As a culture, we are taught from our earliest days that being thin is preferable to being fat – and preferable, even, to being happy with how our bodies look, even when they’re healthy.
That’s different for everyone – some people are healthy at a size ten, others at a size 4, others still at a 14 – so why has the “health” industry convinced us all we need to fit a one-size-fits-all size in order to feel worthy of existing in public?
I could go on for hours on the lies we’ve swallowed whole for decades, but I’d rather let some science speak for itself – specifically the findings that being fat isn’t as unhealthy as over-dieting for years on end.
If you’re looking to be more healthy, to be more comfortable in your clothes, and to have more energy, well, there’s a better way (and I promise it’s not some fad on Pinterest).
The restrictive behavior of significantly reducing calories or eliminating entire categories of food puts more of a toll on your body than being mildly obese because it so often leads to weight-cycling (yo-yo dieting). Weight-cycling comes with changes to gut flora, metabolism imbalances, bad fats, and damage to your mental health.
Basically, dieting, binging, dieting, binging…it really only makes you fatter, less healthy, and entirely miserable.
We might be living in the modern age, but our bodies are still programmed by evolution, so when you drastically cut the number of calories you eat in a day, your body assumes the worst: there’s a famine, it’s not going to get enough to eat, and it needs to conserve energy. Under those circumstances, your body refuses to burn more calories than necessary, which means the longer you diet, the less you’re able to eat while still maintaining your weight.
Next up, everyone is talking these days about how important gut health is for overall health, and a new study in Nature explains that every time you add or subtract pounds, it affects your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and the microbiome in your gut.
The latter can’t keep up when you lose, gain, lose, gain, which means your microbiome could be causing you to gain more than you would have before you started dieting when you’re on a down cycle.
Also, there are right and wrong kinds of fat, and dieting poorly creates the kind you don’t want. Visceral fat is the deep belly fat most of us aren’t keen on lugging around. It’s also the one that contributes to heart disease, diabetes, and inflammation. And unfortunately, the more your weight fluctuates, the more visceral fat gloms on, which can create health problems you wouldn’t have had 10 pounds ago in either direction.
Lastly, the diet culture is connected to the body shaming culture, and none of it is good for your mental health. When you lose, you feel great (mentally), but inevitably, the diet is not something that you can easily maintain, so you gain (and feel bad), sticking you in a loop that can make you feel like there’s no way out and no way to win.
So, how can we lose weight without dieting? Here are some suggestions from experts.
If you don’t want to significantly change what you’re eating, you can try controlling how much you’re eating. Dropping your portions by 10% a meal will make a real difference, and let’s be honest – most of us are eating more than a “serving size” of 3-4oz at a meal when we don’t need to be in order to feel full (at least after a little adjustment period).
Change Your Prep Style
No, not your flannel shirts and jeans – instead of trying to cut out bread or go vegan, keep your meat and potatoes, but buy the leaner options, grill or roast them instead of cooking them in butter, and eat things like whole potatoes instead of fries.
It makes a big difference.
Balance your Plate
The food pyramid is definitely outdated, but that doesn’t mean your body still doesn’t require a bit of everything to be properly fueled. When I’m feeding my toddlers, I make sure they have protein, grains, dairy, fruit, and veggies with every meal – the same things should be on adult plates, with the grains and proteins making up only about half of your plate.
Reach for Strong, Not Skinny
If your heart and lungs are strong, your blood pressure is low, and you feel great in your clothes, does it really matter what the scale says? Forget the numbers and focus on how you feel, and for heaven’s sake, stop beating yourself up for having a second piece of cake at your kid’s birthday party.
Life is all about balance, and so is eating. By restricting your sweets and indulgences, you’re only ensuring that one day in the not-too-distant future, you’re going to “give in” and indulge in those same things to the point where you’ve confused your body into ill health.
Eat what you want, just less of it. Exercise. Focus on your mental health.
Your body, and your family, will thank you.