It seems like everyone goes on some sort of diet when January 1st rolls around.
Plans are selected and set: Diet books are skimmed and healthy recipes get pinned to our Pinterest boards. Cabinets are cleared of the “bad” food and refrigerators are stuffed with the “good” food. Gym memberships are purchased and trainers are hired.
We tell ourselves that we’ll lose the weight this time and make it last. Eliminating this food or that food will get the job done, and we’ll be so happy when goal weights are reached. All the hard work will be worth it.
It usually doesn’t last though. Many of us quickly fall of the bandwagon within a few weeks after the excitement wears off and the cravings start. Others last months or years, but eventually gain weight back. Our bodies fluctuate and we get frustrated. Life happens.
It’s an endless cycle of expectations, short-term success, and then disappointment. I know this to be personally true. I have a tumultuous history with diets and have pretty much yo-yo’d my entire life.
I was put on my very first diet when I was just nine years old.
My mother was concerned about my weight and brought me to a Weight Watchers meeting. I remember stepping on a scale in a room full of people. I felt shame in regards to the number that was written in my booklet for the first time. I did lose some weight as the months passed, but counting points wasn’t exactly exciting for a fourth grader. I gained back the weight and then some.
I returned to Weight Watchers numerous other times during my adolescence with little success. I also tried out Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig but they didn’t worked out. My endocrinologist put me on appetite suppressants in high school and all they managed to do was make my heart race. The Paleo diet did successfully expand my picky-eater palette during college, but it also eventually led me to restrict and demonize foods during a mentally unstable time of my life. Whole30 made me think of the food industry in a critical way last year, but it also isolated me from my friends when I wanted to go out.
To me, diets have been tumultuous experiences over and over again, both for my body and brain. I’ve lost and gained over a hundred pounds in my lifetime and I can confidently say that there is no such thing as a perfect commercial diet plan.
Why do most diets fail? Here are a few potential reasons:
- They seek quick, short-term results for instant gratification but ignore long-term success and management
- They’re too expensive to sustain (consider how much you’ve spent at the juice bar, on membership dues, or on this or that health gadget)
- They don’t pay attention to existing health issues (especially mental health ones in my experience) and may even cause future ones
- They’re too restrictive and create unrealistic long-term expectations
- They’re too broad and fail to cater to varying bodies and lifestyles
Bottom line: Our varying genetics, medical histories, and lifestyles simply make it impossible for a single plan to make you lose weight and keep it off. No one diet will work for everyone.
There may be someone reading this who strongly disagrees because so and so diet worked for them and they managed to keep off the weight. If you are that person, good for you. My intention is not to shame anyone. Just keep in mind that it wasn’t just a diet that got you to where you are. Changing our bodies takes various lifestyle changes that a singular diet can’t prescribe, and nothing in life is permanent.
So where does this diet realization leave me? My doctors tell me I need to lose weight while my therapist encourages me to learn to love myself. I’m currently at a weight that is considered obese on the BMI scale (I believe BMI is super outdated and irrelevant though.) My birth father just had a heart scare that terrified me and my biological grandmother deals with the complications of type II diabetes daily. What am I supposed to do to be “healthy” when numerous diets have failed me and so many others?
I was considering going on strict Paleo again on January 1st, but I’ve since changed my mind. I don’t want to fail again so I’m not going down that path. I don’t deserve to be put through the ringer again so I won’t.
Instead, I’ve started to make some little changes and develop some new habits slowly that ideally will last long-term. I started by simply drinking a more water in November in an effort to be better hydrated.
I’ve been cooking more and eating out less in January, and I’ve tried to generally add more vegetables to my plate. I try to be aware of my hunger cues and respond accordingly. I have been avoiding a few foods that actively bother my stomach (my lack of gallbladder makes it tough for me to tolerate dairy and other oily foods) but have managed to not completely demonize them. Certain foods make me feel better than others, but no food is inherently good or bad – it’s all just food.
Exercise-wise, I’ve been taking my dog on more walks and visits to the dog park, and have subsequently been hitting 10,000 steps more regularly. I was cast in a show that includes some dancing, so that’s upped my exercise quota as well. I still haven’t gone to a gym and that’s perfectly okay with me. That’ll happen when it does, but I’m in no rush.
By not jumping into these lifestyle changes all at once (but rather over the period of weeks and months), I’ve managed to not overwhelm myself with expectations. Each change was done one-at-a-time. It’s slow and moderately paced and I don’t feel like I’m racing against time to reach some unattainable goal.
This approach has also helped me avoid the black and white thinking previous diets have encouraged. I’m not on a diet or a plan with the goal of losing weight. I don’t have a particular goal weight or size. My general goals are far more varied, ranging from wanting to have more energy to wanting my mental health to continue to improve. I’m generally more focused on my bigger life goals, like working on this blog, going on some sort of a date this year, and trying to get a book published.
I’m just existing and living in the moment. I’m giving my body a chance to breathe and am taking it day by day. By listening to my body and responding accordingly, I’m already achieving one of my goals. I think that’s the healthiest thing I can do for my mind and body right now so I’m sticking with it.
If you’re currently on a diet or considering going on one, please know that I am not trying to discourage you. Instead, I’m trying to encourage you to take it slow, look at the bigger picture, and make lifestyle decisions based on your specific needs. So and so diet might have worked for your friend, but how does this eating plan and exercise regime make you feel?
Let your feelings and body cues guide you, friends. If you’re struggling with your body or self-image, consult medical professionals (doctors, nutritionists, psychiatrists, therapists) first before picking the newest diet book off the shelf at Barnes and Noble. Don’t concern yourself with the latest diet trend or fad. Do what you need to do for you and you alone.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical or mental health professional, and any information and content on my website is not a substitute for professional, medical, or legal advice.