From veganism to ketogenic, there is no shortage of diets out there. It is almost as if dieting has become synonymous with “healthy” living and is looked to as the foremost means by which one can achieve weight loss. Widespread marketing tactics and portrayals of picture-perfect models in the media have led us all to believe that dieting is the solution to a healthier life. My patients tell me all the time that they’re just about to get back on the dieting bandwagon.
But do I really want that for them?
Are deprivation, limits, and carefully controlled portions really the answer to losing weight and achieving a sustainably healthy way of living?
No, probably not. At least if you’re listening to the evidence.
Why diets won’t work for you
For starters, diets simply do not work for anyone. As diet fads come and go, research proves that they do not produce sustainable weight loss results. One study demonstrated that in the long run, diets proved ineffective for all of its participants. While some results and improvements were seen on a short-term basis, these results virtually disappeared after 12 months. The study revealed that any reduction in weight and improvements in health evident in patients were not able to be maintained and disappeared soon after the study was conducted. Ultimately, research shows that dietary trends do not take into account people’s diverse genetic makeup, do not create long-term and sustainable health habits, and simply do not work for the vast majority of people.
Moreover, diets ask you to disregard your core values and disconnect yourself from your personal relationship to food, hunger, and appetite. This exerts pressure on you and fuels the mistaken notion that a certain number on the scale will result in your finding happiness. If anything, diets can cause stress and anxiety, and may result in disordered eating which ultimately leads to unhappiness and lower health outcomes in the long run.
So what’s the solution?
A fundamental key to achieving a healthier lifestyle is building an understanding and awareness of the eating experience itself. During my discussion with coach Greg, we talked at length about the elements that contribute to our relationship with the eating experience.
Throughout the course of life, each individual builds a personal relationship to food and develops personal values surrounding eating. These behaviours and attitudes are formed through childhood, emotional, and cultural experiences. The way we eat now and behave when we encounter food is shaped by past experiences which we have internalized into our subconscious.
Whether we are aware of it or not, each bite and each chew carries the weight of these stories and perpetuates the internal dialogue that we have with respect to food. For instance, kids generally have an inherent understanding about the limits of their appetite and will not eat past fullness.
However, during childhood, our parents may have at one point told us that we were not allowed to leave the dinner table until we’ve cleared our plates. As good children, we listened to them and have at least attempted to clear every inch of our plate at each meal. These external cues (our parents’ command to finish our food) shape our behaviour and knowledge of hunger and fullness, and we, in turn, develop a reliance and understanding of appetite as it relates to those cues.
We carry these past experiences to the present and they form our current eating habits and responses to food. In order to appropriately respond to our appetite, we must become aware of the experiences that drive our actions and make us the person we are today. They reveal the reasons why we’ve developed the views we hold of ourselves and the food that we consume.
In addition to understanding the causes of our behaviour with respect to appetite, we must understand the composition of the appetite itself. Contrary to popular belief, the appetite is not a one-dimensional system. Our appetite is a subconscious and complex system composed of various layers. The appetite is hunger and wanting, together, ordered by three areas of our brain working in concert.
Food carries a different meaning for each person. For some, it is seen as a reward while for others, it is a vehicle for self-expression or pleasure. And still for others, it is seen merely as fuel for the body. Understanding the motivating force of wanting behind our appetite can help us to recognize what influences our pattern of eating.
Acquiring the tools to navigate appetite
When we understand the nature of appetite and hunger, we are better prepared to respond to each eating experience in line with our core values. The ability to read and navigate our appetite is a skill that I work to help others develop. This skill is what I call Appetite Literacy.
Because of the enormous pressure we face in society in connection to health and eating, many are often left unsure about how to navigate their own appetite and may not understand the spectrum within which their appetite operates. Appetite Literacy works to introduce an understanding of how the appetite works and how to read it. This allows you to make decisions that work for you and your values.
Ditch diets for good
As someone who has tried every diet there is to be tried, I can attest to the fact that diets do not work. Diets do not uncover the psychology behind every individual’s eating experience, and do not consider each person’s unique genetic makeup.
Diets create a stigma around appetite when instead we should be celebrating it. I invite you to join me in ditching diets for good and explore the ways in which your appetite can empower you. By learning more, you can and will feel good about yourself by choosing to love your body and the way it functions.
Visit drashleywhite.com and sign up for my free Responsive Eating™ mini course and let me know what your biggest challenges are when it comes to food, body and appetite.
Thanks to Coach Greg for the wonderful chat!
PS = You can listen to your episode above, or catch it here.