For many years, I believed that to achieve that lean, toned physical appearance that I always wanted meant that I had to be extremely restrictive on food intake. This meant following a no-sugar, low-carbohydrate, and high-protein diet. It meant exercising 6 days a week, no matter how physically and mentally drained I was from following some new, trending diet. It meant saying no to invitations to hang out with friends because I couldn’t have what I wanted on the menu, and it meant saying no to family dinners because the meals my mom cooked just didn’t fit into my diet.
But after a few weeks of dedication and restricting myself, I would slip up and fall prey to the chocolate chip cookie sitting in my pantry, unbearably taunting me during the past few weeks. Right after, I would inhale a family size bag of chips, a pint of ice cream, and whatever I could find in the pantry to satisfy my ravenous cravings. I would instantly find myself in a pool of self-loathing and regret, vowing to never let such a crime happen again. Yet it still happened; it was an endless cycle that went on for a couple of years.
Many of you can probably relate, and many of you know that this strategy has never worked for long-term results. Then what works for long-term health? Have you ever considered not dieting? Yes, you heard that right, NO DIETS!
For our entire lives, social media has been brainwashing us that we need to look a certain way, and that we need to eat a certain way in order to achieve optimal health and happiness. However, as it turns out, rigid dieting is not a realistic long-term strategy to your health and happiness.
Dieting: Relationship with Adverse Behavioral Outcomes and Self-esteem
Research that has investigated different types of dieting strategies and its relationship with overeating, body mass, and mood found that that individuals who believed themselves to be on strict diets, by actively counting calories or by avoiding certain foods, tended to overeat and splurge when alone, anxious, or depressed. Furthermore, such strict dieting practices were associated with unsuccessful weight control and increased BMI. (Bray, Ryan, Smith, & Williamson, 1999). A more recent study looked at how thoughts about dieting in women negatively impacted their self-esteem, as it triggered body shape concerns. Unsurprisingly, those who experienced unsuccessful dieting attempts, in terms of sustained weight loss, experienced poorer self-esteem. (Clerkin, Sarfan, Smith, & Teachman, 2019).
What does this all mean? Restrictive dieting is not an effective strategy for long-term weight loss maintenance and can particularly be harmful to self-esteem.
Restrictive diets may help you lose weight in the short term, but often times, it’s an eating strategy that many people cannot maintain; people go back to their normal eating habits and end up regaining the weight. That doesn’t mean that I’m advocating for eating myriads of junk food; like all things in life, there needs to be a balance. Fitness and nutrition are a lifestyle. It should be catered to your lifestyle and should be something that you can commit to in the long run. Take a moment to think about your eating goals: Is it a sustainable lifestyle that you can commit to AND enjoy? Is it realistic to you?
Sometimes we forget that food is a celebration of life. It’s a celebration of culture. It’s a celebration of friends and family. Realistic and sustainable eating takes into account all of these factors. For me, realistic eating means getting in my daily servings of vegetables, fruits, protein, and whole grains. BUT, it also means enjoying eating out with my friends and eating my mom’s homemade food every now and then. It means grabbing a drink at the bar once in a while. It means thoroughly enjoying the holidays and the food it offers. It means eating that chocolate chip cookie I crave occasionally and enjoying every scrumptious bite of it. Life is too short for restrictions; nutrition is more than just good or bad.
Say goodbye to fad diets and find a nutrition strategy that you can adhere to long-term. This will look different for everyone as nutrition is not a one size fits all. Enjoy your food guilt-free and you’ll start seeing a difference in how you feel!
Cindy Bui holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology with a specialization in fitness. She holds certifications such as Certified Group Fitness Instructor, Certified Gravity Ball Instructor, and Certified Remedial Exercise Consultant. Cindy hopes to share her passion for health and fitness by shedding awareness on evidence-based nutrition and exercise.