Pushing back against Diet Mentality

I wrote this months ago, in response to some things I was encountering online,and the way it was feeding some unhealthy mindsets that I have really struggled to overcome, and bringing shame and self judgement into my life, and, I observed, into the lives of others.

This has been eating at me, y’all. I’ve been struggling and wrestling and ranting to Scott, and losing sleep, and it’s time I channel it into something productive.

I’m really frustrated and upset with the culture surrounding wellness, weight loss, health, nutrition, and all the other related concepts and pursuits. I find it really defeating and divisive and, well, unhealthy. I find myself- truly one of the most health conscious people I know, to the point where it’s a bit unbalanced, really- second guessing and obsessing and feeling like I’m “doing it wrong” when someone else is doing it differently. That’s because it’s almost never presented as “doing it differently.” Everyone presents their approach as the “best” or “what really works”, when, you know what? It’s just not true! There are very few absolutes in the wellness world, and even those are not solidly black and white- I’ll explain this as I go.

I’m pretty fired up about this, so I decided to re-center my focus by reading my personal Fitness Manifesto from last year and see if I needed to edit it. Turns out it holds up pretty well for me.

So, it seems like everywhere you look someone has an answer for the “right” way to lose weight, get in shape, get healthy, and stay that way, and so many of them are totally different! They all claim to be THE answer, but how can that be? Which is right? Well, honestly, none of them is THE absolute answer. The more rules and restrictions the method has, the less likely it is to be a widely applicable answer. I’m almost in tears, y’all, because this does so much damage, Telling people what they have to do, especially with an emphasis on big changes and restrictions is SO defeating. Hear me, though. I am not saying many people do not need to make big changes, and that lifestyles do not need to shift for our overall wellness to improve. I’m saying that there is no one size fits all approach, and also that not everyone- probably not even most people- is ready to throw out everything familiar overnight. Would many benefit from a pantry purge? Yes. But will they be able to stick to this cold turkey new lifestyle? Not as likely. Many/most of the people I have worked with over the years (and I have been supporting others and helping them in their wellness journeys for 16 years!) have been gung ho to make big changes at the start, but ultimately don’t stick with it long term. Some of that was on me and my approach.

I have always encouraged lifestyle change vs “dieting”, but I don’t think I understood until recently- the past year, maybe- how fine that line is. When I first started coaching people on health and weight loss, at the ripe age of almost twenty-one, I used a math equation I found in a book to help them figure out their calorie needs and gave them a basic understanding of how to budget their calories. I mean, calories in, calories out, right? From there, I encouraged them to find exercise they enjoyed enough to stick with, and healthy food options. There was a lot of good in this approach, but it was, in practice, a diet- because once you get to where you want to be, you get to eat more to maintain, right? Problematic. I helped a TON of people between 2003 and 2010 with this method, and saw so many have short term success and then go back to what was natural and easy.

Then, when I had the first true wellness awakening of my life in 2011- after reading Master Your Metabolism in one sitting- I started encouraging people to focus on food quality. At this point, I wasn’t counting calories, I was making sure the food I was eating was the best I could afford, most of the time, and the portions looked reasonable. I was doing a ton of exercise, but also resting a TON, and it worked well for me. During this time, I didn’t realize it, but I was laying the groundwork for a truly healthy lifestyle.

After Lexi was born, I discovered primal/paleo/Whole30, whatever you wanna call it. It was life changing, in that I learned a lot about my body, what it feels best being fueled by, how to enjoy good food and not be afraid to eat plenty of it, and that you can eat well and not even miss the foods you thought were delicious but made your body miserable. That was exciting, but what came about 6-7 months in was the good stuff. I started eating “off road” foods once in awhile, and GUESS WHAT??? I didn’t start gaining weight back, my fat loss did not stall, and I did not feel like crap. the world kept spinning, and the fat kept melting. This was when I started to learn that there are no absolutes. During this time I was also tracking my calories religiously, mostly because I was working out a lot, and needed to be sure I was eating to support that, and seeing that there was also no specific number I needed to eat to continue to see results. Some days. I ate close to 3000 calories, some closer to 1200. My advice and coaching shifted to

” Do not starve yourself, eat some of your exercise calories back, slow and steady is more sustainable!” and stuff along that line. I call that my golden age, the time when I had things most in balance. I was working out HARD, but I ate good stuff- and sometimes that involved a huge hunk of chocolate pudding cake from Kroger. And, y’all, I am NOT someone who can eat whatever I want and lose weight- but, BALANCE!

