Restrictive eating, whether it be a diet such as the 5:2 diet, paleo, sugar free, raw food diet,the Atkins diet or simply limiting what and how much you eat is NOT HEALTHY! Restrictive eating labels food as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and dieters feel guilty eating the ‘bad’ food. People restrict the food they eat for a number of reasons, mostly to lose weight but sometimes it’s because they think its healthier; to eat less and not eat sugar or carbs or fat. Well guess what, it’s not! All food has is morally equal and you can achieve the same goals without the diet!
I am an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) but I was not always healthy.
This is what I looked like 3 years ago And me today….
(when I was still at uni)…
The difference is 15kg and a healthier, happier mindset! What’s funny is that I now eat far more food and far more liberally, and exercise less than I did back then.
I used to run on the treadmill almost everyday and feel guilty if I didn’t. I excluded all ‘bad’ food from my diet and when I ate that food I felt guilty. I felt guilty when I ate too much, and always tried to eat as little as possible. I hated myself and my body more when the scales didn’t change.
For me the step that initiated my journey to health was choosing to love and accept my body exactly the way it was then. I stopped trying to lose weight, I stopped weighing myself. Instead I chose to nourish my body with good food. I chose to exercise to improve my fitness and only when I felt like it. For the first time I set fitness related goals; (the first was running 5km outside without stopping). I ate more mindfully and took pleasure from my food again. I ate chocolate and ice cream and enjoyed every mouthful without guilt. I learned to listen to my body cues eating when I felt hungry and stopping when I was full. In taking the focus away from my weight I managed to lose more weight than I ever thought possible and better yet I have kept it off!
So why does this approach work? How is it possible to eat more, exercise less and still lose weight? Here’s why…
Dieting or restrictive eating:
- slows the rate at which your body burns calories
- Increases your body’s efficiency at using every possible calorie from the food you eat so you digest food faster and get hungrier quicker
- causes craving for high fat foods
- increases your appetite
- reduces your energy levels
- lowers your body temperature so you use less energy
- reduces your ability to feel “hungry” or “full”
- reduces total amount of muscle tissue
- increases fat storage enzymes and decreases fat releasing enzymes.
So ditch the diet and trust your body to know how to eat. Easier said than done right? Well here are few concepts to get you started.
The first concept is to accept that you can be healthy at any size. It is a common misconception that you have to be slim to be healthy or that you are unhealthy if you are overweight or obese. This is simply NOT true. Thin people can develop diabetes, CVD, cancer and hypertension too. It’s what’s going on INSIDE the body not its shape that matters!
A slim figure is portrayed as desirable by the media, but imagine if we were all thin – how boring would that be! Everyone has a different shape, that is unique and beautiful in different ways. So forget being slim, there is nothing sexier than confidence and taking pride in the way you look. Put away the scales and just accept the skin your in! Learn to love your body – after all it’s the only one you’ve got!
The non diet approach means that all food is morally equal. There is no good or bad. An apple and a bowl of ice cream both provide energy and nourish the body but in different ways. I’m not saying you should eat ice cream everyday, what I am saying is that all food can be enjoyed healthily. Healthy eating means eating a wide variety of food coming mostly from unprocessed sources and plant foods AND being able to enjoy some chocolate or a cheesy pizza when you feel like it.
Eat mindfully. This means following hunger and satiety cues, and eating more slowly. Think about the taste and texture of the food. The temperature, the smell…. take pleasure in the experience. Be grateful for the meal, appreciate the journey the food has made to be on your table. Thank yourself or the person who prepared the meal for you. In doing this and listening to your body you will be less likely to overeat or if you do you won’t feel guilty because you enjoyed every single mouthful of that meal and you deserved to!
The next concept is embracing and enjoying movement. The benefits of physical activity are well established. Just light-moderate activity (such as a walk) of 30 minutes five times a week has been shown to improve mental wellbeing, blood sugar levels, increase the good cholesterol and lower the bad, improve blood lipid profile, decrease blood pressure and improve metabolism and fat mobilisation. What’s more these health markers improve in obese and slim individuals alike!
Finding the right movement for you can be difficult. There are so many great ways to move our body such as dancing, sports, running, walking, cycling, martial arts, yoga and swimming. First take the focus away from burning calories when you engage in physical activity, it should be fun and maybe challenge yourself in someway. Pick an activity or a try a few that fit in with your busy schedule. Take it easy, start slow and remember you are moving your body because you want to not because you have to! There is no need to feel guilty when you don’t. Moving your body with a friend or family member can be a lot more fun and a great way to start.
The non diet approach is not sexy, it does not promise fast weight loss or any weight loss. We aren’t all meant to be slim and it is possible that you are already at a healthy size for you. This approach is not celebrity endorsed however it is backed by research and numerous qualified health professionals. It offers flexibility and long term, sustainable results. Choosing to put away the scales, to stop counting calories and restricting your diet will improve not just your physical health but also your social and emotional wellbeing.
I will leave you with this quote from Dr Linda Bacon, who has done a lot of work in this area:
“Losing weight is not about finding the perfect proportions of carbohydrates, protein, and fat or tricking yourself into feeling satisfied. Rather, maintaining the right weight for you is about respecting your hunger and trusting your body to guide you doing what is best.”
This post was based on information sourced from a webinar presented by APD Fiona Willer on the Non-diet Approach to Weight Management as well as from the amazing Facebook page run by 2 brilliant APDs: Zoe Nicholson and Jodie Arnot: https://www.facebook.com/moderationmovement/timeline and journal article: Bacon L, Aphramor L. Weight science: evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutr J 2011; 10:9.
I highly recommend checking out the links below for more information and inspiration:
And definitely get your hands on this book:
If not dieting, then what? By Rick Kausman, an Australian medical doctor