I recently met someone who found out they have diverticulitis and the doctor recommended she eats more plants and less "keto," which was a factor in the diagnosis. Here she was following the wellness trend of the moment and she ends up worse off.
I became a health coach almost a decade ago because I wanted to know more about our diets and food choices. How could I help myself (post eating disorder), my family and other women live healthy lives? I was looking for a specific answer and what I got was more confused.
Once people hear that I'm a health coach they either tell me about their diet, hoping for approval, or they tell me what they should quit eating but won't. Cheese is so good!!
Are we getting closer to finding the perfect way to eat?
It seems with all this technology, science and knowledge that we would be able to precisely pin down what our bodies need and in what amount. We see two problems with this assumption.
1. Conflicting Facts
Entire foundations exist based on the research that states conflicting findings. Some say the healthiest diet is vegan, others claim paleo is the panacea, another touts the Mediterranean and now there's Pagen (paleo-vegan combo). Who is right? People in each camp are declaring, "It worked for me!" This begs the question, is there a perfect diet?
2. Moving Targets
Research is wonderful and necessary and it's always changing. Remember the low-fat diets of the 80s and 90s? Along with conflicting facts and ever-changing research, our bodies are in a constant state of change - or more specifically, they are constantly searching for a state of balance. If it's cold it's trying to get warm and conserve energy, if it's hungry it's trying to get fuel, if it's stressed it's trying to recover, you get the idea. Our needs are constantly changing as well. The nutritional demands of a teenager going through puberty are pretty different from a woman approaching menopause. We don't have control of these changes so how is eliminating a food group or restricting calories be helpful?
Linda Bacon studies diets and their effects on the body (I cannot recommend her book, Health at Every Size enough, it should be required reading in high school) and she says your body wants to stay healthy and maintain a consistent weight. The body has all the mechanisms to make this happen and yet when we attempt to outsmart our body by controlling it with dieting the result is escalating weight.
I would add based on my work that the result is also psychological. I see women who have relied on diet after diet to fix them, and yet they find themselves more miserable than ever, sometimes unhealthy too. Drastic changes to diet will often result in weight loss but then it plateaus or the diet can't be maintained because it's exhausting and restrictive and the body overcompensates to find balance and lost weight is regained and then some.
These swings back and forth are considered weight cycling and can put a person at greater health risk, for cardiovascular disease.
What's a human to do?!
After all this I don't have a perfect diet or lifestyle to offer people, but I do show them something more valuable than a list of "good" and "bad" foods. I lead them back to their bodies and teach them to be curious about how food makes them feel.
Here are five ways you can get off the yo-yo wagon - and be cautious of where the word diet has been swapped out for the more palatable term, wellness (hint: Weight Watchers Freestyle).
1. Call out the dieting mind. What's the point in having that brownie if you're going to end up feeling guilty about it or vowing to do extra cardio to work it off? Don't punish yourself, enjoy the brownie instead of hating yourself into eating the whole pan.
2. Learn about YOUR body. What works and what doesn't? I remember as a kid my mom said she didn't like to eat pancakes for breakfast because it made her feel uncomfortable all day. Listen to what feels good and do that. If you are tired, you will have cravings. If you are tired you don't need a sugar cleanse, your body is asking for rest, so go to bed.
3. Reacquaint yourself with hunger. Dieting and relying primarily on outside rules to eat decrease your ability to feel when your body is hungry. Wait to eat until you feel actual hunger and see what the sensations are and then satisfy them by eating something!
4. Drink water. This is always a good reminder and I also refilled my water bottle and realized I was pretty thirsty. Perhaps you are too!
5. Live your life. Savor the moments, the people, the beauty and the experiences. When our lives are over what we ate and how "clean" our diet was won't matter. Nobody's grave will say "Lived clean and died skinny."
There will always be a new diet, or rather a repackaged and rebranded old one promising happiness in a smaller body and all it's doing is making us more confused and potentially less healthy - often less happy. I don't know about you, but I'll be over here choosing life. I'm not interested in looking back and regretting the years I spent worrying about what I did and didn't eat and hopefully neither are you.