I recently spent a month in the mountains, where my family and I hiked and walked daily, stuck mostly to home cooked meals, and maintained pretty good eating habits overall. But still, compared to home life it wasn’t quite what I was used to. More bread, more chocolate, more evening snacking, etc. Enough to feel like I wanted to commit to a good reset when I got home. “I’m giving up gluten when I’m back!” I announced confidently, for about 15 seconds. Until I realized I didn’t want to give up my sprouted whole grain toast in the morning, so I immediately started doubting my short lived commitment.
But it got me thinking, why did I feel the need to be so extreme about sacrificing a food completely? Even as a registered Health and Nutrition Counselor, I got momentarily sucked into the toxicity of the diet culture, which normalizes extreme measures to look a certain way. Everywhere you look, there are misleading ads that promise you can “lose 10 pounds in 10 days”, or “get abs in one month”, or “drop 2 dress sizes in 2 weeks”, followed by an array of plans, pills, and powders to purchase that will thin out your wallet, not your waistline.
The problem with taking such extreme measures to achieve your goals is simple: it is not sustainable. When it comes to weight loss, only 5% of people will actually keep the weight off, and many gain it all back and then some. But what’s even more concerning are the side effects like a slowed metabolism, a loss of muscle tissue and bone density, psychological damage, and an increased risk of other health issues.
So why do we continue to take an “all or nothing” approach to dieting? Maybe it’s a sense of control, a desire to be “perfect”, or a need for quick results. But this black and white thinking is ineffective and short-term. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I’ve already ruined the day with one “bad” choice, so F**K it, I’ll start again Monday”, or “why hasn’t the scale budged in a few days, I’ve been so good!?”, or “I feel guilty for my choices, I better skip some meals and ‘punish’ myself with a workout to make up for it”, then it sounds like you’re stuck in a crash diet mentality. Consider the following solutions to help you think bigger picture.
When I got back from my trip, I decided to limit my gluten intake, not give it up forever. I cut back on wheat products, but left room to have my sprouted whole grain toast for breakfast, enjoy the naan bread with the Indian food we ordered for a family treat meal, and not feel bad when my sister offered me soup for lunch that had tortellini in it.
What stood out about this approach more than anything was the mental and emotional benefits. I was not hangry or deprived. I did not feel guilty, ashamed, overwhelmed, or frustrated. Instead I felt balanced, energized, and empowered. It helped me stay consistent, enjoy life, and reaffirm I have the ability to “have my bread and eat it too”…and so can you!