Holidays are hard. With Thanksgiving (Turkey 10, anyone?) fresh in our wake and Christmas, Chanukkah and New Year’s just around the corner, we may find ourselves accumulating some…ah, insulation. You know, to prepare for winter and all. Waning daylight (HOW is it already so dark at 4:30 pm?!) and dropping temperatures feed into the whole “tis’ the season to lose motivation” spirit. Gym bags have become dust bunny sanctuaries.
As a result, dangerous ideas are percolating. A murmur here, a whisper there. Thoughts of calorie counting and carb cutting emerge as the dreaded D-word begins to surface. Is it time to go on a diet?
How can I say this gently…NO. Here are the top 5 reasons not to diet:
1. There’s a 95% chance of failure.
The numbers are not in your favor. Only 5% of dieters actually keep the weight off. But don’t take it personally — you aren’t failing the diet, the diet is failing you. It’s not the best way to lose weight, despite popular belief. Even the word itself is demoralizing: “die” with a “t.”
2. It’s not sustainable.
Ever wonder why you can’t seem to stick to a diet for more than a few weeks (or months, for you iron-willed folk)? The answer is simple: you can’t diet for the rest of your life. We are all wired with food reward circuits vital to our survival, circuits that don’t take to restriction very well. Dieting flips on Nature’s emergency switch and heightens the allure of calorie-dense foods. Your body eventually gets fed up (no pun intended) by the diet and aborts it — for your own good. The prospect of eating 1200 calories a day for the rest of my life makes me want to round up all the peanut butter cups in the world and hoard them under my bed.
3. It does more harm than good.
Dieting sets you up for a dangerous weight cycle. It is a precursor to binging. When we tell ourselves we can’t have ice cream, what do we crave most? ICE CREAM. Does the following scenario sound familiar? You decide to have a small taste, and, without warning, spoon meets bottom of carton. The diet is “broken,” and all hell breaks loose. Then, guilt takes over, and you vow to start the diet again. This swinging between extremes commonly plagues dieters, wreaking havoc on their metabolisms and other bodily processes.
4. It cultures an unhealthy relationship with food.
Going on a diet causes many people to focus on all the wrong things. Dieters often fall into the trap of branding all foods as either “good” or “bad.” Such black and white philosophy takes the joy from eating and eventually poisons our sense of self. We pat ourselves on the back when the number on the scale goes down and when we eat “perfectly.” One slip up, one “bad” food choice, and we suddenly perceive ourselves as gluttonous and undeserving. This cannot be more wrong. There is worth and beauty in everybody, regardless of whether they decide to eat a Twinkie. Food should be a source of enjoyment, not a rubric to gauge self worth.
5. It puts your life on pause.
How many times have you thought, “when I finally lose this weight, I will do X?” This type of thinking is exactly what prevents many of us from living in the moment. Weight is but a number: why should it prevent us from living the life we want? Dreaming about going to the campus-wide formal? Go. You’ll look beautiful, I promise. Hit the play button. Do whatever your X is. You’d be amazed at how amazing life is once you decide to embrace the present.
So if dieting isn’t the answer to too-tight jeans, what is? Hmmm. We need to be careful when answering this question. Before making any change, we must consider the underlying motivation. If the sole purpose of altering eating habits is to slim down, then long-term success is unlikely. If, on the other hand, we change our eating to treat our bodies with the healthy love they deserve, we are likelier to experience lasting benefits. It’s all about the mindset. Instead of focusing on shedding pounds, we should focus on gaining health. The weight loss will follow naturally. Above all else, the most important thing is self-love, people, self-love.