& Should Instead Be Following The Least Restrictive Diet
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Weight loss and losing weight is on many people’s minds much of the time, but wanting to lose weight and actually having weight loss success are two entirely different things.
There is so much information out there that it’s becoming overwhelming for those just looking for some honest, straight forward advice. There’s myriad of different diets, workout plans, structured plans like WW or Keto, just counting calories or macros or carbs, and so much more.
And if you don’t really know what’s what then it can be a minefield for you.
It also goes beyond just figuring out which method of weight loss to go with because a diet mindset can become obsessive and unhealthy, and also lead to even worse outcomes (such as regaining more weight than you initially lost) and having weight loss success is seldom as easy as blithely following some structured, elimination diet.
So in this article you will learn a little more about why you should ditch the typical diet mindset and work on developing a healthy mindset about weight loss instead. And a healthy mindset about weight loss and food necessarily leads to the least restrictive diet.
Where to begin…
When you have a diet mindset, you are focusing on your diet alone. And it’s often not about calories and eating a more balanced diet, but rather restricting, or ditching, entire food groups (‘carbs’ being a common one, the popularity of which waxes and wains depending on the decade).
Many diets also advise you to eat as little as possible in order to lose as much weight as you can in as little time as possible (such as the rapid weight loss phase).
These extremes seldom work long term because the very nature of an elimination diet is temporary. You’re not even meant to do them indefinitely.
Most often this results in the dieter going on and off a diet repeatedly because they want to keep the excessive weight off but yet their approach to dieting doesn’t allow them to do so. They’re stuck in perpetual loop of eliminating for a period and losing weight, then not eliminating and then gaining the weight back.
The result is yo-yo dieting.
Instead of proceeding like this you instead want to view the process of weight loss, or any lifestyle change for that matter, as analogous to building a pristine and modern skyscraper (as opposed to just dumping a bunch of rumble in a pile and hoping it works for you).
If you have ever tried to lose weight then you probably have some experience with yo-yo dieting. It’s pretty rare for someone to pick one method of weight loss and get it right the first time.
Instead, people commonly end up just using whatever their friend, sister, co-worker, or social media buddy were using and had success with.
However, just because someone else was successful with a particular diet does not mean you will be.
You should realise and understand that you’re an individual with individual needs—and this isn’t self-help, pride building prose. It’s the truth.
If you don’t follow your individual preferences and needs then you’ll come unstuck with your long term weight loss pursuit (and most likely join the yo-yo dieting treadmill with the 10’s of millions of others who are stuck there).
Granted, while there is nothing wrong with experimenting and trying new things, yo yo dieting is not something you should be keen to experiement with because the result is that you may end up gaining more weight than you would have if you didn’t yo yo diet.
Yo-yo dieting is essentially when you continue to make changes to your diet and/or fitness routine. The changes are often to the extreme, too, because if there’s one common thread among yo-yo dieters it’s that they fully commit to this month’s diet of choice.
Many yo-yo dieters also don’t just start and stop the same diet or method of losing weight (like what fitness competitors and body builders do), but often bounce from one diet to the next in a yo-yo fashion, hence the term yo-yo dieting.
They’re probably looking for the golden chalice, and are hoping that the next diet they try is going to have the keys to the kingdom.
Yo-yo dieting, fad diets, and extreme calorie restriction all go together and often come as one, such as trying and being overzealous with Weight Watchers, then Keto or Paleo or Whole 30, then back to Weight Watchers… only to go on a juice-fast next.
Further, yo-yo dieters also either stop dieting for a while in-between each fad trial, or they jump immediately into an entirely different way of eating. Basically, their route to succeess is in the wind because they’re quite literally all over the place.
There’s some more important points to be made here:
Just because something is, technically, a fad diet, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. And the problem with yo-yo dieters is not that they use a fad diet to achieve weight loss, it’s that they approach their weight loss endeavour as a fad.
Yo-yo dieting and extreme calorie restriction might be worse than not dieting at all because it can lead to unhealthy habits, starvation, loss of lean mass (which, if you’re not properly resistance training, will happen in any calorie deficit), and more. Including perpetuating the yo-yo dieting cycle altogether.
