In my earlier post on diet mentality, I explained what it is and how it has affected me on a personal level. To some degree, I feel like I have been either on a diet or thinking about going on a diet my whole life. I guess I am not alone because according to current statistics 50% of women are on a diet at any given time and up to 90% of teens diet on a regular basis. Billions of dollars are spent on diets every year in North America and as food becomes even more processed, I am sure that number will climb.
I know that many of us feel that diets are the key to losing weight but I want you to honestly ask yourself when – if you have dieted – is the last time you saw lasting change from a diet? Did you finish the diet and reach a goal weight? Were you able to maintain that goal weight and for how long? You see I ask this because I think it’s important that we as a society start questioning the value that diets have in our lives. In fact, we should question the actual diets themselves. I asked that of myself last year when I was once again overweight, unhappy, and facing some pretty serious health risks. Dieting is tough and it puts a lot of stress on my body, zaps my energy and willpower and – in the past – has made me feel like a failure time and again when I didn’t reach my goal. Last year I had to decide between going on another diet or, crazily enough, scrapping that idea and changing my lifestyle altogether.
It’s not the same thing. Going on a diet is a different goal than changing your lifestyle. I actually think of it as home staging vs interior decorating situation – one is a short term fix and the other is a long term solution that you tailor to fit your life and your family. Short term committment vs a long term committment. There are different goals for both situations and while they might use the same general principles, they aren’t the same thing.
Diets have been shown to unequivocably show initial success but according to research, they aren’t successful in helping keep the weight off long term. Changing your approach food, changing the types and quality of food you eat and eating mindfully are key elements of doing an overall lifestyle shift. It’s the latter, mixed with consistent exercise that has been shown to be effective over the long haul so why then are we, as a society, so focused on dieting?
Based on my observations and experience, I would have to say that overall it’s because of a few key reasons.
We are Creatures of Habit: Seriously – not many of us like real change. We are comfortable eating the foods we know and love and many of us don’t ever want to give them up. We can’t believe – or won’t – that the foods we eat don’t provide us with the necessary nutrients we need to get through every day. We also find it hard to believe that we don’t need half as much as we eat in any given day so cutting back is always a major issue that causes our bodies a ton of stress.
We want Instant Gratification: How many times have you started a diet and after 2 – 3 days you are staring anxiously at the scale or in the mirror and looking for results? Totally guilty of that. In our society, we have become used to getting results and information right away. It’s not different with our expectations of our weight. We expect that when we start a diet that it will instantly melt the pounds off and make us slim. When it doesn’t, we give up. I don’t know if we as a society just lost the skill to persevere or whether with all the technology available at our finger tips that it’s just highlighted this issue. I do know that because of this, diets have an appeal that a longterm lifestyle doesn’t. They are touted as fast, easy and effective – which is all we have time for anyways right? So until we figure out that diets are just a cash cow for companies offering us those quick fixes, we will continue to spend billions of dollars every year trying to get skinnier.
We Value being Skinny over Being Healthy: While I do see some changes to this happening, overall the goal is to get skinny not healthy. When someone comments on my weight loss, invariably they will ask me what my goal weight is and how much longer I will be ‘doing this’. By that I take it to mean, being on a diet and as diets have end dates .. well at some point I have to be done with this painful process right? My answer always surprises people because I don’t have a specific goal weight in mind. I will be honest, my goal is to be strong and healthy – and this is normally what I say. The comical reactions I get from friends to complete strangers tell their own story. In our society, no one expects a diet to last more than a few months and you always, but always, are striving to be skinny over healthy. My hope is that through sharing current industry information and my own experiences that maybe we can try to change that ideology. Illusions of grandeur, I know. But I can hope that one day instead of focusing on losing weight to just be skinny, that we can learn how to live a healthy lifestyle that keeps our weight in check and keeps us strong & fit.
Convenience is Key: While this reflects some of the same points as being creatures of habits, it does merit its own mention. Food is scary. If you do any kind of research into how the food industry has changed both how much food we eat and the actual chemical make-up of our favourite foods, it’s frightening. It’s easier to keep on eating what we have always eaten rather than changing the types of food we eat. Processed foods, frozen foods, diet foods, fast foods – they are all eaten way in excess of fresh, whole foods because of two key reasons. Convenience & Habit. We live crazy, busy lives. We can’t be expected to actually cook using whole foods right? If the food was good enough for us before, why isn’t it good now? We don’t see that the food we are eating isn’t real food anymore. That chemicals – which our bodies don’t know how to process properly – make up a frightening amount of the foods many of us rely on. We don’t have time to research it, so we ignore it. So convenience, while seemingly vital to our everyday lives, is essentially the main reason why we diet yet never change.
We Idolize Food: Psychologically, food is more than fuel – it’s comfort. It creates an emotional response in our bodies and its the star of every party and celebration. Food is glamorized on TV where chefs prepare an endless array of delightful dishes. Food IS life. Giving it up – even parts of it – are all most of us can do for short periods of time. We crave it, we love how it makes us feel and like any drug – we are always thinking about when we are eating next and what will be starring on our plates. This is why diets are so painful for most. They change what and how much we eat, they restrict calories and they ultimately cheat us of pleasure. Most of us can only do this for short sprints so it makes sense then why diets are a staple of our society. Many people can’t, or won’t see, that eating a healthy, balanced diet longterm is feasible. It’s too hard and we are giving up too much. If you follow Chef Jamie Oliver at all – and I do – then you know the impact that food and obesity is having on our society today. He is a huge advocate for a healthy lifestyle but the majority of us tune him out. He says plainly that diet related diseases account for 60% of deaths – but no one talks about it. In order for us to start really embracing the concept of living a healthy lifestyle I think we need to examine the role that food plays in our lives and find other – healthier – options to get the pleasure and fulfillment that we need (how about exercise??? talk about a natural high!).
These are all reasons – that I see – as being the factors to why we as a society favor diets over living a healthy lifestyle and I am sure there are more but essentially, these are the reasons I see why billions of dollars are spent on diets every year in North America. These are also the reasons why I believe they will never bring about the lasting changes so many of us desperately want.
If you are truly interested in achieving longterm health and fitness goals then I believe it starts with more than just going on a diet. It starts with a committment to yourself, your body and to finding a new way to live your life longterm. It’s a life I have committed to and I will be sharing more about that in future posts.