A recent study analyzed the health outcomes of 14 types of diets, including popular named diets such as Atkin’s, DASH, and region-based diet, such as the Mediterranean. The results: participants showed modest weight loss and a decrease in cardiovascular risk factors over a 6-month period. However, these improvements largely disappeared at 12 months. The conclusion: diets seem to garner intended results for a short period of time, but doesn’t always lead to consistent change over time.
The meta-analysis looked at results from 112 randomized trials.
Do Diets Work?
First, diets seem to be effective in the beginning and when we stick to them. So when choosing a diet, choose one that you can stick to for the long haul and one that you actually enjoy.
When Dieting Doesn’t Work
For me, part of the problem is that the word diet has become synonymous with restriction or taking away. Instead of depriving yourself of certain food, how about shifting the mindset to eating more of what nourishes you instead?
Experts call it intuitive eating, the philosophy that rejects dieting and focuses on listening to your body, honoring it, and developing a healthy relationship with food. If I were to put a label on how I eat, this is it. And after taking on this attitude, I have never felt more at peace with my body. I don’t go on diets.
I enjoy my meals and snacks. I don’t count calories. I don’t feel guilty after eating or even when I occasionally overeat. I have never felt stronger and I don’t check my weight regularly. I have a skirt that I wore in college and I still wear it to this day.
How I Stopped Dieting and Never Felt Stronger and Healthier: Body and Mind
Embracing a relationship with food grounded in respect for my body didn’t happen overnight. When I started living an active lifestyle, my relationship with food naturally improved. It felt right to reward my body for all the hard work.
I believe that movement, yoga, sports, or any practice that lets you listen and connect with your body, without judgement, offers a gateway to developing a healthy relationship with food that is long-lasting. At least that’s how I discovered my no-diet healthy lifestyle. I try to eat well because it nourishes my cells and gives me strength. Food satisfies the taste I crave. I eat because I want to be kind to my body and my taste buds. There are moments at night when I feel like eating a cashew milk chocolate ice cream bar. Sometimes I give in, sometimes I first check if my homemade chocolate protein bar will hit the spot.
Body awareness allowed me to noticed how my body felt when I ate certain food and decided that my body functions well without meat and dairy. I became happier, healthier, experienced fewer moments of depression, and just more focused.
This happened in the late 90s to early 2000, before vegan influencers or mainstream yoga, and all the resources we now have available. When I look back, I’m glad I bucked the trends then, such as canned tuna and an anti-carb diet, and just focused inward.
Vice versa, body awareness leads me to learn more about the food I consume. This meant learning how to cook, and knowing which ingredients to avoid or consume more of. The kitchen, our home, and the environment, all turned to sacred places to cultivate wellness.
Exploring the Mindset
Aside from physical activity, the way we think about food also plays a role in our relationship with it.
Pay Attention to the Guilt
If I were to give advice to someone wanting to develop a healthy relationship with food, I would start with paying attention to the guilt. Do you feel guilty after eating and why?
I got this revelation when last year I spent a few days with 5 female family members after more than two decades without seeing them. I noticed something they said after we ate together, without fail. All of them said that they were full and need to go on a diet. I realized that I used to say this too. It wasn’t clear if the quantity of food consumed or the type of food that made them feel the need to diet, but the guilt remained consistent.
I believe that decoding our relationship with food starts with figuring out the guilt and what we can do to not feel it after a meal. I find that this lets you enjoy food you love and eating becomes a fun and pleasant experience.
Craving vs. Association
I also distinguish between craving certain foods for the nutrients, or craving as a result of association or habit. Studies show that we learn how to emotional eat at a young age. Instead of craving foods for nutrition, we crave as a result fo association, such as eating sweets when we feel depressed, giving us a false sense of comfort. Knowing the difference between craving and association empowers me when it comes to deciding what to eat. I get to tease out what my body needs and what relies on breakable habits.