By Michelle May, M.D.
Special to NurseZone
We are bombarded with information about eating right and exercising, but millions still battle their weight. Diets often impose food rules that most people do not, cannot or should not follow for very long.
Diet “experts” recommend counting calories, servings or points. Some diets require you to eat pre-packaged meals or eliminate entire food groups. Face it; if dieting was truly effective, the problem would have been solved with the first one!
Diets are not just doomed to fail; they’re doomed to backfire. Learn why so you can create the perfect weight-management plan for yourself.
Your Body is Programmed to Survive
Your body has primitive, complex survival mechanisms that help keep you live during limited periods of starvation. Now that food is abundant and readily available, most modern “famines” are the result of self-imposed diets. While it seems that diets backfire, this is really the result of your body adapting to being under-fueled.
When you follow a restrictive diet, you lose water, fat and muscle. The reason you lose muscle is that it burns calories so some of your muscle mass may be given up to lower your metabolism and “save you” from starvation.
If you return to your previous eating habits when the diet is over, your body quickly replaces its fat stores but not the muscle you lost. You’ll have a higher body fat percentage and a lower metabolism than before the diet. That is why you usually gain more than you lost in the first place.
Deprivation Can Lead to Cravings
But it is not just your body that rebels when you diet. Your mind rebels too. When certain foods are forbidden you feel deprived, leading to powerful cravings. Eventually, when you give in to the cravings for these “bad” foods, you’ll feel guilty and out of control. You may give up the diet and binge on the foods you’ve been missing. Of course, most dieters blame themselves when the diet fails, but in reality, dieting itself is to blame.
Diets Ignore the Rest of You
The biggest problem with diets is they focus on what and how much to eat without addressing why people eat in the first place.
Many people eat or overeat because of environmental triggers such as appealing food, automatic meal times and learned messages like “clean your plate.” Many people eat due to emotional triggers like stress, boredom, loneliness, sadness or anger.
Since these triggers don’t go away simply by imposing a strict set of diet rules, you may try to cope with them by eating the “allowed foods.” In other words, you never really give up emotional eating or learn other coping skills, so when the diet is over, you go right back to eating the way you did before.
So What Does Work?
At this point you are probably thinking, “If diets don’t work, what am I supposed to do?” To begin with, if the diet plan you’re considering isn’t something you can imagine doing for the rest of your life, then don’t bother doing it for a day!
It is time to face the fact that the key to solving your struggle with weight and food does not lie in a magical, or even a logical, combination of diet and exercise. The real solution lies in finally addressing your relationship with food and learning to recognize and effectively cope with your eating triggers.
Start by asking yourself “Am I hungry?” whenever you have and urge to eat. When you relearn to trust your innate ability to know when and how much to eat, you will begin to eat in a way that fuels your body, mind and spirit.
Michelle May, M.D., is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the award-winning author of "Am I Hungry? What To Do When Diets Don’t Work." Learn to manage your weight without deprivation and guilt with Dr. May’s complimentary mini e-course at www.amihungry.com/mini-e-course-intro.shtml
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