Updated: Sep 21, 2021
On paper, nutrition can seem black and white: eat this, don't eat that. This food is “good” and this food is “bad.” And yet, people still come to see me as a nutrition coach with what they think is a simple request: “Just tell me what to eat!”
Now, I definitely understand that we receive mixed messages about food groups as a whole. For decades we were taught that high-fat foods would kill us. Then, almost overnight, we were suddenly bombarded with messaging about how carbs were now the devil and keto was the way to go - not to mention the hype around intermittent fasting.
I can understand how that messaging gets confusing, but I also believe that we all inherently know that an apple is more nutrient dense than, say, a candy bar. I don’t think the issue is with the knowing, I think the issue is with the doing - the behavior change. And that’s why we keep seeking the next miracle or magic trick.
Again, I don’t blame anyone for struggling. Nobody is perfect. I’m not perfect. But this is exactly where I believe that our diet culture does us the greatest disservice: our beliefs and expectations of how “dieting” works (and what’s supposedly wrong with us when they don’t)! Essentially, we are sold unrealistic diets, set up for unrealistic expectations, and then taught that the problem is somehow inherent to us as individuals.
And those are the kinds of things that I, as a nutrition coach, want to help you address when you work with me. I want to help you uncover what might be getting in between your values (a healthy body) and your actions and why?
In this blog series, I want to address a few of the most common mindset roadblocks we see folks struggling with when it comes to making lasting changes to their nutrition in order to improve their health.
1. The Diet Rollercoaster
Does this feel familiar? “That diet I did a year ago worked really well. I lost 15 pounds! But then I fell off the wagon, and I’ve gained most of it back - if not more.”
Instead of beating yourself up for not sticking to it or thinking you lack discipline, I want you to pause and question: Did it actually work? A diet doesn’t “work” if it’s not sustainable. A diet shouldn’t be a short-term crash course in “perfection” that you somehow expect to last for the rest of your life. It should be about finding a lifestyle that works for you that includes all of the foods you eat to fuel your body and actually enjoy your life.
For women especially, the arbitrary gold standard in dieting has somehow become reducing your intake to 1200 calories a day. And sure, ANY diet that tells you to slash your calories that significantly has the potential to help you lose weight in the short term. But how long should anyone expect to consistently hit such a low target and still live and enjoy their lives? Most people would find this unsustainable and unenjoyable. Most people would be starving, irritable, overwhelmed, and frustrated, and yet still somehow think they were the problem, not the diet.
Just to put this into perspective: as a relatively small 5’2” 115-lb woman, 1200 calories a day barely meets the baseline amount of calories I would need to survive if I were to lay in bed all day long, let alone actually do things. I don’t track my calories anymore (hello, sustainability!), but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say I eat closer to 1800-2200 calories a day to sustain my body and fuel the activities I want to do. So, is it any wonder that this target is abhorrently unsustainable for, oh … everyone?!
(And before you argue that I’m already small and don’t need to lose weight - I want you to really understand the point I’m trying to make: 1200 calories a day is not enough for me to live on, it’s not enough for my body to simply exist on, it’s not enough for a relatively small body to sustain itself, let alone do any cool shit - so why do we assume that kick-ass bodies of all sizes would do well on 1200 calories a day? Why is this an expectation for anyone? And why do we blame ourselves when we can’t stick to it? Ok, stepping off my soapbox now ... )
Most diets hang their hat on cutting calories, they just find new and sexy ways to package it. And of course, there is merit to calories in calories out. However, cutting calories too swiftly and too drastically will cause you to lose precious muscle mass and can have severely detrimental effects on your metabolism and your hormones. So the diet failed you for two reasons: 1) It was unsustainable to begin with, setting you up for perceived “failure” from the get-go and 2) it can potentially have a negative impact on your physiology - not to mention your mental health - which is why it’s so easy to gain it all back and then some when you fall off the wagon.
Read that again: the DIET failed YOU, not the other way around. The worst part is that you end up feeling like you don’t have any self-control or discipline or like you somehow failed when you can’t maintain it, when in reality it was an unsustainable plan to begin with. But this has the unfortunate consequence of reaffirming your beliefs that you are somehow incapable of change.
You absolutely CAN make changes if you want to. It’s a matter of working for and with your body, not against it. It’s a matter of setting yourself up for success and sustainability, and yes, going slower than you might want to or are taught to expect. But isn’t that better if it’s more enjoyable and lasts forever? And remember: A successful diet is not a contest of self-worth that hinges on how long you can stand starvation or deprivation disguised as “perfection.” (Hint: that doesn’t usually last very long anyway.)
There is no morality in food. You are a good person regardless of what or how you eat. You will not be remembered for the arbitrary number on the scale. But if you want to eat healthier, there are ways to go about it that don’t make you feel like crap about yourself, and it starts with stepping off the diet roller coaster that takes you up and down and right back to where you started.