If Not Diets, Then What?


Before we can answer the question “If not diets, then what,” we have to understand why: Why do people diet?

In our size-obsessed society, we’re led to believe that by there being less of us, we will in some way become magically happy, fulfilled, loveable, acceptable, and even healthy.

So out of fear and loathing, we turn to dieting (which is the restriction of nutrients in an effort to lose weight). We do this by skipping meals, cutting down calories or portion sizes, omitting nutrients (like carbs or fats), and so on. When we do this, we lose some weight.

This process may have been easy. It’s usually not. But regardless, this is the point at which when fear often sets in: “How am I going to maintain this?!” Because let’s be real: A diet isn’t simply denying ourselves cake until we find ourselves in the body that we’re hoping for. It’s an entire lifetime of denying ourselves cake. And because it’s not usually sustainable to eat that way long term, the diet ends.

Cue the Diet Pendulum

Diet Liberation Cycle

The weight comes right back on – and then some ­– as the body makes up for the period of deprivation. “Ugh!” we think. “What’s wrong with me?” We blame ourselves for having no willpower, for lacking self-control, for being weak. So we try again. And again. And again. And the same old cycle continues: We lose, we gain, and then we gain a little more. We lose, we gain, and then we gain a little more.

Anyone picking up on what’s happening?

Usually, the more we diet, the more we gain. Sometimes we consider something different – a “lifestyle” change, perhaps. We think that if we conceptualize the process differently, then the results will be different. But if the focus is on weight loss, then it doesn’t matter if you call it a “lifestyle” or a “health plan” or a “diet.” Anytime we omit nutrients and deprive the body of the fuel or pleasure it needs, and do it for the purpose of weight loss, it’s a diet. Period.

So we have to rethink the formula itself. We need to think through how to truly focus on our values, on the things that are important to us.

When we go back to the question (why diet?), the answers usually involve issues that are much more relevant than simply a number on the scale. It’s about independence. It’s about mobility. It’s about happiness, and love, and health. What we’re looking for isn’t actually necessarily weight loss. We’ve just all been convinced that weight loss is what will grant us all of the things that we want.

Diet Liberation Cycle

Diet Liberation CycleSo instead of turning to dieting as the first stop on the way to these things, let’s just go directly there! Because, incidentally, dieting is actually getting us further away from all of these things, as it damages our bodies, brains, and spirits.

This is where the shift in focus really happens: shifting the focus from weight loss to something else – to the version of wellness that you’re hoping to capture. In other words, what is it that will really, actually get you independence, mobility, happiness, love, health?

What brings you happiness? Diets? Or maybe spending time with good friends, a beautiful nature hike, a pedi/mani, doing a good job at something?

What brings mobility? Diets? Or maybe movement, stretching, physical activity?

What brings medical health? Diets? Or maybe eating in balance, having regular physical activity in our lives, managing stress?

In other words, why take a misrouted, dead-end pit stop through diets to get to these things?

So here is the magic Green Mountain Formula for wellness and well-being: Eating + Moving + Living, with a focus on Feeling Good = Health, of the mind and body.

It may sound scary at first to focus on feeling good. We think that if we allow ourselves to feel good, then we won’t be guilted into what we think are healthy behaviors. If we let ourselves rest because it feels good, how will we ever get to the gym? If we let ourselves eat pizza because it feels good, how will we ever make ourselves eat vegetables?

But here’s the key: When we focus on feeling good – when our goal is to eat, move, and live in a way that gives us more joy, more energy, more life – we’ll find ourselves attracted to those things intuitively.

The truth is: When we aren’t taking care of ourselves, that doesn’t feel good. When our stress isn’t well-managed because we’re taking on too many tasks, that doesn’t feel good. When we restrict or binge because we’re hung up on diets, that doesn’t feel good. When we’re not engaging in joyful physical activity, that doesn’t feel good.

“I started with the yo-yo dieting and the emotional overeating and all of that stuff when I was 18. I’m 50 now, so I have spent a lot of years working on this. I’ve been to all the spas. I’ve been to all the weight loss programs. I’ve had private nutritional counseling. I’ve had therapy. I’ve done it all, and this is the only thing that has ever worked for me.”

– Abbe Greenberg | Dec. 2017

The reality is that Eating + Moving + Living, with a focus on Feeling Good = Health, will bring us more of exactly what we’re after.

Diet Liberation Cycle

Eating Is Nourishing, Pleasurable, and Mindful

“Nourishing” means practicing eating a balance of foods. A lot of plant-based foods is an awesome start. But this also includes all other nutrients (like fats, proteins, and starches), as well as fun foods like cookies.

“Pleasurable” means that the food that we eat is enjoyable to us most of the time.  It may not be amazing all the time, but if we really don’t like it, why eat it? While we can’t always sit down to the perfect meal, we don’t have to force down meal replacement shakes (bleh) either.

“Mindful” means that we are present with ourselves and our food while we eat – as opposed to distracted or checked out. It means paying attention to the aroma of food and the texture of it. It means being aware of our hunger and satiety cues. It means listening to our inner wisdom.

Movement Happens Regularly and Pleasurably

“Regularly” means being careful not to create a rigid, unattainable movement goal. Instead, be consistent with moving.  We don’t need to force ourselves to go to the gym five times per week if that’s not realistic. If we’re moving in ways we enjoy, then it’s easier to be consistent.

“Pleasurably” means finding ways to move that are enjoyable to us. There are a lot of reasons why people hate the atmosphere of a gym. So don’t go there. Try a yoga studio or a dance class or an afternoon walk with friends. There are a lot of different ways to engage in physical activity. Find yours. Because let’s be real: If you don’t like it, you won’t continue to do it.

Living in Ways That Are Fulfilling and Enjoyable

In managing stress, practicing self-care, having positive social connections, and being compassionate with ourselves, we find that we feel emotionally well.

So instead of pushing yourself back into dieting, consider this wellness formula for health of the mind and body. Because it’s in this way that we address emotional health, mental health, physical health, and even medical health.

Instead of journaling how many fat grams, calories, or carbohydrates you ate today, ask yourself if you’ve moved enjoyably, if you’ve practiced any self-care, if you’ve nourished your body with foods you enjoy and that fuel you.

And I promise that before long, you’ll find yourself reaching the goals that you set out for yourself.

View the complete Diet Liberation Cycle infographic here.

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About the Author

Shiri Macri, MA, LCMHC

Since 2004, Shiri’s approach as a therapist for treating binge and emotional eating is holistic, focusing not only on the presented issue at hand but also considering overall health. Working in this way often includes mindfulness-based approaches. Now as a trained MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) teacher, Shiri’s love of mindfulness and meditation practices are at the forefront of her blog writings and recordings. Shiri is the Clinical Director at the Women's Center for Binge & Emotional Eating, affiliated with Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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