Image by Steve Buissinne
The word diet simply defines the food we ingest each day. But now it has become a four-letter word or a badge of honor, sometimes even a badge of martyrdom. Dieting has become a national pastime, with everyone waiting in line for the next diet of the month, guaranteed to make us all fit and trim.
There are some very valid diets out there: diets for diabetics, for stroke victims, for ulcer patients, and so forth. These are specific diets for specific needs. But I'm talking about the kinds of diets that offer you a perfect life if you only eat in a prescribed way.
Unfortunately, when one diet doesn't come through for us, we're off to the next, and the cycle continues. But each time you toy with yet another diet, you are putting your health at risk mentally, physically, and emotionally. We have developed such a skewed view of food and diets that we don't know whether we're coming or going, losing or gaining, failing or succeeding.
Creating a New Paradigm for the Word "Diet"
We need to create a new paradigm for the word diet. Diet is actually a good word; it's dieting that starts the trouble. As I stated above, diet means the food we consume that fuels our bodies, while dieting (and this is my personal definition) offers only the two d's: deprivation and depression.
Though diet is rarely defined as dangerously low caloric intake, our current diet paradigm means self-inflicted starvation and deprivation through rigid programs allowing minimal food. Our old paradigm has made life very difficult for those of us who do not resemble runway models; we think that if we just starve ourselves, we can achieve that "perfect" body. Well, you know and I know that any nutrition program that provides dangerously low daily caloric allotments is unsafe and unrealistic. So how do we bring the word diet back to its original meaning?
Simply viewing diet as the fuel we give our bodies may spark a shift in the paradigm. To use a gasoline analogy, the better grade of fuel we put in our bodies, the better our bodies will run. Your "regular" fuel is sweets, dairy, and fats. Your "unleaded" fuel is carbos and proteins. And your "premium" is fruits and veggies, fresh of course! And when we eat a healthful diet, we're not as prone to overeating. When you're aware of and concerned with what you're feeding yourself, you'll be aware of how much you actually need.
You see, a diet that consists of healthful eating is forever, while diets are a passing fancy that encourage unhealthy eating. Going on diet after diet takes a toll on your body and your mind. Understand that while we've created the difference between the words diet and dieting, in reality, they are one and the same. When you have a clear understanding of these words' true meaning, you will be able to stay on the road to healthy living and get off the diet-of-the-month club mailing.
Journal to Great Nutrition
Study after study continues to show that those who keep track of their nutritional intake tend to eat better and to stay on a healthier nutrition program for longer periods. Many women panic when asked to keep track of what they eat because they become aware of how much "low-grade" fuel they're ingesting. Then they beat themselves up when they see the record of all the things they shouldn't be eating but are unable to make long-term changes.
Many then try dieting to improve their food habits, but as we know, diets don't create long-term changes or habits. Why? See if any of these sound familiar: "Lose ten pounds in ten days, thirty pounds in thirty days, twenty inches in six weeks." And the list goes on. You cannot possibly make any long-term changes in ten, twenty, or thirty days. Permanent change takes time; it takes weeks, months, and even years.
Invariably when I ask a client to track her nutrition, the first words out of her mouth are, "Why? So you can see how bad I am?" The other common response is, "Do I have to tell the truth?" But the bottom line is, tracking what you eat is a wonderful way to see how your body responds to what you fuel it with. Yes, it also gauges how balanced your nutrition program is or isn't. But it's not an opportunity to beat yourself up; it's a chance to discover how to fuel yourself for good health. So let's start keeping track of what we eat and see what we learn.
Keeping Track Helps Keep You On Track
I would encourage you to keep a separate journal for tracking your nutritional intake. A three-by-five notebook is perfect for keeping in your purse or backpack and taking along anywhere you go. Start as soon as you can, and write down everything that goes into your body -- drinks, snacks, everything.
How many times have you said, "Oh, I feel terrible. I know I overate today"? Well, by keeping track of what you eat, you may be able to pinpoint why you overdid it. Were you worried? Tired? Too busy? It might also help you see some patterns that you were unaware of.
