Simply speaking, the term diet simply means “what you eat”. For me, the word had a completely different connotation until about a year ago, and I don’t think I’m alone. I always associated “diet” with “being on a diet”. The typical use refers to all kinds of crazy rules, regulations and restrictions usually wrapped up in a nice little marketing package with spokes-celebs, recipes, workouts, and sometimes even the food itself! I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, those pre-packaged options are exactly what most people need to kick-start healthy choices and lifestyle changes.
What worries me is that this idea of a “diet” is so universal, which is just wrong. Your diet means what you actually put into your mouth every day, which is different for all of us. The pre-packaged program that you try really, really hard to stick to is irrelevant. This distinction of personalization did not occur to me until earlier this year. I had become completely used to viewing personal routines as products that you can pick out in a store. I think we’ve all confused the program with the real thing, and along the way, completely lost control of our own health. This kind of de-personalization is scary because it takes our power away and places responsibility for our health outside of ourselves.
|mmmmm. Chicken pot pie...|
If you follow them to the letter, all pre-packaged diets work. Always. If you did a diet and nothing happened, you cheated and you know it. To be fair, this is different than not getting your “hoped for” result from a nutrition plan, but that is beside the point. The biggest problem with most diet programs is that people don’t stick to them. They never go from being “the diet” to Your Diet. This isn’t surprising, because a lot of pre-packaged diets are CRAZY. Also, food is delicious! So Your Diet ends of being this mish-mash of rigor and backsliding where you eat all kinds of ridiculous things without any thought towards balance, nutrition, or (heaven forbid!) how you actually feel (physically, not emotionally – we all know cookies make us happy) after eating certain foods.
|Brussel Sprouts with Bacon make me happy...|
So how can we take control or our diets and turn them into something that is sustainable and healthy? I think it’s all in the viewpoint. You can’t kick those diet books to the curb, they’re filled with valuable information. But instead of seeing them as an end-all, be-all, we need to start seeing them as the starting point for an education. Let’s say you lost a lot of weight on a low carb diet. That doesn’t mean you can never eat bread again, it means that bread is a problem food for you. Then when you start working bread back into your diet (and you know you will), start slowly and really focus on how you physically feel after you eat that bread. Are you bloated? Do you have a headache? Does your stomach hurt? These kinds of observations help change your emotional feelings towards certain foods and also force you to notice when your body doesn’t like something.
It seems so simple, but we often get caught up in the “failure response” to leaving a diet behind. The truth is that you’re not failing at all. You’ve had a learning experience that perhaps encouraged you to change some habits, and that is success! Maybe you got used to eating less and need smaller meals now. Maybe you discovered new and delicious ways to prepare vegetables. Maybe you noticed how much more energy you had when you ate more fruit. The key is integration. If you can’t make a part of a diet fit with your life, you need to leave it behind, because it’s only going to make you feel bad when you can’t follow “the rules”.
I noticed that when I started taking responsibility and “owning” my diet, I started feeling a lot better about myself. I also started eating healthier. I had thought that the two were mutually exclusive. I paid attention when I felt bloated and sick after eating greasy pizza and stopped. I took note when I felt great all day when I drank a protein shake right after my morning run. And what I’ve ended up with is a diet that you won’t find in any book or in any set of pre-cooked meals. The only rewards are feeling good and the only penalties are feeling kind of queasy or getting a headache. It gets a lot easier when you stop telling yourself that “cake is bad and I must never ever eat it”. Instead you can say, “Cake will give me a headache, and that will suck.” You can also follow that up with “but I will eat it anyway”.
|Grige and Ham! Grige and Ham!|
When we think about the way that food actually makes us feel, rather than the rather nebulous concepts of “it will make me fat” or “but it’s supposed to be good for me”, we’re able to make a much more sense out of nutrition. Our bodies are amazing! Besides, one order of fries will never make you fat and sometimes that order of chili cheese fries is worth the stomach ache. Only you can decide.