The diet industry in the United States is a $40 billion-a-year business. It preys on consumers, using deceptive advertising and promoting diets that supposedly allow you to eat whatever you want. This industry also presents the dieting consumer with an unreal set of expectations backed by deceptive “results” as portrayed in television, commercial, and print ads. These companies fail to mention that the long-term results of a majority of dieters on their program are dismal at best. Numbers vary, but most experts agree that between 60–80 percent of dieters end up regaining a large portion of their lost weight after they end their diet.
Traditionally, diet companies only track participant results to the six-month post-diet mark (which is probably intentional, as most customers begin to experience weight regain at the one-year mark). Why don’t diets work? I believe this is due to a number of factors:
- Cookie-Cutter Diets
No two people are alike, and therefore, no two people will respond exactly the same way to a diet. But most diet companies sell everyone the same diet, even when they claim that their diets are personalized. These programs are flawed from the very start.
- Fad and Yo-Yo Dieting
These two are closely related. Yo-yo dieters are usually yo-yoing between different fad diets, looking for a magic diet that is easy and allows them to eat whatever they wish.
- Dieting Versus Lifestyle Change
Upon reaching their goal, people generally go back (albeit slowly) to the same eating habits that caused them to need to diet in the first place. This is probably something that diet companies do not address for a reason … after all, when you regain the weight, you’ll need to pay for another diet program, right? Some diet plans have a “maintenance” phase, though it is usually lacking a realistic approach.
So where does that leave the average consumer looking to lose weight? Lost, more often than not, and dealing with a USDA Food Pyramid that is in serious need of an update. In my opinion, the best way to eat is to flip the food pyramid on its head and prioritize foods in reverse order (not counting the tip, which is fats, oils, and sweets).
So What Do You Do if You Need to Diet?
Dieting is not as complicated as diet companies would like you to believe. A basic diet is fairly easy to plan, and it does not have to revolve around counting calories. It’s informative to count all the calories you consume for a week, once or twice, and use that as a starting point for weight loss … but a healthy diet can be much easier to plan.
A healthy diet should concentrate on lean meats and nuts, fruits and vegetables, dairy and grains. Your grains should be coming from complex sources like whole wheat, brown rice, sweet potatoes … you should avoid processed carbohydrates—which includes pretty much anything white (i.e. white rice, white bread, white potatoes, etc.).
Weight loss occurs when you take in fewer calories than you expend. You can expend more calories than you consume either by eating less or by doing more physical activity during your day, but a combination of the two is the healthiest option. Physical activity stimulates your metabolism. Just reducing caloric intake without increasing physical activity will eventually cause your metabolism to slow down, which will lead to fat gain.
Think with your head, not with your stomach. Plan your meals to the point of knowing what portion sizes you will eat. Most people eat far larger portions than their bodies actually need, due to factors that range from emotional eating to not noticing their bodies’ signals when they are full. Learn to visually estimate a proper portion, and use that knowledge at every meal.
Eat for what you will be doing, not for what you did. Your food intake should be aimed at supplying your body with the energy and nutrients it needs to do whatever you have planned to do next. Don’t eat based on what you have already done that day. Using this thinking, you should be reducing your intake of carbohydrates as the day goes on, with little to no carbohydrates of any kind consumed within four hours of bedtime. Carbohydrates consumed before you sleep have no chance to be burned and will undoubtedly be turned to fat.
The best diet is a diet that is built on moderation. High-anything diets are no good and zero-anything diets are no good … both can offer temporary results, but both will result in failure as they require you to eat that way for the rest of your life, unless you want to regain the weight you have lost. A diet of moderation allows you a much wider variety of foods and allows you to indulge in the occasional treat! “All things in moderation,” as the saying goes.
So basically, you should build your diet around lean proteins and colorful, fibrous vegetables. Then you should aim for a few servings of fruit, dairy, and unprocessed grains every day. Keep your mind on portion size and consider what you’ll be doing after you eat to burn off what you have taken in.
To lose weight you can still follow the above, but you may wish to consider the following:
If you tend to eat the same sorts of meals, you can count calories for your average meals once and calculate your caloric intake based on that. Unless you change something drastically, you’ll know that you are still within the baseline you set in the initial count.
Plan your meals ahead of time. That prevents you from ordering in or eating something “bad” because you are trying to decide what to eat at the last minute.
If you weigh yourself, do so at the same time every time (first thing in the morning is the most honest weight), and only do so every two or three weeks. Ideally, use the mirror as a guide, since what you look like is more important than the numbers on a scale.
Take photos of yourself from a number of angles when you start dieting, then take new sets every month or so. You’ll be shocked at how much you change and at how hard it is to tell from just looking in the mirror or looking at a scale.
So, really, these are the basics of dieting the smart and healthy way. The keys are moderation and smart choices that you can maintain for a lifetime, along with viewing adjustments to your diet as a lifestyle change instead of a temporary change in your eating habits. There are no magic bullets and no “diets in a bottle;” some supplements can aid your dieting, but the most important factor is making a commitment to a healthier and happier you!