I once asked a client, who believed her only concern was a couple of coffees too many, to track her daily intake. When she did, she realized that she was drinking as many as sixteen cups a day! When I was training for the marathon, I wrote down everything I was eating so I could see what foods created more energy and what made me tired, gassy, and so on.
What Fuel Works Best For You?
Why not find out what fuel works best for you? You will never be able to change your current nutritional habits if you don't know where you are right now. And here's an added tip: Don't wait to record what you've been eating till the end of the day. Research shows that when you wait until evening to document your food intake, you may miss something. So after each meal and snack, jot it down. But it's not so much the calorie count I want you to focus on, as it is the overall balance in your diet.
In addition to tracking your food intake, track how you feel after meals or after eating certain foods. You don't need to spend a huge amount of time on this. You can quickly jot down what you've eaten and then even create a system to designate your energy level that day. For example, HE equals high energy, LE equals low energy, PMS (well, we all know what that one is), and so on. You'll eventually begin to see a pattern in your energy levels, your cravings, and so forth.
After you have tracked your nutrition for one week, I want you to look over it, carefully. As you do, circle with a red pen the eating habits you would like to change. It doesn't really matter how many things you circle, but be aware that trying to change everything overnight will just result in frustration and going back to old habits. I encourage you to focus on making changes one at a time. Doing so will help you to gradually change your habits and ensure long-term success. By success I mean fueling your body well consistently.
Positive Changes for Positive Living
After you've circled all the things you'd like to change, pull out your journal. Skip a few pages from your last entry. At the top of a clean page write "Positive Changes for Positive Living". Beneath that, make a list of all the eating habits that you circled on your nutrition tracking log. Now list in order of importance the changes you would like to make. Here's an example:
Eating late-night ice cream
Eating too much bread at evening meals
Eating my children's leftovers
After you have finished making your list, begin with the first item. Think of ways to change this habit gradually. For example, if you're currently eating ice cream every night, you can start by eliminating three ice creams a week, then four, then five, and so on. Remember, I do not encourage deprivation. Ice cream is fine -- in moderation. Once you feel comfortable with your change, you can move on to the next one.
Stick with a change until you have comfortably altered your habit. Even if it takes you six months to alter one habit, the important thing is that you are making permanent changes. If you take the time to methodically change a habit, you can bet that the change you make will be with you for the rest of your life.
Now go to the next clean page in your journal and make a heading out of the habit you are currently working on. Record your feelings about making this change.
What is easy about making this change? What is challenging? Is it easier than you thought or is it a really hard habit to break?
Closely tracking each change you're working on is a great way to work through the behavior you're trying to modify. Yes, this is basically behavior modification 101, but it works. You'll need plenty of room to write, so be sure to create a new page for each change you're working toward. Here is an example:
"LATE-NIGHT ICE CREAM"
June 25: Instead of ice cream I only had a yogurt. I still felt guilty, but I guess it's better than ice cream.
June 27: Decided to replace an old habit with a new one, so I bought a new book. Rather than eat ice cream, I've started reading. It's a little hard not to think about ice cream, but I feel better already not eating it late at night.
June 28: Went to a birthday party and had ice cream late, but I didn't have any cake, so I felt pretty good about that. I only had a small serving of the ice cream, and I didn't feel guilty -- yay.
Again, let me remind you that you're not keeping this record to see what little discipline you have; rather, it's an opportunity to monitor your progress and to see where your greatest challenges lie.
You don't have to write something in it every day, but if it's an everyday habit you're trying to break, it might be a good idea. Also, at the top right-hand corner of each page, write the word diet. Next to it, write your brief, revised, healthy definition so that you can begin to hold onto your new ideas about what it means to eat well. Now, instead of going on a diet, you are finding new ways to alter or improve your diet. Now you are seeking healthful eating instead of riding the wave of trendy diets.
A Reality Check
Whenever a client tells me she has started a diet, the first question I ask is, "Is it realistic for you and is it something you can do for the rest of your life?" Generally, the response is, "I never thought of it that way. I just wanted to lose the weight."
Remember: It is much better to aim for a healthy weight through reasonable nutrition than it is to starve yourself for six months. If you use the starvation approach, you know and I know you'll be back to where you started within a year.
