a diet" they are solely concerned with the quantity of the food eaten and rarely concentrate as much on the actual quality. Repeat after me: A CALORIE IS NOT A CALORIE. Envision this: Would you say that you obtain the same nutrition from 500 calories of donuts as you do from 500 calories of broccoli? Seems like a silly question but when you're laser-focused on the antiquated (and inaccurate) method of calories in versus calories out, then you lose sight of the importance of food quality; you assume "all things are equal" when you can clearly see from my example that they are not.
The real trouble in not paying attention to food quality is the potential for developing (or exacerbating) micronutrient deficiencies. The broad, macro approach that isolates only fats, proteins, and carbs as a means to gage nutrition is limiting and misses the vitally important role that micronutrients play. Here are a few examples:
- Vitamin D, iodine and tyrosine (amino acid) are vital in thyroid function and deficiencies in these micronutrients can result in thyroid dysfunction.
- Riboflavin and other B vitamins also assist in thyroid function and are precursors to the production of hormones such as pregnenolone.
- Enzymes are crucial to metabolism because they allow organisms to drive desirable reactions that require energy and will not occur by themselves. Enzymes are also required for proper digestion and the breakdown of nutrients to be shuttled to cells for energy production.
- Minerals such as calcium, potassium and sodium are required for muscle contraction (ie your workouts won't go very well without them).
When viewed in the context of nutrient density, many popular diets fall short. For examples, research by the Calton Institute found that dieters using Weight Watchers had a reduced intake of the following:
The solution to dieting is to NOT DIET; to instead eat healthy and adapt the nutrition you consume to your body based on your goals, your health status, your activity, your preferences and the way you personally respond to the foods you take in each day. In this way, your "diet" simply becomes the best means of eating healthy that produces the health and vitality you want instead of some air-brushed picture of health.
- Determine your purpose for eating well - make it strong & compelling. Write it down. Review it each day. Carry it with you always.
- Log the foods you eat and note your physical reactions with energy, appetite, hunger patterns, digestive response (full, satisfied, still hungry, etc.), and mental clarity. Jot down reactions 1-2 hours post-meal.
- JERF - Just Eat Real Food. Eliminate junk and processed "foods".
- Focus nutrient-dense, whole foods that provide a wide variety of micronutrients - vitamins, minerals and enzymes.