(An Honest Perspective On Diets)
Have you heard of the ‘Banting Diet’? It is a low-carb diet where you eat 4 meals a day and cut out sugar and starch…
No? You haven’t heard of that one?
Okay, I’ll give you a pass. And I understand why you haven’t heard of it. Because IT CAME OUT IN 1863.
William Banting was a carpenter in the 1800’s who struggled with being overweight. He even ended up in the hospital for it once.
Banting tried starvation diets (those were around back then too), and he tried bathing in only spas (bio-hacks were around too), and he certainly tried the doctor-recommended exercises too. But he only found himself more hungry after all of those things and ate more (sound familiar?).
His sight was failing, he was losing his hearing, and had an umbilical rupture. But all of that changed for Banting when he eventually formulated his version of the low-carb/no sugar diet that worked for him to gain control over his weight; he published it in 1863.
After following this diet for a year, Banting not only reached a healthier weight, his sight and hearing also improved.
The point is dieting has been around for a long time, and dieting works.
Let’s explore some key questions that this story leads me to ask…
Why has dieting always been a thing and why are there so many diets?
As we see in that story, we have been dealing with weight issues for a long time and searching for quick fixes.
In 1903 there was an ‘Obesity Soap’. In 1940 there were 'Bile Beans' that would slim you while you slept. I could go on and on: Keto, snake oil, metabolism pills, whole-30, carnivore, vegan, blah blah blah. Maybe I should amend my earlier statement: SOME of them work.
Because soap and beans aren’t the answer. But low-carb, high protein, whole-30, more vegetables… those ones can work.
And before I get too far down the path of what works, and more importantly WHY they work, let me finish my thought: weight loss and the search for a fix has been around a long time.
Because weight management has always been a major factor of health management.
And weight management has never been easy.
And humans are always looking for something easy.
Diets and ‘bio-hacks’ have always been marketed as ‘quick fixes’.
So, diets have always been a thing.
And when diets aren’t ‘quick’, we look for a different ‘quick fix’.
Making room for more diets, so we have a ton of them.
Don’t feel like you’re alone. Remember that this is not new. And there are answers out there.
But good answers are rarely ‘quick’. Remember that.
Now let’s finish the other thought…
Why do diets work?
Diets work for two reasons:
One, they give you structure for eating healthier.
And I’m not talking about a metabolism pill that promises results without a change to your diet. I’m simply talking about making changes to what you eat. Eating more fruits and veggies is healthier, eating high protein foods is healthier, having more balance to your diet and having a better carb-to-other-macros intake is healthier.
Your body responds positively to these changes. When you fuel your body with more whole foods and less processed/sugary foods your body will work better. Your functions, like sight, hearing, digestion, brain functions and so on will pick up – and you will simply FEEL better.
Following most diets will accomplish this in some form.
The second reason diets work is because they limit HOW MUCH you eat.
When you switch to a vegan diet you are almost certain to eat less calories, when you go low-carb you are almost certain to eat less calories, when you try a carnivore diet you are almost certain to eat less calories, and... well, you get the idea. Diets are restricting.
Now, following a plan that is based on not eating this, or not eating that, isn’t always the best way to go about it. Everyone has a system that is best for them - But the truth of the matter is, when you commit to any diet that restricts certain foods, you are going to naturally eat less. And before I say my next statement, let me insert this header:
What is the key to weight loss?
Eating less is the key to weight loss. Or, more technically, consuming less calories than you burn is the key to weight loss. And…
Why do we diet?
Most often we diet to lose weight. And to be healthier, let’s not forget that – it’s kind of important. However, they do often go together.
Should we diet?
Like I mentioned earlier, everyone has something that works best for them, and diets COULD work for you, But let’s break this one down:
What is a diet?
“The kind of foods that a person habitually eats” That is the definition of diet. But there’s also this definition: “a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, usually either to lose weight or for medical reasons”.
That second one is what we usually think of when we come across the word diet.
We can’t eliminate either meaning, they’re both true. But I want to introduce an additional term: nutrition plan. A thoughtful and intentional approach to eating foods that nourish our bodies and minds.
We should habitually eat foods that are healthy for us and can positively manage our weight. Or in other words: what we should have is a nutrition plan.
Why not promote diets if they work?
Here at simple(ish) Fitness we don’t like to promote diets (as in the second definition where you restrict yourself), because when you restrict yourself it’s hard to stick with it and it’s hard to be positive about it.