The past four years have been…a lesson in letting go. Of control, of the calorie count, of comparison. of having to fit in any diet or lifestyle box. I struggled for a long long time to recreate that Golden Age, but discovered that the stress levels (from many factors) I have going on are not going to let me have the same magical results. It’s also been a time of really seeing things differently when it comes to diet, weight loss, fitness, and coaching others towards wellness.

But, I mean, there are some universal truths about this stuff, right? Well, sort of. Let’s start here, though:

Absolute truth- we are all different- different needs, temperments, etc. What I mean here is that, while I am someone who can make big changes overnight and stick with them- I have that ability, and it’s not even really a challenge for me- most people cannot do that in a permanent or sustainable way. What happens when we make big changes, stick with them for a little while, and then revert to what feels easy and natural? The yo-yo effect. Which is, in some ways, more dangerous to your body than never having made the change to start with. For most people, a better approach is incremental, and changing habits and mindset- a mindful approach to pursuing wellness. I am not saying that the cold turkey approach never works- that would be against my whole point here-only that, for many people, it needs to be tailored to their temperament. We are also not all going to respond to the same diet, where “diet” refers to the foods that we eat. And guess what? That’s okay!

Common myth masquerading as truth: (insert diet/ lifestyle here) is absolutely the best way to lose fat and/or be healthy. Doesn’t matter what you put in that space, It’s Just. Not. True. We are all different with different metabolisms, lifestyles, nutritional needs. Even if there is “science!” to back you up in your claims, it’s not absolute- otherwise EVERY diet wouldn’t be able to make the same claims of validity. Paleo. or something close to it, works great for me, and leaves my husband miserable, tired and with heartburn, and just not at his best. (I don’t need to hear the chorus of “then you weren’t doing it right”- it wasn’t ideal for him long term. period.)

Common myth masquerading as truth: calories in, calories out. that’s all there is to it. As Kelsey Heenan has said- and I love it- The body is not a machine, it’s a complex ecosystem, with many many factors contributing to our weight and metabolism. This is SO true, and probably the most important lesson of the past few years for me. I could (and at times, have) replicate everything nutrition and calorie balance wise from that Golden Age, and not get the same results, because my body chemistry is different now. Awareness of what we are eating is good, and I’ll share soon how I am using that, but sometimes our bodies do not respond to math equations. And we shouldn’t have to live in a numbers box. This goes for Macros too, bee-tee-double-u.

Common myth masquerading as truth: there are some foods that are just poison and we should never eat them! Okay, this one is tricky. Because, yes, most processed foods, and especially certain ingredients and additives are terrible for everyone- HOWEVER. When we give these foods moral power we also create shame and guilt around them, and that gives them power and it’s just not healthy. Food is food, there is no moral value, there is no pride to be taken from not eating an Oreo, and there should be no shame around eating one, More around this coming soon as I dig deeper into the mindset of Intuitive Eating, but I think this is HUGE, because it contributes to so much defeat and all-or nothing that sends people back to yoyo dieting.

So, what is the answer? Well. obviously that’s different for everyone, and that’s the point of this whole essay, isn’t it? The answer is… find what works for you. Make small changes if you need to, in the direction of wellness. Here is a list of ideas to get you started, and you can apply as many or as few as you like. I’m also going to really try to be more consistent about sharing my journey, so maybe you can see a different perspective. I don’t subscribe to any particular way of eating, I have no NEVER foods, but I have definitely learned and observed which foods make me feel my best. That’s what the answer is, y’all. Listen to YOUR body, YOUR hunger, do exercise that works for YOU and that YOU enjoy, whether that’s lots of cardio, lots of lifting, a little yoga, whatever. move your body in a way that moves you! I am so excited to be on this journey with you and see what we learn along the way!

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