Swimsuit season is just around the corner and millions of women and men are on a diet. I’m not going to tell you which one is better or which one you should follow but how do you know if your on one that’s doomed? Most people on diets, over 95%, will gain the weight back and possibly more. If that’s the case wouldn’t it be smarter to just do nothing? PS that very fluffy cat got up on that scale by himself so perhaps he’s slimming for summer too.
Short answer yes, longer answer no not really. For as much as I yammer on about fitness what you put into your mouth has WAY MORE impact on your weight and whether or not your loosing it. But if your going to gain it back and damage your metabolism in the process you’re be better off not to change anything. The adage don’t go on a diet change your lifestyle is good advise but what are the concrete steps behind that, we’ll get there but first, these are the signs your on a bad diet.
Your restricting food groups
Low carb, no sugar, low fat, only protein, nothing white, no meat, only fibre, nothing processed, no aspartame, no liquid calories. If your diet has any of these limits it’s not a good diet. If you want to go vegetarian go for it, I am, but if you are just doing it for a while to loose weight it’s not a lifestyle change. Today was a crazy day I ate cake shavings, poutine and digestive cookies with a potato chip bedtime snack. Those days happen to everyone, is there any excuse for that intake, probably not but it happened. The image below is one in every biochemistry and metabolism text book, it is ONLY the major reactions of metabolism in the human body. There are more complicated options for the less important pathways.
See that right side in red that’s amino acid metabolism the building blocks of proteins. The top left in green that’s sugars and carbs, the blue below that, that’s fats. All of these pathways lead into the central core of glycolysis the citric acid cycle and the electron transport chain all of which are used to make energy for the body. Regardless of what you’re eating all protein, sugars or carbs mealtime goes like this. You eat more than you need for energy right this second the energy is fed into that central core some is used immediately as sugars in the bloodstream some is stored for short term use as carbs and excess is stored as fats. Any input sugar, carb, fat or protein can be converted into any thing the body needs and there is no major way to trick the system.
Instead: Aim for a balanced diet over the long term and don’t sweat the small stuff in the short term. Your body will sort it all out in the end anyway.
There is some magic bullet
A tea, juicing, supplements, meal replacement shakes, herbs or some other thing that you add or do that normal people don’t do is not some mystical answer. No cleansing tea or drinking a meal is a manic bullet if it worked like it said it did, word would get out and less than half of the population would be overweight.
Even the pharmacological solutions over the years have failed to live up to expectations. In the early part of the last century amphetamines were commonly prescribed by doctors for weight loss until the 1960’s when several people died from the use of amphetamine diet pill regimes and the US senate heavily restricted their use. In the 80’s and early 90’s Fen-phen (a combination of 2 medications was all the rage) until it was revealed that up to 30% of people taking it ended up with a rare type of heart disease. Ephedra rose to prominence but that turned out to put you at risk for stokes particularly if you were overweight so that was banned too. Sibutramine was an option for a while but it turned out to have the same risks as ephedra. You have some modern options like orlistat expect a leaky oily butt though, and some diabetes medications that are being used off label for weight loss. There is over 100 years of history here that pharmaceutical solutions aren’t really a viable option.
Instead: Recognize that if there was a pill, tea or magic something. Everyone would be using it, no one would be overweight and the maker could charge you any price they wanted and people would buy it.
Your counting calories probably to 1200
Calorie counting always a bad sign, no, not at all. It’s actually super effective. Is it a viable option for the rest of your life, probably not. On some level your consuming too many calories and that’s what’s keeping you heavy or even making you keep gaining. Counting calories for a while can help you find out by how much, where your going wrong and help you adapt to a new lower level, so it’s a good idea at least for a while.
That 1200 number that is almost ubiquitous, where did it come from? Well I looked into it and the short answer is not sure, but maybe some obscure book from over 100 years ago. Perhaps its also just the lowest possible number that you can eat to avoid immediate medical issues, you’ll still get the long term ones though. If you do this for the rest of your life you will eventually die, probably. It’s a really low number if you are a healthy weight its about what you burn in 24 hours just laying in bed, assuming you don’t have to get up to eat or pee. It’s probably too low a number for most people. Eventually it will lead you to binges and undo all your hard work anyway.
Say you are a woman of 5’4″ and weigh 180 lbs but 130 lbs would be a healthy weight for you. You are eating about 2100 calories to maintain your current weight if you are getting your heart rate up for about 20 minuets three times a week. In order to maintain 130 lbs you require 1700 calories per day. With 3500 calories per pound and 50 pounds to loose it would take you 14 months to loose the weight. If you eat 1200 calories per day (every single day) it would take you 6.5 months. The first way is a slice of pizza less a day which you maintain forever. The second option is 1/2 a loaf of bread and a thin pat of butter less each day which you have to step back up after the weight is gone. PS at the end of 6 months if you cut to 1700 calories you would weigh 159 lbs and be down 21.
