Dr. E’s DOs and DON’Ts: “Dieting”

DrelogoFor some of us, the onset of summer brings a wave of anxiety about how we’ll look in shorts, sleeveless tops and….of course…..swimsuits. It’s hard to imagine being in a women’s clothing store without overhearing self-loathing comments such as, “I could never pull this off unless I lost 10 pounds”, or “I really need to go on a diet”.

The word diet means different things to different people. For some, it represents a selection of foods chosen to fuel the body. In my opinion, that’s the healthiest use of the word. But let’s be honest, when most people talk about diet they are referring to restricting the intake of food. “No dessert for me, I’m on a diet,” or “I’m dieting right now, so I’ll just have a salad.”

The problem with “dieting” is that all too often it takes the form of an unwavering, regimented approach to eating that is not only unsustainable but, ultimately, doomed for failure. Short periods of elimination of certain foods—even those foods considered to be unhealthy—creates a “good” versus “bad” mindset that can be extremely problematic and attach far too much meaning to every morsel ingested. What can end up happening—and often does—is that a person forces themselves into sticking to a certain food routine which can be monotonous and involve feeling deprived and/or hungry a lot of the time. Then, when the desired weight loss is achieved, the boost in self-worth (not to mention wardrobe spending) is short-lived because a return to old habits only results in gaining all the weight back. This can start a repeated cycle of loss, gain, loss, more gain–often referred to as “yo-yo dieting”, which is not only frustrating but also extremely unhealthy.

If you find that your waistbands are tightening and the thought of wearing a swimsuit makes you squeamish, try taking a more holistic approach to trimming down. Make lifestyle choices you can maintain and that will improve your overall health:

DO:

Eat! Our bodies are a lot like cars in that we need high quality fuel to run smoothly and efficiently. Restricting food in an effort to lose weight can backfire in a big way. Instead, choose foods packed with nutrients and fats that your body can easily digest and use to keep active and feeling good. When you restrict food and make yourself hungry, your body reacts by essentially slowing down calorie burn to preserve energy. So, by going hungry, you can actually throw yourself into a kind of “starvation” mode which runs completely counter to your goal. I cringe at the comment, “I’ve cut out all snacks.” Snacks can be great! Three healthy meals per day plus a couple of small, high quality snacks (an ounce of cheese and an apple, a small handful of unsalted almonds, for example) will keep you feeling full and avoid a drop in blood sugar that can cause a mid-afternoon slump.

Drink. Keeping hydrated throughout the day will stave off sluggishness and increase metabolism. Water facilitates all the cellular functions in the body, so not having enough can slow them down. However, the rule of eight, eight ounce glasses a day is a bit obsolete. How much you drink depends on the climate you live in as well as your level of physical activity (and sweat). A good rule of thumb is to drink between a half and an ounce of water daily for each pound you weigh. If you live in a hot climate and are very active, shoot for the higher level.

Move! It goes without saying that physical activity is the key to health, and that includes a healthy weight. Find something you like to do and you’ll have a much better chance of sticking with it. You don’t have to subject yourself to an Iron Man-style workout every day. While that would definitely jump start your metabolism, it might not be sustainable. Walking, yoga or a moderate bike ride can keep you active without leading to burn out.

Be prepared. If there’s nothing healthy in your fridge or cupboards, you run a much greater risk of eating something convenient (and unhealthy) on the fly. Clean and cut up fresh veggies on the weekend and have them in the fridge, ready for snacking. Separate chicken breasts or salmon into one-meal portions and freeze them so you can thaw just what you need. Single portion cheese squares or pre-portioned snack bags of tree nuts are another great option.

Get a scale. That doesn’t mean weigh yourself every day! It’s a good idea to track change, but only do it once a month or so. And be sure to do so at the same time of day—weight can fluctuate quite a bit between morning and evening.

DON’T:

Go hungry. It just doesn’t work, plain and simple. Withholding food might result in short term weight loss, but is won’t last. Eventually, hunger and a lack of energy will take over, you’ll start eating more (because your body is depleted) and you’ll probably gain it all back and then some.

Punish yourself. If you overdo it on pulled pork at the neighborhood barbeque and cap it off with too many toasted marshmallows, keep the faith. It won’t make a difference if you follow a healthy lifestyle. Just get back on track the next day. Your body will probably react badly to the indulgences anyway, sending a clear message that it prefers healthier options.

Set unrealistic goals. Buying jeans that are 4 sizes too small and willing yourself into them is a bad idea. The goal should be overall health and well being, not a clothing size. Given your height and body type, you may be healthiest at a size 6. By setting unrealistic goals, you set yourself up for low self-esteem and “failure”. Embrace a healthy lifestyle and focus on feeling your best.

The word diet should be treated as a noun rather than a verb. Make wise food choices, keep your body fueled and moving, and you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel and look. It isn’t hard. With the right attitude and some planning ahead, you can feel your best in any season!

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