The Pros and Cons of Dieting

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I always cringe when I hear someone say they are planning to go on a “diet”.

It usually means that they are planning to adopt some radical and restrictive eating strategy for some period of time that will most likely not give them the results they desire, and most likely lead to even more weight gain.

Statistically 95% of people who diet to lose weight put it back on within two to three years. A series of researchers at the UCLA looked at a number of dietary interventions – they discovered that most dieters gained back almost all their weight. While they could not put an exact figure on it (e.g. 95%) – they concluded that most efforts at calorie restriction result in only very short-term weight loss, and, could even ultimately lead to weight gain. I have seen this repeatedly and experienced it myself.

I went on my first “diet” as a young teenager. I realize now that it was a somewhat arbitrary idea that I “needed to go on a diet”. But dieting was in, my friends were doing it, and I wanted to look like the models of the day; wearing Jordache jeans –which were all the rage in 1980. In hindsight it was stupid. No diet would have changed my basic body shape, which was curvy even back then. Dieting created more problems than it solved. After that I did have a weight problem!

In reality, we are all on diets every day of our lives. What we eat, even if it is without forethought, IS our “DIET”. We don’t usually give it much thought though until our pants get too tight, we experience negative health consequences…or we have a budding romance.

Now, much older and wiser, and as a professional Health Coach, I strongly advocate making small, sustainable HEALTHY changes over time rather than “dieting”. Habits and preferences that took a lifetime to establish rarely change overnight. Diets that promise miraculous results, especially quick ones, are usually not very healthy, are often ludicrous, and always unsustainable.

Still, there is a healthy place for “Dieting”.

Cleansing is a “Diet”, of sorts, since it does include a defined eating protocol (thoughtfully designed for the purpose facilitating detoxification). Any weight loss program that is going to be successful must include some element of detoxification. Fat is not just functionless flab only there to make your life miserable; it’s an organ with more than one job. One of its jobs is to keep toxins; environmental, chemical, and biological, away from vital internal organs. “Cleansing” gets rid of toxins and is a great way to loose weight quickly and safely. It also results in feeling better faster, becoming more energetic, and the weight staying off longer.

There are other benefits sensible “Dieting. The exercising of discipline and willpower is one. Like a muscle, it gets stronger with use and weaker with disuse. It is a wonderful thing to occasionally give it a workout. There are many cultural and religious traditions around temporarily limiting food consumption including Lent, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan to name a few.

Another advantage of putting some temporary restrictions on consumption, and of course it does depend on the specific restrictions, is that it refreshes the palate. Eliminating sugar, salt, refined, processed, and over seasoned foods, and overeating in favor of lighter and more austere fare makes all food taste so much better afterward. It also makes a little seem like a lot and makes it rapturously more satisfying.

Last but not least, limiting food can really make you check in with yourself on how you are ‘using’ food. Sometimes without even knowing it we can begin to “use” food/eating as a coping mechanism, as entertainment, and as the filler for anything and everything that is missing from our lives. Removing the excesses of food from the equation can really put us back in touch with ourselves in a way that is very difficult to do with the distraction and crutch of food.

A well-conceived “diet”, one that emphasizes cleansing, can be a good thing. It is not a solution for poor eating habits, but it can be very helpful in putting food, and [mis]use of it, back in prospective.

For real and lasting change basic daily eating habits have to change. The behaviors that lead to wanting to diet in the first place will lead right back to the same place again, and as research shows, the weight will come back –with friends. So while a diet can be good, it is not a solution. Solutions only come with altering the day-in day-out diet. That takes an appropriate and sustainable plan, new strategies, and real commitment, not shortcuts.