Changing Diets into Decisions - It might be as easy to say as it is to do!
Diet’s “A temporary and highly restrictive program of eating in order to lose weight” (2) - We’ve all tried them and maybe you’ve had success (power to ya) but if you’re like the other 90% of people you’ve probably struggled and watched as your efforts unravelled over time. Personally I haven’t really seen any long term success doing ‘fad’ diets, and I’ve tried a lot, trust me...Herbalife, Keto, Low Calorie, Low Carb, Vegan, plus pills and shakes I can’t even remember the names of.
If I’m honest (which I really am, even holding back in some cases), I have always just defaulted back to eating whole foods in moderation. I’m sorry but it’s really true, if you want to see changes long term it’s lifestyle and mindset changes, not a diet you want.
It’s tiring not feeling your best, never mind if you add in the distorted body image issues most of us are now facing. Cue negative self-talk, stress over what to eat and if you’ve eaten the wrong thing...and on and on but if you are ready there are ways to navigate your own mind and in the process bring your body along for the ride.
Understanding your body as it relates to Diets - In the Simplest of Terms...
First and foremost you need to understand that the brain is designed to keep you alive by keeping you safe. This means in the simplest of terms ‘fight or flight’ or ‘rest and digest’. Our bodies follow suit by conserving energy and fat to be used in times of crisis ie. you are starving or out running a lion. Clearly 2 things most of us, especially you reading this article, aren’t really worrying about day to day.
However, when you put yourself on a diet, especially a restrictive one, your body views this as a similar stressor. Stress then produces higher levels of cortisol and adrenaline in response. Cortisol (1) plays a very big role in our bodies such as; managing how we use carbs, fats, and proteins, aids in control of our sleep/wake cycles ie. Circadian rhythms, blood pressure regulation and helps control inflammation (I’ll talk more on this in other articles). Most of the time our bodies regulate cortisol and adrenaline just fine without us knowing a thing about it; It’s when your body goes into crisis mode or even high alert that cortisol can alter and shut down functions that may interfere with it. Immune function, digestion, and reproduction are a few worth mentioning when this happens.
So now hypothetically, imagine for a minute you’ve cut out grains and dairy, you’re eating 1200 calories, low fat, protein and of course no sugar. That’s like being stripped of your clothes in a public place with nothing to cover you up...it’s a huge shock to your system! Now let's say you get clothes but they really don’t cover you all up...your blood pressure, heart rate and other body systems will start to go back to normal as the shock subsides. However, if you are forced to walk around in these small poorly fitting clothes with your bits hanging out the alarm bells or crisis mode will stay on within your body. This can lead to various health problems like trouble sleeping, digestion issues, anxiety, depression (see GBA article for more details) and even...yep you guessed it weight gain!!
Ok, so just in case my naked metaphor didn’t make it crystal clear for you it’s basically like this -
We have micro stresses all day every day that are regulated by cortisol and adrenaline release and our body’s ability to naturally re-balance, we don’t think about these.
Put your body on a strict diet and it goes into fight or flight mode, affecting digestion, immunity, blood pressure, inflammation and heart rate.
When this mode doesn’t shut off because the body does not get a chance to reset, the systems we need to function optimally are not able to ie. immunity, digestion, sleep cycles...This leads to knock on effects like poor digestion and sleep, headaches, anxiety and like I said before, ultimately weight gain.
Why? Because your body views a diet as a threat or stress and wants to conserve its energy for later once the threat has subsided but if the threat doesn’t subside the body will continue to store said energy without having a use for it...ie the weight gain post diet.
So what do you do instead...the million dollar question I know!
It’s not a straightforward answer, I’m sorry I wish it was but our unique selves require more than a simple ‘eat right and exercise’ protocol. You are unique, your DNA is unique, your digestion is unique and your choices around mindset, diet and exercise are yours and yours alone. Notice I didn’t say they were unique, well it’s because fortunately for you and me we are not alone in how we think and behave towards food and diet culture.
Psychologists are having a field day trying to understand and untangle learned feeding patterns and behaviours and some of it is fascinating albeit too heavy for many readers and not something I think can be simplified. Food is the sum of its parts, remember that please, a potato isn’t the equivalent of the amount of sugar in it, nor is an apple, and excess consumption of fats and protein will only benefit you if you take into account how they work in the body in conjunction with carbs, sugar, and your unique metabolism and gut microbiome. It’s not simple and neither are you. Your body is complex and was designed to run and function using the building blocks of food in its most natural form.
I will go deeper into how food works in your body in other articles, but for the sake of length and complexity I’m going to just leave it alone in this talk.
The part that is simple to understand is the body needs variety, it needs good micro and macro-nutrients, it needs days of rest, it can handle a fast or missed meal, a donut or a binge night at the pub. Where we need to start is the basics and with your relationship around food. We need to address lifestyle, current physical condition, gut health, mental health, allergies or intolerance's, and most of all your level of commitment to yourself.
It might sound like a lot but it’s just little bite sized portions of the bigger picture that is you. We can all run 5 km we just have to start by walking it first. Lifestyle changes are the same, we can all achieve them but we have to start by understanding which ones need the most attention first. You too are the sum of your parts and balance is key so have a think about what you want from yourself and your health and let’s start to make some small simple changes to pave the way to long term lasting results.
Check out my - Happy In to Happy Out Questionnaire to help you on your way.
1. (Chang L, 2018) ‘What Is Cortisol’ Published online by WebMd, 2018. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol#1