“I lost 8 pounds and I felt like it wasn’t even that hard.” How often have you heard someone say this, truthfully? Probably not often. Unless you’ve been blessed with a rapid metabolism, it’s rare to easily shed weight, right? Usually it takes a good deal of sacrifice and deprivation to get into shape, or so we’ve been told.
But what if it were easy to lose weight and get fit? What if you could still enjoy the things you love but also feel and look great without dieting?
Dieting and all the wrong things
Wellness is finally evolving. After years of telling women to be stick thin and avoid building muscle, society’s view of body image is finally shifting to accommodate more shapes and fitness goals. Unfortunately, diet culture still persists. We’re still encouraged to lose weight through detoxes, juice cleanses and obsessive counting. Much of this messaging comes from company marketing but it can also come from wellness professionals, many of whom promote conflicting messages; you should do intermittent fasting, you should eat six meals a day, you should do keto, you shouldn’t eat carbs, etc.
Each year you try a different tactic that someone or other swore by and each year it fails you. You might be tempted to blame your lack of self-discipline or motivation, but you shouldn’t. It’s not you. Rather, it’s that you’ve been told all the wrong things.
Dieting is hard, being healthy isn’t
Both my clients and I have gone through obsessive dieting, food tracking and deprivation. We’ve bought into the idea that you get to be healthy or happy, not both. But after years of yo-yo-dieting, binging and fearing the loss of control over food, I’ve mastered being healthy without dieting and I’ve taught my clients how to do the same. It’s starts with accepting that dieting is not the solution.
Diets are difficult. There’s a reason that most people will not be able to sustain them. Very few diets can or should be extended for months and years. Often the diets we follow derive from solutions given to those with serious medical conditions. Doctors and professionals have given strict diets to certain groups of people because it is essential to their health and, in some cases, their continued life. Given a choice between their health and a strict diet, of course many patients would choose the diet.
However, if you don’t suffer from these predicaments, there is no reason why you should be suffering through solutions that weren’t meant for you in the first place. When it’s possible to lose weight without dieting, why make it harder on yourself?
Dieting requires strict rules, regiments and restrictions. It’s not only physically difficult but also psychologically challenging. The further downside of dieting is that if you fail to uphold a rule or “cheat,” you immediately feel guilt and often that guilt will fuel a reaction that is the opposite of your diet goals – binging.
Dieting creates a dangerous cycle of restriction, binging, guilt and repeat restriction. It complicates your relationship with food and body image. It also can have a deleterious effect on your social life because so much of interacting revolves around food and drink.
There’s more than one way to be healthy
It’s easy to believe that dieting is the only way to be healthy because it’s such a widespread message. Indeed, many super fit people will follow some form of a diet. What we often overlook, however, is that these same people are working towards goals that aren’t necessarily our own. If you don’t want to be a bikini competitor, why eat like one?
Yes, dieting will get results, but they rarely last. One of the most telling truths of the bodybuilding and bikini competition worlds is that after months of strict dieting and competition, these same competitors often binge on highly caloric, unhealthy foods. That’s what months of deprivation does to everyone and it’s not sustainable or necessary if your goal is just to be fit, not to win a competition.
The good news is that you don’t have to diet to lose weight and be healthy or fit. Do you remember that statement in the beginning, about losing eight pounds being easy? That was one of my clients and she didn’t lose that weight dieting. She got “easy” results by changing her mindset around food and by being smart in her daily choices. You can do that too.
The top three ways to be healthy and lose weight without dieting
Being healthy without dieting just requires simple daily habits. At first, many of these habits might seem challenging but with practice they become second nature. Most people will find that four to six weeks of practicing these habits results in a permanent change and a positive mindset shift about food.
The extra beauty of practicing good habits vs. dieting is that habits allow you to be healthy for the long term. They also don’t prevent you from eating the foods you love or having a cocktail night out.
While there are many healthy habits to practice and each will be unique to you, here are the top three which have helped my clients find long-term fitness success:
One, calibrate your food fuel based on your activity level. On the days that you’re most active you’ll need more complex carbs. On the days that you’re less active, you’ll need less and less food in general. It’s a mistake to assume that you always need the same amount of food. Some days you’ll require more and some days you’ll require less.
This leads to number two, learn to differentiate between true hunger and psychological hunger cues. Often, we eat because of emotions—boredom, sadness, anxiety, etc. Many years of eating this way can confuse hunger cues so that you’re no longer certain of whether you’re eating because you need to or because you want to eat. This is further complicated by the fact that we often eat well above what we actually need in one sitting so that we’re not only eating when we don’t need to, we’re also eating more than we need.
Learn to recognize those hunger cues again. It may take time, but you will get to a point where you can eat when hungry and stop just before full. You can retrain your mind. This doesn’t mean you never indulge; it just means that most of the time you eat intuitively and mindfully, prioritizing your body’s nourishment over short-term emotional needs. The first step to get there is to ditch the tracking and counting and instead do this next and final step.
Third, eat nutrient dense food. This is food that has a high amount of nutrients relative to calories. Fresh fruits, veggies and lean proteins are all good examples of nutrient dense foods. In general, the less processed a food is, the higher it’s nutrient content will be. This is why health professionals are constantly promoting the consumption of whole foods over. boxed, fried, etc.
When you eat nutrient dense food, you feel more energized and fuller for longer. You’re less tempted to binge on sugary treats or eat because of emotions. The best part is that the more you choose to eat this way, the more your body adjusts, until you reach a point when you no longer crave unhealthy foods. This isn’t to say you’ll never want to eat anything unhealthy again. It’s just to say that your default will be healthy and when healthy becomes your baseline you can indulge a little without worrying!
Results without dieting
Long-term results in fitness and health are based on consistency. The longer you’re able to maintain healthy habits, the longer lasting your physical (and mental) results will be.
By changing your mindset about food as well as practicing habits such as those discussed here, you will nourish your body and, in turn, it will reward you. Finally, all that dieting can come to an end!