Learning to eat well consistently is a step toward taking control of your health, a preventative measure, a piece of the healthy-living puzzle. I don't have trouble blaming much of the poor eating habits of this country on the diet industry. We have come to accept that if we can't stick to a thousand-calorie-a-day diet, we have no self-discipline. But underfeeding ourselves has nothing to do with self-discipline and everything to do with false information -- that is equating skinny with healthy. They're not the same thing!
Trial & Error
For fifteen years, I went from one diet to the next. Did I learn about eating well? No, but I certainly learned the precise caloric value in a chocolate bar and in potato chips! You can eat healthfully without counting calories, fat, or anything else.
Eating well is about making choices that work best for your body. It doesn't take a genius to know that a fresh fruit salad is better for you than a candy bar. And you don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that a double cheeseburger is really more food than you need.
Healthful eating means eating foods that make you feel good and that fit your lifestyle. Yes, sometimes fast food will fit into the equation, but do we really need a "biggie" to fuel our bodies adequately?
So many of us have dieted for years and are trying to figure out why none of the diets have worked. For too long we have practiced deprivation or excess and nothing in between. Reality Fitness is all about the in-between.
Learning to eat well will take practice, research, and trial and error, and that's fine. We all overindulge at times, but it's not the end of the world. The problem is when overindulgence becomes the norm. Sure, there will be times when you'll splurge on a sundae or a wonderful piece of chocolate. That's okay! If you keep away from diets, no foods are off limits.
What's important is that you learn what foods fuel you well for your day-to-day performance and what foods drag you down. You are now in a proactive position to make sound choices about your nutrition. Begin to experiment with new and exciting foods, plan meals, be creative. If you have children or a spouse, include them in making changes in your nutrition. We need to take the responsibility by selecting foods that strengthen and energize us and our loved ones.
Of course, most of us have spent our entire lives developing our nutritional habits, so don't expect to change them overnight. Also keep in mind that everyone's diet (and I mean it in the healthy sense of the word) is different. Commercial diets are usually one size fits all.
How successful will anyone be on a generic program?
If one client is a working mom and another is a stay-at-home mom, my nutrition suggestions are going to be much different because of the difference in daily schedules. And certainly holidays, seasonal changes, and stressful events all affect how we eat. That's one reason why you need to spend a good amount of time tracking nutrition and experimenting before you find just what works for you.
Don't worry if you do overeat at Thanksgiving. It's not an everyday occurrence, and, also, if you don't deprive yourself, you'll be less inclined to overeat generally. Holidays are the time for celebration, so celebrate! It's when that celebration goes on for 365 days a year that you need to reevaluate.
It all goes back to the all-or-nothing syndrome
Eating well isn't about depriving yourself. It's about ridding yourself of the diet mentality and instead acquiring good information about fueling your body properly. When I realized that no diet in the world was going to make me a different person, I became far more interested in finding ways to make the most of who I am and what I have the potential to be. But it took time and introspection.
When we begin to make changes, we rarely think about what obstacles lie ahead, and when we encounter them unprepared, we sometimes revert to our old habits. So do yourself a favor, and spend a full year making sure that the changes you've decided to make are realistic for you and your lifestyle. It's exciting to rid yourself of the diet mentality and finally understand that healthy eating no longer means not eating.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New World Library/HJ Kramer, Novato, CA 94949.
Reality Fitness: Inspiration for your health and well-being,
by Nicki Anderson.
Written by a motivational speaker and working mother, this practical guide to fitness offers sensible advice on how to take off pounds, and keep them off, without resorting to sure-to-fail extremist diets and exercise routines.
About The Author
Nicki Anderson is the author of Reality Fitness: Inspiration for Your Health and Well-Being. An IDEA master trainer and a NASM-certified personal trainer, she is also a health and fitness columnist for suburban Chicago newspapers, a family fitness contributor for eDiets, and is on an advisory board for (IHRSA s) Club Business for Entrepreneurs magazine. Nicki sits on the IRHSA entrepreneurial advisory board, the personal training committee, and the editorial advisory board for the IDEA Fitness Journal, the Nautilus Fitness Apparel Council, and USA Today's entrepreneurial advisory board. A much sought-after speaker, Nicki addresses groups all over the country. Read more article by Nicki on her website at http://nickianderson.com/