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This chapter is from the book

Natural Eating Is Not a Diet

The end goal of every diet is weight loss, and in theory weight loss is simple—you have to consistently burn more calories (energy) than you consume. Unfortunately, this "simple" matter of energy balance is difficult to navigate behaviorally. Genetics, culture, social habits, motivation, and countless other factors affect whether you can lose weight and maintain the loss. Many individuals diet without considering the harm they may be inflicting on their bodies and minds or what is actually required to maintain a healthy weight for the rest of their lives. If you have been on and off diets for as long as you can remember or are considering a diet now, know this—you do not fail on a diet; the dieting process fails you.

Why Do Diets Fail You?

Diets are destined to fail you because

  • Diets do not address all the factors related to food choices.

  • Diets focus on the scale instead of behavior changes.

  • Diets do not often include, encourage, or promote physical activity.

  • Diets do not require a lifestyle change.

  • Diets have a beginning and an end.

  • Diets create a parent/child relationship with food (being "good" or "bad" when you eat, or avoid, certain foods) that frequently leads to rebellious eating.

  • Diets do not require you to change the way you think about food.

  • Your body desires weight stability and will go to great lengths to maintain your current weight.

What Does Work?

To succeed at changing your health habits, you must be willing to learn new attitudes and behaviors related to nutrition, physical activity, and life balance. It is absolutely critical to examine your current lifestyle to determine which factors are perpetuating unhealthy behaviors. It may be

  • A sedentary work environment

  • A lack of social support

  • Increased reliance on convenience foods

  • Unmanaged stress

Some individuals can quickly adopt new behaviors; others have deep-seated emotional and/or psychological barriers to eating healthfully or being active. You must examine these barriers, preferably with the help of a counselor or therapist, prior to or in conjunction with learning new behaviors, even if that interferes with immediate change. In the end, a healthy person is one who learns to enjoy all foods in moderation, consistently engages in physical activity, and copes with life challenges in an appropriate fashion.

Take a moment now for some personal reflection. Putting your ideas in writing in Figure 3.1 will help you get a handle on some of the challenges in your own life and can prevent you from wasting time and energy fighting an enemy you can't see.

Figure 3.1Figure 3.1 My personal healthy habit challenges.

What Is a Healthy Weight?

Although this is a book designed to help you improve your habits, many of you are also curious about what constitutes a healthy body weight. First and foremost, it's important to remember that weight is simply a number. As you learned in Chapter 2, "The Stages of Change—What to Expect," focusing on body weight as a goal can be counterproductive for a number of reasons, but because we live in a weight-obsessed age, this topic merits further discussion.

For many individuals, a modest loss of even 5% of current body weight can improve health parameters such as blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, most people who embark on weight loss programs begin with completely unrealistic goals—they report an inability to be satisfied with modest, but beneficial weight loss. This kind of all-or-nothing mentality is a recipe for frustration, body dissatisfaction, and preoccupation with body weight and appearance. For these reasons, I will not use typical methods employed by many organizations and professionals to determine your "ideal" body weight (there's nothing inherently wrong with the charts and tables; it's simply more productive to focus your energy elsewhere). If you prefer, go back to the section on your personal weight history and use this information as a starting point to determine a healthy weight range. Choose a range that you were able to maintain as an adult without dieting or excessive exercise but that reflects adequate nutrition, regular activity, and attention to overall health.

Another important consideration is respect for your basic body type. Many people attempt to change their body shapes with dieting and exercising only to become frustrated, tired, and obsessed with their various imperfections. It's an unfortunate result of a culture that has little regard for the beauty of genetic diversity in body types or the inherent worth of a person's soul and character. Learn to work with the wonderful body you've been given. You don't have to be enamored with every last inch, but do try to see yourself in a positive light.

In the same way that your genes determine where you store body fat, they will determine how you lose that fat. Do you have illusions of reducing body fat in select areas of your body? Many women, for example, are frustrated by the apparent tenacity of fat stores in their hips and thighs (or other areas of the body). Although balanced nutrition and regular exercise can improve many health parameters and decrease overall body fat, women must accept the fact that they are biologically wired to store fat in these areas. Keep this in mind if you are embarking on a weight loss program with someone of the opposite gender!

Again, focus on changing behaviors, and you will naturally arrive at a healthier weight. Identifying your eating style or styles is an important first step in changing your eating behaviors and working toward becoming a natural eater.

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