Diet versus diets

One little letter can actually change the meaning of the word quite a bit, at least in our culture. 

Diet is the key to long-term, sustained weight loss and healthy living. A diet, or diets are an attempt at quicker-fix weight loss. And their results are generally short-term.

A lot of us started the New Year with weight loss in the forefront of our year’s hopes, plans, or resolutions. We know that excess weight can cause us some trouble with our health, it’s not as comfortable, and we want to look closer to our ideal. 

So we get geared up, and we … go on a diet?

Isn’t that right? That’s pretty much the first thing we think of. That’s just the way we’ve been conditioned to think. From advertising, to celebrities on the internet, to news reports, to friends on Facebook, we hear of all the different diets and their tremendous successes. And so we hop on board.

I heard something really interesting, though, about this belief that diets are the key to weight loss: “The reason they are planning to start another diet? Because they believe diets work. But if that’s true, why would people ever need to embark on more than one?”

The truth is that diets do often work in the short-term, but their longer-term track record isn’t so good. Less than 1 percent of those who diet still have the weight off five years after the initial weight loss. You’ve heard of “yo-yo dieting?” That’s the cycle of losing weight, going back to regular life, gaining it back, starting another diet to lose weight. It’s actually pretty bad for your body and pretty discouraging, too.

So, bottom line, diets aren’t the great answer for the long haul. And the reasons why they don’t work include such things as: they’re restrictive, they require a continual focus on food, and they can lead to self-hatred and self-antagonism. They often lead to a not-so-good relationship with food.

Honestly one of the biggest problems with diets is that they often consider all calories as equal, and in some way restrict calories. And when you restrict calories, the body fights back — hunger increases and metabolism slows down. Hunger is a heck of a hard sensation to fight.

What do we do, then?

The alternative and more effective route to a slimmer (and overall healthier) you is to consider diet rather than going on a diet.

The word diet has Greek roots, and its meaning is closer to lifestyle. That means incorporating ways of eating that are truly sustainable. It means making smaller, but lasting changes, that will improve your overall heath. These are changes or shifts in eating that aren’t super restrictive, or that represent huge changes. It means using common sense together with scientific research.

So what does that look like? What it boils down to is talking about quality more than quantity. Generally, it’s the stuff we already know: Eat more vegetables and fruits, while taking in less sugar. Consume a balance of those foods together with both protein and fat.

But Harvard nutrition professor David Ludwig adds a little bit more to the eat better equation: he encourages going for whole foods, especially avoiding processed carbohydrates (white flour, white rice, potato products, sugar,) and not being afraid of healthy fats, including nuts, nut butter, avocado, olive oil, even dark chocolate. He admits that cutting out these processed carbs may not be the whole story for everyone, but he said he believes that it is a big part of the story for a lot of us.

According to Ludwig, by this focus on avoiding the highly processed carbohydrates, we can calm inflammation and get our insulin swings under control, and this allows the body to find healthy weight on its own.

“It may get you there more slowly. But it’ll keep you there over the long term.” 

So pick a small change in diet that can get you more closely aligned with this quality food view, and gradually work it into your life until it truly is lifestyle, something that is sustained.

Here are a few ideas:

• Switch over to whole grains, rather than white flour products

• Add more vegetables to your meals

• Replace sugary drinks, like soda with healthier alternatives

• Cook at home, using whole foods

• Say yes to healthy fats: nuts, nut butters, avocados, olive oil


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