Why I have no love for diets

Below is a sneak peak of the second article I’ll be publishing in Oasis magazine.  I’m told this one will appear in their February issue….

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no diets

I have no love for diets.  Probably not the words you expected to hear from a dietitian, right?   It’s true though.  No love whatsoever.

First off, I should probably be clear.  I’m not referring to medically prescribed diets for various ailments, like diabetes, celiac disease or any other number of chronic conditions.  In fact, I quite like those types of diets.  When properly adhered to these diets can help to reduce symptoms and significantly improve the quality of life of the patients following them. 

When I say I have no love for diets, I’m referring to the diets that you heard about from your friend, co-worker, family member or read about in the newest bestseller, magazine or on the internet.  These are the types of diets that promise all sorts of things – weight loss, more energy, better skin, longevity, a better life.  And more often than not they involve some sort of financial investment.  These are the types of diets I can’t stand.

Why no love?

Where do I begin?  Most diets make claims that are unquantifiable, vague or downright false.  How many diets have we heard of that claim to do things like remove toxins or give you more energy?   Sure that may sound good, but what does that actually mean?  Unfortunately, in medical terms, not that much.

Diets also tend to be overwhelmingly unsuccessful in the long term because they are not sustainable.  If we look at weight loss diets, it can be easy to lose pounds in the first few weeks of virtually any diet that reduces the amount of calories you consume.  The problem is most people will regain their weight (plus more) because the diet they’re on is so restrictive and/or just plain unenjoyable that they drop it after a short period of time.

And if you don’t meet the goals of one of these diets, the blame is always placed squarely on you.  You must’ve failed because you didn’t have enough willpower to stick with it.  Somehow it’s never because the diet was poorly designed or made unrealistic claims in the first place.

Frankly, it’s to the industry’s advantage to keep alive the perceptions that you can improve your health with a quick diet fix.  In 2012 alone, companies in the US generated 20 billion dollars in revenue from the sale of diet books, supplements and medical procedures.  The unfortunate side effect of this situation is that the truth about these diets is often pushed aside in the face of these enormous profits.  Ultimately we get a situation where misinformation is spread and the self-esteem of the dieter is eroded to the point where they may give up on trying to improve their health altogether.

If not a diet, then what?

So if I’m not recommending going on a diet, what should you do?  You still want to lose weight, improve your health or just live a long productive life.

Rather than go on a diet, I advocate healthy eating.  The good thing is healthy eating is no secret.  It’s about doing things we’ve all heard before.  It means eating a variety of fresh foods.  Things like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat and non-fat dairy products, beans, fish, and lean meat should form the cornerstone of your daily menu.   A nice bonus about eating this way is when you do so everything else tends to fall into place.  No need to count calories.  No supplements required.

The downside of healthy eating is there are no quick fixes.  It takes real commitment and hard work.  I get that there are lots of reasons why it can be a challenge to eat healthier, but any step in this direction is a positive one.  New habits take time to form.   You’ve taken a lifetime to build up bad eating habits.  You shouldn’t expect to be able to make long term sustainable changes overnight.

I’m doing it anyway

So I’m hoping that I’ve convinced you to skip the next diet you’re considering, but maybe you’re still thinking “Diet ‘X’ really worked for my friend – I’m doing it anyway”.  If you’re determined to try one out, I implore you to at least ask yourself the following questions to help evaluate the worthiness of the diet you’re thinking about going on.

  • Does it overly emphasize or severely restrict/eliminate a major food group? – Healthy eating is about balance.  Unless there are medical reasons (for example, allergies or intolerances), any diet that requires you to overly emphasize or eliminate certain food groups probably isn’t worth your time.
  • Do you have to purchase supplements, vitamins, etc? – To me this screams scam.  If you’re eating healthy there are rarely any reasons that you require any additional supplements.  You certainly don’t need to shell out potentially hundreds of dollars on shakes/pills to accomplish your goals.
  • Is it intended to be limited in duration? – The reason for this is often because the diet is extremely restrictive and if it were followed for any length of time it would cause major nutrient deficiencies.  Cleanses are often the big culprits here.  Be aware that lasting improvements to your health are not made by following a diet for only a few weeks.
  • Is it sustainable? – This is the most important question of all and you need to be honest with yourself when answering it.  Will you actually enjoy being on the diet?  Are you expected to swear off foods you really love?  Can you realistically expect to follow it for the rest of your life?  If not, I’d look elsewhere.

I’ll end with a quote from Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, a famous obesity doctor in Canada, which I wholly subscribe to.  He often says you need to “live the healthiest life you can enjoy”.  If you’re not enjoying what you’re eating (or the diet you’re on), it won’t be sustainable.  And at the end of the day if it’s not sustainable, what’s the point?

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3 comments

  1. Lydia · November 13, 2013

    I love this! I am currently a dietetic intern and completely agree with not loving “diets”. Its unfortunate that many people want the quick fix. My sister-in-law recently told me about a “diet” her friend went on and lost 10 pounds in a week. It drives me crazy when people think this kind of weight loss is healthy and long-term. A healthy lifestyle takes time but is well worth it! Anyway, great post I thoroughly appreciated it!

  2. Pingback: Tweaking the Bestselling Diets | Dietitian Abroad

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