I have a few pounds to lose from my most recent pregnancy. I’m trying to make healthy choices to shed the weight, but I’m not beating myself up when I have a slice of birthday cake (we have several family birthdays to celebrate around this time). And whether I lose those last few pounds or not, you’ll never ever find me on a diet. You won’t find me eliminating any major food group from my menu. I won’t be a vegetarian again because for me it became an easy excuse to not eat a whole bunch of food.
I’m not condemning people who diet. Temperance and prudence are very personal virtues, and some people may find success in certain forms of dieting.
The word “diet” conjures up different emotions for different people – triumph, deprivation, failure, power – and there will always be people who sing its praises, especially when there exists a multi-billion dollar weight loss and diet industry.
Yet, if we look at how many people are chronically on diets but either remain overweight or only lose weight to gain it plus, frequently, a few extra pounds back, we have to ask ourselves if diets really work.
Moreover, I’ve witnessed so many women berate themselves after they lost weight using some trendy diet but then gained the weight back. Instead of considering that the diet didn’t work, at least not in the long-term, they see themselves as being the one who failed. They assume it’s their fault they couldn’t lose weight or keep the weight off because they are weak or don’t have a strong enough will power when really the diet is to blame. So they try another, new and improved diet. The weight loss industry keeps on prepackaging hope in new and exciting ways to a lot of desperate people.
No matter the meal plan, the dieting mindset itself often makes me people feel deprived. Have you ever noticed that you’ll often eat a whole lot more prior to starting a new diet? The feast before the famine.
Many diets eliminate an entire food group or drastically cut calories, setting people up for failure. Dieting, in many cases, doesn’t lead to long-term, healthy weight loss. It’s worth exploring why a rise in obesity coincided with growth in the dieting industry. Could it be that dieting might actually contribute to disordered eating and obesity?
Most diets lead people to undereat. Consequently, as soon as someone comes off of a diet, there’s often a tendency to overeat. I should know. I never admitted I was dieting, but I was constantly restricting what I ate or eliminating certain food. When I was faced with the task of learning to eat mindfully and to change my whole perspective toward food, I really struggled with a balanced approach to eating (and still, if I’m honest, sometimes do). When I was recovering from my eating disorder, it was difficult for me to eat the right amount partly because since I had spent so much of my life denying myself of calories, my body was physiologically primed to prepare for the next starvation phase. Undereating slows the body’s natural metabolism, setting a person up for further failure as soon as he or she comes off of the diet. A food shortage is not imminent but the bodies of people who diet may be biologically programming themselves to prepare for the famine.
In order to make peace with your body and with what you eat, you have to approach eating in a way that you can sustain. Will you be able to swear off carbs for the rest of your life? Will you be able to only eat one big meal a day and nibble on carrot sticks for your other “meals” for forever?
I’ve had people say, “Okay, I recognize my soul is far more important than my body, but I also know I’ve got to lose weight for my health’s sake. If diets don’t work, then where do I start? How can I lose weight in a healthy manner?” First off, remember this: Just because you may have to shed some weight doesn’t mean you have to hate yourself until you meet your goal. Second, instead of adopting a diet, consider how you can live a reasonable eating life. Focus on making small lifestyle changes. And when making these lifestyle changes, try to think in terms of what you choose to do rather than what you have to do. You don’t have to give up greasy foods, but you might choose to do so – at least for awhile – to lead a more healthful life. You choose to exercise because it makes you feel better, not because you have to or feel you need to punish yourself for splurging on those potato chips. You’re choosing to lose weight because you want more energy and want to be at a more healthful place, but you don’t have to lose weight to be a better person.
Dieting often makes us feel like we have to follow certain rules. Healthy lifestyle changes are about choosing to take a more nutritious and wholesome approach to our eating and fitness routines.
Whatever you do, don’t turn food into an enemy (or make it your friend). Scripture is rich with passages highlighting the importance of food. We were created to enjoy food. The problem is we have to learn to eat to live, not live to eat. Even if we’re at a healthy weight, but we spend every waking hour thinking about our next meal, something is off-kilter. Diets cause many people to obsess over food. If, instead, we just simply listened to our bodies and ate more intuitively much like a young child, we’d likely find ourselves at a healthy weight – maybe not the weight we think we ought to be at but what’s our own personal healthy weight – and we’d be able to enjoy food, too, without it becoming our primary obsession.
There is no food police. You don’t have to scrape your plate clean or refuse it either.
And when you slip up and binge on brownies (again), let it go. You won’t gain five pounds after an occasional indulgence. Every day, every meal or snack, is a chance to choose again. Tell yourself you want to be healthy more than you want a second-helping.
If “going on a diet” brings you freedom, more power to you. For me, it forced me into the desert where a mirage taunted me and told the lie that when I was thin and lost more weight, my life would be better. The mirage always vanished when I reached it, and I kept seeing that the fantasy of being thin was more alluring than the reality. Bad things still happen to skinny people. Bad things happen to pretty people. Bad things happen to all kinds of people. No weight loss program will change that. Personally, I could not stay there in that soul-sucking, hollowing-out place, parched and starving for forever. I had to learn to appreciate the lushness of food, to savor it, to taste it, and then to put my fork down when I’d had my fill. A diet is about restricting and controlling. Food, when eaten mindfully and joyfully, is about living.