Not Just Calories In and Calories Out
Let me start by saying, the main reasons a patient will require my services as a dietitian will range from a medical recommendation, a patient's to lose weight and to improve overall health, a quest to improve performance during sports and many reasons in between. Of these patients, many reported having previously experienced at least one fad diet, if not more. In my experience, patients show greater success in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight when they implement healthy positive habits instead of focusing on weight loss and the tenuous restriction of calories.
Unfortunately, under the loom of undeniable social pressure and the never-ending promises of various miraculous weight-loss solutions, the"easy fix" is readily sold to its audience. But are these truly solutions? The so-called fixes come lacking the argument for necessity of nutrient completeness versus the individual's requirements or the qualifications it takes to follow those who have a medical history such as high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, etc. as the “miracle cure-all” may interact with their medications and supplements. Here are my arguments in favor of healthy long-term habits for the achievement of a healthy weight and lifestyle goals, and my opinion as to why I feel they work so well.
Habits take Time
No, you will not lose weight fast. That is not the point. Learning healthy habits that encourage achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, in the long run, is. Weight loss should be more than a single-minded objective of stepping on a scale to see numbers drop. It should be about making a lasting positive and long-term change in your health. My experience has also shown me that another drawback of temporary diets is that they are not long-term health plans. Some of my patients report not starting long-term habits since they are afraid to fail. My advice to them is when implementing new healthy behaviors, falling back into old habits should not be considered a failure but a learning experience on which new life coping strategies can be built. In other words, at the end of a diet, I notice that dieters may not have support or the knowledge of what to eat for weight loss maintenance or how to deal with the ups and downs of the learning curve, explaining, at least partly, why some may see the pounds gradually return along with the 'old' dietary habits that were never truly addressed.
Calories and Nutrients
One of my main concerns is ensuring that individual requirements are met since they vary based not only on an individual’s age, gender, height and activity level but also health status. Moreover, weight loss is not always in direct relationship with the level of caloric restriction. Basal requirements of essential needs of the body (like basic organ function) must be met at all times. Ok... so maybe that was not a salient enough argument. Eating too little may encourage weight gain. Yes, you read that last sentence right! Over-restricting calories for a long enough period may decrease basal metabolism (ie energy requirements to meet the essential needs of the body) sabotaging weight loss efforts. That's not all. Not all calories are created equal. Vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates, proteins and much more come with the calories you eat from healthy whole foods and work together to support good long-term health. However, for this to work, a diet (or dietary changes) has to be balanced. If you need an example, check out the DASH diet or Mediterranean diet.
Realistic and Positive Changes that Empower
A recurrent topic in my office is confidence when making a decision at the grocery store. I teach label reading and review what ingredients to look for and which to avoid. We also discuss what to do with the ingredients when that are brought home. Understand that cooking does not have to be complicated or be picture perfect enough to land on the cover of a magazine and honestly, it seldom is. Also, learning how to eat with the family and avoiding having separate meals and division from the family table is among the priority topics. If you are going to keep the habits long term, they have to be realistic to your everyday life. Everyone can eat healthily together and as always, meals taste better that way.
Diet can be Dangerous but Natural Products aren’t Harmless Either
Ok. You saw this new pill that promised you your weight loss dream and despite my salient arguments, you still choose to try it. Did you check with your healthcare provider before taking it? If your answer is no, then you should put that pill down and wait to speak with one. Natural products can have important interactions with medications and even with food (i.e, they can pose dangerous health risks). If you need more information, you can read my article on supplements here.
A Few Last Words of Wisdom
Weight loss should not be, in my opinion, a quest for the quick fix of aesthetic proportion nor the answer to body shaming. Rather it is a symptom of a much bigger picture: the prevention and/or management of disease and the promotion of healthy lifelong habits. On the road of weight loss, one needs to reflect on why the weight loss is important and to consider very seriously the health implications of the road to be taken. You can also find more articles on my website on the topic of the healthy long-term habits. If you feel you need one-on-one help, you can also seek help from a registered dietitian.