A Safe Way to Approach a Diet

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No, friends, I am not supporting the idea that everyone should be on a diet.  But, let’s keep it real: you’re probably going to be on a diet or you’re on a new one right now.  You will receive no judgment from me because I know how daunting it is to change your eating habits, especially after an indulgent holiday season.  Still, I want to be clear–I’m a strong advocate against fad dieting.  I fully believe healthy eating can be achieved by following the USDA’s My-Plate.  Studies have repeatedly shown that continually and cyclically fad dieting can actually shorten our lives and be detrimental to our health (physically, mentally, and emotionally)!  These fad diets…

  1. over-restrict calories (< 800 calories/day)
  2. work with gimmicks/tricks (“don’t eat after 6 o’clock”)
  3. promote one macronutrient above all others (“eat 90% protein”)
  4. demonize and limit specific foods/food combinations  (“don’t eat carbs” or “don’t eat meat and fruit together”)
  5. push supplements over whole foods (“eat this energy bar instead”)

Here’s the truth: most of fad diets are NOT designed for long-term use  like how we try to maintain them.  These diets are supposed to be used to reset our eating habits.  What does that mean?  It means that it strips our eating habits down to its bare bones for a short time (like a week).  Then, we’re supposed to slowly add back healthier food choices to build a newer, healthier, and most sustainable way of eating.  But do we do that?  Nope.  We stay on the restrictive fad diet for as long as possible until we give up and go back to eating poorly again. It’s a vicious cycle.

Let’s take the Paleo diet for example.  It simplifies our eating habits to match those of our prehistoric ancestors.  Grains are eliminated and so are all processed foods (Fast foods, ice cream, candy, etc).  To be honest, cutting out all the processed junk food is a GREAT thing because it reduces our intake of empty calories.  To compensate, fruits and vegetables are the stars of this diet, which I’m a fan of!  But, the diet is disproportionately higher in fat and protein than normally recommended.  Plus, it can be really difficult to sustain: can you say “no” to that tortilla, bread, pasta, rice, chip, etc?  Probably not.  So, after a week of your diet, choose healthy foods to add back.  Having a piece of whole wheat toast once a day with your new diet of grass-fed beef and fresh produce is totally okay.  Or allowing yourself a couple of chocolate chip cookie during the week.  Why?  Because this is the “balance” that we all talk and hear about.  You know what’s healthy, so choose those foods and enjoy them daily.  Over time, you will develop a healthy way of eating that strays away from those harsh fad diets, and that is where you belong (far far far away).

Lastly and most importantly, falling off the wagon is normal.  Remember that each day is a new opportunity to get back on it.  One meal will not ruin all of your hard work, so loosen the reigns of those restrictive diets. Giving yourself some leeway is one of the best practices to ensure your success in sustaining a healthy eating style.  Making healthy food choices is the hardest part about eating healthfully but you can do it.  So instead of demonizing foods like carbs or grains, take responsibility by saying, “No” to over-eating and saying, “Yes” to eating healthfully and in balance.

Happy and healthy eating,

Thomas Ngo
Dietetic Intern
NASM Certified Personal Trainer

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