3 Reasons You Shouldn’t Diet This Year (And What To Do Instead)
Josée Sovinsky, RD
As we enter 2018, many are thinking about resolutions. How can we make 2018 a better year than 2017? What can we pour our energy into that would make a difference? For many, the answer to these questions is dieting and the pursuit of weight loss. However, as an eating disorder and intuitive eating dietitian, I urge you to put these types of resolutions aside. Here are just a few reasons why.
Diets make us miserable
Our brains are huge consumers of glucose (a.k.a. sugar, which we also get from carbs). When we restrict sugar or carbs, our brain can be deprived of its favorite source of energy. This means it doesn’t function at peak capacity and can lead to fatigue, mood swings, inability to concentrate, etc. These are common side effects I hear when talking to clients who have tried low-carb or low-sugar diets.
Beyond the physiological response to dieting, dieting can also greatly influence our self-esteem. Given most diets don’t work, we can end up feeling like a failure when we can’t stick to them. However, it’s important to remember you didn’t fail the diet, the diet failed you.
There is no such thing as good and bad foods
I can’t repeat this enough: All foods serve a purpose. While some foods might have more nutrients than others, this doesn’t make them any better than other foods. Foods containing less nutrition usually serve another purpose, whether that is to soothe and comfort, to help you celebrate, to please your taste buds, etc. Ruling out any one food because it has fewer nutrients is forgetting that health is much more than just physical health. Your mental health is as important, and relies on you choosing both foods that are nutritious and delicious.
Restricting often leads to binging
Restricting your food intake is a sure-fire way of leading you into binges. When your body isn’t getting all of the energy it needs, it tries to compensate in every way possible. For many, this includes increasing hunger cues and thoughts about food. Of course, these two elements often result in binging. When you think about it, this is a survival mechanism. It’s your body trying to make up for what it missed. While binging can be frustrating and extremely difficult, knowing it sometimes serves a physiological purpose can be comforting. Your body is quite smart!
On a psychological level, restricting can also lead to binging due to the feeling of deprivation. When we label foods as off limits, this often increases our desire for said foods. Think about a child surrounded by toys. You tell this child it can play with any toy except the fire truck. Want to take a guess at which toy the child will want to play with most? I can bet for most kids, that’ll be the fire truck. In many ways, our brains are wired to want foods we are trying to restrict.
What To Do Instead of Diet
Now, we’ve established a few reasons why dieting may not be the best resolution for 2018, but what to do instead? In my role as a dietitian, I encourage my clients to reconnect with their body. Instead of relying on (usually unfounded) food rules set out by a stranger, ask yourself what you need. After all, you are the expert of your body. If you’ve been chronically dieting or you have an eating disorder, you may need some structure or gentle guidance at first. Your eating disorder may be clouding your ability to identify your true needs. However, with time, you will start to recognize when you are hungry, what kind of flavors would please your taste buds, what textures would lead to satisfaction, etc. For now, try to get back to basics: including a variety of foods from all food groups and eating regularly.
This year, may you be able to let go of diets, food rules, restriction and guilt. This is my wish for you, ED warrior. Have a happy and healing New Year.
Josée Sovinsky, RD is a passionate Registered Dietitian working in a community setting in Toronto, Ontario. After facing her own struggles with disordered eating during her degree, she developed a strong interest in helping those affected by eating disorders and mental illness. She decided to learn more about intuitive and mindful eating, body acceptance and Health at Every Size® , which now strongly guide her work. She dreams of a world free from mental health stigma, body shaming and disordered eating. When she is not helping others make peace with food, she enjoys baking, photography and doing yoga in her living room. Visit Josée's website and connect with her on social media.