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7 Ways To Stop Dieting Forever

July 21, 2015
If there's one thing I like to do, it's eat. But I hate to diet. I don't think I ever have, actually.

If there’s one thing I like to do, it’s eat. But I hate to diet. I don’t think I ever have, actually.

I spend all day working with men and women to become as strong as healthy as they can be. If there’s any one thing I can say that’s messing us all up, it’s how we think about food. It’s not just food itself, but the incredible drama, dogma and shame that we have about food.

Enough!

So let’s make this simple. NO MORE DIETS, ever. Got it?

A diet (unless you’re dealing with a medical condition) is a set of rules that someone else made up, based on generalities, myths and averages, that you have to follow and you will feel bad if you mess up, which will probably feed whatever food-related shame issues you’ve already got. (And we’ve all got them.) It’s not even a lifestyle. That sounds like something that requires a uniform and a special language and a handshake so that you know who else is in “the lifestyle,” and that’s creepy.

It’s just nutrition. Okay. That’s it. Food is about nutrition. If you are a car, food is the gas and oil.

Let’s start with that analogy: You are a car. Food is the fuel. A car runs on gas, if you put something else in it, it will mess up the system and the system won’t run. Your body is very similar, only it runs on food. So let’s use that as our framework. You can be whatever car you want. I’m an old VW Bug, because those are still my favorite. (Black. Convertible. With long eyelashes over the round headlights.)

***

1. Know the role of food. Food is the fuel you use to live the life you want to live. Period. So the first step is to decide what you want the daily patterns of your life to look like, and eat accordingly. If you want to live a very active and athletic life, you need to eat more in order to have the energy and muscle mass to do that. Conversely, if you know you are more sedentary, then you need less fuel.

How much you need depends on how much you move, like a car. A road trip takes more gas than a trip to the corner store. A car won’t run on milk any more than you can run on gasoline. The fuel has to match the needs of the machine.

2. It’s nutrition, not a diet. The job of food is to be fuel, so what you eat matters. When I am putting food in my body, I am looking for a balance of fat, protein and carbs, those are macronutrients. But it ALL has to be full of micronutrients also – vitamins and minerals.

I don’t want things that I know make my body feel bad, like lots of sugar. It also can’t be full of all sorts of crap. Emulsifiers, stabilizers, wonkifiers and crapifiers. (Yes, I made up those last two.) In our house, the rule is that if they could have eaten it on Little House On The Prairie, then we eat it. It’s obviously a loosely-interpretable rule, but the idea is simple: If it’s shelf-stable for weeks and full of crap we can’t find in nature, we probably don’t eat it. At least not very often. (Sugar was hard to come by on Little House On The Prairie, so it was used sparingly.)

3. Know that it’s different for everyone. The fact that your neighbor had life-changing results by only eating pineapple while standing on their head is awesome. For them. But it might not work for you.

What you eat needs to be formulated around what your nutritional needs are, based on your activities and how your body responds to food. You have to pay attention to your body and figure out what works for you based on your goals. (The ones you outlined above.) Do NOT compare yourself to someone else, because you are you, not someone else.

4. Read your body’s signals. Do you have enough energy to do what you want? If not, make a change, one change, give it a month and see if it helps. NOTHING works over night. Make decisions based on your own body and how you feel in it. If you feel chronically ill and tired, chances are good that food is playing a part in the problem, and can play a part in the solution.

5. Keep it simple. “Eat less sugar” is simple. “Eat 6 grams of this and 4 grams of that and have it total 1,367 calories” is not simple. If it’s hard, you will most likely fall in a trap of “this is too hard, I’ll start doing it tomorrow.” If it’s simple, you can start right now, and keep doing it.

My two cardinal – and simple – rules are: Eat REAL Food (not chemical crap) and Eat LESS ADDED SUGAR.

6. Avoid feeling famished. Hungry people make regrettable decisions. Carry snacks with you, always. I started doing this when I had a kid, and then realized I was the one eating her snacks. So I never stopped. (I still have a soft spot for those “fruit snacks” that are in no way related to fruit. For me, those are a sweet treat.) I always have Epic Bars, Larabars and Nuts on me. In my bag. In my car. In my cubby at work. There is ALWAYS food somewhere near me.