Perhaps the worst part about all this is that overly restrictive diets, yo yo dieting and severe calorie restriction are all unnecessary and counterproductive for weight loss, and may even be unhealthy for you due to either a large reduction in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients (the carnivore diet being one glaring example), or the over-consumption of something that can lead to detrimental long-term health effects, like saturated fat (carnivore being a prime example here again).
In fact, this extreme calorie restriction approach deserves a little more attention.
Severe calorie restriction and elimination diets are becoming a little bizarre, where the list of things that you CAN’T eat is much longer than the list of things you CAN.
Often with the goal of getting you to 1000 calories a day (or less!).
Which is ridiculous, and unless you’re very petite is almost guaranteed to be unhealthy.
Indeed, rubbish like this can actually jeopardize your health. Let’s take a closer look at the potential problems.
Severe calorie restriction and/or an elimination diet is unnecessary for weight loss success, so unless the restriction is needed for a health issue or food allergy (such as you’re following a FODMAP elimination diet plan for a specific reason) then the whole concept is questionable, at best.
Elimination diets can cause people to overeat because the aggressive restriction of the food can cause a desire for the restricted item. This is especially so if the elimination diet is coupled to an extreme calorie restriction.
It’s a situation that sets you up for binging on said item when your will power finally breaks, which it eventually will.
Binge eating can completely undo all your previous efforts, so do your best to avoid it.
To maintain optimum health, the body needs lots of different vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, but when eating a restrictive diet you’ll nearly always be missing out on some of these key vitamins and minerals.
Not only can a nutrient deficiency weaken the immune system, but it may also lead to muscle loss. The likelihood of you developing certain diseases increases as well because a balanced diet is protective.
This means you won’t be burning as much energy or as quickly, so instead of remaining at your lower weight you might actually end up putting more of it back on.
Further, severe calorie restriction also lowers your energy levels, so you’ll be moving less and therefore burning even less energy, making continued weight loss even more difficult for you. This energy reduction mostly manifests itself in the form of decreased NEAT.
If you’re constantly stressing over every calorie then this is a tell-tale sign that your diet is too restrictive.
You should also consider your personal happiness. When simply eating a meal becomes a source of anxiety (instead of, say, pleasure), it’s time to seek a healthier way of life and move away from your elimination diet.
Achieve long term weight loss success and avoid a restrictive diet by focusing on a balance of nutrients.
This will help you to eat a wide range of wholesome foods and steer you somewhat down the whole foods diet route.
Lower calorie per volume.
More satiating per volume.
Much higher in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients per volume.
While wholefoods aren’t magic and they still contain calories, unless you’re aiming for some exotic style of leanness then they should be the staple of your diet and everything else should be built on top of this foundation.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with treating yourself every so often, but do try to avoid doing it too often because a treat mostly means some refined sugar and/or high-fat snack or dish, and these generally contain a high number of calories in a small volume.
The result is that you’ll eat more and be less satiated, which is where weight gain comes from in the first place.
Rather than developing the extreme, yo-yo and restrictive dieting attitude towards something, even towards this idea of wholesome wholefoods, take it slow instead, one habit at a time.
Make a list of what you deem your unhealthy habits.
Gradually improve this list one habit at a time.
Don’t jump in and try to improve everything all at once as this won’t work. It’ll feel restrictive, unpleasant, and annoy you, which all but guarantees failure eventually.
Here’s some points to make the idea hit home:
You drink a lot of soda—Start replacing it with flavoured water.
Your diet is high in refined sugar—Start replacing it with fresh fruit.
You snack a lot throughout the day—Ensure your snacks are high in protein and/or fiber.
You can always refine further once you’ve begun to refine initially, such that say you drink 5 sodas a day and have replaced 1 with flavoured water. Once you’re on board with this replacement, replace another.
Think about weight loss longevity and improve little bits at a time.
Think of it this way: it took time (maybe many years) to put the weight on, so there’s no real reason to ensure it comes off in the next month. Fat is a chronic problem, not an acute one, so there really is no rush.
In simple terms, what that means is that the health problems with excessive fat take years to manifest, so taking a year to remove the fat (for example) doesn’t mean that the sky is falling.
