New Year’s Resolution Idea: Stop Dieting

New Year's Resolution Idea: Stop Dieting
Photo by tyrone Fernandez on Pexels.com

We are almost through January and are you tired of New Year’s resolutions yet?  How do you feel when you hear people talk about the latest diet they are on? I’m overhearing a lot of conversations about people saying they are “starving” on their new diet. How can we as a culture think that “starving” yourself is the key to health? 

I know that so many people (including those with PCOS) are trying to lose weight to improve their health and fertility. And I know that your doctor may be telling you to lose weight. So what is the problem with dieting?

1. Weight loss doesn’t equal health

I know that many people think it does, including many health care providers. You can lose weight in a lot of ways that harm your health. By restricting your intake of certain foods you can miss out on essential nutrients. For simplistic examples, if you only eat green vegetables, you will be deficient in protein and fat. If you only eat meat, you are missing out on fiber and a lot of vitamins. If you don’t eat carbs, you will crave carbs.

Some people lose weight by purging, using illicit drugs, smoking cigarettes, overexercising, and/or “starving” themselves. I think we all know these actions cause a lot more harm than carrying extra weight does.   

Also, medications to promote weight loss may harm your health. Remember fen-Phen? People experienced damage to their hearts and lunch from this prescription drug before it was pulled from the market. See this link to a new study on the weight loss drug Beliq and possible link to cancer. 

Even if you add more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to your diet and cut out sweet drinks, fried foods, and refined grains and you lose weight, it’s hard to tell if the benefit to your health is the weight loss itself or the changes to your diet. Plenty of people can make positive changes to how they eat, improve their health, and still not see weight loss. I know this can be frustrating, but it’s an important point that is often overlooked.

2. Dieting is stressful, and extra stress is unhealthy

Following strict plans, cooking separate meals for you and your family, tracking numbers, reading labels, cutting out favorite foods, and feeling HUNGRY is stressful! You don’t want to mess up. You don’t want to “ruin” a day or week by eating the wrong thing. When you are following a strict diet, you are walking through a minefield of ways you can “mess up”. And if you don’t follow the plan exactly, it’s YOUR fault that you didn’t lose weight. Harsh.

Most people have plenty of things to be stressed about before making their lives so much harder by following a diet. Stress can cause headaches, hypertension, sleep problems, weaken your immune system, and upset your stomach. If you have PCOS, excess stress can affect your hormones by making cycles more irregular and increasing androgren levels.

Health is more than what you eat or what you weigh. Managing stress is an important part of staying healthy! 

3. Dieting can isolate you from social situations

When you are following a strict diet, you may end up avoiding parties, restaurants, and other social situations where food is involved. This may be because you don’t want to be tempted by food that is not allowed on your plan or you may not want to hear people commenting on what you eat. 

Being social with people is important for your health. When you feel like you can’t hang out with people in eating situations, you miss out on a major way that we as humans connect with each other. 

4. Diets don’t work

You know this. I know this. Unfortunately, the diet industry also knows this and uses this knowledge to rope people into purchasing another diet plan. The diet failure rate is somewhere between 80-95%, yet people talk about all of the diets that “worked” for them before. If it worked, why did the weight come back? 

Most people feel like the weight came back because they weren’t disciplined enough. When in reality, your body was protecting itself from starvation. Biology kicks in when you aren’t taking in enough calories. Hunger increases and metabolism slows down in order for your body to protect itself.

So if diets don’t work, should I just give up on trying to be healthy?

Of course you shouldn’t give up on being healthy, but you may need to be honest about what being healthy means to you. Healthy can mean normal blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, but it can also mean having energy, feeling good, and enjoying life. 

Goals you might want to consider instead of dieting include: 

  1. Eat a variety of all kinds of foods
  2. Learn to listen to your body’s hunger and fullness feelings
  3. Eat most meals and snacks without electronic distractions
  4. Plan to prepare most meals at home
  5. Plan to eat three meals a day
  6. Plan for and have snacks with you (so you don’t get too hungry)
  7. Do some movement that you enjoy
  8. Get at least 7 hours of sleep 
  9. Eat food that you like and try to enjoy it when you eat it

If you would like some help learning how to make peace with food and ending the diet cycle, contact me for nutrition counseling!

Start with Eating Three Times a Day

Photo by Joseph Redfield on Pexels.com

Many people that I talk to miss or skip meals for various reasons. Common reasons that I hear about usually have to do with being too busy, not leaving yourself enough time, or not being hungry at a particular time of day. Other people miss meals as an attempt to lose weight.

So what’s the problem with this?

When we miss meals or go a really long time in between eating, it can lead to binge eating or eating large quantities of food later in the day. People who don’t eat much breakfast or lunch will often say they eat from the moment they get in from work or school until they go to bed. Also when we train our body to ignore natural hunger feelings, we can slow down our metabolism. This is also true for people who undereat all day long and don’t end up eating a lot later in the day. If you don’t take in enough total energy throughout the day, your metabolism can slow down to protect your body from starving.

If you have PCOS, you also have to take into account insulin resistance, which most people with PCOS have to some degree. This means that the insulin our body produces to help shuttle sugar into all of our cells isn’t working properly. Our body makes plenty of insulin when we eat, but if the insulin isn’t sticking to our cells and letting that blood sugar into the cells, then our blood sugar levels can rise. If we eat a large meal, especially one that is high in carbohydrates, our body will make a lot of insulin. High insulin levels make PCOS symptoms worse. High insulin can cause the ovaries to produce more male hormones which will make skin and hair issues worse. High insulin can also make you feel hungry and crave carbs. It can make you gain weight since insulin tells your body to “store” energy instead of “burn” it.

We humans (and all other living beings) have natural body cycles called circadian rhythms, which help determine when we eat and sleep. These circadian rhythms impact how our body grows and repairs itself, regulates metabolism, and produces hormones.

Our body functions best when we eat (and sleep) around the same time each day. Ideally we are sleeping when it’s dark out and eat during the daylight, but this is not possible for everyone’s schedule. By functioning “best”, I mean that we feel most rested, have energy, feel hungry before meals, feel satisfied after meals, and our immune system is doing a pretty good job of keeping us well.

If you are someone who eats one or two times a day or who doesn’t eat much during the day but eats a lot at night or who never feels hungry, my suggestion is to start by committing to eating three times a day around the same time each day. Most parents are pretty good at putting their kids on a sleeping and eating schedule. We can see that our kids function best with consistent bedtimes and regular meals and snacks. As adults we are better at hiding when we feel lousy, but we might have that cranky kid inside us craving the structure we provide for others or used to have for ourselves.

Where to start?

  • Eat something within an hour of waking up in the morning.
  • Try to eat lunch and dinner around the same time each day.
  • It’s ok to eat just a small amount if you are not hungry. But don’t skip a meal time!
  • Don’t worry so much about what you are eating at this point, but instead focus on eating consistently.
  • Notice how you feel after eating.
    • If you are hungry soon after a meal, the meal was not large enough or might have lacked a macronutrient (carbs, protein, or fat).
    • If you are not hungry for the next meal, the earlier meal may have been too large.
    • If you are hungry 3 hours after you ate, then add a snack and this is okay!
  • Give your body several weeks to adjust to this new eating pattern. Things to notice:
    • When are you feeling hungry? Is it different than before?
    • How is your energy level?
    • Any changes in what you are craving?
    • How is your mood?

Working on how you eat can be just as important as what you eat. And changing how we do things is hard! I know that eating consistently often takes more planning and can be more time consuming, but the payoff can mean having more energy and feeling better. And isn’t that what this is all about?