I hate the word diet. Hate it. Particularly when the word is used as a verb. Diet as a verb implies restriction. Its synonyms include words like starvation, famish and “to deny.” And like a child who is forbidden a cookie from the cookie jar, we take a deep breath, push the image of our illicit desires to the back of our mind, and then fantasize about them, until we crack. After all, we walked for an hour on the treadmill, and our Paleo, Whole 30, Weight Watchers or (insert other) regimine won’t be that affected, right? Wrong. It’s a vicious cycle replayed over and over again by the countless millions of folks who decide every Janaury to get serious about their health, who in the end are destined to fail.
When we think of food as something we can’t have, it defies our natural instincts. We are hardwired for three basic needs: shelter, sex and food. We need to be safe and protected, we need a mate, and we need to be fed. Which is why nearly 95% of diets fail. They fail because we are looking at things the wrong way. In fact, according to a study by UCLA, “People on diets typically lose 5 to 10 percent of their starting weight in the first six months. However, at least one-third to two-thirds of people on diets regain more weight than they lost within four or five years, and the true number may well be significantly higher.” http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/Dieting-Does-Not-Work-UCLA-Researchers-7832 Why do they fail? Because we are looking at food through the lenses of deprivation and denial.
But what happens when we look at diet as a noun, or drop the word diet and use the word, “lifestyle” instead? Now, words like nutrition, nourishment and sustenance begin to resonate. These words imply satisfaction, health and happiness. Knowing that you have control over what you eat is very powerful. And knowing that you can eat for the nourishment of your body and actually enjoy savory, satisfying meals, makes it even better! While I am a huge advocate of a complete plant-based lifestyle, realistically, I know it’s not a lifestyle the majority of people are willing to adopt. So I recommend taking a look at other cultures around the world. Look for recipes from countries who eat nutritious and delicious foods, and yet enjoy a long and disease free lifestyle. “New data from the country’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare reveal Japan has broken its own record for most centenarians by population for the 46th straight year!” Japan, and various Mediterranean countries like France, Greece, and Italy, have some of the best foods and are rewarded with the longest life expectancies in the world. Buy a veggie cookbook that shows you, from soup to nuts (all puns intended), how to cook vegetable based dishes. I absolutely love the “Oh She Glows Everyday” cookbook by Angela Liddon.
Bottom line, get back in the kitchen. Stay away from McDonald’s and Stouffers. I don’t need to explain why fast food is a bad idea. But you have to understand that processed “man-made” food is also the enemy. Yes, it’s inexpensive and convenient, but it contains added sugars, preservatives (many of them known carcinogens) and various other things I don’t know how to pronounce. What’s the alternative? Take a cooking class with a friend. Many grocery stores have professional kitchens and offer everything from the basics to gourmet four course meals. And did I mention they’re usually really fun? (As I’m typing, a mail notification popped up on my Mac from a local grocery store offering healthy cooking classes.) Bust out the slow cooker and make a warm, soul satisfying soup during this Yin season (see note below), create a recipe board on Pinterest, maybe find a favorite blogger whom you would like to learn from. There are countless blog sites with great recipes. One of my favorite places to visit is “The Minimalist Baker” blog. Dana creates yummy recipes with 10 ingredients or less, with meals ready in 30 minutes or less. Who doesn’t love that? There are many ways. Just stop dieting. Please.
Remember, a healthy, balanced diet includes all of the macro nutrients (fats, proteins and yes, carbohydrates). Approximately 50-60% of your daily diet should come from complex carbs, things like whole grains, beans and legumes. If you buy bread make sure it is “whole wheat” and not just wheat. Just “wheat” has the bran and the germ (peeps, this is where you get your fiber) removed, leaving only the endosperm which is nothing more than starch. Make only 5-10% of your diet from protein. Excess protein is stored as fat. Limit your animal protein to one meal a day. Nope, you can’t have turkey sausage for breakfast, lean chicken for lunch and fish for dinner. Too much protein, too much cholesterol and too much fat. Animal proteins not only contain vast amounts of cholesterol, fat and calories, they can also contain hormones, antibiotics, and deadly bacteria. In other words, watch the documentary “Forks over Knives.”
And stop worrying so much about calories (yes, I said it), and add more vegetables and grains to your diet. Vegetables are very nutritionally dense. Veggies also keep you full, satisfied, and are full of amazing micronutrients that can prevent and in some cases help reverse heart disease, diabetes, cancer… And yes, they can help you lose weight. Did I mention they are also low in calories and fat? Keep a giant bag of frozen stir fry veggies in your freezer. Frozen vegetables are picked and frozen at their nutritional peak, allowing you to enjoy them even when they’re out of season. They’re also a quick addition to any meal, or can be made to shine as a main dish. And yes Paleo people, whole grains and beans are complex carbohydrates loaded with necessary fiber, and they’re also a good source of healthy plant protein.
Each day, each week, work on making little tweaks to your daily diet until they become a habit. Then move on to making other small changes. In a few weeks you will begin to notice big changes. Maybe your pants are getting a little big, maybe your joint pain is better. Maybe you have more energy and feel like going to the gym. Get creative and try new approaches each week; even the once-a-week cut back on meat is good for your health, according to the Mayo Clinic. Meatless Monday’s are a great way to bring on the new week. Studies have shown that if every American just went meatless one day a week, it’s would not only be good for the waistline, but we could save 1.4 billion animals from being factory farmed. It is also the equivalent of taking 500,000 emission polluting cars off the road. Yep, just one day a week.
If you’re attempting to change your lifestyle, the MOST important thing is to be kind and patient with yourself. And as diets often do, they can perpetuate a negative body image, create negative self-talk, and more often than not, have no real long-term results. Instead, think about changing your lifestyle. Change the way you talk to yourself and talk about food. Work to restore and rebalance yourself. Maybe start your journey with a good 7-day detox. I have one that I use and it’s listed in the “My Most Favorite Things” category on the menu bar. In the end, we are given one body, and one life. What an amazing gift.
Notes: In Chinese culture, Yin and Yang follow the principle that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites, for example, female-male, dark-light and old-young (1). Yin season, or fall and winter, bring about a time of introversion (I love to hibernate), nurturing and restoring ourselves, preparing for the Yang, or the vibrant outgoing spring and summer seasons.