Further, each reduction in body fat improves health markers, so you’re getting healthier all the time and don’t have to get to your ideal weight to experience the improvements in health that you’re after.
Follow this simple process:
Aim to take 5% off.
Then, when you’ve achieved that, aim to take another 5%.
Continue in this vein until you’re at your chosen body fat.
Try not to obsess over your weight either as weight fluctuations of up and down and all over the place are normal. A downward trend over time is what we’re looking for and all you should really be asking for.
How you lose weight should be how you want to live the rest of your life, so keep that in mind.
It’s not about following a fad (that you don’t really like) as some kind of quick fix. It’s about changing your lifestyle. As this interesting study makes clear, I quote (emphasis mine):
“The majority of WLMs [Weight Loss Maintenance] viewed the experience of successful WLM as a chance to reinvent themselves as well as an opportunity to create a new identity and access new communities.”
This is why it’s important to:
Change your habits (preferably into that of a healthy person).
Reframe your thoughts and your mindset on the whole issue—it’s a lifestyle change, not another fad or phase you’re going through.
Make a plan for how you’re going to navigate holidays, birthdays, eating out, etc.
Make long-term weight loss your goal—not a quick fix for a photo shoot or fitting into a wedding dress.
Habits are formed through goal directed behavior. That is:
You have to consciously direct your behaviour for a long enough time for it to become a habit
Some habits take longer than others. So just keep pushing until it’s a habit (2–12 weeks is the general ballpark and timeframe).
Make a commitment to yourself that you are going to lose weight, find other coping mechanisms and hold yourself accountable.
Yes, you will slip up and make bad choices (you can’t be on point 100% of the time, nor do you need to be), and that’s understandable, acceptable, and perfectly natural, just put yourself back on track.
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Let’s put the mindset on the back burner for a moment and talk about food. Here are a few healthy eating habits to get you started.
You might make a colorful salad with dark leafy greens, bright red tomatoes and slices of cucumbers. It’s healthy, satiating, and low calorie.
So far so good.
…but you then smother it with high-fat and high sugar dressings and sauces.
And you’ve turned the salad into a Big Mac.
Not so good.
Begin to read the caloric content of your condiments. Look at the condiments that you’re buying—and also think about the portion amount that you’re having.
Take more time to find the pork, beef and poultry that have less fat. Don’t just rush through the meat aisle amd grab stuff. Again, look at what you’re buying.
Fat is high calorie in a small packet, so:
Trim away any excess fat from the meat after cooking it
Cook meat seperately so you can drain the fat and not have it soak into the other foods
Further, processed meat products (such as fish sticks or chicken nuggets, etc.), are often higher in calorie per volume than the more whole food items they’re reflecting.
Many elimination diet plans don’t encourage enough healthy stuff, like fruits and veggies. For example, low-carb diets are often poor with their fruits and grains, and often get rid of quite a few vegetables as well.
Again, they’ve taken it to the extreme:
They overeat starch and sugar (especially if they couple it to fat because then it tastes wonderful, like desserts and sweets).
So since starch and sugar are carbohydrate.
We should therefore restrict all carbohydrate.
This is just boggling.
Generalising people to stay away from fruits and vegetables has got to be some of the worst dietary advice ever given; you are missing out on numerous vitamins and minerals by doing so.
Instead, do the opposite. Start adding fruits or vegetables to your meals and snacks.
You’ll never get fat by eating vegetables, and you’d have to be on a pretty determined mission to do so with fruit, too.
By incorporating more fruits and vegetables your calories will be lowered automatically (by way of more bulk at less calories), while you give your body the nutrients that it loves.
N.B. stay away from dried stuff. It’s concentrated and high calorie.
To change your mindset about food and health, focus on nourishing your body, not restricting.
Each meal should have a good balance of starch, protein, fibre and fat.
Protein and fibre are especially good because, first, protein is inherently satiating, so you’ll be fuller quicker and for longer, and fibre is low calorie, so you can eat lots of it without worry, which further leads to increased satiation.
Couple it to the high nurtition found in these foods and it’s a winning strategy.