What happens when you end your restrictive diet? You most likely will go back to what you were doing before and gain the weight back. You may end your restrictive diet because you finished the 30 days or however long, or it just simply sucked - you wanted to eat other things too.
When we shift our thinking to creating a more thoughtful nutrition plan we are not restricting ourselves, we are now learning about our food, healing our relationship with food, and understanding what different foods do, and making a realistic plan for how we can eat healthier and meet our goals while still enjoying the foods we like.
If your goal is to lose weight, great! That will be a part of your nutrition plan. If your goal is to have more energy, great! That will be a part of your nutrition plan. If your goal is to improve ailments you are experiencing, great! That can be a part of your nutrition plan too.
When we learn about the makeup of different foods, and what each type of food does for us, then we can make a thoughtful nutrition plan that fits you.
Want to learn to understand your food better? Read about it here: How You Can Fix Your Relationship With Food
This is all in aversion to restricting what you eat just to find a quick fix.
Is there a good diet?
Let’s take a closer look at one of the commercial diets… let’s go with Whole 30.
The basis of Whole 30 isn’t bad, but (you guessed it) it is restrictive. Essentially Whole 30 is a diet for eating more whole foods. Which is a good thing. Here is what Whole 30 tells you to do: don’t eat dairy, grains, added sugars, pasta, bread, processed additives, or processed potatoes.
They tell you to cut all of that out of your diet for an extended period of time and you see results.
Of course you will! Ultimately because you are eating less, but also, because what is left (once you cut out sugars and processed additives) is pretty nutrient rich food - basically produce and meat.
But it sucks.
Do you think you can do that forever? Of course not.
Dairy isn’t bad, grains aren’t bad, bread isn’t bad, heck, sugar isn’t even bad.
I want to eat all of those things. Both because I simply like them and because they are everywhere and I don’t want to walk through life saying “oh, I can't have that, it’s not in my diet”.
Most, if not all, of the commercially marketed diets are like this. Because when they are selling their program to the masses, they need to make it straightforward and direct. Eat this. Don’t eat this.
Also they come with a promise of quick results – essential for marketing because that is what SO many people are looking for as discussed earlier. But we’re not here to bash on modern commercialism, (though it’s hard to keep it from leaking out a little).
Flexible dieting. A concept that is very hard to market because it is not straightforward and direct. Flexible dieting allows freedom in your food choices, it tells you everything CAN be okay, it teaches you how to understand the impacts of what you are eating and look at the big picture.
Flexible dieting says play the long game, track the results and stay positive with short term swings while learning to watch long term trends.
Let’s see how well that markets on a billboard or thirty second commercial... not that well I’m guessing. It doesn’t deliver a straightforward answer or a promise of quick results.
BUT THAT IS OKAY. THAT IS BETTER.
And it’s easier. Because it’s okay to have that pizza, or birthday cake, or french fries. It’s okay because you learn to have a healthy relationship with food, learn to understand your food, and learn to balance what you eat.
Just like when you are in a relationship with a partner. Because when you are in a relationship with a partner, and you understand them, then you can have imperfections and still be great together - all while making compromises and balancing what you give and take from each other in the relationship.
We know what it looks like to have an unhealthy relationship with a partner. Now think about what an unhealthy relationship with food looks like… shockingly similar.
But I digress, because this isn’t about your relationship with food (you can read about that topic here: How You Can Fix Your Relationship With Food), this article is about learning to see dieting for what it is, what it isn’t, and what it can be.
I still want to make the point though, becasue you simply can’t have a good long term diet without having a good long term relationship with food.
Why are there so many diets?
Because we all want a quick fix, and that’s normal to think and want that.
Are there any quick fixes?
No, not for long term results anyway.
Should I try one of the diets I always hear about?
Sure, but do you still want to?
Are all diets bad?
No, most of them have good elements. They just miss things and don’t actually teach you the big picture.
What should I do?
Get a good relationship with food. Learn the basics about nutrition. Make a nutrition plan – not a diet.
How do I do that?
Listen to Simple(ish) Fitness! Or just remember to go slow and steady. Learn about what you’re doing and why. Then do what makes your body feel good.
Listen to Simple(ish) Fitness Podcast anywhere you get your podcast for conversations about your health, exercise, nutrition, and building a healthy lifestyle without flipping your life upside down!