That’s the number of people in the United States who go on a diet each year.
That’s the amount of money Americans spend each year on weight loss products and services.
That’s the proportion of adults in the United States that are overweight or obese by current medical standards.
That’s the number of Americans who have ever been overweight or obese, lost weight and maintained their weight loss.
How can so many people spend so much time and money on this single goal with so little to show for it?
Most of the 45 million Americans who go on a diet this year will fail and try another diet, and then another. They will spend their hard-earned money and limited time and resources on one lifestyle change after another and will have very little to show for it. In fact, they may be worse off in the long term. Studies have shown that weight cycling, more commonly referred to as yo-yo dieting, is responsible for much of the association we see between obesity and heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
Part of the problem, it may seem, is that diets come in as many flavors as there are foods. Yet, no matter their differences, they all have a one feature in common — you have to make some sacrifices.
Nearly every popular diet on the market is based on elimination of one kind of food or another
Want to give keto a try? Kiss bread, pasta, and carrots goodbye! Interested in Whole30? Forget about any food containing sugar or sugar substitutes, natural or otherwise. Even WW, formerly Weight Watchers, which markets itself as a lifestyle change that allows you to eat the foods you love while still losing weight, subtly (or not-so-subtly) guides you away from certain foods. For years each new iteration of their program has manipulated its users away from foods like cheese, nuts, and avocados, and toward other “healthier” options (those listed as “free” foods usually include lean meats, eggs, fruits, and vegetables).
Nearly every popular diet on the market is based on elimination of one kind of food or another.
And that’s a problem.
Humans don’t like to feel deprived. So, when you’ve denied yourself bread, or pasta, or sugar, or cheese for weeks or months at a time, your brain will inevitably rebel. You’ll reach the absolute end of your will-power and determination. Maybe you’ll have a bite of cake or a single potato chip, and before you know it you’re elbow-deep in a large cheese pizza.
When I started following an intuitive eating approach to my diet, I was a little baffled by the idea of allowing all foods. What about unhealthy foods, like french fries and pizza? I couldn’t possibly have as much of those things as I wanted! I’d lose control! I’d eat everything in sight and never stop!
Adding, rather than eliminating, foods to your meals is a really great strategy for healthy eating and behavior change that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention.
Focusing on adding nutritious, high quality, “good” foods to your meals, rather than taking away the foods we’ve deemed “bad” for us, allows us to feel more satisfied. It also increases our fruit and vegetable intake, decreases the total number of calories consumed, and reduces feelings of deprivation, making the healthy choices far more sustainable than traditional diet plans.
Adding a side salad to the start of your meal has been shown to reduce total calorie consumption by about 55 calories per meal. Whether or not your goal is to lose weight, adding a high-fiber, vegetable-packed food to your meal is beneficial for any health goal. Of course, if weight loss or management is your primary goal, sticking to lower-calorie dressings, especially homemade kinds where you can control the ingredients, is ideal.
Adding vegetables to other traditionally high-calorie dishes is another strategy for getting some additional nutrients without giving up your favorite dishes.
Add zucchini to your pasta instead of using it as a pasta replacement. Have a side of roasted broccoli with your macaroni and cheese. Toss some spinach and mushrooms into ramen. Add salad greens to your pizza. Make home-made baked sweet potato fries as a side to your burger. Grate vegetables to sneak into meatloaf or bolognese sauce. Add some greens to your fruit smoothie for an extra dose of fiber and vitamins.
Basically, treat yourself like a picky toddler who needs to be tricked into eating more vegetables.
This strategy works for snacks as well. Try apples and celery with peanut butter. Have cookies with a side of baby carrots. Potato chips and a banana is a weird family favorite my mom introduced me to while I was growing up. It sounds weird, but the sweet and salty combination is perfect.
Ensuring that your nutritional needs are met is easier than we generally assume. We’ve been taught that the key to healthy eating is to follow specific diets and routines, cutting out carbs or fat, and denying ourselves the pleasures of delicious foods. But maybe it would be better if we focused on meeting our needs and taking care of our bodies, rather than depriving and shrinking them.
If you’d like to read more about my quest to destroy diet culture and just be healthier, check out these stories as well.