And on the nourishing your body idea…
Hunger is the natural response of the body that lets you know that more fuel or food is required to keep your system from getting tired throughout the day, but hunger isn’t the vital fire alarm many people assume it is.
Getting low on fuel is a natural and everyday occurrence of your system, so getting hungry is more like a gauge than an outright alarm; it lets you know when resources are low.
Let’s compare hunger to the gas gauge on your car. When you go to the gas station and fill up, the gauge reads FULL. After you’ve driven awhile the level goes down. You may be driving by a station and decide to fill it up again or you may drive by because you still have plenty.
This is the same as hunger. And cravings, including hunger, come in waves. They do not climb lineraly and get worse and more intense with every moment that passes.
Just acknowledge the wave and ride it out. It will go.
If it doesn’t go, then, well, you should eat. We’re not starving ourselves here.
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Only three more short sections to go and you’re ready to win!
Everyone feels stress, anxious, sad, emotional, lonely, bored, etc., sometimes, and if eating is your go-to for dealing with these sort of things then it can spell doom to your weight loss wishes.
Remember, strictly speaking, food is fuel. Not a reward or a distraction. And luckily there are some alternatives you can try instead of munching on that calorie laden snack when you start to feel these feelings.
Exercise is a distraction, makes you feel good, and lowers stress. Getting in the habit of taking a walk or doing a few crunches when you feel anxious can make a world of difference along your weight loss journey.
When you start to feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath and spend a few quiet moments in peace.
If you are at home, you might want to try a guided meditation video, but meditation is something you can do anywhere. If you are out in public, simply take a few deep breaths and focus on the present moment until you feel your body begin to calm.
It only takes seconds.
Instead of using your hands for eating, busy them with a hobby.
There’s a million and one things you can do. Anything that can keep your hands busy and your mind off your problems is a good choice.
Instead of doing something detrimental to your body by overeating when you feel stressed, try treating your body with kindness.
Focusing on something positive can also help to reset your thinking and allow you to better cope with life’s stressors.
People who have lost weight are very aware of how certain foods impact their waistline.
If you have a trouble or trigger food, like pizza or ice cream, you should acknowledge this and aim to do something about it.
Hide them. Don’t have them on show and have them front and centre to your vision. If you keep seeing them then you’re going to have to continually say no to them. Eventually you’ll break and give in.
Put them at the back of the freezer or cupboards so as to increase the resistance of having them.
Or just don’t buy them.
If you’re sleeping you’re not eating. Plus sleep deprivation increases hunger by way of the hormone ghrelin. So get your shut-eye!
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Losing weight can often be a very positive experience. It can help to improve your overall health and potentially prevent various conditions. For some, it can also be a great way to boost the self-esteem.
However, many people assume that losing weight will fix all of their problems. But this, obviously, is not true.
Sure, you will fit into the clothes you want and have a big boost of self-confidence, but it stops there.
This is important to remember because people are often under the misconception that all the problems they experience are due to being overweight, when the majority of these are probably not at all related to your size.
By understanding this, you can start a new journey of self-discovery that not only includes getting to a healthy weight, but allows you to work on your mental health at the same time.
Weight loss is a challenging process, and one that can be taxing on your body and your emotional health.
One of the issues people often face is in comparisons. Comparing yourself to other people, how much weight they have lost, their fitness routine, and the type of diet they follow. But you are a unique individual, and you are going to have a different weight loss journey that most other people.
Let’s get this out of the way: We’ve all done it. We’ve all made comparisons. We’ve all wondered what they were doing that we weren’t, why we don’t measure up.
But comparing your diet, your exercise, or your body to other peoples’ is a recipe for depression and self-loathing. Don’t do it. Just do you. Aim to be the best version of yourself.
Consider this: Would you go up to somebody and ask them why their diet is so bad? Why they don’t exercise enough? Why are they so out of shape?
No, you wouldn’t.
Well, if you wouldn’t treat another person that way why would you treat yourself that way? Are you not as important as they are? Do you not deserve the same compassion?
You’re human. You’re fallible. And you’re trying your best. Be compassionate and give yourself a break.
Self-criticism and comparison often only lead to bitterness. So treat yourself with kindness.
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If you’re looking for more detailed, longer form advice, consider this.
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