Why You Shouldn’t Commit to a Diet this New Year (and what you should do instead)
The New Year is almost here! So why not put out my dietitian two cents on New Year’s resolutions, particularly as they apply to healthy eating goals? Do you want to become healthier in the new year? That’s excellent! The next thing to do is determine specifically how you plan to do that. Are you going to exercise more? Eat more fruits and vegetables? Drink more water?
Too often the answer is, “I’m going to lose weight by following _______ diet.”
I encourage (and plead and beg of) you NOT to make that commitment this year. Here’s why:
Whoever made _______ diet did not have you in mind.
They don’t know about your budget, your son’s food allergy, your love for lattes, your busy, busy mornings, or your picky, picky toddler. They made _______ diet with the goal of getting pounds off of people and more than likely, selling some books/supplements/shrink-wrap belts/etc along the way. You may be able to fight, claw, and scratch for a few days, weeks, or even months. But the chances that the entire diet plan fits so effortlessly into every part of your life that you can maintain it forever are slim to none. It’s likely that you’ll throw your hands up at some point and say, “I’m DONE!”
Here’s the other reality about weight-loss diets: they aren’t necessarily good for you. If the goal is only to take pounds off, most of them work like a charm. They do! The pounds come off for most people (not all) if they really follow a diet plan. The problem is, if the goal is to keep weight off, most diets are total failures for most people.
Most weight-loss diets in some way mimic starvation (often with a myriad of dietary contortions that are miserable and difficult to follow). Do you know what mimicking starvation does to your body? It tells it to live off of stored fat (hence, weight loss) and it teaches it that starvation is a very real possibility in your life. In fact, it has happened! It teaches your body that every time it gets a chance it should take every single extra calorie and store it away as fat to help you survive starvation. That means that as soon as you are sick of your diet (or reach your weight loss goal) and begin to eat normally, your body will be itching to build up its “savings account” of fat again to weather the next starvation storm.
This also means that every time you “cheat” your body will store that innocent little piece of cake or that perfectly acceptable apple crisp and send it straight to fat storage. Have you ever thought, “it seems like if I even look at dessert I gain weight”? It is practically true for some dieters. Your body will not happily burn through something that it sees as a vital deposit in a dwindling emergency fund.
Most weight-loss diets teach your body to store fat!
These diets slow down your metabolism (bye, bye energy!), prepare your body to regain weight, and let’s be honest…just suck to follow. Let’s be real.
Here’s what to do instead:
1. Don’t get married without dating first!
What I mean is, don’t commit to stick to a plan if you have no clue how well it is going to work for your body and your life. If it feels like fighting, clawing, and scratching, then it’s not the right change for you. Avoid committing to any plan that you haven’t tried out first. Honestly evaluate how it fits into your life and if it doesn’t, it’s not your failure – it’s the wrong plan!
2. Commit to a habit, then figure out how to make it work in your life.
Instead of a whole plan, pick a healthy habit. Want to drink more water? Great! Pick an ounce goal (80-100 oz is a good start for most folks) and try however many strategies you must in order to find the one that actually helps you get there. Try carrying a water bottle everywhere. Try setting mini-goals (20 oz. by 10 am, 40 by noon). Try an app like My Fitness Pal. Try a cheesier app like Plant Nanny. Try fruit-infused water. Try tea. Try filling a gallon jug of water daily. Try whatever you need to try until you get closer to where you want to be. The real work is in finding the strategy that doesn’t feel like work.
Once you’ve figured that one out, choose another habit and stack it on top of the first. Ready to eat 5 servings of fruits and veggies per day? Walk for 20 minutes 3 times per week? Regardless of the goals you pick, this test-driving strategy means you’ll have the opportunity to make each change fit your life. Once you stack up all your new (and easy to stick with) habits, just think how much healthier you’ll be! Not to mention how much more enjoyable it will be than that “clean eating” cleanse you were thinking about trying…
3. Put your blinders on
This is the toughest part and it’s a total mental game. Your cousin’s on keto, your PTO pal is on paleo, and your fitness-nut friend is fasting 16 hours a day. They’re all losing weight and you’re over here working on your water intake. It can truly be maddening. Remember from before – most any diet will get weight off. Most any diet will not keep weight off. Remind yourself how many times you’ve watched someone (or you yourself have done this…it’s okay!) diet, lose weight, then gradually gain it all back and then some. All of these people you know are setting their bodies up to gain more fat in the long run. It’s sad, but it’s true!
So try not to let them influence you. It’s so, so hard, I know! I’m a dietitian – I’ve studied nutrition for 10 years – and I can still feel myself being influenced by social media progress photos from diets and supplements that I know are not safe or effective. It is a battle. But it’s a battle worth fighting, because even if keto is the perfect fit for cousin Kathy, you are not Kathy.
You must find your healthy life.
That means that you eat what works for your body, your family, your budget, your lifestyle, and makes you happy. Put in the work to find out what that is, and you’ll be so pleased with how easy it can be to be healthy!