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Healthy Eating - The Diet Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?

Becca Clegg

I am on social media a lot for work (okay, okay, maybe a little for fun too) and while many things strike me (too many to even begin to know where to start), one thing in particular has been bugging me lately.

Everywhere I turn I see posts and pins about “health food” and “eating healthy” that are nothing more than diets in disguise.  They might as well say, “Yea, we are representing ourselves as being all about health, but really we just want to talk about how to get skinny and lose weight.”

As I’ve stated in before – I have nothing against weight loss.  In fact, I’m all about it if that’s what someone needs or wants.  But there is nothing “healthy” about dieting. It’s terribly unhealthy both, emotionally and psychologically, and research shows that 95% of people who do diet, gain back more weight than before they started, making it unhealthy for you physically as well. 

So, here’s my soapbox rant for the week. 

Being healthy is not about losing weight. Weight loss is often a bi-product of being and eating healthy, but while being healthy might lead to weight loss, it is not a forgone conclusion that weight loss means that you are being healthy.

Let me explain what I am talking about:

I have worked with, and seen, people lose hundreds of pounds drinking nothing but weight loss shakes.  (If you are one of these people, please know this is not an attack.  This is actually me having a tremendous amount of empathy for you and the amount of energy that goes into such a cycle).  They dropped the weight, their blood pressure normalized, their cholesterol levels improved.  Many of them had amazing results with regards to what most people would consider “health.”

Then came time to come off the shakes.  Despite the efforts of both the individuals and the well-meaning people who they were working with (I was one of them in a former life!), slowly but surely, sometimes over years, they gained the weight back.  Once off the shakes, they had to go back to eating real food, and nothing really changed.  They lost weight, but they didn’t change their mindset with regards to food.  In fact, many people I worked with were downright terrified of food by the time they lost the weight.  They feared having to eat real food.  Yes, they lost the weight, but with it they also lost any confidence they ever had (which was not much to begin with) that they could relate to or control their relationship with actual food. (Now, I know there is probably someone out there who lost the weight this way and kept it off, but I guarantee you that person is an outlier and not the norm.)

So, they gained back the weight, usually more than they originally lost, and they lost another chunk of confidence and trust in their ability to manage their relationship with food.  Is that healthy?

I know liquid diets are an extreme type of diet, but my point here is that we have to change our target.  If all we do is focus on weight loss as though it were the one and only path to the promise land of health and happiness, then we are overlooking the entire system in favor of one part.  It would be like treating someone who had chickenpox by just putting lotion on the pox itself without treating the underlying virus.

Weight gain and excess weight is a symptom of a trio of behavioral, emotional and psychological variables, and as such, needs to be explored on a holistic level.  Dieting alone will never lead you to health. 

I ask you to consider these scenarios:

  • Is it still healthy if your food choices are so rigid that you obsess over them on a daily basis and the “diet” becomes all consuming?
  • You can eat 1200 calories in one day that consists of nothing but cookies and wine, but is that healthy?  (You might laugh – but how many of you have saved your weight watchers points only to binge on sweets or indulge in excess vino?)
  • Is it healthy to always feel deprived because you don’t allow yourself to enjoy eating and constantly worry about if you are having a good or bad food day?
  • Is it still healthy if after two weeks of nothing but cave man food (nothing against you Paleo folks, it just makes for good descriptive writing – I’m an equal opportunity gal when it comes to poking fun at diets), you break down and eat a half a pizza?

One aspect of my work is to pay attention to how our eating habits and patterns affect us long term and as a whole human being.  And from that, this I know for sure: Our health does, and should, include our emotional, psychological and spiritual health. 

It is easy to slip right from dieting into “healthy eating” and not realize you haven’t really changed that much.  In fact, there is a new eating disorder on the rise, known as Orthorexia, which is the pathological obsession with eating healthy.  

I know many, many people are choosing to change their diets in order to better their health.  Many people have serious medical conditions that, with diet adjustments, see great changes in their health because of it.  Other people change their diets because of their beliefs about our food system, and others because of their feelings regarding animals.  All of it is great. I’m not opposed to any of the approaches themselves.  It is just the way YOU approach the approach.  Be careful of taking something benign and turning it into a diet.

So, please just be careful.  Be honest with yourself and don’t make the mistake that many well-meaning people make when trying to break free from the diet mindset.  Eat healthy, yes, but make sure you are not just a dieter in sheep’s clothing.  You deserve better.  Your mind, your spirit, and your body deserve a chance to really get what they deserve… balance, mindful and deliberate living, and your unconditional love.  And yes, these things, they contribute to making you “healthy.” 

You can be healthy, lose weight, and feel great about yourself all without going on a diet and losing your self-respect (and sanity).  It starts with changing the way you approach your relationship with food and your relationship with yourself.  If you have questions about where to start, sound off in the comments section, or shoot me an email.  I’d love to help you get started.