Episode 163: November 16, 2011
by Monica Reinagel, M.S., L.D./N.
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The multi-billion weight loss industry has a dirty little secret: Dieting doesn’t work. To be sure, almost any diet out there will produce weight loss if you follow the rules. Some of them will even produce very quick, dramatic weight loss. However, the majority of people who lose weight on diets will eventually gain it all back. Often, with interest.
Don’t despair: I do have a solution!
But first, let’s take a quick look at why diets are doomed to fail.
Dieting Triggers Hormonal Changes That Lead to Weight Gain
Much has been made over a recent study which found that dieting—especially the kind of dieting that produces rapid weight loss—messes with your body chemistry in ways that make it extremely difficult to maintain that hard-won weight loss.
First, the study found that losing weight triggers changes in hormones that rev up your appetite. Obviously, that’s not helpful. Secondly, the study confirmed that sustained calorie restriction lowers your metabolism so that you burn fewer calories as you go about your daily activities. This lowered metabolism can continue for a year--or even longer--after the dieting stops.
Before you get too worked up about the metabolism thing, though, there’s another reality that has a much bigger impact on people who have lost a significant amount of weight. A smaller body requires fewer calories. That means that if you want to spend the rest of your life in a smaller body than the one you’ve got right now, you will need to spend the rest of your life eating less than you do now.
(Before you shoot the messenger, let me point out that I didn’t say you will spend the rest of your life hungry.)
Diets Stop Working When You Stop Dieting
The other reason that diets almost always fail is that they are temporary solutions to a permanent challenge.
Most dieters start out strong. They’ve just read the latest celebrity diet book or seen the latest diet guru on TV and they’re convinced that this diet—this latest combination of foods, or a certain prescribed eating schedule, or the inclusion of this certain seed or berry, or the strict avoidance of meat, wheat, sugar, white foods, blue foods, or foods beginning with the letter “g”--is going to be the breakthrough that releases the lean, mean physique they know is lurking in there somewhere.
Sticking to this new plan takes up an enormous amount of mental energy. For a while, your new regimen is all you think about. It’s all you talk about. And the weight comes off. But sooner or later, the novelty and enthusiasm begin to fade and maintaining the discipline and laser-like focus becomes more and more challenging. A trip comes up and you can’t control the timing or content of your meals. You come down with the flu and the only thing you can keep down is a “forbidden” food. Or, most hazardous of all: you reach your goal weight.
This is the day that every dieter dreams of because that’s the day that they can stop dieting! That’s also the day that most dieters begin regaining all the weight they lost, if not more—at which point they’re in the market for the next miracle diet (which they won’t have to look far to find). And the cycle begins again.
An Alternative to Dieting
Let’s say that you have 10, 20, or maybe even 50 pounds to lose. I want you to forget for a moment about how you’re going to lose that weight. Instead, I want you to picture yourself at your goal weight and shape. Really picture it! And now I want you to think very seriously and specifically about what sort of habits and lifestyle someone who spends their life in that kind of body would have.
How to Maintain a Healthy Weight
For example, to be a person who maintains a healthy body weight throughout life, you’d probably:
Limit your intake of sweets, refined carbohydrates, and fried foods. (Note: I didn’t say “never eat sweets, refined carbohydrates, or fried foods.”)
Avoid eating in front of the television or computer.
Eat more vegetables and fewer starches. (In other words, gravitate toward foods that fill you up for fewer calories.)
Drink water or tea instead of soda.
Make time most days for a 20-30 minute walk at lunch or before dinner, or both.
Take time on weekends to shop and do a little cooking so that you’re not as dependent on take-out and prepared foods to get you through the busy week.
In other words, you’d be someone who incorporates my Quick and Dirty Tips for Eating Well and Feeling Fabulous (most of which are not about losing weight, per se) into your daily routine.
The Secret is to Start at the Finish Line
The same things that you do to maintain a healthy weight are the things that will get you there in the first place.
Can you picture that trim, healthy person? Can you imagine what a typical day looks like? Can you see what’s on the dinner plate or in the kitchen cupboards? Good. Because that’s what I want you to start choosing right now. That’s right. We’re going to skip the dieting phase entirely and go right to the eating well and feeling fabulous part. Because the very same things that you’d need to do to maintain that healthy weight are the things you need to do to get there in the first place.
No dieting required!
And best of all, no re-gaining and re-losing the same weight over and over again.
I’ve gotten dozens of letters over the years from listeners who say that the small changes they’ve made as a result of following this podcast have led to significant (and largely painless) weight loss. The results may not be as fast or dramatic as the latest fad diet—but they’re much more likely to last a lifetime. So, who’s in?
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