Dieting is the problem

Why do 90% of dieters regain the weight yet we keep turning to diets over and over again? The answer doesn’t lie in willpower or in sugar addiction or in the irresistibility of food additives. It lies in the nature of diets themselves.

First off, the diet industry thrives off promoting unrealistic (and often unhealthy) physical ideals. It makes a whole lot of promises about those ideals it knows it can’t keep. Regardless of whether they involve calorie counting, carb cutting, or fasting, essentially all diets drastically reduce the amount of calories that you eat so that you are consuming fewer calories than you burn. This is the weight loss equation: calories in < calories out.

The thing is that diets cut your calories to an unsustainable low to make sure you lose weight faster. However, you cannot sustain at those levels long-term. The adult body is not made to run off of 1200 calories – in fact, that amount is more suitable for a toddler. What happens in response to such low calorie intake over time? Cravings, obsessing over food, binging. Plus, your body slows down your metabolism in response to those reduced calories so that you must eat less and less in order to maintain (check out this great breakdown of your body’s adaptation to calorie restriction by Precision Nutrition).

When you deprive your body of energy (calories), nutrients, and the foods you enjoy, it’s not a matter of willpower. It’s basic human biology that makes you gain that weight back. It’s not a personal failing. Diets are made for weight loss, not maintenance, not keeping it off.

So, why do dieters regain the weight they lost? Because that’s what diets are designed for. So, please, keep that in mind before you sign up for your next weight loss challenge or before you start to beat yourself up for “falling off” your diet.

Want to learn more: check out my post on the difference between dieting and healthy eating.

Holiday Party Health Tips

We’ve all been there: walking out of a holiday get-together holding our bellies thinking “whyyyyy did I eat so much?!”. Overindulgence once in a while isn’t really a problem, but during the busy holiday season, those extra treats can really add up. So how can you enjoy your holiday parties without overdoing it? Here are my healthy holiday party tips.

Step 1: Eat normally before and after

Very often, I hear people saying that they compensate for big food events by eating very little or restricting what they eat beforehand. Here’s the thing about that, it doesn’t really work that way and it can slippery slope into disordered eating habits. Here are a couple facts that might shock you: 1. what we know as caloric values for certain foods are just approximations, not exact measures, 2. what a food’s calorie measures are outside the body aren’t necessarily the same as what they are once we consume them. So, first, your math is probably off. Second, if you go into the party starving, aren’t you just going to eat even more high-calorie food than you would have before?

My advice is, eat like you normally would before and after the party. This means you’ll be going into it with a normal appetite and not coming off of a day of deprivation and misery. Eat a balanced breakfast, drink enough water, eat a balanced lunch, have some small healthy snacks, go for walk or to the gym of whatever you usually do. If you don’t treat the gathering as a huge make-or-break to-do then it won’t feel like one and it will take a lot of pressure off of you.

Step 2: Plan Ahead

Set a goal for yourself going into it to help you stay on track. For example, “I’m going to have one glass of water for every glass of wine I have” or “I’m going to stick with just one dessert treat.” Note that this isn’t bargaining with yourself – the tactic isn’t to say “if I don’t eat this, then I can eat that.” That strategy can backfire quite quickly. What this strategy is is setting limits for yourself but making them reasonable and providing enough room for enjoyment.

Step 3: Know Yourself and Strategize

Are you a mindless eater or a grazer? Do you need external accountability? It’s really important that you know yourself and how you function at events like these.

If you know that you like to pick at foods or are a mindless eater, then choose a place away from the food table to station yourself to socialize. When you get food, portion out what you want onto a plate, even if it’s chips and dip, and walk away. Give yourself some time before returning for the table for more. Removing yourself from the source will decrease the odds that you will eat out of compulsion and will make it easier for you to tune into your hunger and satiety cues.

Maybe you really need accountability. If you’re working with a health coach, tell them what your goals are for the party so the next time you see them, they can check in on how it went. Or you could tell your partner or best friend. Just make sure that it is someone who can help you hold yourself accountable without shaming you.

