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Diet is "Die" with a "T"

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Diet is "DIE" with a "T"

That is a direct quote from my Garfield the cat placemat from when I was in Grade 4. And wow, here is proof that you really can find just about anything on the internet:

Of course in the past 20 years, we've really started to "get" this concept. Garfield was ahead of his time. Let me quote, well, everyone: "Dieting does not work." Plain and simple. Anything you're going to do to an extreme, and/or for a temporary period of time, and/or which removes major food groups from your daily food intake is a diet. Ergo, it won't work. Oh, well sure, of course it will get you results. At least for a while. So I guess in that sense it does work. You DO lose weight when you completely cut all grains out of your diet. You DO lose weight when you only take in 1000 calories a day. You certainly DO lose weight when you wear a chain of garlic around your neck to ward off the evil spirits that call your name when cake is near. But does that mean your diet works? I guess if you just want to lose weight for a specific event like a wedding or New Year's Eve or something, and you don't really care if you gain it back later, then yes, it works.

Personally, I hate regaining weight. There is nothing that kills my mood and outlook on things more than realizing after working so hard to lose weight and change my diet, I've slipped back into old habits and regained some of that hard-won prize. And I've done it enough times to know it is just so much easier to keep doing what it takes to manage my weight than to have to corral my spirits to do it again... and again... and again. So, it stands to reason that if I'm going to just keep doing what it takes to lose weight, it better be something I can actually live with.

How about you? How many times have you lost and found the same 10, 20... 50+ pounds? It's taken me a lifetime to accept the fact that any quick-loss plan (ie: more than 2 pounds per week) is not going to get me the long term results I want. The lure of those diets is strong. Who wouldn't be compelled to go on a diet that promises fast results, especially when your pants are creating a muffin top that really qualifies as an actual cake, and double-especially when it "worked" last time.

One myth I'd like to debunk right now about the "results" those programs create is that you're actually losing fat when you lose "7 lbs in 7 days." Sure, a couple of those pounds are fat. But most of it is actually "water-weight." Usually these kinds of results occur when you cut "carbs" (starches and sugars) out of your diet. This depletes your glycogen stores ("reserve" glucose stored in muscles and the liver used for energy to fuel your daily activities), and since glycogen draws water into cells, you lose a lot of water on these plans. So while it looks great on the scale, and ya, you're a little less puffy, it's not fat. And I don't know about you, but I want to lose fat. Why am I going to deprive myself of all those yummy and healthy and appetite-satisfying whole grains and fruit (and yes, the occasional cookie), which makes me feel jealous of my carb-eating friends, makes me irritable and easily fatigued... all just to lose a few extra pounds of water? Pffft.

So what's the answer? Oh, I bet you know the answer. It's nothing groundbreaking. I know I'll sound like a genius when I say it, but really, it's pretty common sense. In fact, I'll quote, well, everyone: The key to long-term weight RELEASE (not "loss" because usually we want to find what we lose) and maintenance is - drum roll please - Balance & Moderation. That means balanced intake of all major nutrients (fat, carbs, protein), and moderate amounts of "treats." I like the 80/20 rule (or 90/10 if you only have a small amount of weight to release): 80% of choices should be healthy, and 20% can be less than ideal. This promotes health, vitality, a natural return to a healthy body weight, and keeps you sane! It's something you can maintain for life, which means you don't have to fear gaining it back again. You will no longer be "die-ing" with a "t" but LIVING with vitali-T (ba dum bum).

But whyyyyyyy don't diets work? Why do we regain weight? [insert foot stomp and pouty face here]
The reasons are plenty, but they all boil down to "because I couldn't sustain my die-t forever."

Cravings and Blood Sugar
OK so, this is basically the crux of the problem, right? We could and would gladly live on the 80/20 plan, if only we didn't have cravings that drove us to stuff our face in a pint of Haagen Dazs. "Moderation" is a great concept. In practice, it can become a little outta hand before we know it. So how do we conquer the cravings so we can keeping "living with vitalit-T?" One of the key things we need to manage is our blood sugar. You're probably thinking "well, I don't have diabetes or hypoglycemia, so I'm good here." Bzzzzt, wrong! (that was a buzzer, like on a game show). Everyone has fluctuations in their blood sugar throughout the day. It's part of the system that triggers the hormones that kick hunger and eating into gear. Ravenous cravings over which you have little control are often the result of wild spikes in blood sugar caused by eating high glycemic foods (high in simple sugars), such as well, sugar, refined carbs like white bread, white pasta, white rice, and to a lesser extent certain fruits like pineapple, bananas, and watermelon. Eating cookies for a snack gives you a surge of sugar into your bloodstream very quickly... and within a couple of hours, you get a sort of rebound effect that results in a crash in blood sugar and your energy and willpower along with it. This is a sure way to set yourself up to crave for more cookies.

Diets = stress
We are our ancestors' children, and since the fittest (most suited for their conditions) survive, we inherited the fantastic ability to store fat very easily. Afterall, they had to survive famines, and freezing temperatures at least part of the year, so the ability to store body fat was essential. When we diet, it's really a self-imposed famine... even if you're not following a VLC diet (very low calorie - less than 1200 calories/day for women, 1600 for men), you are operating within a "diet mentality" which is one of deprivation and starvation.

Add to "diet stress" the regular ol' daily grind type of stress - too much to do with not enough hours in the day, not enough time or money or energy to do the things we really want to do, not enough love in our relationships.... getting the idea? Chronic stress tends to come from LACK, or at least our PERCEPTION of lack. Dieting fits that mold perfectly too.

And like an alcoholic who is driven to drink, stress will drive you to eat. And to eat foods that make you gain weight the fastest. It's hard wired in our biochemistry, an inheritance from all those who came before us who needed to survive harsh uncertain conditions. Unfortunately it doesn't do us much good today, when food is literally everywhere. And it's not just twigs and berries we have out our fingertips. We can get the really good stuff that helps us gain weight fast - sugar and fat, fat and sugar.

Conditioning of our brain, biochemistry and behaviour
Every time we've made a choice of something to eat, we have the impact of that food on our bio and neurochemistry. Hormones and neurotransmitters are released in response to certain foods that trigger the reward centres of our brains, and drive us to seek out those foods. In a short matter of a few repetitions of eating those foods and getting your "fix" even the conditions around the food (location, people, activity, time of day, emotions, etc) will begin to act as triggers that compel you to satisfy the demands of the brain and body for the reward (literally opiates). Add stress on top of this and you see further why you're reaching for the Doritos and Mars bars.

So, what now?
Again, I think you know the answer. Balance, moderation, variety, 80/20. FEED yourself - fuel your body, nourish your mind, nurture your soul. Take a look at my article posted in July about the Ten Keys to Manage your Weight Naturally.

For anyone who is ready to make the change to get off the diet rollercoaster, and really feed themselves, but is overwhelmed at where to begin, or isn't sure she can really really do this for the long haul, please take a look at Spring's Inspire Yourself workshop. We've got proven strategies to help get your body working with your mind, and empower your mind to start running the show. If you'd like ongoing support in a group environment, we also have an 8 week Weight Release workshop that is coming up in the fall, where in addition to learning "motivational" strategies, you will also get more information and tools on food and nutrition for weight release. And of course, if you prefer one-on-one support, contact us for a complimentary consultation to talk about your needs and goals (use the sign-up form on this blog-site or at
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