Katelyn Sander

Stop Dieting for Good

Living Well

Written by: Meg Sharp, Wellbeing Consultant, Cambridge Group of Clubs

For the good of your body. For the good of your brain. For the good of your spirit, your energy, your performance, your happiness, your life.

Let us start with the punchline: Dieting – aka caloric restriction – is no way to live. It’s not sustainable or enjoyable. It messes with your self-esteem, energy, strength, and basal metabolic rate. 

Now let’s dive into some of the details. This stuff is – we think – important.

Weight loss is sometimes viewed as a simple equation, where reducing calories (kcal) in while maintaining or increasing calories out will result in a new caloric deficit and – TADAH! – the pounds will melt off accordingly. Similarly, when you balance the amount eaten with the amount expended, you can expect to maintain your heathy weight. Sound about right?

If that isn’t your experience, please take comfort: You are not alone. And we will do our best to simply explain a painfully complicated process, as well as offer a few simple recommendations that – whether you want to gain, lose, or maintain – will help.

Let’s start by getting clear on the two parts of the equation:

The positive: Calories In. What. You. Eat.

The negative: Calories Expended. There are a few pieces involved:

Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR: By far the MOST important piece on the deficit side. These are the calories your body burns throughout the day to simply stay alive and typically comprise at least 60% of your total energy expenditure. The average Canadian woman has a BMR of 1,400 calories per day while it’s about 1,800 for men. The larger frames and higher lean tissue mass explain to a large extent the higher expenditure for men.

Physical Activity: I’m pretty sure all of you are clear on this one. Physical activity accounts for structured exercise, sport, and play as well as activity including walking, lifting, climbing the stairs, and other physical demands that are simply part of work and life. For individuals – like you and me – who exercise regularly – physical activity typically accounts for 20-30% of our expenditure. Hardcore athletes may well sit above the 30% mark. And couch potatoes below 15%.

Thermic Effect of Food or TEF: The calories required to process and digest the food you eat. Typically, 10-20% of your daily expenditure.

Temperature: Finally exercising or just existing in an extremely hot environment will boost caloric expenditure as the body sweats and works to stay cool. Similarly exercising or existing when it is extremely cold will also boost expenditure as the body works to keep your core warm enough to function properly.

Now let’s run through a number of things that can happen when you diet or restrict your food too much:

You store fat better. Your body may sense it is heading into starvation mode and will protect your fat stores. You will, of course, use readily available carbohydrates for energy but you will also tap into muscle and lean tissue. The loss of these tissues leads to:

Your metabolic rate drops. Which can ultimately lead to decreased energy and:

Your workouts suffer. You are less able to nail those high intensity, high quality, major calorie-burning-muscle-building workouts. There are so many drawbacks to not being to do tough workouts. Read more on this here.

And all of these changes mean: You may gain more weight when the diet stops. 

That end result, and actually the whole dieting process itself, is often laced with people feeling crappy about themselves. And isn’t it ironic: when we feel lousy about ourselves, we tend to make lousy choices. When we feel good about ourselves, good in our skin, it’s a whole lot more likely we will make positive, healthful choices.

We encourage you to begin and then build on a journey towards a more healthy, strong, positive body. With your focus on how you feel far more than how you look. 

  • Make food choices that keep blood sugar levels stable, support feelings of satiety, fullness. Meals that support higher metabolic rates and more mindful eating. 
  • Raw vegetables take longer to chew. Incorporating these into your meals can mean you take longer to eat and, therefore, feel fuller – ready to stop eating – before you reach for seconds.
  • Certain foods – like vegetables and food high in protein and fiber – take longer to assimilate. This means they “stick to your ribs” longer – you don’t get hungry as fast – and the TEF (see above) is a little higher. 

  • Certain food – many soups – will make you feel satiated quite quickly. So, if portion control is a challenge, try starting some of your meals with a small bowl of low sodium broth that’s loaded with vegetables and some legumes.
  • Conversely other food – like smoothies – are extremely easy and quick to eat. And may leave some people feeling under satisfied. I should also note that smoothies can be a great way of getting raw fruits and vegetables into you efficiently! Especially on a chaotic morning where otherwise you wouldn’t eat anything.
  • Snacking is also a mixed one. But for some, avoiding snacking can be hugely beneficial. Many studies show that snacking does NOT increase metabolism. Snacks often aren’t as high in protein and vegetables as meals, so they may contain far more empty calories. Some studies show that snacking makes no difference in terms of amount of food consumed during meal times. So, overall, calories become higher. Also – if you’re trying to eat more vegetables with your meals, and it’s something you’re trying to adjust to… everything tastes better when you’re really hungry?!

These shifts are powerful AND they are small. The journey to a body you feel better in will be longer. And the dietary changes are smaller, easier, more enjoyable. Changes that are realistic and sustainable at every turn. That focus more on what you ADD in lieu of what you need to takeaway. And changes that you improve upon or “jack-up!” as you gain ground.

One final thought: People who exercise are far more likely to maintain weight loss and maintain a healthy weight. Exercise supports a healthy metabolism. And exercise makes you feel better about your body. Both pieces are so important. Move lots. Lift weights.

And please – reach out if we can help you with any of this. It would be our pleasure.

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