Instead: Calculate the number of calories it takes to maintain your goal weight at your current activity level using a calculator like this one. Eat that from the beginning. Sure it will come off just a little itty bitty bit slower, but you’ll only make one change and stick with it forever. If you have a lot of weight to loose at the beginning you won’t even notice a difference.
Count calories for a while but try to end up eating intuitively. This means you eat what you want when you’re hungry. After you set your new normal by counting calories at the beginning stop but keep an eye one the scale if its up two weeks in a row go back to counting for a bit, The last 10 will come off a bit slower but that is a lifestyle change.
Restricting or extreem amounts of fluids
I wouldn’t have added this a few years ago but times they are a changing. There is a short term trick that people with weight conscious people have employed for years for their crazy jobs that’s apparently gone mainstream. So we’re talking models earning 1000’s of dollars a day, professionally fighters for weigh ins the day before a big fight and professional body builders for major titles. But the trend for women towards competing in fitness competitions is making this one popular. It’s nutty and dangerous. Essentially you step up your water over time to really extreme levels in the weeks preceding a major event. This leads to your body producing more of the hormone to eliminate water but it also makes you feel like a bloated cow during the process. Too much too fast and you get a major disruption in the body’s electrolytes and a potentially fatal change in brain function known as hyper hydration. Then in the 18-24 hours before the event you cut off fluids completely and your ‘new normal’ hormone levels take 24 hours to catch up and you severely dehydrate yourself making your muscles pop. Now you have the same potentially fatal electrolyte levels but you look great for the day. Until that fat cow thing happens again and you blow up like road kill in the sun the next day.
Needless to say its really hard on your body for literally no long or even medium term benefit. People who pulled this trick in the past did so for huge personal gains, 1000’s for dollars in modelling wages or prize money at huge risks to their health. It puts your body in a place where a previously undiagnosed and otherwise benign condition becomes fatal. Think long and hard about this if your trying this out for a competition and just because you did it once with no issues doesn’t mean you’ll be so lucky next time.
Instead: Drink a normal amount of water but get enough. If your struggling with over eating a glass of water before meals can slow you down. Try to cut out high calorie drinks like soda and juices. Replace them with water or at least aim for diet soda.
Fasting for periods of time
This is a sign of a bad diet for sure taken to any extreme. Even no eating after 6pm which is a popular line. What if your invited for a late dinner, can you just not go? Your never going to have a snack after a late lunch or early dinner? If your fasting for a day a week or even days at a time holy crap, STOP. At least stop driving lest you faint which is a real possibility. You’re really setting yourself up for over eating later or in preparation for your fast. Plus all the biological stuff like insulin level, blood sugar swings and insufficient glycogen storage… that’s what brings you to the binge moment. Forget that for now.
If this post was titled “how to start disordered eating” the body would be one word. Fast! You’re setting yourself up for a starve and binge cycle followed by huge food related guilt. Then you overdo it in some way to compensate by exercising or restricting. That’s a recipe that leads to bulimia in the long run. More rarely you get ‘used’ to the fasted feeling, you’re hungry so you get a shot of adrenaline, the fight or flight chemical and you do loose some weight. You get addicted to the energy and the results and you restrict more and longer and somehow overcome the urge to binge or even eat. More results, more energy and a reward for more fasting. That downward spiral leads to anorexia.
Instead: Don’t put weird or unrealistic time restrictions on eating. If part of your issue is mindless noshing late at night yeah maybe cut it off at 9pm or make it veggies only but be realistic for a long term plan now.
Meal plans full of weird expensive food you don’t like
Meal plans can be great or they can super suck. It’s handy to be told what to eat and when but are you going to do that forever? Bad meal plans or unrealistic ones are filled with wasted ingredients, foods you don’t like, expensive things and can be repetitive and boring. Do you really want to eat oatmeal for breakfast three times a week? Do you even like oatmeal? Is buying fresh berries all year long getting too expensive? Do you even like kale? Plus being told what to do brings out the rebellious teenager in all of us. If your rebelling against your own meal plan that’s just cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Instead: Make healthier choices like baking your fries instead of deep frying, cut back on cheese and gravy. Put more veg on your plate and less meat. Work on portion control of foods you really like. Food is also cultural, a part of our traditions and sometimes we even eat out of the house. You’ll never find pirogies or pizza on a meal plan but I’m always going to be eating them, at least sometimes.
Before you go: I think its beneficial to understand how we all got here biologically speaking. The diet and food industry as a whole likes to sell the idea of individual choice and that’s true to some extent. Since half of us are overweight we are mostly making the wrong choices according to them, eating too much of the wrong stuff and not moving enough. There is clearly more going on than just this. Up until 150 years ago people’s daily work was largely consumed with getting enough to eat if they could. Evolution happens over tens of thousands of years and thousands of generations. Up until four or five generations ago people were not getting enough or just barely enough. We are adapted to eat when we have the opportunity for any coming lean times. But we’ll leave it there for now since I’m contemplating a whole post on how evolution and today’s reality are at odds, if there is interest.
So what’s the nuttiest thing you’ve seen on a diet plan?