“New year, new me,” said Amy as she plopped several grocery bags on the kitchen counter. “I am going on this new diet I read about,” she said with an excited grin and a twinkle in her eyes.
Her husband, Jim, tried to smile supportively, “Sounds good, honey! As long as you don’t make ME do it.” Amy’s excitement faded a little, but she did not let that affect her determination. She was going to do it this time.
Every January and before significant events throughout the year, like weddings or vacation, Amy had a renewed energy to “do something” about the way she looked and felt.
She was about 50 pounds above her high school weight. The birth of her two children added 10 pounds each and menopause added 30 more. She had tried every diet you could name. Every time, things started out well.
She would follow a plan to the T for the first week. The second week would be harder as the willpower wavered and Amy missed “normal” food. Sometimes, the numbers on the scale moved and other times they did not. By the third week, a little treat sneaked its way back into Amy’s life. And life being life, some stressful event came along, causing an emotional upheaval.
Then, the carefully crafted diet plan would go out the window; the unused groceries would make their way into trash one by one as they spoiled or expired. The shame of not being able to stick with it mixed with frustration of “nothing works for me” would cause more stress eating and the cycle would continue.
Does this sound like you? Are you tired of trying different diets only to find out that nothing works? As a primary care and obesity medicine physician, most of my patients have felt like this at some point in their life. In fact, I used to feel like this too. But here is the interesting thing! On comparing different plans, researchers find that all diets work the same if they are followed long term.
So, the best way to improve your nutrition is not a super-restrictive diet for a certain number of weeks or a cleanse. The best way, rather, is to eat in such a way every day that fuels your body and makes you feel good. It may be time to give up dieting and change your eating habits slowly and sustainably. Here are a few ideas which will help you on this journey.
Eat whole foods, close to their natural form whenever possible
Fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, eggs, dairy, meat, fish, seafood. Whatever your dietary preference, there is plenty to choose from nature’s bounty. Keep it simple. Learn a few simple recipes. Plan your weekly menu ahead of time. Anticipate the time crunch and stress of the week and have healthy food available.
Cut out liquid calories
Liquid calories are sneaky. They make you gain weight without making you feel like you overate. Soda, juice, sweet tea, sports drinks and cocktails are not something you need to drink everyday (or at all, but we are talking about sustainable habits here).
Replace the fancy sweet creamer for your coffee with milk, half and half or heavy cream. Add some sugar if you need to, and over time, reduce the amount.
Make friends with water and drink lots of it.
Pay attention to how different foods make you feel afterward.
“Oh. It felt so good to eat that cheeseburger and French fries. It just hit the spot”. But how do you feel afterward? Bloated and ready for a nap or energized and satisfied? If you observe how your body and brain feels after eating a specific food, you will need no diet plan to tell you how to eat.
Eat foods that leave you satiated and fueled. Avoid foods that make you feel sick and tired. Also avoid foods that make you eat more even if you want to stop. (Hint — chips, candy, dessert)
Minimize ultra-processed food
Ultra-processed foods are engineered to keep you coming back for more. They hit the right pleasure centers and pack a lot of calories in a small quantity. Typically, they also contain a long list of ingredients. They are convenient, but not necessarily healthy. Some examples are packaged snacks, soda, pre-prepared burgers, hot dogs, packaged bread, breakfast cereal and bars. Try to stay away from them as much as you can.
Work on the mindset
Change your thoughts about what is “normal” food. Who made eating fast food and drinking soda normal? Why do we feel deprived when we eat wholesome healthy foods? Why do we use food to deal with our emotions? Are there other ways to celebrate or comfort ourselves besides food? And lastly, be kind to yourself. No one can be perfect 100% of the time. Choose progress over perfection.