7. Don’t use food as a punishment or a reward. Focus instead on “need” and “want.” Strike a good balance. My general rule is that I give my body what it NEEDS first. Then I think about what I WANT, how I will feel afterwards, and I decide if I still want it.

It’s worth mentioning that 9 times out of 10, if I eat a big nutritious meal, my desire for dessert often goes away. But for me, a life without chocolate and wine is not a thing. I love dessert, I have a mouth full of sweet teeth. I just do it less often than I used to. It’s healthy to treat yourself, it’s not healthy to feel shame about it.

***

I just gets down to being rational about food. And that’s not easy in a world in which everyone is telling you that you’re doing it wrong and you’re not good enough.

Learn to use food as a tool that will help you live the life you want to live. And let it be a way that you love your body.

Which is a great step towards YOU learning how to love your body.

And your life.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Mollie K. permalink
    July 21, 2015 1:44 pm

    this is a wonderful post and couldn’t be more true! I think society complicates nutrition and food so much. I can’t wait to share this with friends. Thanks 🙂

  2. July 22, 2015 7:11 am

    I would like to clarify the use of shame when speaking about diet, diet meaning the sum of the foods consumed by an individual (nothing bad about this word). We seem to have gotten onto this bandwagon of referring to shame when we really should be discussing guilt. Shame is the new buzzword, an excuse to avoid changing our behavior, and it does more harm than good. When we feel bad for eating a slice of chocolate cake it’s because our gut knows that it was a bad idea, not in our best interest, and we develop a feeling of guilt as a result of it. No one is pressuring that feeling upon us. We develop it because we know better than to shove large quantities of chocolate, sugar, butter and other unhealthy ingredients into our bodies. Let’s be willing to take responsibility for ourselves and our food choices and stop blaming our poor relationship with food on other people and dogmas.

  3. Alyssa Royse permalink*
    July 22, 2015 7:25 am

    Nope, Kelly. I disagree 1000%. Guilt is when you do something that you know is inherently wrong and bad. Shame is when you feel bad for not living up to an external expectation that someone else put on you. In this case, the expectation that healthy = thin, that thin = valued. Many people with disordered eating – on either end of the spectrum – arrive there courtesy of expectations that other people put on them that they know they can’t achieve. Expectations that are not rooted in a wish for health or happiness. Food is one thing that can, outside of disordered patterns, be controlled. But when caught up in shame-induced disordered patterns, it’s a trap that’s hard to get out of. And no, there is no inherently “good” way of eating. There is no inherently “good” body shape. Is there healthy and “not healthy?” No. Sure, there are people who are absolutely carrying around too much fat and harming themselves. But there are millions of people who are simply larger and are not in dangerous health. And are healthy despite having fat, and don’t need people telling them that they are bad and wrong. And even for those who do “need” to lose fat in order to get healthy, starting out by telling them they are lazy, weak and stupid will only feed whatever shame they’re already dealing with and will not help them solve the problem. So no, no matter how well-intentioned your comment might have been, it comes off as classic concern-trolling and fat-shaming. You cannot tell someone to take responsibility while simultaneously telling them that they are obviously to weak and stupid to do so. (And yes, I’ve helped lots of people find health, and lose hundreds of pounds, all without shaming them.)

  4. August 1, 2015 7:20 am

    Alyssa, I found your blog when looking for some reasonable discussions of the recent Crossfit/Coke thing. So glad I did! I really appreciate your voice and will be sharing your posts far and wide. Such important topics to be discussing, contemplating, examining. I look forward to more. 🙂

  5. August 2, 2015 7:32 am

    It all still sounds like an excuse. My beliefs about my body are the result of the thinking I have established. Yes, it has been affected by the views of those around me and the culture in which I live, but it is by no means their thinking and not mine. I am responsible for myself and the views and thoughts I allow to inhabit my brain, and thus affect and effect my behaviors. I just hate when people use culture as an excuse to not change their own individual thinking. It is imperative to each individual’s health to get to know their body for the unique entity that it is. Much of that requires removing the shackles of dogma that insist upon a one size fits all approach, but in my case, that is just plain old common sense.

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