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Why Diets Don't Work

Here is guest post from our friend and Registered Dietitian, Kim Nicolai.

An Honest Explanation of Why I Don’t Believe Diets Work in the Long Term

There wasn’t a pivotal moment when I knew I wanted to study nutrition and become a registered dietitian. Instead I began to build awareness gradually about how certain foods made me feel during my first year in college. It was after joining the triathlon club that I learned I needed to eat more vegetables at dinner and stop binging during the weekends if I wanted to fuel for workouts properly. I took an intro into nutrition class and I felt certain that I wanted to switch my major to nutrition full time and focus on healthy eating. However, my eating patterns didn’t change overnight, it took time to adopt healthier habits. Since that time in college I have never followed a single strict diet. There are many reasons for that, but the biggest being that I honestly don’t want to put in all the work and effort into making sure a meal is 100% paleo or gluten free or that I can find a restaurant that caters to the Whole30 diet while I’m out of town. That’s not to say following these diets won’t help you reach your health goals. They certainly will, but only for a period of time.

Whether you’re thinking about following a paleo diet or ketogenic diet, or tackling the Whole30, they all have a few things in common and that is they encourage vegetable consumption, limit or eliminate processed foods and added sugar, and most importantly reduce overall calories. Thus, encouraging weight loss. While these are certainly good guidelines to follow, taking them to extreme may not be the smartest idea.

Most diets have that “all or nothing mentality.” You’re either painstakingly healthy all the time or you’ve fallen off the wagon and are eating everything in sight. I can’t imagine a world where I deprive myself of chocolate and pizza, but at the same I can’t imagine a world where I don’t listen to what my body needs—vegetables, fruits, lean protein, healthy fat, and whole grains. That’s why, for most people, these diets don’t work in the long run. Deprivation does not work. The all or nothing mentality does not work.

So, what are we supposed to do?

The answer is finding your balance between fueling your body with what it needs and learning to eat with mindfulness and moderation. It’s about following a few of these guidelines:

  1. Stop labeling foods as “good” or “bad”

  2. Look at the nutritional value of a food

  3. Tune into your body’s hunger level and ask yourself if you are physically hungry or if you are having a craving

  4. Learn to say “no” in social situations when people offer you food or drinks you don’t want

  5. Don’t be a part of the “clean your plate” club, if you’re not hungry anymore don’t eat it because it’s there.

  6. Measure portions out and keep to the serving size

  7. Eat vegetables at most meals and focus on low calorie, nutrient dense foods

  8. Cook most of your meals at home when you can

9. Focus on progress not perfection?

How do you start moving forward?

The answer is not to completely overhaul your normal eating pattern right away, but by adding in small healthy changes. Whether that be making half your dinner plate vegetables a few times a week, cooking at home on the weekends instead of going out, reducing wine during the weeknights, not grazing in between meals. It’s about changing your mindset around food and about building healthy habits that are realistic so that you can sustain a healthy weight in the long term. It’s also about enjoying the journey and fueling your life with foods that are good for your body and good for your soul.

Remember, you don’t have to go at this alone let me help you by giving you the knowledge and support to build healthy habits to meet your specific needs.


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