Feeling bad about eating too much over the holidays? Are you planning on starting a diet in the New Year? You are not alone!
The start of a new year is a natural time when people make resolutions to be healthier. January is also a time when we are bombarded with ads selling the next quick fix to lose weight. Many people think that starting a diet to lose weight will make them healthier. Although the intention seems good, when someone starts a diet, it can cause harm in the long run.
The topic of dieting becomes a common conversation in many social circles and workplace, including ours. As regional nutritionists, we recommend that instead of following a diet to lose weight, people should focus on having healthy eating habits all year round.
The problem with diets is that they just don’t work. Weight loss plans are usually too restrictive and cannot be followed over a long period of time. They often involve forbidden foods; are extremely low calories; and involve strict rules about portion sizes and what and when you can eat. In addition, they sometimes require you to buy expensive supplements, powders, pills and special foods. This unrealistic way of eating sets up a vicious cycle that creates misery for many and in the long run, weight gain.
When you start a diet, it destroys your ability to listen to your hunger and fullness cues; worsens your nutritional status; and puts a damper on your social activities. Diets also damage and impact how you think and feel about food.
We all know someone who has been stuck in the yo-yo cycle of losing and regaining weight. They start a diet, lose some weight, and go back to their normal eating habits and gain the weight back, sometimes even more. They feel defeated, guilt ridden and embarrassed that they couldn’t maintain the weight loss. But the truth is when you restrict the amount of food you eat, your body will fight back by: increasing your feelings of being hungry; slowing down your metabolism (conserving energy and storing fat); and increasing your cravings for food higher in sugar and fat. You are fighting a losing battle, and the truth is the plan is the problem, not you.
Eating is complex. It is not just about the amount of calories, fat or sugar. It is also based on preferences, habits, attitudes, intuition, knowledge and physical needs. Diets and strict meal plans do not take into account this complexity. They often have a one size fits all mentality which takes the joy out of eating. When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers. When we start to get caught up in what we should and shouldn’t eat and become anxious about eating, it becomes difficult to enjoy food.
Many of us can think about situations when a co-worker or friend was consumed with a diet and avoided social gatherings such as potlucks, family get togethers or a night out with friends because the food being offered did not fit with their diet plan. That isn’t an enjoyable or healthy way to live.
This year, instead of stressing about trying to lose weight, we encourage you to pay attention to your feelings of hunger, appetite and satisfaction and eat as much as or as little as is right for you. Take time to plan for healthy eating the majority of the time, but allow yourself the flexibility to enjoy all food without guilt even when those foods are not healthy. All food can fit into a healthy lifestyle.
A first step to healthy eating is adding vegetables and fruit to all meals and snacks. Fresh, frozen and canned are all good options. Make time to sit down and have regular meals and snacks without distractions such as TV, phone and computer.
Here are a few things we do in our everyday lives to make healthy choices while juggling hectic schedules:
- To save time and include veggies in my meals, I have bags of frozen vegetables on hand. It is so quick and easy to toss them in a stir fry or chili. They are pre chopped, washed and include a variety of vegetables in the same bag.
- When cooking meals like casseroles, lasagna and soup, I make extra and freeze for lunches over the next couple of weeks. I add a salad or frozen or canned vegetable on the side.
- Planning ahead is key for me to get a healthy meal on the table. I typically check the flyers and plan my meals the week before. I pick up what groceries I need on the weekend so I have everything on hand for the week. I also do as much of the prep the night before, for example if I am having fajitas, I will cook the chicken, chop the veggies and grate the cheese the night before.
Whatever your age, weight and shape, eating healthy, being active, and feeling good about yourself will improve your overall health.
Here is to a happy and healthy 2017! ■
This story was written by Eastern Health Registered Nutritionists Melissa Caravan, Lesley Burgess and Tracy English.
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