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Dieting Do's Not Don'ts

performance enhancers

By Sheila Tucker, MA, RD, LDN
Administrative Dietitian, B.C. Dining

Our weight-obsessed culture has caused many people to believe that they would be just that much better off if they were to trim off a few pounds of fat. Often, those who diet are well within an acceptable range for body weight; some are even underweight and dieting. A 1995 national health survey of college students found 46.4% were attempting weight loss at the time of the survey. The same study found only 20.5% of college students were overweight, yet 41.4% believed themselves to be overweight. The medical literature reveals more than two-thirds of high school girls are dieting and that restrictive eating behaviors are seeping into the lives of children as young as third grade.

Think twice before you make the choice to pursue weight loss. Just because the fashion industry now makes a size zero dress doesn’t mean many people should come healthfully close to fitting into it! Do what is right for the health of your body without falling prey to the perils of trying to achieve someone else’s unrealistic and unhealthy numbers. Before deciding on a diet, speak with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian (RD) for a professional perspective on a healthy weight for you.

For individuals who do need to lose weight for improved health, a refocus on lifetime weight management and avoidance of the “quick-fix” approach will result in the best long-term success. Here are some tips:


Focus on the "do's" not the "don'ts"

Too often, diets focus on denial, banning foods and being restrictive with food choices. Limiting food choices and severely underfueling your body can trigger binge eating, defeating your weight loss goals. Instead of the attitude, adopt the philosophy:

  Do look to make behavior and food changes over the long-term. The results will be more lasting than the “quick-fix” approach.
  Do focus on feeling well and full of energy, not a dress size or a number on the scale.
  Do enjoy a wide variety of foods from all the food groups.
  Do rely on foods readily available in the grocery store without needing to buy diet meals, pills or potions. Long-term success comes from learning to balance real foods available in your real lifestyle, not from costly and sometimes unsafe promises.
  Do consume at least 1400-1500 calories each day. Below that level, it is difficult to get all the nutrients you need. Often servings of important food groups get omitted when calorie restriction dips too low.
  Do listen to your body. Eat when you’re hungry (not bored, tired, angry, sad). Stop when you’re full. It takes your body about fifteen minutes to get the “full” message so slow down and enjoy your food, giving your brain time to catch up with your stomach. Eating quickly makes it easier to overeat without realizing it.
  Do eat meals and snacks without skipping fuel. Skipping fuel can lead to being overhungry later when the dangers of more than compensating for the missed fuel can happen. Would you ever put little or no gasoline in your car to see how far you could go on a long trip? Give your own engine the daily fuel it needs. Don’t wait to see how far down the road you can coast on “empty”. The gas station you pull into will be more expensive.
  Do learn to balance out fun indulgences. Denying a craving or occasional treat can result in “eating around” the desire and potentially doing more damage to your energy equation than if you just indulged in the first place. Have a small portion of a treat, split it with a friend or balance out indulgences over several days with a bit more activity.
  Do include exercise in your lifetime plan. Put more steps in your every day. Whittling away at the “calories out” side of the energy equation is a sure-fire way to lose weight. Additionally, strength training can help increase lean muscle mass, further firing up your metabolism.
  Do choose enjoyable physical activity. You are more likely to stick to a plan of enjoyable activity than with one that seems like a chore. Dance, skip rope, rollerblade as long as you are having fun.
  Do lose no more than two pounds per week. Losing over two pounds means that water, electrolytes and muscle can be lost, not just fat. Loss of muscle will dampen your engine’s fire, slowing your metabolic rate, a sure set-up for yo-yo weight cycling.
  Do make changes gradually, achieving success one step at a time. You are a lot less likely to fall back when taking small, methodical steps than after a giant running leap.
  Do set realistic short and long-term goals. It is realistic to lose ten percent of your body weight, but for most people, a twenty- percent loss is unrealistic. Setting weight loss goals too high can be frustrating and lead to yo-yo dieting. Based on medical expertise in conditions such as hypertension, any amount of weight loss, however small, will reap benefits. It’s not an all-or-nothing situation.
  Do break down long-term goals into manageable and achievable short-term goals. For instance, including five fruits and vegetables a day in your diet could help with the long-term goal of weight loss. Further, trying one new fruit or vegetable every other week could be an objective within this goal. You will feel better about long-term progress when you have mounting success with mini-goals.
  Do reward yourself for achieving small and big goals. New shoes, time off, tickets to a show….you choose.
  Do watch out for the red flags warning of health quackery so you and your wallet don’t fall prey to these poorly regulated forces.


Diet Quack-Busting Questions

If you are considering buying a pill, potion or diet book, ask yourself these quackery-busting questions first. A “yes” answer is a warning against the product.

1. Are you promised a quick fix?
Statistics tell us quick fixes are extremely temporary. Sometimes water and electrolyte losses parade as weight loss, like with certain herbs or no-carb diets.

2. Are you promised results with no effort?
There is no such thing as a free lunch! Long-term weight loss involves a commitment to increased activity levels and behavior change. This cannot happen while you are sleeping at night!

3. Do the results sound too good to be true?
Most likely they are. Trust your instincts. There is no weight loss miracle.

4. Is a particular food, food group or reputable scientific organization labeled “bad”, “poisonous” or “wrong”?
All foods fit into a healthy diet. No one food or combination of foods possesses magical powers. Reputable scientific organizations publish peer-review journals that carefully consider the evidence before it is published.

5. Is the pill, the potion or the diet based on a single study, anecdotal information or personal testimony only?
A single, peer-reviewed study is a stepping stone to further study, but rarely is it cause for major changes. Anecdotes and testimonies (often from celebrities) are NOT credible sources of scientific information and are no assurance as to the product’s safety or efficacy.


Still curious about a product? Check out these credible web sources to research nutrition and health quackery: