“I’m not going to give up my [diet Coke/chips/ice cream/etc.], so don’t even ask me to!”
When a client’s goal is weight loss, this sentence comes up more often than you’d expect.
“That’s okay,” I like to say, “We’ll get to them by crowding out.”
weight cycling vs. sustainable weight loss
Lots of women try any and every diet that comes along, only to discover that once they’ve denied themselves into a corner with their thinner selves, they go off the diet, go back to their normal way of eating, and the pounds come back—and bring friends with them!
A lot has been written about yo-yo dieting, also known as “weight cycling,” and the general consensus among health practitioners is that short-term diets don’t work: we need to think about the long term and make changes to our eating style rather than deprive ourselves of calories in search of the elusive calorie deficit that will lead to weight loss.
We love a silver bullet, a quick fix, a sparkly bandaid—how else could the diet industry take our hard-earned money by the millions each year?
And every New Year, it seems, we’re back where we started and browsing the internet for the newest diet.
I have to agree with Garfield (the cat, not the president), who said something along the lines of “Diet is just die with a ‘t’ at the end.”
As I like to tell my clients, you didn’t gain 10/30/50/100 pounds overnight—why would you expect them to disappear overnight (or even over a few weeks or months)? There are some diets that work wonders, and very quickly, but the data show that sustainable weight loss—keeping the pounds (and their friends) away for the long term—takes place at the rate of 1–2 pounds per week.
And yes—for women, especially in our childbearing years, our weight can vary by a few pounds up or down per week depending on where we are in our menstrual cycle, so progress feels ridiculously tedious!
Enter “crowding out,” a concept used in Integrative Nutrition® that takes into account our psychological need for [diet Coke/chips/ice cream/etc.] and says,
- Go ahead and have that diet Coke—and have a glass of water first.
- Sure, you can have those chips—and have a handful of nuts first.
- Want ice cream? No problem—have an apple first.
It’s a both/and proposition rather than an either/or.
Wait, what? Aren’t we just doubling the calories in most cases?
Yes. And here’s why crowding out works:
- Psychologically: We often put secondary food in our mouths because it’s a way to quickly fill a hole in our primary foods: when our relationships, career, physical activity, spiritual practice, etc. aren’t in harmony, it’s easier to plug that hole with food rather than doing the hard work to bring them into a better state. Reaching for a healthier option is not wired into us when we’re looking for comfort—until we gradually retrain our palates and revise the contents of our pantry and fridge. Crowding out takes place during this transition and gives us time to work on the primary food areas that need some TLC.
- Physiologically: Many of us are walking the planet energetically overfed (too many calories from protein/fats/carbohydrates) and nutritionally malnourished (not enough vitamins and minerals, fiber and water from fruits and vegetables). And when we’re malnourished, our bodies naturally tend toward the flavors and textures where our ancestors found nutrition and satiety—fat, salt, and sugar. Unfortunately, we tend to those flavors and textures that are readily available to us, not the foods that our ancestors had access to—foods that naturally contained the salt, fat, and sugar rather than having them added in massive quantities. Crowding out gradually adds whole, close-to-nature sources of the nutrition we need, and at some point, the cravings for salt, fat, and sugar decrease enough that we can walk away from the poor food choices that tempted us before.
The really cool thing about crowding out is that we can use it in our primary foods as well as with the foods we put in our mouths.
Find yourself mindlessly scrolling through social media and want to break that habit?
Suddenly realize you’ve wasted hours streaming shows and recognize it’s become a problem? (And not only because you’ve also finished off a bag of chips or a pint of ice cream in the process!)
Social media and streaming are the junk food of the primary food area: they’re a numbing mechanism that relieves us of the need to address something that is not in harmony in our lives.
How to crowd it out—because we know that quitting cold turkey is not for most of us?
If your work is suffering because of social media, set a timer for yourself: for every 50 minutes you work, allow yourself 10 minutes on social media.
If your physique is starting to resemble that overstuffed chair in which you stream shows, either move your body while you watch (walk in place, get a treadmill, do strength training with light hand weights or just your body weight, do some stretching) or only allow yourself to watch as many minutes as you spend on physical activity.
find your gateway
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg writes about a keystone habit—one small habit developed in pursuit of a goal that becomes the start of a cascade of good habits: we start eating better, so we have more energy and we start a physical activity habit, so we sleep better, etc.
I like to think about a keystone habit as a gateway to better health, and because of bio-individuality, we each have a different entry point, a different gateway: for one person, it may be better eating habits; for another, it might be taking up a physical activity; for a third, it may be a meditation practice.
No one habit is better than another because they can all lead to better overall health.
How do we find our gateway?
For most of us, it lies in the answer to the question, What would it look like if it were easy?
- If weight loss is the goal, losing 50 pounds feels hard—losing 1 pound feels easy.
- If running a 5K is the goal—taking a walk around the block feels easy.
- If meditating for an hour a day is the goal—meditating for 5 minutes feels easy.
- If making better choices (in primary or secondary foods) is the goal—crowding out feels easy.
make the connection
Crowding out can be a simple tool for starting to change a habit, whether it’s retraining our palates to crave healthy options, leading our bodies to love physical activity, or weaning ourselves off social media/streaming/the news cycle.
Want to talk more about how crowding out could help you on your health journey? Schedule a free YOURstory session, and let’s chat! (And if you’re wanting to crowd out some processed sugar this Thanksgiving, check out this recipe for marshmallow-free sweet potatoes!)
Drop a note in the chat and let me know, what’s one “crowding out” strategy you could imagine implementing in your life?