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Where Diets Go Wrong
by Nora Penia
Strictly speaking, diets don't fail, people fail to stick with a diet. Following any reduced calorie diet will result in weight loss. The problem is sticking with it. Unfortunately, most diets have built-in failures which trip up the dieter.
Diets go wrong by being too restrictive. Many conventional diets demand a fairly low calorie intake in order to lose weight. They are based on a fairly simple concept: in order to lose weight one must eat less. Although true, for people who have a large amount of weight to lose, reducing their usual daily intake by 1000 - 2000 calories a day is a depressing task. Such dieters feel deprived before even starting a new diet.
Even for people with small amounts to lose, cutting their usual intake from 2200 or 2500 to 1200 calories, can be a shock to the system. A quick glance at any women’s magazine reveals at least one sample menu for weight loss. Upon comparison, the amounts of food seem very small and usually include uninteresting foods such as yogurt, cottage cheese and chicken breasts.
Diets go wrong by requiring the dieter to change the type of food eaten. Humans are creatures of habit and usually eat the same foods over and over. Granted, overweight folks are eating too much of the wrong foods. But, in an effort to promote eating a variety of healthy foods, conventional diets suggest new dishes which often include exotic and hard to find foods or just plain boring foods. Using a sample week’s menu of meals can result in buying unusual ingredients, using a small amount for one recipe, then often wasting the rest.
Diets go wrong by making it difficult to eat. Most diets suggest using fresh foods, cooked from scratch at home. This requires more meal planning, shopping and preparation time. It’s easier and quicker to rely on fast food or convenience foods. The drawback with fast food is in controlling exactly what is eaten since the ingredients are not easily known. Even with the new improved labeling on convenience foods, there’s no guarantee the totals at the end of the day will be within healthy ranges. And who has the time to keep track?
But trying to eat less and prepare strange new dishes can be discouraging. New recipes can take longer to prepare, making it tempting to revert to old eating patterns and simply give up. Eating at a favorite restaurant or at social gatherings is difficult at best. The required food is not available and making substitutions is tricky.
Diets go wrong by feeling like a punishment. Diets require the reduced intake of food, cutting out favorite foods, learning to like new foods, spending more time planning and preparing food. All these changes can make the dieter feel punished by the very process which is supposed to improve life.
However, people usually approach a diet with the attitude: ‘this is just until I lose x number pounds.’ This is where people fail diets. Any change required to lose weight will need to continue after the pounds are gone. When dieters revert to old habits, the weight creeps back on.
Diets go wrong by creating a repeated failure record. Every time a dieter fails at a diet, stops trying and returns to old eating habits, the chances of succeeding at the next attempt is reduced. The dieter becomes fatalistic about the possibility of ever losing weight.
How to win the ‘diet’ battle? The real answer to the shortcomings of diets seems to be: eat the foods you are accustomed to, but reduce the amount of everything eaten. Rather than learning new ways of cooking, suffering through painful shopping trips for food you don’t like, spending hours cooking and tracking the amounts eaten, simply fill your plate as usual, put part of it back and eat the rest with a clear conscience.
A reduction of only 500 calories a day will result in a weight loss of one pound a week which adds up over time. (When was the last time you lost 52 pounds a year?) This approach automatically cuts the amount of fat consumed as well as reducing the intake of sodium, sugar and concentrated calories such as meat and carbohydrates.
So, rather than put yourself on a ‘diet,' make moderate changes. Omit one large snack or dessert, and all second helpings each day. Eat a little less meat and high fat foods. Add a salad or extra serving of ‘skinny’ vegetables every day, (you know which ones.) Go for a walk after supper. Give it time.
And, never say ‘diet’ again.
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Nora Penia is an educator and writer. She has written one novel, as yet unpublished, and for over two years has written for her own online magazine entitled At the Fence, Relationships and Parenting.