Last month, my friend and I were talking about calorie counting and her weight loss journey. She asked me a really tough question, “so when I lose the weight, what do I do?” I was stumped because I tried to think of it linearly: you diet, you lose weight and then…? But I took a step back and tried to think outside the box. I’ve come to the conclusion that the true answer lies in how you start.
Weight loss is hard because dieting suuuuucks. But as tricky as weight loss is, weight maintenance is even tougher. Many dieters think “I can’t wait until I can eat ‘normally’ again” or “I can count my calories forever.” Eeks! Studies have repeatedly shown that many of those who achieve weight loss from dieting regain weight within a year. On top of that, almost every single diet participant gains it all back, and then some, within 5 years. With statistics like that, are the odds stacked against us?
In every way, yes! Diets restrict intake by reducing calories or certain types of food. They contribute to short-term “success” that is hard to sustain in the long-run. By their very nature, restrictive diets are meant for short-term weight loss and subsequent failure. That’s why dieting is often referred to as yo-yo dieting. Off and on and up and down we go. It feels very much like you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.
But there is a way to support longevity: not dieting in the first place. Instead of calorie counting or dieting, try building sustainable eating habits. For example:
- Practice mindfulness of your levels of hunger and fullness (key word: practice. It takes work).
- Focus on enjoying your food instead of calorie counting (reduce your FOMO).
- Participate in regular activity that you enjoy.
These may seem like nuances but they are important and powerful ones. They shift the focus from the number on the scale to you listening to your body (not your cravings), enjoying real food over “diet” food or guilt, and taking an active role in daily movement. It also addresses overeating in a wholesome way: instead of restricting, find that balance with eating for enjoyment and your body’s fullness cues.
While they may not lead to dramatic weight loss, these healthy practices lead to a healthier relationship with food and your body. Weight loss is a bonus here, which is (understandably) hard for many to wrap their heads around. Plus, these habits will more likely contribute to maintenance of any weight loss in the long run.
Why do I support this? There is a weight theory called the “set point” which dictates that our bodies will always fall within an equilibrium range. So, when we are above it (by overeating) and below it (through dieting) we will return to that set point range eventually. Knowing this, we fight a losing battle when we diet or eat for our weight.
Weight loss can be much more complicated of an issue that can’t be solved simply with mindfulness, but I do think it’s better than dieting. With dieting, the ends does not justify the means mostly because you end up where you start. Both ways are tough and require hard work but I believe that lifelong success starts with mindfulness practices.
Thomas Ngo RD