We have to accept it, the silly season is so over. Oh sure, we have twelve days for Christmas, eight for Hanukkah, and seven for Kwanzaa, but the big parties are behind us.
Some of us are still hungover from New Year's Eve. No judgement here. You gotta get your groove on, but what about tomorrow? Not tomorrow-tomorrow, but the symbolic tomorrow
you’ve been talking about.
At some point, you plan to finally get on that diet, Paleo (or whatever the kids are into these days) to finally get in shape. Great!
Getting in shape is fun, but before you sell yourself on a diet, consider something else. I can think of four reasons off the top of my head (although I could scribe endless pages of TL;DR content for you) about why you should NOT diet.
You are missing a few considerations and I have a better plan for you.
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If you’ve never reduced your intake by cutting out foods, you’re in for a treat the first time you socialise. People with dietary restrictions cannot just munch on whatever they want at a party or dinner. They have to ask for special exceptions.
Hosts must go out of their way accommodate a difficult eater. The more intimate the setting, the more uncomfortable the request. Dinner for four? Try three, because I can’t eat half of what you are serving. It gets worse.
Unless you like a lot of personal attention, you may find it even more uncomfortable when everyone wants to know about your diet.
Expect all eyes on you. Because many are clueless about intake, they’ll assume you have some kind of inside info on what is the “right” foods to eat.
You don’t. There aren’t right
foods, not necessarily.
Allow yourself to eat as close to normal as possible in social situations. At most, take your portions down, but don't swear off whole sections of food because they’re bad.
If you don’t want to field a bunch of attention, tell nobody what you are up to.
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Diets love to place blame. We’ll come back to that. That blame, however, means there are foods that go on the naughty list.
Not only do foods on the naughty list get coal in their stocking (too soon?), you have to accept that there is something inherently wrong with them like that food were poison.
In the once popular Atkins diet, it was carbs. For the now popular caveman diets, it’s grains, milk or anything processed. Consumption of these foods is bad and will lead you to an unhealthy life.
What the advocates of these diets fail to tell you is what happens to your desires while restricted. At first, it’s easy. You don’t mind the change because you’re so focused on your awesome results that are sure to follow.
Over time, someone orders a nice slice of pizza or cake. As you smell the forbidden fruit, your brain goes into tantrums about why can’t I have it
? You may ignore these tantrums at first, but by the time you end your diet, they will be all you think about.
Your attention is not been on what you can eat that is different, you’re focused on what you can’t have. Like any unhealthy relationship, this is hard to end with grace.
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The bigger oversight of your diet is the perception that some foods are somehow “bad.” In truth, there are some foods that are bad. As one example, any food that someone has tainted with arsenic? That's bad food.
The rest of your food choices fall into categories of better or worse choices, depending on your goals and personal relationships with those foods. Yes, relationships with food matter.
As an anecdotal example, I cannot have sweets in my home. There is nothing inherently bad about sugar. It’s a simple carbohydrate, four calories per gram, but I tend to abuse it.
Some couldn’t care less about sweets. Food with sugar goes bad in their home, whereas I plow through donuts like an addict.
It would be short-sighted of me to blame the sugar. The problem is me, my wiring. I can’t eat with control when sugar is around, so I don’t keep it around. The blame is mine, not the food’s.
Although, not an example of food behaving badly, another concerning food choice is the one about which we know nothing. If you eat foods without a clue about the contents, then you need to pull the car over to find out.
At least with the foods you crave, study their calories, nutrient profiles, ingredients. Until you learn these things, those foods are in the “bad” [read: concerning] category.
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For most dieters, the goal is to lose weight so the idea of nothing gained might sound positive. In this context, it’s not. That’s not what we’re talking about.
By the end of your diet, assuming you survive without losing your mind, if the only thing you've learned is that you can apply discipline to your food intake, you've gained nothing valuable.
The most important thing you can do with respect to your diet is zoom in. Anything you eat often, you want to know as well as you can. By removing foods from your options you gain none of this knowledge.
When it’s over, most of your gains (which you’ll measure in losses, ironically) will wash away over time in the absence of your discipline, especially if you’ve not learned something about the foods you prefer.
Instead Do This
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Whatever school of nutrition you attend, they will all teach you one principle: don’t eat blindly.
When you eat just because something is yummy, it’s like running through a china shop with the lights off. You may not get hurt, but you’re gonna make a mess in the long run.
Instead, make your kitchen your zone of dietary expertise. Learn about the food you like to eat. Research how those foods fit into your health goals.
Again, drawing from my anecdotal experience and what my nutrition coaches have taught me, the more you can keep some of everything you like in your diet, the better you will follow your plan.
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To that point, yes I eat sweet things… all the time. I make pancakes every Sunday. Yes, I'm a yank.
When I eat out, I indulge in a little dessert. During the holidays, I let go quite a bit. Those moments account for less than 10% of my intake. I look forward to them but don’t crave them.
This where you want to live. Dieting does not teach you any of this.
Skip the diet this year. Make 2017 the year you get closer to the food you like to eat. Learn to eat with the lights on.
Damon Mitchell is a recovering fitness industry fancy-pants, with twenty plus years of experience. He’s been certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise. These days he works as a content creator.