Think back on all those health and fitness magazines or diet books you've read in the past to lose weight. You know, the ones with the 1200 or 1500 calorie magazine meal plans, grocery lists, and rules to help you lose 2 pounds every week until your reach that perfect goal weight in your head? They are so persuasive because according to some simple math, it must work. Just cut out ~500-1000 calories a day and exercise more to burn calories means you'll be down a few pounds soon. They make it seem easy with the frequent meals and snacks and maybe even cheat meals. They give you a list of rules, so you know exactly what to do.
Just for fun, I headed over to Self magazine's website and was greeted by their 14-Day Slimdown plan to "get fit fast." I took a look at their "7 diet rules to eat clean" and #1 explained a low-calorie diet. They say "you won't be hungry, and you'll learn that your body runs just fine on fewer calories, especially when they come from nutritious food." You have a workout plan to do 6-days-a-week. The whole plan is plastered with pictures of skinny, fit women, flat stomachs and Jillian Michaels, and the Slimdown plan is sponsored by Sweet & Low.
These magazine meal plans frustrate me to no end. Every single women has different nutritional and energy needs. While the meal plans do have fruits, veggies, and frequent meals and snacks, it doesn't take into account the needs of people who may be gluten-free or vegetarian. Exercise should be realistic and fun. If someone is just starting out, the workout will probably leave them too sore to workout the other 5 days of the week...or injured. Most of all, it focuses on getting FIT fast, which implies getting in shape and building muscle. The problem is you can't SLIMDOWN (their plan) while also building muscle. Your body needs fuel to build muscle, and when it's starving from a low-calorie diet and exercise plan, it's not going to be happy.
It's a huge difference from vintage magazines from the 1930s-1950s that say, "Don't let them call you skinny!," "How to Add Glamourous Curves to your Figure," and "Stop being skinny & tired!"
Think about how you REALLY feel on these types of diets or meal plans:
- Are you truly satisfied... or starving all the time?
- Do you have awake and alert...or are you falling asleep at work?
- Are you happy...or cranky?
- Do have energy to go through the day AND workout...or are you forcing your body through workouts and not recovering well?
- Are you craving sweets and treats? Are you thinking about food all day long?
- Are you controlling your calories down to the exact number or even eating less than recommended to try to lose even more weight?
- Are you saying no to spontaneous outings with friends or family because it involves food?
They are One-Size Fits All.
They take control from you, and you follow one-size-fits-all rules rather than acknowledging your body is unique. Instead of listening and asking your body what foods it craves on a daily or weekly basis, you follow a meal plan to the T. These diet rules create fears that eating more calories will cause you to gain weight or foods are "bad."
The truth is your body knows best. Your body can regulate its hunger and appetite on a daily basis. No one eats the same amount of calories everyday. Somedays, your body needs more; somedays, it needs less. Somedays, you feel ravenous while others you just want light meals. You have the power to know your body's needs if you take a second to listen and ask it what it needs.
Calorie Counting is an Estimate.
Calorie counting is an estimate. It's not an exact science, and it's no wonder people feel miserable on low-calorie diets. They usually provide just barely enough calories to keep you alive. Your basal metabolic rate is the number of calories your body needs AT REST if you were lying in bed all day. For a 5'6" women weighing 150 lbs, it's about 1500 calories. These calories are used to keep your heart pumping, digestion working, lungs breathing, and all the many incredible things your body does on a daily basis. When you get up and move around all day and exercise, most women need at least 2000 calories or more. Funny how I never seem to see 2000 or 2400 calorie meal plans in most women's health magazines...
I don't recommend calorie counting, but if you have been dieting for years, you may be eating way less than your body actually needs. You may not be used to listening to your body's cues for hunger, or you may turn to food in times of emotional stress or boredom and eat past the point of fullness. Giving up calorie counting may sound scary, but your body is wise. With time, your hunger and fullness cues can come back. Choosing nutrient-rich foods, eating when you're hungry, and stopping when you're full sounds too simple...but it can work. It can be trial and error finding what foods work best for your body, but it's worth the experimentation.
They Focus on Weight Loss...not Health.
Finally, these diets focus on weight loss! Weight loss does not guarantee health or happiness. It simply means the number on the scale is lower, and there are plenty of ways to lose weight that can worsen your health. When you look at nutrition and exercise through a health-focused lens, your perspective changes.
Instead of choosing 100-calorie pack snacks, you may choose to eat food that is higher calorie but nutrient-rich like avocados or almond butter. Instead of heading to the gym to be miserable on the elliptical for an hour, maybe you choose your favorite yoga class that burns ways less calories but helps you feel strong and relaxed. When you focus on small lifestyle changes, you may lose weight, but you'll likely gain health. I guarantee you'll also be much happier with yourself instead of worrying about a silly number on the scale!