Sunday, February 26, 2017

Why Your Diet Doesn't Work

Cruising Pinterest tells me a lot about how people eat. In amongst the semi-homemade (start with a can of cream-of-whatever soup or a box of cake mix), ultra-hipster (organic, hand-picked quinoa seasoned with heirloom varieties of basil and rosemary, and cooked in duck fat), and alcohol-infused (breakfast mimosa, vodka-infused gummy bears, wine-drenched dinner, Bailey's mousse for dessert) recipes are the diet-specific meal ideas. Paleo this, low-carb that, whole-30 whatever... but there's a subset of the diet recipes that's telling: diet-survival recipes.

"How I survive my Paleo diet" reads one pin, "smoothies suck, try these clean-eating snacks/meals instead" proclaims another, "how to have a cheat day without undoing your diet" says another. This, right here, is the problem with diets. They're seen as a hardship, something to survive, something to suffer through until you hit your goal and then go back to whatever you were doing before.

Your diet fails because you think of it as temporary, and a chore.

Want to lose weight and keep it off? Easy: balanced meals made from simple ingredients, in sensible portions, along with moderate, consistent physical activity.* For the most part, it's about calories and portion control. You skip breakfast or grab it on the way to work, you sit at a desk all day, you eat two or three big meals (frequently take-out or convenience food), you have a drink or three with/after dinner, and maybe you go for a walk on the weekend. That is not a recipe for health.

Your stomach, unstretched, is about the size of your fist. That's an ideal portion size. It's about the size of a dollar-menu McDonald's hamburger. It's a quarter of a typical restaurant entree portion. It's what most people think of as an appetizer or a snack, and this is why obesity is an epidemic in this country.

Our convenience food (frozen meals, drive-through or take-out food, etc.) is loaded with unnecessary fat and salt, to the point where if one eats nothing but Stouffer's meals for a month, one can easily end up in the hospital with sodium poisoning (just ask my sister). Heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S., starts with too much salt and fat in the diet.

So try this. Every week, think about what you're going to be eating for the next seven days. Think about little things you can do to work convenience food out of your diet, and ways to control your portions. I love the two-cup Pyrex containers for my work lunches -- it's an excellent portion size, I can prep a week's worth of meals on Sunday evening so I can just grab it and go every morning, and the glass doesn't hold smells or degrade over time the way plastic containers do.

Cutting something that your body needs (carbs, fat, sugar) out of your diet entirely is a recipe for disaster. Your body needs fat to process vitamins. Your body needs carbs to give you energy. You need food that you enjoy eating, because denying yourself something that brings you pleasure, or forcing yourself to choke down something you hate is the easiest way to make your diet fail. So eat! Eat food you enjoy, but keep your portions to the size of your fist, and wait until you actually feel hungry before you eat. Cook food you like, and pay attention to how much fat and salt you're putting into it. Plan your meals in advance to limit how often you hit the drive-thru. Go for a walk after dinner, or put on some dance music and bounce around your living room for half an hour.

A diet shouldn't be temporary, and it shouldn't be a chore. You want lasting results, so you have to make lasting changes, but they don't have to be huge and you don't have to make them all at once. Think about what you eat and how you eat, every meal, every snack, every day, for a month. Make one or two small changes at a time. In a few months, it'll have become a habit and you won't have to think about it as much... and you'll see the difference in the mirror, in the way you feel, and in how your clothes fit.

Don't diet. Live mindfully.

*This works for most people. I do know a few who have complicating factors, extreme medical issues that make some part of the equation not work, but they are statistical outliers. You, reading this, are probably not one of them.

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