Step 4: Stay Hydrated

Making sure you drink plenty of water throughout the gathering is key. Not only will it help pace your drinking, it will also help you control your eating as water can make you feel more full. Drinking water between drinks or plates or even bites can also help slow you down so you can check in with yourself and see if you really want/need more of whatever treat you’re thinking of.

Step 5: Bring Something Healthy

If it’s a gathering where people are pitching in by bringing different dishes, why not bring something healthy you will want to eat? You will be guaranteeing yourself a healthy option that you enjoy that can buffer against all those treats.  (Click here to download my favorite healthy holiday appetizer recipes).

Step 6: Take it Easy on Yourself

Going back to step 1 in a way here, if you do overindulge, you can’t compensate for it by restricting your food intake or overexercising the next day. All you can do is simply do better. Go back to your normal healthy eating habits, exercise like you normally would, drink plenty of water. And, most importantly, don’t beat yourself up about it. You are human and you had fun, like you’re supposed to.

How to Handle the Holiday Leftovers

Let’s be honest, our big holiday dinners aren’t a one-time event – we end up with refrigerators full of leftovers for days. While it’s great to enjoy that food a little longer, sometimes we wish we hadn’t saved so much. For most of us, if it’s there, then we are going to eat it whether we really want to or not. So what should to do with those holiday leftovers?

What it really comes down to is balance.

Set Deadlines

Like I said, if it’s in your house, you’re probably going to eat it. And you absolutely SHOULD eat those delicious holiday foods. But it’s all about the balance. Gravy and pie 3-4 days in a row is getting to be a bit much and will be displacing healthier foods from your daily diet.

I recommend setting a deadline of 2 days. After those 2 days are up, sort through what you have and part ways with the foods you don’t want to overindulge in – like gravy, candied yams, green bean casserole, pies, white bread rolls, cranberry sauce, etc. Keep the good things – the veggies, the turkey, whole grains, you get it.

Moderation and Mindfulness

Just because you have the foods from the big holiday meal, doesn’t mean you have to replicate that big holiday meal every time you have some leftovers. Before you toss those unhealthy options out, you should absolutely enjoy some – but do so with moderation and mindfulness. What does that mean?

Start with smaller portions. Using a smaller plate is helpful for this. I also recommend dishing out your small portion and then putting everything back in the fridge even before you warm up what’s on your plate – this will help curb that temptation to pile more on your plate or go back for seconds.

Finally, eat that delicious, indulgent food slowly, chew it completely, really enjoy it. Eating slowly and mindfully allows you to get more enjoyment out of your food and you will feel more satisfied by it. Don’t forget that digestion begins in your mouth with the process of chewing and salivation and your stomach doesn’t register the food you put in it right away – eating slowly will help you absorb more nutrients from your food and help prevent overeating.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

If you have some less perishable holiday leftovers – maybe some candy that never got opened or alcohol that wasn’t drunk – and you want to use them at your next get together, remember the old refrain “out of sight, out of mind.”

It seems simple and almost silly, but it’s been proven that if you aren’t able to see those temptation foods, you will forget about them and they won’t tempt you. With this in mind, put those treats in the back of the cupboard with lots of healthful foods in front of them, or put them on a bottom shelf with healthful foods at eye level. You could also put them in an opaque container so you can’t see them. It’s been shown that having healthful foods fully visible and unhealthful foods not visible or out of reach prevents people from opting for the unhealthy foods and getting off track.

Now, what if throwing out food makes you uncomfortable? I get it. I also hate throwing away food and we all have heard that food waste is a big problem. In that case, what I have to say is this: if that food isn’t providing you with vital nutrients, nourishing you, and doing good things for your body and mind, then there isn’t much value in keeping it around. It has served its purpose and is no longer doing that. Thinking of it this way can make it feel less “icky” to toss it.

Following these three pieces of advice will help you enjoy the holiday fun without getting completely off track. Wishing you good health this holiday season!