The weight loss industry is one of the fastest growing in the western world. There are countless rule books telling us what, when and how much to eat in order to lose. But who is making these “rules”? Before following the rules of so-called dieting experts, you need to find out if they even make sense.
Some dieting rules make sense on the surface, but they can impart a sense of rigidity to your weight loss journey. Rigidity leaves little space for temptation or real life, and before you know it you find yourself having that on again/off again relationship with your diet. If you’re like most people, the “off again” phase is loaded with guilt and feelings of personal failure.
Let’s examine some of these rules that are causing us to feel badly when we break them.
Never eat after 7 p.m.
Your metabolism does not shut off at 6:59 p.m. It is true, however, that most people who struggle with weight loss tend to eat most of their calories in the evening. Mindless TV snacking does not happen because we are hungry, but because we are bored, tired, used to it or simply have had a hard day and “deserve it”.
Rather than sticking to the exact time, ask yourself if are you hungry. Is it stomach hunger? Mouth hunger, when you feel like tasting something delicious? Emotional hunger, when you are feeling lonely? If you truly are hungry, go ahead and make yourself a meal. Keep in mind this meal should be smaller because your day is coming to a close and you are not likely to be very physically active.
If you are not truly hungry, think about where that need to eat is coming from. This will help you identify some of the triggers that may lead to over-eating and may help you change your eating habits over the long term.
Follow your diet all week, and reward yourself with a “cheat day”.
To put this rule into perspective, consider this: Most moderate weight loss plans encourage a 500-calorie deficit each day to achieve a loss of one pound per week (3,500 calorie deficit = approximately one pound of body fat). That deficit can easily be undone with one indulgent meal out if you are not paying attention.
While a little bit of indulgence is important—and I would argue necessary—this rule seems to encourage all-or-nothing thinking. Not only can over-indulging on weekends slow or reverse your weight loss efforts, but dieting during the rest of the week can make you feel like you’re in a never-ending deprivation cycle. Personally, I prefer enjoying a little bit of my favourite foods every day, mindfully and in moderation.
Carbs are bad/fat is bad/(insert food here) is bad
This type of thinking can lead to feelings of deprivation, guilt, craving and ultimately overeating. One small bag of potato chips in one week and a family-size bag of potato chips every day are two very different things. I always like to remind my clients that there are no bad foods— just bad overall diets! Any food can fit into a healthy diet if you use moderation and balance as guiding principles.
Overall, a balanced and intuitive approach to eating is key to healthy and sustainable weight loss. Instead of worrying about breaking hard and fast dieting rules (which all of us will, sooner or later) examine your feelings and eating behaviours to better understand when, why, what and how you eat. You will gradually create a more forgiving and flexible approach that will both nourish your body and nurture your soul.