Why dieting doesn’t work and what you should do instead

Diets are terrible. First of all, it’s painful to even start them and more often then not, we procrastinate and put them off to some vague time in the future. If we do start them, we rarely finish them (whatever that means!). Diets are either too restrictive or too bizarre (cayenne and lemon juice??) to make a lasting difference. Research shows that diets are either only temporarily effective or they don’t work at all. Diets may even destroy our ability to recognize hunger and fullness cues, leading most people weighing more in the long run than those who don’t!

Think about it. What other industry profits from it’s own failure??

Dieting suggests that there’s a quick, short term fix to a long term problem, and that just doesn’t work. So what is the long term problem? It isn’t “I’m fat” or “I’m out of shape.” It’s actually all about the imbalances preventing you from reaching your healthiest life, and I don’t just mean a food imbalance or a physical activity imbalance. The main problem may be a life imbalance like work, a habit imbalance like destructive routines, a mind imbalance like depression or anxiety, or truly any number of options. Everyone’s imbalances are different, and it is common to have more than one! The good news is that by taking a broader view and disentangling what’s holding you back from your health goals, you can make simple, long-lasting lifestyle changes that actually work!

To start, I work with clients to figure out what their health goals are- sometimes it’s to lose weight, sometimes it’s to gain muscle, and sometimes it’s simply to have enough energy to keep up with their kiddos, for example. Whatever the goal, the next step is to identify what is standing in the way of that goal. Physical imbalances are absolutely possible, but they are actually less common than you think.

The key to cultivating health in your own life is identifying what is actually out of balance and prioritizing the balancing of each of those factors! So what do these imbalances look like in real life?

Here’s an example of imbalance in the body: A client and dear friend of mine has horrible sleep apnea and migraines. These keep her awake most nights, and miserable most days. She struggles with her weight which amplifies the impact of her other physical ailments. Before she can even think about losing weight through nutrition and exercise, the poor woman needs sleep! Her hormones are out of whack and the medication she takes for her migraines make her groggy. Who wants to make a scrambled egg with avocado toast breakfast when you wake up feeling fatigued from oxygen-deprived sleep disruptions? Ummmm not me. This is a body imbalance and most likely, priority number 1 for this woman.

To demonstrate a life imbalance, let’s say you work 60 hours a week at a high stress job with a long commute. At this point, you’re too busy and stressed in your work/life situation to make lasting healthy habits a consistent reality. Early morning rushing out the door without breakfast or with a stop at a fast food joint, afternoons skipping lunch for the snack machine or coffee bar, crappy microwave pizza for dinner and no time to exercise tells me that there’s a life imbalance. It doesn’t mean you have to quit your job; it simply means that we need to make small adjustments to your work day routine that incorporate and encourage healthy habits.

What about a habitual imbalance? Personally, I have a mindless habit of eating. I tend to eat everything on my plate as fast as I can. If it’s in front of me, I will not just eat it, I will inhale it! Ask my friends and family- I can clear a huge plate of food faster than Usain Bolt can run the 200 m! It’s not out of hunger or time constraints, it’s simply a bad habit. I know this about myself. And it rarely goes well for me- the indigestion, the discomfort, and the guilt (“You’re a nutrition professional, Andrea! What are you doing?). It is a habit that could easily keep me from my being my healthiest self (and it has!).

I have developed simple strategies that have helped me manage my habit-related health imbalance. I try to be more purposeful and mindful when I eat. Sometimes I wrap up half of my food at a restaurant as soon as it hits the table. I had to stop shoveling huge bites into my mouth and swallowing in gulps. Instead, I try to take smaller bites and chew slowly, savoring my food. I don’t feel deprived, but feel satisfied and comfortable with less food by slowing down and giving my body a chance to tell me what it needs. That takes practice, and I’m still working on it!

While you can have multiple imbalances going on at one time, a thorough look at all of the puzzle pieces can help you determine which one to tackle first. It’s so helpful to figure out what imbalance may be holding you back from your health goals before wasting energy, time, and money chasing down the wrong issue or one that isn’t your main priority! You can then focus on righting those imbalances to give you a firm foundation to incorporate healthier options. More to come on that in a future post!

Now it’s your turn. What does being healthy mean to you? Now think about what might be standing in the way of you living that vision? Think outside of the box! Once your imbalances are identified and managed, your healthy vision can come into focus.

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