Fitness and Workouts, Nutrition and Diet

The Dirty on Dieting (and how to break the cycle!)

One of my favourite things is when friends of mine will send me a link to a new supplement product or diet and say “this is BS…right?” Then I can assure them that yes, it is an absolute load of crap. I love that people think of me when they see wacky diet stuff, knowing how much it drives me crazy!

It seems you can’t walk out your front door without being bombarded by weight loss and nutrition messages. Never mind that most of us are peeking at our social media before we even get out of bed in the morning (guilty). As we know, the Diet industry is a MASSIVE one, bringing in billions of dollars per year. You would think with all that money being spent we would have figured something out that works by now; but unfortunately more people are struggling with their weight than ever before.

So today there are 3 things I want to talk about!

1. What are some of the reasons for excess weight gain?

2. Why don’t diets work? What do they all have in common that make them BS? (In this Dietitian’s opinion!)

3. What are some strategies we can use to break the cycle of dieting, and find a healthy weight for us as individuals?

So first up!

Why are we gaining weight?

There isn’t a simple answer to this (if there was we might have found an easy solution by now!). In short, we have cheap, high calorie (high sugar AND high fat) foods available to us literally 24/7. There are very few situations we encounter where there is nothing to eat or drink! Honestly, think of the last time you were somewhere that didn’t even have so much as a vending machine. We. Eat. All. The. Time. We eat so often we don’t even stop to think if we’re hungry, we just eat because the food is always there. Nevermind the huge increase in portion sizes over the years from restaurant and fast foods.

A second important thing to consider is how much more we tend to have on our plates (metaphorically speaking) compared to a few generations ago. The roles of women have changed drastically from our Grandmother’s time. Today women are more likely to work full-time outside of the home, get kids to activities several nights per week, and look after a household. Not that our grandmas weren’t busy, but their work was much closer to home, and they certainly did not have access to processed food like we do today. A lot of typical “women’s work” back in the day was preparing from-scratch meals for their families. With all the pressure on us today to “do it all”, we spend significantly less time cooking, and have a heavier reliance on convenience foods. Today we spend only an average of 27 preparing our daily meals. This doesn’t even mean 27 minutes cooking from scratch. Throwing a frozen pizza in the oven counts toward this number, and I think we can all agree that heating up a frozen dinner is NOT cooking! These days we spend more time doing something called “secondary eating” (vs primary eating). Primary eating is considered time spent sitting at a table, eating a meal. Secondary eating is eating that is done in addition to another task, whether it be working, driving, watching TV, etc. Our busy schedules and the availability of convenience foods have made it all to easy to fit eating in while we do other things.

With crammed schedules and easy access to junk food I also find a lot of my clients turn to food as a coping mechanism for stress (ie- snacking while working, or while sitting in front of the TV after a long day). Paired with not sleeping enough, cravings for sweets can be intense. Ask yourself- when you’ve had a bad day, or are feeling overwhelmed, do you think you eat as well as when you don’t feel stressed?

A third important factor in our society’s weight gain is definitely inactivity. Simply put, we don’t get enough movement throughout the day, and spend WAY too much time sitting. Only 15% of adults and a pitiful 7% of Canadian children are meeting even the minimum requirements for physical activity.

Some other theories have emerged over the years, a few examples include increases in hormones from foods, pesticides, changes in gut microbiome, chemical additives in foods, etc. Even things like our climate-controlled environment lessening our bodies’ need to expend calories to regulate our body temperature have been blamed. Not that none of these theories have any evidence to support them (for example the gut microbiome of lean people vs obese people being different), but I really hate playing the blame game. To sit back and say “oh it’s that darn air conditioning!” while being sedentary and consuming excess calories is just silly. So I focus my time and attention (and I encourage you to as well!) on modifiable behaviours such as physical activity, nutrition, and stress management.

So why are “diets” a bunch of BS? Again, there are a few things they tend to have in common that make them garbage.

The first is that they function on one sole method- A calorie restriction. For a woman, most of these diets suggest you eat 1000-1300 calories per day. That is NOT a lot of food for most people, especially if you’ve paired your new diet with regular exercise. Here’s what happens to your body when you enter a period of calorie restriction:

At first, your body will continue to burn calories at the same rate it did before you started the diet, which is why we see people losing a few pounds right off the bat. The unfortunate thing is that some of this weight lost is muscle mass (I shed a tear every time I think about this!) After awhile, the body will adjust it’s metabolism to a new, lower rate (because it is very adaptable and good at conserving energy in times of starvation). This is why you will inevitably reach a plateau in your diet, where the weight loss. Just. Stops. Which is when most people give up, and go back to their old eating habits. Problem is, that muscle you lost during the diet is not coming back, so now the amount of calories you ate before you started the diet might be too much, which is why we see people gain back even MORE weight than they lost. This is where we can get trapped in the cycle of dieting.

I cannot think of a single “diet” that encourages you to eat a reasonable amount of food. Some may not focus on calories but by cutting out entire food groups or only eating once per day, you are restricting your intake. Trust me.

Most diets also operate under the advice that if you just do this ONE thing, you’ll be healthy and slim forever. It might be cutting out gluten, or meat, or dairy, or carbs, or only eating one meal per day, or having a grapefruit before each meal (the list truly goes on and on!) But as you read above, our weight isn’t based on one single factor. I often counsel clients who might eat really well, but don’t exercise at all, or who are maybe very active, but eat too many calories per day. These diets are meant for the masses, which mean they don’t take into account your individualized needs. Finding out where you can make sustainable changes is the best way to see results, rather than trying a cookie-cutter plan. The “If it works for me it will work for you” mentality is completely flawed. We are all unique in our genetics and how we respond to different diet patterns. What works for one person might be the exact opposite of what you need.

The third thing I HATE about diets is that they do not teach you how to improve your relationship with food. A diet plan is easy to follow when you are organized and prepared, and life is going ok. But what happens when you go on a holiday? Or you find yourself in a high stress situation? How you manage those scenarios is way more important for overall success than the ability to follow a structured meal plan.

So what CAN we do to better manage our weight, and not get stuck in the cycle of dieting?

1. Make cooking a priority. Plan ahead! On busy days plan to put something in the slow cooker, or make enough of another meal for leftovers. Spending even 15 minutes on a meal plan before heading to the grocery store is huge for eating healthier.

2. Eat more fruits and vegetables. “But Steph, fruit has SUGAR”. Yes, it does. But I have never met a person who is obese because they ate too much whole fruit.

3. Make time for physical activity. At least 30 minutes of walking daily, more if you can. Add some strength training to improve muscle mass. Wherever and however you can fit it in is great!

4. Consider your behaviours around food and stress. Do you use food as a way to cope? If the answer is yes, find healthier outlets for stress (like exercise!). Learning more about mindful eating and using the hunger scale can be great tools (I’ll talk about those in future posts!)

Some of these suggestions are easier said than done (if it was easy we would all be doing it!) but trust me, future you will be thankful that you made even one small change to ditch the dieting and live a healthier life!

Feel free to leave your comments below, or contact me privately if you need more help!

Thanks for reading!