Avoiding fad diets for healthier lifestyles

A scale and tape measure. Image courtesy of Pixabay.

We have spent our entire lives seeing advertisements for weight loss supplements and meal systems that guarantee to help us burn fat quickly. Magazine covers attempt to grab our attention with headlines like “Lose 20 pounds fast!” People try to get healthy by following the Whole 30 or Paleo diets with the expectation of quick results.

But what kind of results do these diets really provide?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, fad diets promise to elicit fast weight loss through the elimination of entire food groups – when in actuality, they cause people to miss out on certain necessary nutrients and over consume others.

Cutting out food groups also forces us to come up with an answer for a tough question: which food groups are bad? If you type in “carbs are” on Google, the top two predictive responses are “carbs are good” and “carbs are the enemy.”

A screenshot of the results when ‘carbs are’ is googled.

Maybe, a carb is not the devil. It is also not the solution to every person’s body image issues. It is a food – a food that causes guilt and binging for some and joy for others. It would be nice if cutting out a food group or limiting calorie intake could solve body image issues, but in actuality, this obsession around which foods we should allow ourselves to eat based on how it will affect our pant size is causing a lot of problems.

The average age for a child to start dieting is startlingly young – just 10 years old. While this sounds almost impossible, I can remember 4th grade being the time when I started to feel insecure.

A variety of factors contributed to my feeling that losing weight could fix my insecurity – even though I had always been in the healthy weight category and was very active.

I had a dance teacher who told me I needed to lose weight. A girl in my 4th grade class had asked me what I weighed and when I told her, she said that I was fat. I listened to pretty much every female role model in my life obsess about diets and weight.

I chose to take matters into my own hands. I can remember downloading a calorie counter app to my iPod and lying about my age on my profile in order to use it. I have tried intermittent fasting, cutting out added sugar and food logging for the purposes of losing weight in the years since then.

Never in my life have I been medically overweight – yet I am in a constant state of wanting to lose weight. I know I am not alone – 80 percent of women are dissatisfied with their bodies. In an attempt to fix it,  45 million Americans go on a diet each year.

I understand the appeal of fad diets. They promote the idea that you can control your body. They say, “You don’t like your body? If you have enough self control, you can fix it.”

Unfortunately, you can’t “fix” poor body image by rapidly losing twenty pounds through deprivation. 97 percent of people regain the weight they lose from diets in three years. Even if you do keep the weight off, that doesn’t mean every insecurity will stay away with it.

Luckily, there are some things that I have found to help a lot with living a healthier mental and physical lifestyle – minus the shame of dieting.

Lose the scale

I quit weighing myself this summer and it has helped me learn to listen to my own body and be happy with myself. The best reward of eating healthy is feeling better, not a number on the scale getting smaller. By no longer weighing yourself, you can start to become more in touch with your body and what it needs.

The scale can be discouraging. Maybe the numbers are not reflecting the effort you are putting in or they make you feel like you aren’t doing enough. These emotions aren’t helpful. Obsessing over a number on a scale helps nobody, but focusing on what makes you feel good can have amazing benefits.

Exercise Daily

It’s a popular tip – and for good reason. Taking the time to get your heart rate up for the purpose of clearing your mind and improving your health – not to lose weight – has so many mental and physical benefits. Do some yoga in your dorm room, go for a short run or follow along a free YouTube workout video – my favorites are by POPSUGAR Fitness.

If I really don’t feel like exercising, I like to walk on the treadmill while watching a television show. Walking a mile and running a mile burns relatively the same number of calories, plus watching a show while working out makes it something I look forward to.

Keep healthy food around

I try to avoid keeping processed or sugary foods in my dorm room and like to have snacks like hummus and fruit always on hand. Hunger is your body telling you should eat – listen. If you get a craving for ice cream, grab a friend and go out together. Don’t vilanize the ice cream.

By not keeping less healthy foods in your living space, you can ensure that you usually choose healthy options and only eat unhealthy food when your body genuinely wants it.

Quit comparing eating habits

Every person’s body is different and requires different amounts of calories. Stop feeling guilty about eating more or less than somebody else. I see so many people who eat in the caf and get a second plate of food and then feel the need to justify it to everybody else at the table.

It’s okay. There is no need to feel guilty for eating – you need food to survive. You know your body better than anybody else. If you are hungry, you should eat. Nobody else needs to be a factor in that decision.

Diets contribute to our culture’s idea that most people have something wrong with their body – and if they have enough willpower, they can fix it. I think this is a toxic idea that leads to a culture obsessed with the evils of food.

Food is good – yes, I’m including deep fried, sugar loaded stuff in that statement. Eating food without shame is also good. I know that body image and food obsession are things that I will always struggle with – along with millions of other people. However, the results I have experienced from quitting dieting give me hope that a healthy mindset is possible.

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