Dieting really isn't a bad word.
The word DIET has managed to gain a very negative connotation through the years with people. For some reason it became associated with food restriction/starving yourself, eating foods you don't really like, special programs, and more. The word diet actually means "the sum of food consumed by a person or other organism." This is our dietary intake. What we eat (or should be eating) on a regular basis. Diet does not equal Atkins, South Beach, NutriSystem, or whatever other program a person decides to begin in order to loose weight. Diet is our overall nutrition.
Ok, now that we've gotten that out of the way...
Let's talk about why certain *a-hem* weight loss specific programs out there, often don't really work. For starters, there's actually recent studies that are showing us that individuals who have been on some kind of weight loss fad for a long period of time, are actually becoming food addicts, and discovering that what they've been doing is completely backfiring on them. Another common term for this condition: "yo-yo dieters". These individuals are always on some new program. They also often never finish a program, and if they do, they tend to not have the results they wanted. This is because when we typically pick a 'fad diet' (you know what I mean, the latest and greatest new calorie restrictive, no carb, no fats, no taste type diets), we put ourselves into a famine mode. We suddenly make a huge change in how we are eating, throwing our body into the middle of a 3-ring circus.
For example, let's say your daily intake consisted of:
Breakfast - 2 waffles with syrup & 2 strips of bacon
Lunch - Drive through with breaded chicken strips, fries, and a medium Dr.
Afternoon snack - Chocolate chip cookies
Dinner - cheeseburger on bun with lettuce, tomato, ketchup, onion, and
pickles with a medium Diet Coke
Before bed you like to snack on some popcorn or even indulge in a little
dessert like ice cream
Now you've decided to go on this week's "get slim quick" program which now consists of:
Breakfast - 2 hard boiled eggs and a half of a grapefruit
Lunch - a half a cup of tuna, one slice of toast, and one cup of tea
Afternoon snack - none
Dinner - 3 oz of meat, 1 c of green beans, and 1 small apple
Before bed snack - none
While you're daily intake was not the greatest before, you've now not only drastically changed WHAT you are eating, but also the AMOUNT of food you are consuming. I'm not saying that doing this in the short term is going to cause a catastrophic event - so hear me out. But what happens if you do this for about 2 weeks (or less), then what? You decide you just can't take it anymore! All you want is a big juicy cheeseburger. Some of your favourite cookies. Just one slice of delicious pizza. But before you know it, that one bite of cheeseburger has turned into a Big Mac with fries, and that one cookie has turned into ten, and that one slice has turned into half of a pizza. All of a sudden your body has gone from feast, to famine, back to feast, and it's really not sure how to handle it. We're not talking about calorie cycling here either. Which, by the way, I love and we'll discuss more about that in the coming weeks.
While in your decreased intake stage, your body began adapting to the sudden decrease in calories. When going from 2500+ calories a day to 1800-2000 calories a day (when your basic metabolic needs are at 1800 calories a day), you will see a positive change over a period of time. When going from 2500 calories a day to 1000 or 1200 calories per day (at the same 1800 calorie needs), you will see a significant change early on, but you will also begin to plateau fairly early on as well. You will often also experience things like headaches, pains, aches, and mood swings. Bouts of hunger and extreme cravings are also not uncommon. This is why it's also important to determine your basic basal metabolic rate, or the amount of calories that your body needs just to survive. The number that, even if you sat around doing nothing all day long, you still need to consume, in order to keep your brain functioning and your heart beating. Slowly making adjustments to your diet thereafter will help your body to adapt, and the process overall to go much smoother. (Hint-hint - this is what professionals are here to help you with, because it can get really confusing, really fast).
Now, we're talking about chronic "dieting", that up and down yo-yo roller coaster of food intake. Not only is this confusing your brain, but it's also confusing the tiny microbes in your digestive tract. You're body doesn't know whether to store food for the next "famine" or to burn it off as excess. Another thing that happens during those feasts (or eating in excess), is that we often eat junk food or that empty calorie food; food that may taste delicious, but doesn't really provide us with any nutritional value. Those foods often also contain ingredients that are just plain unhealthy to even consume in the first place: trans fat, polyunsaturated fat, excess sugars and/or salt, and lots of food additives, all while lacking valuable vitamins and minerals.
Studies have shown that this feast vs famine roller coaster triggers our body into releasing more cortisol, which is our stress hormone. Cortisol can have a major impact on our gut health as well! Chronically increased levels of cortisol places stress on the entire body. Cortisol is meant to help us function during a "flight or fight" mode - during those times in our lives where our heart races, when we need to get out of a threatening situation, where we're almost involved in a car accident....or thought we forgot our cell phone at home..... Cortisol helps us to focus. It shuts down functions like digestion to channel more energy into the processes that help us "retreat" from a threatening situation (such as running away when being chased by a black bear). It's what helped our ancestors survive. It was crucial during the hunting and gathering stage. The problem is now, we're constantly being stimulated from things in our environment. Therefore, we're almost always producing higher than normal levels of cortisol. Running late for a meeting, forgetting an important report, etc all gets our blood pumping faster. Now we've added in our poor nutritional intake, or our "yo-yo dieting," and we've just compounded our problems even more.
We are drawn to high fat, sugary foods. When we consume a lot of these foods for a period of time, we literally become addicted to them. We develop anxiety when our addiction is not fulfilled. Studies have found that sugar stimulates the same areas of the brain as drugs such as heroine. These neural stress responses get triggered during cravings, and cause us to relapse into our old dietary habits. So by suddenly taking away unhealthy foods options (i.e. suddenly going from milkshakes and a big mac with cheese to only eggs and a grapefruit) we actually create an addiction.
Food itself isn't necessarily addictive. It's the cycle that we get ourselves into. The feast vs famine. The fruit pies vs real fruit. The high fat bad foods like whipped creams and Whoppers, rather than healthy fats like avocado, fatty fish, nuts, and olive oil. For many individuals, the process of "yo-yo dieting" has also created this atmosphere of hatred when it comes to food. They've developed an unhealthy relationship with one of the greatest medicines on planet Earth.
I think we often forget how WONDERFUL food is! I'm a big foodie. I absolutely love it. I love the bright colors of apples, grapes, zucchini, tomatoes, bananas, and peppers. There are SO many options out there! However, I was not always like this. The ups and downs, the junk food, the hatred of food.....I've been there. I understand what it's like to break the cycle. It's not easy, but it's well worth it. Learning how to "eat to live" and not "live to eat" can be a challenge at first. But oh so rewarding. Positive steps can help you to overcome food-related anxiety and stress. It can improve overall self-control, as well as give yourself a much better outlook on not only your diet, but overall health. Food is great! It's wonderful! It's delicious! So don't be afraid to love it, and allow it to nourish your body in the way that it's meant too!