As a nutritionist who was once fat, I have examined the weight issue from every angle. I have worked with thousands of clients in successfully fighting fat and I am now, myself, tiny and fit, a mere fraction of my once fat self.
A big part of the problem is that dieters do nothing to change their mental state. Your body’s set point is created first in your mind. New research in cell biology shows our perceptions activate our genes, health and behavior. You can’t get your body to change without getting your mind on board.
The second problem is low-calorie, low-fat diets slow metabolism, block fat-burning and stimulate appetite, making weight loss more difficult on multiple levels.
Here are three common mistakes:
1. Calorie Counting
Counting calories is one of the biggest dieting mistakes. Research shows low-calorie, low-fat diets not only don’t work, they can make you fatter. The following are results of studies on calorie-restricted diets, including the very first study conducted by Ancel Keys in 1944 with 32 men following a 1600-calorie low-fat diet:*
- A slowing in metabolism by at least half
- Apathy, fatigue, lethargy
- A net gain in percent body fat
- Loss of muscle mass
- A startling increase in appetite and cravings
- A new obsession with food and cooking
- Overall weight gain
Sound familiar? The body stores fat when insulin levels rise, which results from eating refined carbohydrates, not from eating too many fat calories. Look at any impoverished nation. Adults living on bread, pasta, and sweets tend to be overweight even though they don’t overeat.
2. Weighing In
Pounds lost do not always correlate with inches lost. Some people lose a lot of inches but not many pounds. Muscle weighs more than fat but takes up less space. Isn’t the whole idea to become smaller around? To observe less belly flab? To see leaner, smaller hips? Who cares what the scale says if your jeans are less snug? If you are gaining muscle mass (a healthy process that boosts metabolism), your body is likely getting smaller, but you may not see big result on your scale.
Weighing in creates psychological tension. Watching the scale can make it seem to take forever to see results, creating dissatisfaction that prompts a desire for comfort food for relief. If the scale does drop, nothing feels better than a sweet reward. Watching the scale creates a kind of diet-stress mentality that sets up a desire to eat.
3. Starting the Plan
One of the early signposts to failure is when a client identifies the “start” to her plan. Along with “starting” comes “stopping”. Ever said, I’ll start my diet tomorrow? Or, On Monday? Or, after the holidays?. It is important to be eating the best you can during all of life’s interruptions: holidays (doesn’t everyone give up on holidays?), a job loss, a new job, transitions, kid stress, relationship stress… because life IS all that, right?
Faulty Food Logs
When I ask clients to send me their food log, 98% of the time they say, “Oh, I can’t send it; this week is not typical.” So what I am hearing is 98% of the time things aren’t normal. If you can learn to nourish your body healthfully in any situation, you will master the art of staying healthy forever.
Always make the best choice you can. It may be a half an ice cream sundae, not a full one. It may be a fast food burger, but with no bun. A snack might be a handful of nuts instead of a brownie. Each day choose the most supportive foods available to you. This includes your birthday, holidays, and stressful days. Life is filled with reasons to be “off your diet.” Whether celebrating or stressed, why not eat to feel light and lean rather than fat and lethargic?
Do you want to be slim? Change what you can today. Now. Stop waiting for the right time to start a diet. And throw out your scale and stop counting calories.
*References: The Great Starvation Experiment, by Todd Tucker, 2008, University of Minnesota Press.