bathing suit season: to diet or not to diet?
It really is spring in Michigan (maybe? finally?) How do I know? Well, when I look out the window, I can’t actually tell what season it is—not just because it might be sunny, raining, sleeting, or snowing (all in the space of 24 hours) but because I see neighbors in parkas, light jackets, and shorts and short sleeves—sometimes all walking together clad that differently.
(I’m the one in a parka and winter hat at least until the end of April, but you probably knew that. My Russian roots absolutely forbid me to feel cold or—horrors—go out without a hat in the wind.)
It’s almost May—practically bathing suit season, right? Which for many women raises the perennial question of how to get “bathing-suit ready.” To diet or not to diet, that is the question. Along with whether to detox, cleanse, purge, work out more or differently….
As a health coach, I feel that spring is a much better time to clean up our food choices than January 1: to me, it makes no sense to try and switch to the summer foods that so many detoxes and cleanses push on us when it’s bitterly cold outside and there’s no way those foods came from our local producers.
Some people can pull that off—my body positively rebels, and as I said, I refuse to be cold, so I stick with the heavier foods of winter until my local farmers can actually produce the lighter spring and summer vegetables.
This spring, with the world slowly crawling out of the pandemic and many of us packing some extra pounds beyond the usual “winter weight,” would I encourage clients to diet?
I remember enjoying the Garfield comic strip a lot when I was young—although when my son started reading the books almost obsessively, I thought them truly awful. But they did get him reading on his own….
I still remember Garfield’s take on dieting: “diet” is just “die” with a “t” at the end.
The word “diet” certainly holds a negative connotation for most of us and brings up visions of restrictive rules around what, when, and how much we can eat.
And it seems that nothing makes us rebel quite so much as restriction—that was one of the big learnings from 2020, whether we’re talking about staying home, masking up, getting vaccinated, or even the merest suggestion that more restrictive gun laws were coming.
the wrong size diet
At the Institute for Integrative Nutrition®, we’re given an analogy about diets: they’re like a pair of shoes that doesn’t fit quite right. They’re a bit too tight, not really comfortable, and while you could stand them for awhile, you wouldn’t be able to wear them all day.
That’s because diets tend to be prescriptive: they’re based on the assumption that one size fits all whereas we are all unique, bio-individual. The eating style that works for you might not work for me; your kale might be my Kryptonite.
Can a restrictive diet help us lose weight or fat quickly? In many cases, yes.
And in most cases, that weight loss is unsustainable: the pounds will come back—and they’ll bring friends!
why diets are not sustainable
Most people who try to lose weight through restrictive diets (as opposed to making slow, sustainable food choice and lifestyle changes) never reach their goal weight.
Perhaps more distressing is that restrictive dieting is actually a predictor of weight gain: one to two thirds of dieters regain the weight lost and more.
It turns out that there are two reasons a restrictive diet is not sustainable and we can’t maintain weight loss through a simple calories-in / calories-out approach.
- A restrictive diet can actually decrease your metabolism: as you restrict your calories, your body adjusts its speed so that the food you are giving it lasts longer. It thinks starvation is imminent, so it holds on to the weight you have, eventually using muscle mass for energy, which slows even more the rate at which you can use calories.
- It can increase your appetite and dysregulate your hormone balance (and if you attended the hormone health retreat in mid-April, you know what a delicate, important balance that is).
- It can disrupt the body’s bio-individual set point. Have you ever noticed that left alone, your body tends to hover between the same 5–10 pound range? You may be able to reset that point—and it happens by making slow, sustainable food and lifestyle changes, not by crash dieting.
- It’s based on a one-size-fits-all approach in which we try to overcome our body’s rules using rules in our minds: eat this, not that; eat this much, not that much; eat in this way, not that way. Left alone with our biology, we’d act more like animals around food: we’d eat what, how much, and when our bodies wanted (note I didn’t say “our minds”).
- A restrictive diet increases stress: those mind rules are restrictive, based on what you “can’t have” and what you “must do” to lose weight. We can spend a lot of time and energy obsessing about “doing it right.”
- It doesn’t address the emotional roots of eating and often feels like trying to suppress a sneeze or a cough: eventually, it can’t be suppressed—and when your emotions finally surface, you may well binge on what you “can’t have.”
- It can increase self-judgment: when you “fail” at a diet, you’re likely to judge yourself, which leads to shame, which can lead to emotional eating, which leads to more weight gain…. You see the cycle, right?
- It’s based on a one-size-fits-all approach: while some people can quit a habit “cold turkey,” I would hazard a guess that most of us need to take a more gradual approach to habit change; additionally, some people approach habit change intuitively, others—more analytically. Dictating the rules of a diet disallows both intuition and analysis: we’re supposed to do it “just because.”
what a diet can do for us
As a health coach, I do a lot of work with clients on their food stories—both the primary and secondary ones—and one of the other awful coaching questions I often ask is, “How is this story serving you?”
Because in reality, a restrictive diet regimen might not be about weight loss to begin with!
When you consider all the time and energy we put into adhering to the rules of a restrictive diet (what, when, how much we eat), there may well be something we are avoiding putting that time and energy into instead: our career, relationships, physical activity, spiritual practice….
So, what’s your diet story? How is dieting serving you?
make the connection
Whether you’re thinking about getting into that bathing suit or not, there’s a better, more sustainable way to lose weight than through restrictive dieting—a way that takes into consideration your physical, mental, emotional, and energetic/spiritual body! If you’re interested in exploring it, sign up for a free YOURstory session—it’s like history but yours! Perhaps together, we can make you a pair of shoes that fits like Cinderella’s slipper!