Nutrition is a science and unfortunately, there are no quick fixes. Nutrition seems to be the only science in which two contradicting theories can both be proven true. One study can prove that dairy is an important part of a healthy diet, while another can prove that it is detrimental for us. And maybe your best friend lost 10kg’s on a vegan diet and has heaps of energy, while it leaves you feeling cranky and bloated. When did eating become so incredibly complex?
I think the only way we going to survive this rollercoaster is to finally realize that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet. Personalization is everything. We are all individuals with our own specific needs and we need to celebrate this.
Most nutrition resources – be it a blog you follow or a book you read or a magazine you subscribe to- tells you what to eat without any consideration of your age, gender, size, lifestyle, genetic background, physical activity level or personal preferences. These are all important aspects to consider because hopefully you’ve realized by now that what works for another may not work for you!
So what’s happening in our bodies when we diet and why shouldn’t we? Most fad diets out there focus on manipulating either of the three macronutrients- carbohydrates, protein or fat- our bodies require all of these for energy. I think cutting back on carbs is the most common one that people start with- eliminating all the starchy foods we grew up with a staple. This is our bodies first source of energy and the most important fuel at that. So if you don’t eat enough carbs, your body will burn muscle before burning the fat that you want to lose- this is basic metabolism no matter how much the diet industry tries to tell you otherwise. I endured hours of biochemistry at university learning this! By eliminating this whole food group you did achieve calories restriction that will cause you to lose weight- but in this process, you inevitably lost muscle mass. This is why when you’re “dieting” you don’t feel so great and often lack energy. And no, its not “toxins” leaving your body, you’ve just slowed down your metabolism.
Now that we’re low on carbs, our bodies go into ketosis. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the Ketogenic diet. It’s been all the rage and according to Time magazine, it was the most googled diet in 2017. The idea behind this is to turn fat stored into ketones for energy instead. Great, now you’re thinking isn’t burning fat the fastest way to lose weight and fulfill your dream of being skinny and having it all? Well, maybe at first. But what about long-term? Can you sustain this and what are the risks?
Another option people resort to is deprivation- depriving themselves of food to achieve calorie restriction. Look I can go into a lot of science here but the crux of this is that when you don’t eat enough, your body will burn less energy. When you spend less energy, your fat cells shrink and release hormones to help us conserve more energy. So your body interprets this as energy-saving mode, just like your laptop, let me reduce the metabolism to survive longer without food.
Now with all the different fad diets foods are labeled as “bad” and are then put on a pedestal. I don’t know if you can relate to this, but by doing this, it causes you to think about this specific food non-stop. And if you do see it and eat it, you feel a loss of control with feelings of guilt and shame for doing something you were not supposed to. On the opposite end of the scale are foods labeled as “diet” foods, I think number one is definitely salad. Many clients come to me with an absolute hate for salad, because they associate it with “dieting”. Imagine if you only ever ate a salad because you actually wanted to, and it had no ties to dieting, calories, or weight loss at all? Would you just enjoy the salad for its freshness and flavour? Let’s imagine if we also got to eat, taste and enjoy our favorite treat food with all the pleasure and without the guilt and shame? It’s this insane diet culture that’s caused us to have this dysfunctional relationship with food.
All I’m suggesting is why don’t we go back to basics, fuel our bodies in a positive way, listening to our amazing bodies internal cues and use this to guide our nutrition choices?? So what are my suggestions as a dietitian to help improve or mend our health journey?
Balanced eating and exercise- fuel your body with adequate amounts of nutritious food to prevent hunger and keep your metabolism going. A simple tip to get you started is to try include at least 2 cups of vegetables at lunch and supper. It’s always better to focus on adding food as opposed to taking food away. This will ensure that you get in enough fiber and micronutrients to create fullness and reduce how quickly you feel hungry after a meal. As for exercise, well Raeesa is here for that!
Don’t skip meals- especially breakfast because it improves your overall appetite response to foods eaten later in the day.
Eat mindfully – pay attention to your body’s signal hunger and fullness. Eat the moment you sense physical hunger and not when you are starving. Eat slowly and spend time thoroughly chewing your food. Allow your body time to sense fullness and digest better. Do not eat while you are watching TV or busy on your phone, focus on your plate so you will have better control over your appetite.
I think we need to learn to make health changes for reasons that feel good for us, fix our dysfunctional relationship with food and body image, and what fits within our unique lives. So going back to the question I asked in the beginning about what is the best diet- well, if you’re thinking of it in terms of weight loss, of which most women are, I think that weight is only a number and health is what truly matters.